No. 6, Volume 9

No. 6, Volume 9Creator: Hinoki Kino
Original story: Atsuko Asano

U.S. publisher: Kodansha
ISBN: 9781612627946
Released: October 2014
Original release: 2014

Released both in Japan and in English in 2014, No. 6, Volume 9 is the final volume of Hinoki Kino’s manga series No. 6, an adaptation of a series of science fiction novels written by Atsuko Asano. The manga adaptation felt a little hurried at first, but the series’ pacing, characterization, and world-building continued to improve with each new volume. I have very much been enjoying the No. 6 manga. My introduction to No. 6 was actually through the eleven-episode anime series from 2011, directed by Kenji Nagasaki. I largely enjoyed the anime, but was disappointed with its extraordinarily rushed ending. One of the reasons why I was particularly happy when Kodansha Comics licensed the No. 6 manga for an English-language release was that I was hoping for a more satisfying conclusion to the story. Though there are some similarities between the two (including the same character designs), the manga and the anime adaptations are different interpretations of Asano’s original No. 6, each with their own merits. I was definitely curious to see how Kino would end the series.

Shion and Rat have failed in their mission to rescue Safu from the Correctional Facility, barely managing to flee with their own lives. To make matters worse, Rat has been critically injured—shot in the chest while trying to protect Shion during their escape. Shion was able to give Rat first aid, but the other young man is in desperate need of proper medical attention. However, the facilities that could save Rat’s life don’t exist within West Block. No. 6, the city that Rat wishes above all else to destroy, holds his only hope, and it is now in chaos. The citizenship is dangerously close to revolt and fear is sweeping across the populace. Some of the turmoil was cause by Shion and Rat during their attack on the Correctional Facility, but there are also others within No. 6 itself who are seeking revenge against the state, fanning the flames of discontent. Rat and Shion have so far been able to survive, but their fight is far from over. Shion doesn’t even have time to grieve for Safu if he wants to prevent losing more of the people he loves dearly.

Because I started reading the No. 6 manga in part because I had seen the anime, at times it’s difficult for me not to compare the two. And as previously mentioned, I was particularly interested in how Kino would end the series. I’m not certain how it compares to Asano’s original novels, but the manga’s conclusion is much more comprehensive than the anime’s. (Actually, I can make some more sense out of the anime now that I have read the manga.) The last few volumes have been increasingly intense. The sudden relaxation of all of that tension in No. 6, Volume 9 is very disconcerting, and even a little anticlimactic, as the immediate danger passes. However, the Correctional Facility has been destroyed and the wall between No. 6 and West Block has begun to fall. There may be a temporary lull in which people momentarily feel safe, but peace will be a long time in coming as resentment and hatred still exist and pose a threat. Taking this into consideration, Kino’s ending allows for that and, while the ending is complete, there is a sense that the world of No. 6 and the struggle continues beyond the page.

Although No. 6, Volume 9, mostly provides a satisfying conclusion to the manga series, at times it does feel like it’s only really scratching the surface of a much more complicated and detailed story. However, all of the major plot threads are addressed and resolved, including the revelation of the meaning behind the parasitic bees and the explanation of the secret experiments being carried out in No. 6. Granted, it does take an infodump or two to fit it all into the last volume, but they work and their inclusion actually makes a fair amount of sense within the context of the narrative. Where Kino’s No. 6 really excels though is with the evolution and development of Rat and Shion. They begin the series with straightforward personalities that become increasingly layered and complex as the manga progresses. Shion is benevolent but also frightening; Rat’s apparent strength hides his frailty. Their roles in their relationship with each other have reversed several times throughout the series and continue to shift and change all the way to its end. I came to care about Shion and Rat immensely and am very glad to finally have a much more thorough ending to their story.

No. 6, Volume 8

No. 6, Volume 8Creator: Hinoki Kino
Original story: Atsuko Asano

U.S. publisher: Kodansha
ISBN: 9781612625782
Released: August 2014
Original release: 2013

Hinoki Kino’s manga series No. 6 is an adaptation of Atsuko Asano’s No. 6 science fiction novels. I’ve wanted to read the original series ever since I watched the No. 6 anime adaptation, but I am quite aware of how unlikely it is that the novels will be licensed any time soon, if ever. Still, I was very pleased when Kodansha Comics announced that Kino’s manga adaptation would be officially translated into English. No. 6, Volume 8 was originally released in 2013 while Kodansha’s edition was published in 2014. The English-language edition is actually based on the Japanese special edition of the volume, which means that it contains a bonus story as well as some additional material. Of particular note is a sixteen-page color illustration gallery which will most likely be limited to the first printing of No. 6, Volume 8 (at least in color). This is the first time that color pages have been included in the English-language version of No. 6; it’s Kodansha’s way of thanking readers for the strong support that they have shown the series.

