Manga-ka: Yuhki Kamatani
Publisher: Yen Press
Rating: Teen (13+)
Release Date: February 2012
Synopsis: “As Yoite’s condition worsens, Yukimi’s mind drifts, eventually settling on the mystery of the dying Kira user’s past. Acting independently at the cost of his assigned mission, the Grey Wolves’ resident journalist sets off in search of the truth about his ward’s life with little to guide him. Left to their own devices, Yoite and Miharu break free of Hattori and the Grey Wolves when they learn that the leader of the pack knows much more about them than he has ever let on! On their own and on the run, the two do their best to stay alive and solve the puzzle of the Shinra Banshou. But in the world of shinobi, death is never very far behind…”
First off a disclaimer, I haven’t read the previous volumes of Nabari no Ou, so keep in mind that this review is the opinion of someone coming into the series at volume nine. This is an especially tricky series to pop into randomly as it features a large cast with different goals and factions. Plus, it’s about ninjas, and you know how tricky ninjas can be.
The main characters of the series are two teenage boys, Miharu and Yotia. Miharu has a mysterious power known as the ‘Shinra Banshou.’ While other people seek to use this power to change the course of history, all Miharu wants to do is use it to help his friend, Yoite. Yoite is a stoic, lanky teenager who is slowly dying. He barely speaks, is almost completely deaf, and is losing his eyesight as well. Despite his frailness Yoite is still a powerful fighter and is devoted to Miharu.
Even without reading the previous volumes, it’s clear that the bond between the two is as strong and set as cement. It’s a little less clear to a new reader like myself why exactly Yoite wishes to be ‘erased’ (not just killed but his presence erased completely) and why Miharu is willing to do this, but I can at least see that it comes out of how much the two care for each other.
It’s a good thing they have each other as this volume shows that they can’t rely on anyone else. At the start of this volume the two have found sanctuary with the Grey Wolves, a clan of ninjas. The clan seems to have some good people in it, but the leader has his own plans for Miharu’s power. When Miharu and Yoite learn of this, they break ties with the Grey Wolves and go on the run.
Interspersed with this plotline is a sub-plot following Yukimi, a young man who’s also a member of the Grey Wolves. Yukimi has been looking after Yoite for a year now but he realizes that he hardly knows anything about the kid, not even his real name (Yukimi’s the one who gave him the name ‘Yoite’). Without telling the rest of the clan, Yukimi starts digging into Yoite’s past. Turns out that Yoite’s early life was pretty bleak, and Yukimi becomes even more protective of the kid. When he hears that Yoite and Miharu have run away, Yukimi has to choose between siding with his clan or helping the young man he’s come to care about.
I really liked Yukimi and his sections of the book. Yukimi left more of an impression on me than Yoite and Miharu as he had the more personality than the other two put together. Also, I found his dilemma more compelling (or perhaps just more easy to grasp) than Miharu and Yoite’s troubles. When Yukimi interacts with other Grey Wolves, it’s clear that he’s friends with them and that they are family, if not by blood than by choice. But on the other hand it’s also clear that he is very protective of Yoite and doesn’t want to see him dead. Yukimi is interesting because he has no qualms about doing what he thinks is right, even if it means turning his back on the clan.
That’s not to say the Yoite and Miharu sections of the book are boring. There’s a wordless sequence near the end showing the two of them on the run, hitching rides and getting by on the kindness of strangers. It’s a really beautiful part of the book and my favourite sequence in the whole volume.
There are other parts of the book where various characters pop up and interact with each other, but without having read the previous eight volumes it’s hard to make sense of them. Still, from the brief glimpses we get of the minor characters they seem like an interesting bunch and even in the little bits we get their personalities shine through.
The art also goes a long way in making everyone distinct and interesting. The character designs aren’t overly flashy but there’s a nice bit of variation with the clothes and hairstyles and eyes. The background art is also very clean and consistent. Every scene feels grounded in a specific place.
Judging from this one volume, Nabari no Ou is an interesting series with well-rounded characters and appealing art. While I was often confused by the plot, I was impressed by the emotional core at the heart of the story.
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Book provided by Yen Press for review purposes