Thursday, September 23, 2010

King of Thorn, Volume 4 by Yuji Iwahara

Marco has found the office of the head of the lab, and the cult who used to run it. But the man is dead from a gun shot, the same gun he holds in his hand. He didn't die in vain, however, for he left a videotape behind, and Marco and the other two survivors watch it.

The dead man is Ivan Coral Vega, the head of VENUS. In the video, he calls the other nations of the world fools and idiots, and traces the origin of the disease back to "Patient Zero", a little Siberian girl who caught the disease along with her whole family, of which she was the only survivor. This girl burned the bodies of her family, and when asked why, she revealed it was so that "He wouldn't get out".

The girl was schizophrenic and had an imaginary friend named Laloo, who was like a normal boy, except that he had a tail like a monkey. And in the house, there was an extra body- a small one, with a tail. From this, Ivan concluded that Medusa wasn't a disease like the world understood the term. It was an infectious agent that infected the mind/soul/spirit. The disease is an alien lifeform that hitched a ride to the earth on a comet- and nothing of its original body or form remains except an insatiable hunger. And this disease/whatever it is, can actually create new life from the body of the sufferer of the disease, but it takes a very strong vision on the part of the sufferer and a very strong version of Medusa to bring about the vision. Otherwise, the victim merely has their body turned to stone.

From this, Marco thinks it should be possible to remove Medusa from the body of its sufferers. But he also wants them to trust him and do as he says. Meanwhile, the girl they have seen inside the facility turns out to be the girl who was Patient Zero. She finds the body of Peter, it's just a shell. And the black man who hurt his leg is being stalked by two dinosaur/dragon things. In the midst of the attack, he sees Peter come back, but his voice isn't the same, and when he tells Peter that he died, Peter doesn't believe him, and abruptly vanishes. From this, the other man concludes that Medusa turns you into a zombie.

Marco decides to hack into the Level 4 computers and drain the excess water so they can get through, and discovers that some of the files are encrypted. He tells Kasumi to watch a video from Level 4 and tell him what went on, but she has to watch it all the way through. After a short while, he sends the woman out to see if she is okay, afraid he might have been too hard on her, and he sends the boy in after her. Then, he locks them in the room and heads into Level 4 himself. He tells them that the door will unlock in 45 minutes, and then they should join.

Kasumi feels betrayed by Marco, but Katherine says he did it to protect them, and when Kasumi throws a chair through a window to get out and follow him, Katherine restrains her, saying she shouldn't be upset: he's trying to protect them, and Kasumi most of all. Kasumi, though, is concerned for Marco, and is worried that he will be attacked by a monster and killed without them. The other woman persuades her to sit and watch the rest of the video.

Meanwhile, Marco and the black man have both ended up in Level 4, the other man by fleeing the dinosaur things, and Marco by swimming through the very slowly draining water. Marco encounters the girl again, and she tells him that his true enemy isn't Medusa. And then, even though he turned off all the security there, they re-arm. On a bank of screens, he sees a man, and he knows him, calling him Zeus. Marco and Zeus used to be rival hackers, but Marco went to jail, where he changed, and got all his tattoos.

Meanwhile, on the security tape, Kasumi comes to realize that the attack of the soldiers on the facility happened the same day that they entered the capsules. Meanwhile, Marco remembers how he was recruited by a man who worked for NSA and how the man convinced him to work for them- by showing him that Zeus was working with the former members of Venus Gate. Since Zeus was the one who framed Marco, Marco wanted revenge, so he agreed to pretend to be a sufferer of the virus and join the others going into coldsleep in the castle.

But Zeus had his own plans, and he'd found someone better than Subject Zero in among the patients, someone who could power Medusa almost infinitely. And it was this person who created everything that now runs amok in the facility, including the thorns and dinosaur-like creatures. But who is it? Meanwhile, Kasumi sees her sister on the tape- Shizuku. They are identical twins, and she doesn't know why Shizuku is there. They were both sick, but only Kasumi was selected to be part of the experiment. Knowing that she has lost her sister, Katherine urges Kasumi to let out her feelings and cry for her sister, which she does.

But what happened to Shizuku and who is this patient that is better and more powerful than Patient Zero? And will Marco be able to overcome his enemy, Zeus, and what does Zeus have in mind for this patient? What does he want with him or her and is he the one who betrayed Ivan Coral Vega and the rest of the former Venus Gate-ers?

Well, we have received more information on what is going on, but there are plenty of questions remaining and new ones that have to be asked. I find myself really liking this series. It's more than halfway over now, but it has really managed to keep my interest without resorting to pointless fights or filler material. And to be honest, sometimes it is better to have a smaller, tighter series than listen to legions of fans wanting more, as long, sprawling series sometimes seem looser and not as good as something more tightly plotted that packs a punch in each page.

This series is definitely of the "small, tightly plotted, with punch in every page"-type, and to be honest, it's one kind that I generally prefer. I've mentioned before that endless (or seemingly endless) battles and whatnot bore me silly, because a lot of series become BATTLE- exposition- BATTLE-BATTLE-BATTLE- minor exposition- YET MORE BATTLE. And that is just fatiguing to read on a longterm basis. And this story, which, even in its exploration parts moves the story forward, is ideal.

So not only would I recommend this title, I do. I want to find out more, and since I have the rest of the volumes right in front of me as I type, that is definitely going to happen. I can't recommend this enough. Reading "King of Thorn" may make you rethink your preconceptions about Japanese stories and manga, if you are generally dismissive of them. Highly, Highly recommended.

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