March 28, 2010

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Children of the Sea Volume 2

Written by Daisuke Igarashi
Illustrated by Daisuke Igarashi
Viz

Continuing from the dramatic events at the end of the first volume, Umi and Ruka work hard to find Sora--who may not wish to be discovered. As we learn more about Jim's links to the strange children who come from the ocean, it's Umi's turn to start acting different.

With storms brewing in real life and in her personal interactions, can Ruka hold things together? And what of her own growing connection to the waters that draw Sora and Umi to their depths? Is she now linked to the events her father and other biologists cannot understand? As fish and friends disappear, Ruka struggles to understand things and makes an even more startling discovery.

This volume of Children of the Sea, unlike the first one, throws a lot of information at the reader, almost to make up for the shortcomings in that regard of the first eight chapters. We get the origin of Jim and his link to the sea-humans, his ties to an unnamed corporation that wants to investigate the children (to what end?), and a former partner gone rogue.

Meanwhile, a lot of hints are thrown that Ruka may be very different than she appears, which might explain why she has such trouble fitting into the surface world. We got a few glimpses of this in the first trade, but it's more explicit here. I don't know if it's a red herring (no pun intended) or not, but the idea intrigues me and I hope that we see more along this line in future chapters.

Despite all of this, there's still a feeling that this manga is working at a leisurely pace. Ruka's adult narration keeps the tone somber and measured. Jim's story is also worked together piece by piece. There are plenty of establishing panels without dialog, and when the characters do speak, it's in a way that does not invite the reader to jump from word to word, except in a few places.

It's not a pace I'm used to when reading comics, and I admit that I sometimes get a bit frustrated that Igarashi is being a bit too obtuse. It's clear that big things are comic, both for Ruka and for the world at large, and I'm a bit impatient to get to the meat of the story.

On the other hand, the fact that I want to read more of this plot right away is a sign of just how good this manga is, despite being a bit slow in terms of pacing. No one in the story, save maybe Sora, knows the truth of what is about to happen, and watching all of the players try to piece together the mystery of the disappearing fish and humans who can swim and live underwater is a big part of why this one works so well for me. As a reader, we're pretty sure they can find an answer if they work together, but right now, they're all at cross purposes. Will anyone learn the truth before it's too late?

This is a mystery as big as the sea, and with every chapter, Igarashi opens up a few more doors. Right now, those are only increasing the possibilities, not limiting them. As we see Ruka and her father learn more about Sora, Umi, and the glowing fish, it's clear that there are miles to go before they really know anything.

In the case of this volume, another factor is added--time. Thanks to Sora, we now know that anyone trying to figure out just what is going on must do so before it's too late. There's an invisible clock hanging over this manga's head now, adding tension to every maddening delay. That gives the pacing a new point--the longer things drag out, the more likely it is that Ruka and the others will lose. How much that will cost them is yet to be determined.

One of the things that's a bit odd for me in terms of liking this manga is that it's more story driven than character-based. I generally prefer the latter. But we don't see much in the way of character development at all here, just a better understanding of their backgrounds. Instead, it's the plot itself that grows, as the mystery widens and the implications grow if no one can solve the problem of the disappearing fish. Normally, I'd be bothered by this, but the mystery is good enough to overcome the fact that the players in the drama (at least so far) aren't growing much.

I mentioned in my review of volume one that Igarashi's art style is quite different from that which we usually encounter in manga republished here in English. He draws intricately designed fish but the humans are almost sketches rather than completed drawings. In some panels, there is a feeling that they've turned flat or that Igarashi has forgotten to add the lines that give them dimension. He also frequently uses the same facial features to show emotion and action, when it happens, is extremely stilted.

It's a look that, combined with the strange but captivating story, shows this is a manga is part of a branch line, ala Vertigo. (Thanks again, David, for the analogy.) Just as with Western comics, there are a lot of artists doing very different styles in Japan. Those of us who don't read Japanese just don't get to see them nearly as often, though Viz's Signature line may be changing that here in the future. That's a change for the better, in my opinion.

If you weren't sure about sticking along with Children of the Sea, I'd urge you to read into volume two. I'm glad I did, because the mystery Igarashi creates here is one I want to keep reading to find the solution. If you aren't hooked by the ending of this trade, then it's probably not for you. If you read this and want to get more before the print edition of Volume 3 comes out, then head on over to Ikki online and read the latest chapters. I'm thankful to Viz for opening up new possibilities like Children of the Sea to English readers, and I can't wait to read more of this story in the future.