King of Thorn Vol. 3

By | Monday, May 05, 2008 Leave a Comment
I was able to read Yûji Iwahara's King of Thorn volume 3 on my lunch hour today.

For those of you joining mid-story, an untreatable plague had been killing people and showed no signs of slowing down or being cured in the near future. A number of people had taken to being cryogenically frozen in the hopes that a cure would be found, after which time they could be revived. When the protagonists were released, however, they discovered that the complex had been long-abandoned and was now overgrown with pervasive thorny vines and any number of vermin, large and small. The dwindling group who survived has been following the mysterious Marco, who's clearly not letting on as much as he knows.

In this volume, the group (well, most of them -- chapters 12-13 were a discussion about this next point) continues to follow Marco to the enigmatic -- and now flooded -- Level 4. Once there, they run into some difficulty with a brood of mutant frogs. Escaping them, the troupe are able to find a working control room to pump out the water but, in the meantime, we learn that Marco was a CIA agent, and he is in contact with another mysterious character who's been following the group unseen. The book ends with the discovery of a dead Coral Vega, the leader of Level 4 and a cult known as Venus Gate, at his desk with shotgun in his lap and his blood on the walls.

The series still manages to hold my interest as a mystery/survival story. The main plot does seem to be dragged out a bit longer than is necessary, in favor of rousing action sequences. I'm strangely reminded of the old serialized pulp adventures of John Carter or Doc Savage, where there seemed to be a prerequisite crisis every chapter than ended in a cliffhanger to be resolved shortly at the beginning of the subsequent chapter. The main plot could be dragged on for as long as necessary by simply throwing another fight or chase scene into the middle of things. (Modern movies use this frequently, too, but they still try to wrap everything up in 90 minutes so there's no quite as much padding as the serials used to have.) I will say, though, that Yûji comes up with some different threats for everyone to work through/defeat, so readers don't feel things are getting too repetitive. Of course, this is only volume 3, so we'll see if that keeps up.

The art works well enough. There were a few spots where it was difficult to tell what exactly was going on, but I wonder if that may have been helped if ALL of the sound effects had been translated into English. Even those that don't smoothly work across languages could have used some margin notes or something to explain how a scene is supposed to be interpreted. Especially in light of the transition to Level 4, where one of the characters notes the sudden silence, non-Japanese readers don't know if we're talking about a drop from a deafening rumble or a soft hum or an annoying klaxon.

So far King of Thorn has been a volume-to-volume purchase for me. I enjoy it well enough to buy the next one, but I haven't yet been able to really emotionally get behind it and put it on my pull list or anything. Volume 3 here remains about on the same level; I'll be getting volume 4, but I'm not yet willing to consider volume 5 as well. I can see why some people might write the series off entirely (maybe they don't like the genre, or are just sick of it, or whatever) but I'm having trouble seeing why someone would get really excited about it. It's not bad, by any means, but it also doesn't strike me as that original or that well crafted or that compelling that people will flock to it as they might with the work of Goseki Kojima or Osamu Tezuka.
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