My introduction to Atsuko Asano’s No. 6 was through the anime adaptation of the original novels. I enjoyed the setting and characters, but was disappointed in the anime’s rushed, original ending. Asano’s No. 6 novels are unlikely to be released in English, so I was glad when Kodansha licensed Hinoki Kino’s manga adaptation of the series. The second volume of the No. 6 manga, originally published in Japan in 2011, was released in English in 2013. Although Kino’s character designs are based on the same ones used for the anime and many of the underlying elements are the same (they are both adaptations of the No. 6 novels after all), Kino’s version of the story is different. The first volume of the manga was a little too quickly paced for my taste, but for the most part I still enjoyed it. However, I did have hopes that the second volume would slow down a bit after the first volume‘s rush to establish the characters, story, and setting.
After barely escaping from the holy city of No. 6, Shion is now a fugitive hiding in West Block, a dangerous area outside of the city walls and No. 6′s dumping grounds. Although he is out of immediate danger, he still has a lot to learn about West Block if he hopes to survive there. The violent and bleak conditions outside the city are very different from the peaceful and pampered life that Shion led in No. 6. The only reason he’s made it this far is thanks to the help of Rat, the young man whose life Shion once saved as a boy. The two make an unusual pair. Shion is altruistic and slow to doubt people, characteristics which could get him into big trouble in West Block, while Rat only looks out for himself and is much more wary of others. Saving Shion’s life was a way for Rat to repay his debt, but in the process he has begun to open up to another person. For the time being Rat persists in watching over the other young man, but he is also capable of turning on Shion at any moment.
One of my favorite things about the No. 6 anime was the relationship between Rat and Shion. I’ve happily found this to be the case with the manga as well. Even though it’s only the second volume, there has already been some very nice character development. Both Shion and Rat are beginning to change due to the circumstances surrounding Shion’s escape from No. 6 and their continued association with each other. As Shion is faced with the harsh realities of living in West Block and Rat’s seemingly uncaring attitude, he is learning to stand up for himself and what matters to him. In turn, Shion is also influencing Rat to a much greater extent than either of them at first realize. When it comes to Shion, Rat finds himself acting out of character and letting his guard down. It understandably bothers and worries him, but it’s also rather touching from an outsider’s perspective. I’m really enjoying watching their relationship evolve in No. 6.
In addition to character development, the second volume of the No. 6 manga also reveals more about No. 6 and West Block. As Shion experiences West Block first hand, nearly getting killed in the process, the readers are also introduced to the world in which he now lives through the people he meets–the children who are starving, the marketplace vendors who are quick to pull guns on thieves, the prostitutes and pimps. Everyone is struggling to get by in any way that they can. It also reveals in part why Rat has the personality that he does. To survive in West Block requires people to place their own needs above those of others. Simply trusting another person means taking a huge risk. It’s a hard lesson for Shion with his innocent nature and privileged upbringing. The second volume of No. 6 does build and improve on the first in its pacing, characterization, and world-building. I can honestly say that I’m looking forward to the next volume of Kino’s adaptation.