Rat and Shion have been able to successfully infiltrate No. 6’s Correctional Facility, but it hasn’t been easy. The two young men have faced off with the building’s security forces and survived, but not without injury and not without taking the lives of some of those who would do them harm. It’s been a traumatizing experience for both Shion and Rat, but they are determined to complete their mission at whatever cost. Shion’s goal is to rescue his close friend Safu, who has been arrested and is being held within the Correctional Facility; Rat aspires to completely destroy No. 6 and anything and anyone associated with it. Sadly, Shion’s reunion with Safu isn’t all that he hoped for and now that Rat and Shion have reached the most secure and heavily guarded areas of the Correctional Facility they must find a way to escape—something that will prove to be even more dangerous than their initial assault on the building. With time quickly running out, it will be all that they can do just to survive.

Even though I am already familiar with the story of No. 6 it is still astounding and incredibly heart-wrenching to see just how much Shion has changed over the course of the series. And it’s not change without cause. He has seen and been put through terrible, horrifying things. Some harsh truths and decisions have been forced upon him while other choices have been entirely his own, either consciously or subconsciously. Glimmers of who Shion once was can still be seen—even when in utter despair he can somehow find beauty in life and in other people—but it’s likely only a matter of time before reality completely breaks him. Over the last few volumes he has been slipping further and further away; by this point in the series Shion’s mental state is extremely precarious. He is desperately trying, and failing, to process and make sense of everything that has happened. Tragically, Shion is no longer even capable of saving himself. It’s only when Rat’s life is in mortal danger that Shion is temporarily torn away from his inner turmoil and crisis.

No. 6, Volume 8 focuses almost entirely on the escape from the Correctional Facility. Kino’s action sequences have improved immensely since the beginning of the series, which is especially important for a volume which relies so heavily on them. Kino has started using some very interesting and effective angles of perspective, which adds to the dynamic nature of Rat and Shion’s flight. While there isn’t much plot advancement in the eighth volume of No. 6, there are still some crucial and defining character moments for both Rat and Shion. The changes that Shion has been going through have had a tremendous impact on Rat and as a result he is struggling, too. Although there is excitement and drama to be found within the story itself, it’s ultimately the characters and their evolution as the series steadily progresses that make No. 6 so gripping. With only one more volume to go there is still plenty that could happen, but no matter which direction No. 6 takes Rat and Shion will never be the same.

No. 6, Volume 7

No. 6, Volume 7Creator: Hinoki Kino
Original story: Atsuko Asano

U.S. publisher: Kodansha
ISBN: 9781612625539
Released: June 2014
Original release: 2013

I have been following Hinoki Kino’s manga adaptation of Atsuko Asano’s science fiction novel series No. 6 since its beginning. The manga got off to a bit of an unsteady start, but it quickly improved its pacing and setting development, each passing volume becoming stronger and building on those that came before it. No. 6, Volume 7 was initially published in Japan in 2013 while Kodansha Comics’ English translation, which includes a bonus story from Japan’s special edition, was released in 2014. I haven’t read Asano’s original novels (sadly, they have yet to be licensed in English) so I can’t directly compare the manga series, but I have seen the anime adaptation. In fact, it was because I liked the characters from the anime so well that I sought out another interpretation of their story. Though both the anime and the manga began around the same time, the anime was completed in 2011 while the ninth and final volume of the manga was released in 2014. The anime and manga share many similarities with each other, but in the end they are their own works.

Rat and Shion’s daring plan to infiltrate the city of No. 6’s Correctional Facility has so far been surprisingly successful and, with a little outside help, they have been able to penetrate the building’s first line of defenses. Gaining access to the Correctional Facility and surmounting the initial challenges preventing the rescue of Shion’s close friend Safu is only the beginning; even with their unexpected luck, things will prove to be much more difficult for Rat and Shion as they continue on their mission and press on farther into the Facility’s interior. Considering that Safu was once counted among No. 6’s elites, Shion is convinced that she must be being held captive in the most secure, upper levels of the Correctional Facility. At best, he and Rat have mere minutes before their intrusion is discovered. After that there is no knowing what they will have to face and they were working with very limited information to begin with. Both Shion and Rat anticipated that the rescue attempt would be extremely dangerous, and at this point there is no turning back.

