Grand Guignol Orchestra, Volume 1: Overture

Creator: Kaori Yuki
U.S. publisher: Viz Media
ISBN: 9781421536361
Released: October 2010
Original release: 2009

For the Kaori Yuki Manga Moveable Feast, I decided to take a look at Overture, the first volume in Grand Guignol Orchestra, the most recent of Kaori Yuki’s manga series to be released in English. The first volume of Grand Guignol Orchestra was originally published in Japan in 2009. Overture was subsequently released in English in 2010 by Viz Media under its Shojo Beat imprint. Although Yuki has had several of her works licensed in English, the only other manga of hers that I have read is Godchild. It took a while for that series to grow on me, but I ultimately enjoyed its dark, Gothic horror. However, I never quite got around to pursuing more of Yuki’s manga until Grand Guignol Orchestra was released. What particularly appealed to me about Grand Guignol Orchestra and convinced me to pick it up was its fantastical use of music.

As members of the Queen’s unofficial Grand Orchestra, Lucille, Kohaku, and Gwindel tour the countryside, journeying to places that the official orchestra wouldn’t dare. With the outbreak of the virus that causes Galatea Syndrome—transforming people into violent, doll-like zombies known as guignols—traveling is a dangerous endeavor. But it is the responsibility of the Grand Orchestra, even the unofficial one, to seek out and destroy the guignols and investigate the often bizarre circumstances surrounding the spread of the disease. The highly trained and capable musicians use their musical talents and a bit of combat training to annihilate the threat to the general population. Unfortunately, their people skills can be somewhat lacking and their help isn’t always welcomed by the people they are trying to aid. Guignols aren’t the only ones who pose a danger to the orchestra and its members.

Yuki’s artwork is one of the highlights of Grand Guignol Orchestra. She describes the series’ setting as taking place in the Middle Ages with a French flair to it (and with some very obvious anachronistic deviations.) The attention given to the costume designs with all their layers and frills is particularly marvelous. The guignols themselves also have a great design and are suitably creepy with their haunted eyes and cracking skin. In general, the artwork creates an excellent atmosphere for the Gothic tale. Unfortunately, it often seems at odds with the humor that Yuki attempts to introduce into the series. Although somewhat entertaining and a relief from the wonderfully melodramatic plot, the more comedic aspects of the series don’t seem to mesh quite yet with its darker elements. At times Grand Guignol Orchestra is deadly serious while at others it’s purposely ridiculous. The result can be awkward.

Considering how many elements there are in Grand Guignol Orchestra that I actually really like, I am very surprised that I didn’t enjoy the first volume more. I love the destructive and redemptive power granted to music in the series and get a huge kick out of the ability to take out zombies with a tuning fork. I also like the gender-bending aspects of the story and characters. Lucille, much to his dismay, is mistaken for a woman more often than not, but is generally happy to use this to his advantage. He’s not the only character who plays with gender, either. Overture is very much an introductory volume. Although the deliciously tragic pasts of the musicians have been hinted at, very little is actually known about them at this point and will be revealed later on in the series. But if I had to judge by the first volume alone, I would have to say that I appreciate and enjoy Grand Guignol Orchestra more in concept than I do in execution.

My Week in Manga: October 24-October 30, 2011

My News and Reviews

Today is the last day of the Horror Manga Moveable Feast and it’s been a great one! My quick takes from last week featured vampire themed manga while this week I’m featuring a variety of other horror influenced manga (plus Sugar Sugar Rune which isn’t horror, but reminds me of Hallowe’en). Last week I also posted a review of Otsuichi and Kendi Oiwa’s Goth manga adaptation. And after some encouragement from the Feast’s host Lori Henderson, I made a last minute contribution—Random Musings: Nightmare Inspector. (Which is one of the reasons this week’s new and reviews section is rather brief.)

