E’S, vols. 1 and 2
By Satol Yuiga
E’S is a stylish sci-fi manga along the lines of another Broccoli title, Kamui, but a lot more readable. By “sci-fi” I mean that it’s set in some post-apocalyptic future, but it deals more with emotion than technology. There are no flying robots or cities on trains; instead, E’S is an action story that folds in issues common to the genre such as the desire to rebel against a coercive society.
Warning: Spoilers and images after the cut.
The backbone of E’S is a set of manga conventions that are comfortably familiar. In a post-apocalyptic world, psychic teenagers are recruited by Ashurum, a shadowy, quasi-governmental organization, to (ostensibly) return order and rescue others like them. When one psychic, Kai, breaks free, he realizes the parent company may not be as benign as he thought. He is taken in by Yuuki, a mercenary with a heart of gold, who works for organized crime in the ruined city but also cares for orphans and strays. Completing the triumvirate of main characters is Yuuki’s ward Asuka, a girl who dresses in a bunny suit, is comically incompetent at everything, and can see directly into Kai’s soul. Have I left anything out? Oh, yeah they’re all supposed to be hunting for some terribly important object, the Sacrament of Calavarias, but so far, their efforts in that direction have been pretty desultory.
The book begins with Kai handily trapping a bad guy in a giant bubble of water while listening to music on his headphones. The first set of moral quandaries is set up in the next few pages, when Kai’s boss Eiji assures him that the captured man will be treated humanely—then issues the order to kill him as soon as Kai is out of sight.
Kai’s problem is that he is that he wants to live without violence in a world that is full of it. In this futuristic society, normal humans shun and persecute psychics, or at least that’s what he is told. Ashurum takes them in, treats them well, and trains them to go on exciting special missions (one of the really nice extras in vol. 2 is a recruitment brochure). They also cultivate the us-versus-them mentality. When Kai is sent as part of a group to wipe out a guerilla group in the city of Gald, he balks at carrying a gun. Always obliging, Eiji tells him he can carry an unloaded weapon. The result is, predictably, disastrous, and the incident ends with corpses scattered all over and an unconscious Kai being carted off to the land of bunnies and kittens.
Yes, that’s right, he ends up in Asuka’s greenhouse, where she cavorts in a bunny suit while thinking happy thoughts. Asuka might just be the most demented part of this manga, and she gets annoying at times, but she also keeps it interesting. Anyway, Kai has been injured, and without the drugs and conditioning he has been getting at Ashurum, his psychic powers are ebbing, although he still retains some abilities. Yuuki and a mysterious doctor also give him a dose of reality, explaining that Ashurum is not the benign, paternalistic organization he thought it was. Meanwhile, we get some glimpses of the inner workings of Ashurum and a look at their main man, the snappily dressed, utterly duplicitous Eiji. Eiji is one of the most interesting characters in the book; one moment he is being all cold-blooded-killer, and the next, he is reading bedtime stories to Kai’s little sister, who is seriously ill. (There’s another manga cliché for you: The hero who is motivated by his love for his vulnerable little sister. There’s a PhD thesis in that for someone.)
Of course the Ashurum folks are not happy that Kai is gone, and their efforts to get him back take up part of the second volume, but Yuiga throws in a little cross-dressing caper to lighten things up. And while E’S is laden with violence, there are occasional reminders that violence has consequences, and that the bodies being strewn across the splash panels are not just cardboard cutouts. So this is more than just a chase-and-fight story.
Yuiga’s drawing style is a notch above standard action manga. I particularly like the night scenes, in which we see the lit-up grid of the ruined city of Gald. The paneling is quite dynamic; Yuiga breaks an image into shards to emphasize action, scatters small panels across a panoramic scene, and deftly directs the eye through the page without confusion or obvious pointers. While the action gets very complicated in places, Yuiga often uses tones, simple shapes, and panels to keep the pages easy to read—as opposed, again, to Kamui, which I found harder to decipher. My biggest complaint is the standard manga problem: the characters look way too similar, although Yuiga does throw in a few variations in hair and costume.
E’S is a series that really benefits from Broccoli’s high production values. The covers of the first two volumes are attractive and point up the variety in the series. More importantly, the high-quality white paper holds the black ink well, allowing Yuiga’s art to really sing. The night scenes and the heavy action would have simply sunk in to standard manga paper and ended up as gray mush. And the volumes are packed with extras. The Broccoli editors like to start their volumes with a character guide, which is nice but a bit too much information if you read it first; I do like to be able to refer back to it, especially in books with similar-looking characters. Other extras include character notes, omake, and guides to Gald and Ashurum, which helped frame the story. My one quibble with these is the Broccoli tendency to use white type on a black page, which I find less readable than the reverse.
Like the best science fiction, E’S works as pure entertainment plus a little bit more. The art is a shade better, the characters a bit more thoughtful, than in your standard shoot-em-up. The one jarring note is the huge dollop of moe provided by Asuka and Kai’s little sister Hikaru. Those huge eyes, brimming with tears, are just… disturbing. Not disturbing enough to put me off the rest of the story, though. E’S is a keeper.
This review is based on complimentary copies supplied by the publisher.