Since I have seen the anime adaptation of No. 6 and am therefore familiar with many of the important plot points found in the manga, I can’t say that I was particularly surprised by some of the major developments in No. 6, Volume 7. That being said, there are still some incredibly shocking moments which can be attributed to the strength of the underlying story as a whole. Especially potent and devastating is the evolution of Shion’s character over the course of the series. In the last few volumes in particular he has changed so much it seems that Rat’s fears are starting to come true—at times he is no longer even recognizable as Shion anymore. He has become a different person. Gone is the innocent and optimistic young man who was so quick to see the good in people. In his place is a person within whom hatred is growing and whose sense of justice has taken a dramatic and dangerous turn, not only for those around him, but for himself as well.

Taking into account everything that Shion has been through so far, it’s not unexpected that he and his outlook on the world has changed. His own life and the lives of those he holds dearest have been repeatedly threatened. He has personally witnessed the poverty and despair of the residents of West Block as well as the horrors of the Manhunt. Shion has seen senseless violence and death. He has learned about the atrocities committed in the name of No. 6, and yet he still doesn’t know everything. Rat and Shion gained access to the Correctional Facility in order to rescue Safu, but in the process they discover even more of the city’s dark secrets. The truths behind No. 6, its establishment, and its continued existence are not pleasant ones. It’s a so-called perfect society, but the leadership is more than willing to turn on its own citizens in order to maintain that perfection. Shion is trying to come to terms with all of this and to protect the people that he cares about and loves, but in doing so he may very well lose himself entirely.

No. 6, Volume 6

No. 6, Volume 6Creator: Hinoki Kino
Original story: Atsuko Asano

U.S. publisher: Kodansha
ISBN: 9781612623603
Released: April 2014
Original release: 2013

I was rather pleased when Kodansha Comics licensed Hinoki Kino’s manga adaptation of Atsuko Asano’s No. 6. The original No. 6 was a nine-volume series of science fiction novels written between by 2003 and 2011. (Sadly, they haven’t officially been translated into English.) Also in 2011, two adaptations of No. 6 began—Kino’s manga series, which also ended up being nine volumes long, and an eleven-episode anime series directed by Kenji Nagasaki. The anime was actually my introduction to No. 6. Parts of the anime’s original ending frustrated me a great deal, but I was so taken with the characters and setting that I wanted to explore another interpretation of the story. No. 6, Volume 6 was originally published in Japan in 2013 while the English-language edition of the volume was released in 2014. The series has now passed its halfway point and is approaching its climax. The fifth volume ended in the middle of a critical scene, so I was particularly anxious to read the sixth.

The Security Bureau of the city of No. 6 has arrested Shion’s close childhood friend Safu and is currently holding her within the Correctional Facility. Shion is willing to do almost anything he can to rescue her, but he won’t be able to do it on his own no matter how hard he tries. Instead, he must rely on those he has met in West Block, a large population of refugees living outside the city walls. Rat has devised a daring plan to infiltrate the Correctional Facility. Shion and Rat allow themselves to be rounded up during the Manhunt—an effort by No. 6 to forcibly control and instill fear into those living in West Block—and are thereby able to gain access to the least secured area of the facility. If they hope to proceed any further they will have to depend on outside help and bribery; nothing is free in West Block, especially when those who give their aid may very well lose their lives for doing so. Everyone involved in the rescue have their own motives and agendas against the holy city of No. 6 so, at least for the time being, they are comrades.

No. 6, Volume 6 is a particularly important volume in the series for several reason: more of No. 6’s dark secrets are uncovered, a part of Rat’s past and the reason behind his hatred for the city is revealed, and the characters, specifically Shion but also Rat, have reached a crucial turning point in their development. All three of these things are interrelated and tied closely together. Shion grew up living an extremely privileged life in the supposedly perfect and pristine No. 6. However, the Manhunt and his experiences in West Block have shown him the terrible things that the city is capable of. Shion’s innocence is shattered further when he discovers that even the foundation of No. 6 was based on the blood of others. This history and Rat’s connection to it is something that up until this point in the series Rat has kept hidden from Shion, partly because he tends to distrust and close himself off from other people, but also because he was trying to protect the other young man. However, these are terrible truths that Shion must now face and come to terms with.