Also! October’s manga giveaway for Moyoco Anno’s Sugar Sugar Rune, Volume 1 is up and going. The winner will be announced on Wednesday, so there’s still time to enter for a chance to win the first volume of a great fantasy series—Manga Giveaway: Happy Hallowe’en! (Sugar Sugar Rune Giveaway)

Quick Takes

Berserk, Volume 35 by Kentaro Miura. Guts and his companions are still on the high seas when the wind of change passes over the world. He is also still recovering from his last battle, but his skills are needed when the ship must face a hoard of demons from the sea. Occasionally Miura’s monster designs can feel somewhat repetitive, but that doesn’t mean they’re any less frightening. The art in Berserk is detailed and the battles are chaotic. Guts’ ordeal continues as he fights to protect those he’s come to consider friends. But the very power that he must use might also be the power that destroys them all. Berserk remains one of my favorite manga series; now begins the long wait for the next volume. 

Dragon Head, Volumes 1-10 by Mochizuki Minetaro. I enjoy post-apocalyptic fiction and Dragon Head is one of the best examples of the genre that I’ve come across in manga. The series explores the fear and the darkness, both literal and figurative, that cataclysmic events bring about. Dragon Head is fiction, and so some of the human responses to the tragedy feels overly dramatized, but the story is still very engrossing. I did find the inclusion of the scar heads somewhat odd, but they do provide another interesting perspective on fear. One of the most terrifying things in the world is the unknown, and the characters are never able to determine for certain what has happened. Minetaro’s art works fantastically well for the series, particularly the ravaged landscapes and scenes of destruction.

Grand Guignol Orchestra, Volume 1 by Kaori Yuki. I have a feeling that Grand Guignol Orchestra is a series that I like in theory but am unsatisfied with in reality. I mean, an orchestra that fights zombies with music (among other things)? How great is that? Pretty great in my opinion, but after reading the first volume I haven’t been convinced that Yuki will be able to pull it off. Even the characters haven’t settled in yet. The first volume seems unfocused and rushed at the same time, as if Yuki was trying to shove in too many manic ideas all at once. Still, the ability to take out a zombie with a tuning fork is pretty awesome. And even though it seems to have nothing to do with the actual story, I really like Gwin’s pet hedgehog.

King of Thorn, Volume 1 by Yuji Iwahara. The extremely deadly Medusa virus is running rampant across the world. In an effort to find a cure, a group of people chosen by lottery are put into stasis. But some awake to a world drastically different from the one they left. The facility they are in is in an extreme state of decay and carnivorous dinosaur-like creatures are roaming the grounds. The virus is no longer their immediate concern as they must struggle to simply survive. One of the things I like best about King of Thorn is that the ensemble cast is so diverse in both character design and personality. It is obvious from the way they interact with each other that Iwahara has put some thought into exactly who these people are. I’ll definitely be picking up the rest of the series.

Sugar Sugar Rune, Volumes 1-8 by Moyoco Anno. For a series that was created with elementary school students in mind, Sugar Sugar Rune is incredibly engaging for adult readers as well. It starts out innocently enough, two young witches have come to the human world to compete to become the next queen of the magical world, but the story quickly becomes deeper and more complex. The characters and setting are wonderfully well-rounded. Anno’s art is great even if some of the pages become a bit overwhelming. Marvelous attention is given to details such as clothing. Sometimes plot developments come out of nowhere, but they generally work in the long run. I really loved this series and wouldn’t hesitate to recommend it.

Black Jack, Episodes 18-28 and Black Jack Special: The 4 Miracles of Life directed by Makoto Tezuka. I wouldn’t necessarily classify Black Jack anime as horror, although the potential is certainly there. I, for one, wouldn’t want to have to face the various diseases and conditions that afflict Black Jack’s patients. I find Black Jack to be a fantastic character and prefer the episodes where he plays a greater role in the story. He can be an absolute ass, but underneath he’s really very compassionate. Also, he’s a baddass. The Black Jack anime ran for sixty-one episodes but only the first twenty-nine episodes and the special are available through Crunchyroll. Fortunately, Black Jack is primarily episodic, so at least we’re not left with unresolved plot arcs. Plus, there’s always the original manga!