Wednesday, September 15, 2010

King of Thorn, Volume 1 by Yuji Iwahara

Kazumi is just an ordinary schoolgirl in Japan, living with her twin, Shizuku. But there is a strange disease running rampant across the globe that changes people to a substance very much like brittle clay or stone, and for that reason, it is called Medusa.

When Kazumi falls ill with Medusa, it is a sure death sentence, and her sister Shizuku has caught it as well. But Kazumi has been selected to go into cold sleep, in hopes that the scientists of the world can find a cure to the disease. She doesn't want to go without Shizuku, but Shizuku tells her she'd be a fool to give up such a chance, and asks her to live for both of them. So Kazumi reluctantly agrees.

On reaching the facility, Kazumi is stripped of all her possessions except for her glasses, is given a set of scrubs to wear, and a special bracelet that will track the course of her disease. The film strip is white, and as it slowly gets spotted with more and more black, the closer she is to dying of Medusa. When it turns completely black, she will die.

Sealed into her capsule, she goes to sleep. But when she wakes... the room is no longer pristine and white. The lab room is a mess, filled with thorn-covered branches and the other people who had been in the pods. Now awake, everyone is aware that something has happened. The question, though, is what? Was there some kind of apocalypse while Kazumi and the others were in cold sleep? Was a cure ever found for Medusa? Nobody knows.

The mass of people storm the elevator, looking for a way out, and Kazumi is nearly trampled, along with another young boy, but most of the people are eaten by a dinosaur-like or dragon-like creature. Only seven are left, including Kazumi- one man who says he was a senator, a burly black man, a tattooed gang-leader type, a young woman, a very young boy and a bespectacled man.

The gang-leader type takes leadership quickly, much to the dismay of the Senator, who has figured out that the man is actually the notorious hacker, Marco Owen. But perhaps his leadership is exactly what the survivors need to survive, as they don't know how much time has passed, and don't exactly have the skills to survive living rough. But can they get off the island without killing each other, and without dying from the many hazards that could take their lives?

This is an extremely interesting manga, with elements of horror, survival and lots of drama. Kazumi is nothing more than an ordinary schoolgirl, introverted and constantly feeling overshadowed by her more vivacious twin. But at the same time, her sister lives the way she wants to- outgoing and liked. Now, she's thrust into a world where her sister may be long dead, and she must struggle to survive.

Though she's mainly stuck with a couple of adults, sometimes it seems that only she is capable of actually being or acting adult- all the adults are too busy accusing each other of things or fighting amongst themselves. She's the one who tells them to stop fighting and makes peace, but can all of them survive the hellhole of an island they are trapped on?

This book is wonderful at setting up a spooky atmosphere in which all the characters feel trapped. They are trapped by the circumstances of the island- which is filled with hostile animal and plant life, they are trapped by not being able to trust each other, trapped by the island itself, which is surrounded on all sides by water, and trapped by their disease, which dooms them to death anyway, even if they manage to escape. Atmospheric and moody, this book promises a gut-wrenching story, and it delivers on its promises. Extremely well done, and amazing to read. Highly recommended.

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