Seeing Shion begin to really change in the previous volume was heartbreaking, but here in No. 6, Volume 6 the difference between who Shion is now and who he was before is terrifying. The violence he is willing to commit with such eerie calm is chilling. His mother, still inside the city, is understandably worried about her son and his survival. However Rat, who is with him, is less concerned with Shion’s physical safety and more concerned about the potential loss of Shion’s personality and his very self. It’s almost as if the two of them have changed roles. Never before has Rat appeared so vulnerable or exhibited such kindness. He fears for Shion and is afraid of who Shion is becoming. At one point in the sixth volume the question is asked “Who do you want so much that it kills you?” In many ways, that question is the crux of No. 6. Rat is changing. Shion is changing. For the better and for the worse. For themselves and for each other. As a result the dynamics of their relationship is also evolving. They may or may not survive their confrontation with No. 6; tragically, even if they do, it is likely that they will be so different that little of their past lives and selves will remain intact.

No. 6, Volume 5

No. 6, Volume 5Creator: Hinoki Kino
Original story: Atsuko Asano

U.S. publisher: Kodansha
ISBN: 9781612623597
Released: February 2014
Original release: 2012

As much as I would like to read them, it is highly unlikely that Atsuko Asano’s series of science fiction novels No. 6 will ever be licensed in English. Happily, two adaptations are available: the 2011 anime series directed by Kenji Nagasaki (which was my introduction to the story) and the manga series by Hinoki Kino. Despite the anime’s bungled ending, I actually quite enjoyed the series, so I was glad to have a chance to experience another interpretation of the original story. The fifth volume in Kino’s manga adaptation was initially published in Japan in 2012. Kodansha Comics’ English-language edition of No. 6, Volume 5, published in 2014, also collects bonus stories not included in the regular Japanese edition. Though it had its high points, overall I found the first volume of the No. 6 manga to be a bit weak. However, each volume has gotten progressively stronger as Kino has had time to more fully develop the series’ characters and world.

With the increase in the number of refugees and the rise in violent crime, the population of West Block has been deemed too large and dangerous. It’s all the excuse the holy city of No. 6 needs to mount a massive cleanup operation, known to the residents of West Block as the Manhunt, in which parts of the area outside the city walls are completely destroyed and the population conveniently “removed.” The Manhunt is a way for No. 6 to keep control and prevent riots, but this time the operation serves another purpose—to gather enough undesirables to serve as human guinea pigs for a top-secret experiment being conducted and authorized by the city’s upper echelons. The Manhunt will also provide Shion and Rat with the opportunity that they need to infiltrate the Correctional Facility in order to search for and hopefully rescue Shion’s close friend Safu. Rat is one of the few people to have made it out of the Correctional Facility alive and doesn’t particular want to go back, but he isn’t about to allow Shion to attempt it on his own.

This is the volume of No. 6 in which Shion is brought dangerously close to his breaking point, and it is heart-wrenching to witness it happen. Living in West Block has been slowly changing him; it’s an environment that is drastically different from the seemingly perfect city of No. 6 where he spent almost his entire life. But the violence and suffering that Shion has been exposed to in West Block is nothing compared to the extent of the very deliberate cruelty of the Manhunt. Any faith that he still had in No. 6 is shattered when confronted with this horrifying atrocity, absolute proof that the city is not at all what it claims to be. Shion by nature has a very positive and optimistic outlook on life, but he has begun to lose that. Both he and Rat regret that change and even fear how much Shion might continue to change, especially in light of the most recent turn of events. Shion will never be able to return to the person who he once was no matter how much either of them would want it.

The characters and their growth continue to be some of the strongest elements of Kino’s No. 6 manga. This is especially true of Shion, as can particularly be seen in this volume, but Rat has also been changing in significant ways. The supporting cast, too, has almost all seen at least some minor development. The only major exception to this is the research scientist in charge of No. 6’s experiment. In fact, even though the series is more than halfway over, he doesn’t even have a name yet and is only referred to as “the man in white” in the character profiles. Since he seems to be one of the series’ main antagonists, this is a little disappointing. It’s also rather unsatisfying that the experiment, its purpose, and the motives behind it haven’t yet been made clear to the readers. This persistent vagueness and lack of clarity, instead of being mysterious or creating ominous tension, is mostly just frustrating this far along in the series. Even so, Rat and Shion’s excellent development in the manga largely makes up for this. In the end, I’m still really enjoying No. 6.