Adult Swim: Another Plunge into the Bizarre

>> Tuesday, April 11, 2017

Wow, getting out a review every week may be a bit more than I can manage. I will still post one as often as I can. Sorry, folks.

One of the many reasons I like manga in general is how comfortable they are with fantasy and the like, as if it's perfectly natural. Since I'm also of the fantasy persuasion myself, it's easy for me to feel at home. But, more than that, I love the originality I often see when it comes to taking even an off-the-wall idea and making it front and center in an interesting book. Even better if the book can challenge some of my taboos, some of my views on things, making me both think and feel.

I've got to tell you, as far as I'm concerned, that's about as good as it gets with books. And one series that does just that is Ze by Shimuzu Yuki ("Ze," in this case means something like "Agreed" and has to do with the original bargain with the Puppet Master). I LOVE this series and I've read it probably a dozen times. I have all the books (except one, which is a story of it's own I'll note at the end).

The premise is that there are a group of people who, genetically, have a talent for kotodama, which in this series means "the ability to make things happen by saying it" and, for whatever reason, it seems to be limited to causing harm. The down side of this awesome power is that the backlash is pretty horrible so the more heinous things you do, the more you are injured yourself--and injuring yourself to the point of death is actually pretty easy for most of them. Enter Waki who, in an agreement with the patriarch of this clan, used his black magic to make hardy, damage-taking paper dolls that look and act like human beings, dolls that would become the tools of a single kotodama master and accept the damage for him, repairing themselves over and over until worn out or their core is damaged.

Now all of that may sound ho-hum. But it's not. For one thing, we explore again (and quite effectively, too, I might add) the question of what makes someone an individual, a soul, a human being. Obviously, they're not and yet, with this pretty brutal talent used for obtaining wealth for the humans in here, the "dolls" (kami) end up humanizing and making better humans of the people they interact with. The means for transferring wounds from human to kami involve contact with the mucus membrane (kissing and sex) with more intensive contact required for more extensive wounds. And Waki threw in his own wrinkle in that kotodama masters are only paired with kami of the same gender. It is, after all, yaoi. Though I think we could make an argument that the most sexually perverted, use-her-kami-as-a-sex-toy individual, happens to be a female.

Enter a regular person into this strange world of ownership and partnership, someone who refuses to see the kami as less than humans (and find the kami agreeing with him), watching the relationships with kami save some humans from becoming brutes, others from being brutalized, becoming more than vessels for healing physically but true partners in every sense of the word...totally fascinating.

This is made more so by an amazing array of compelling characters:
  • the naive cook who falls for the gloomy leftover kami
  • the original easy-going kotodama so strong he single-handedly destroyed the village that tried to rape his sister and who keep three kami quite busy with his antics, 
  • the young kotodama master forced to take over at a young age with a kami who hated him, 
  • the even younger kotodama prodigy so powerful at birth he destroyed buildings with his first cries so they spelled him so he'd be strangled if he talked and the kami that worked tireless to protect him from a job where his power was a danger to all, especially himself, 
  • the neglected child from outside the family who inherited a kami but didn't understand how to deal with him, 
  • another from outside who swore never to use his kotodama because of accidentally killing his mother with it when he was a teenager. 
  • And, behind them all, the enigmatic, potentially evil puppet master, completely consumed with a kami long since passed.

Kami can be revived, but their memories are gone. And trying to overcome that becomes a haunting quest. But overall, the story is really about coming to grips with the humanity of the kami and the humanizing influence they have on people in a pretty bizarre and ruthless profession. About what makes us unique and special and worth fighting for.

Now, the story hit on a number of my "can't stand" taboos, yet did so in a way where I got how and why it happened, and could even accept it, which is no small feat. I have a number of mangas I still love without accepting those aspects and an even larger number I just can't stand for those aspects. That's how good the characters are, and, if you've been following me for any length of time, you know characters are everything to me.

The entire series is eleven books long and there's something memorable in every one. I find the source story fascinating, even though it's told last, and the future even more interesting. I feel left in a good place, with a number of characters I love all where they belong. That does not always happen. Not so sure if Waki is reformed, per se, but he definitely has his moments. 

Now, for the drag. This was released and then the company that released it stopped or went out of business after six volumes. Later, either they or someone else picked it up and started again with Ze 7 and, as an added bonus, released the first five volumes-- BUT NOT SIX! Oy, how irksome. I have #6 in German (which I don't speak) out of desperation and I have access to it on-line, and I have every other volume through to the end, but still!


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