Tuesday, March 4, 2014

YALSA top ten GNs 2008: King of Thorn

King of Thorn (Volumes 1-2)
Written and illustrated by Yuji Iwahara.
Published by Tokyopop (2007)

Sometimes a book can deliver everything you want, despite what the author's original intents were. But more on that later. I'm trying to get into the habit of reading books and comics without knowing anything about them. I don't read the blurb on the back (spoilers!), and it's often so long since I added the book to my "to read" list that I don't even remember why I wanted to read it in the first place. So I go in with no knowledge of what's going to happen at all except for whatever's on the cover. This means that early twists and surprises actually surprise me!

The cover of King of Thorn doesn't really reveal anything about the story at all (there are humans and monsters?), but I remember years ago thinking about reading this book because I really enjoyed the way the cover was designed. The use of blank white space within the "thorns" seeming to "eat" into the rest of the image, while the soft purple-y colour of the cover made it stand out to me for some reason. Maybe it's just that the colour purple being used on the cover is supposed to sell more comics.

Inside the story starts by revealing that a terrible disease, the Medusa virus, is turning people into stone and killing them and...hold on, isn't this the plot at the beginning of Eden: It's an Endless World? Kasumi is one of a pair of twins who have contracted the virus, but she alone has been chosen as one of 160 people to be placed into suspended animation in hopes that a cure will be uncovered. There's plenty of angst about leaving her sister behind as she's placed into the capsule and put to sleep.

And then...dinosaur attack! Okay, the dinosaur attack doesn't happen _yet_. First we jump forward some unknown amount of time into the future. The lab which holds the cryo-capsules has been completely overgrown with huge vines covered in thorns. Some of the capsules seem to be completely destroyed, but a number are still intact and people start to wake up and wonder what on Earth is going on. Then the dinosaur, or at least a giant lizard creature, attacks. In the ensuing fear, panic, and stampedes most of the survivors end up dead, leaving only seven people alive. The rest of the book follows their attempt to escape from the building, but floating over their heads is the dark realization that the virus which caused them to be placed into cryogenic sleep in the first place hasn't been cured, and the longest any of them has to live is six weeks. Gripping stuff!

So what was the thing I disliked about this book? The main character. The girl on the cover with huge glasses and who, as you can probably guess if you've ever read any manga, is a shy and awkward teenage schoolgirl who is also nice and kind and maybe brave. She has seemingly no characteristics beyond that, practically sleepwalks through the plot, getting rescued multiple times, and could, in my opinion, just not have been included at all. I feel like I've seen this character in numerous manga before (though, I could not actually tell you which ones), and they're not a character type that I really care for. A character can have self doubt over their actions, but Kasumi's self doubt (at least in this volume) is whether she should even bother continuing to live. It's survivor's guilt that starts before she even enters the capsule. I'm assuming that Iwahara wants us to identify with, or at least care about, Kasumi, but it wouldn't bother me if she died in volume two. Actually, that'd be pretty gutsy so I'd be impressed, but I'm doubting that'll happen.

The other characters aren't that much better: there's a kid, a woman (who of course ends up looking after the kid), an older rich business man guy, another guy (who apparently has less of a personality than Kasumi), a black guy (who is of course big and strong), and a super 1337 hacker criminal (the big muscley guy with the tattoos on the cover). The hacker is, at least so far, the real protagonist insofar as he has driven pretty much every element of the plot: leading the characters, suggesting plans, coming up with ideas, saving people, thinking about what's going on. He's a stereotype too, but one I'm more interested in reading about.

Still the entire plot and situation of the comic really grabbed me, even if the characters themselves didn't seem like anything particularly special. I'm totally ready to read more of this series (especially since, as it's only six volumes long, it will actually end), but unfortunately the VPL only has volume 1 and every volume is out of print since Tokyopop, its original publisher, has basically not existed as a company in several years. Thankfully it doesn't look like prices on the secondary market are that high, so hopefully I can pick them up somewhere. I'm also interested in checking out some of Iwahara's other series, two of which, I've just discovered, have been translated into English.

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