Kodansha’s No. 6 Vol. 5 marks the halfway point for the science fiction manga illustrated by Hinoki Kino and based on Atsuko Asano’s original novel series. In Vol. 5, Shion and Rat finally reach the Correctional Facility, but naturally things don’t go quite as planned. This volume collects chapters 16 through 19, as well as some short bonus stories that expand on past events. With all of the plot progression and focus on Rat and Shion’s complicated dynamic, as well as Kino’s fantastic track record thus far, Vol. 5 has a lot of potential. Does it live up to said potential, and is it good?
The vast majority of this volume’s page-time is devoted to Rat and Shion, and happily it’s time well-spent. Throughout the series thus far, the pair has frequently found themselves at ideological odds between Shion’s perhaps naive level of optimism and Rat’s disturbingly intense desire not to trust or love anyone else. Vol. 5 takes that preexisting tension and amps it up to eleven once the duo find themselves in perhaps their most dangerous situation yet. This is a volume with literal piles of dead and dying bodies, piles so tall that the main characters climb them like mountains. It’s the ultimate pressure cooker, and some of the volume’s most poignant lines concern how Shion and Rat cling onto each other as a means of remaining human. The narration also discusses the ways in which people grow accustomed to even the most horrific of circumstances. All in all, this volume impresses with its coverage of trauma and the human psyche’s ability to adapt to it.
Artistically, Kino continues to deliver good work. As always there are a number of beautiful textures throughout, and the shading is lovely. It’s also worth noting that, while this has been the case for a while now, Shion’s character design and the rendering of his emotions continue to be great. The volume’s backgrounds are at their best when Kino dives in with deep detail; tree canopies, grass, and skylines always impress.
Unfortunately, this volume’s artwork has a few more weak spots than usual. Some segments go awkwardly long without background details, resulting in pages that feel strangely empty. There are also multiple occasions where the trajectories of movement across panels become unclear. This is especially problematic during a fight scene where it’s difficult to tell how the characters’ bodies interact with the physical space they navigate within.
I also have a few qualms with this volume’s writing. We get brief glimpses of Safu and her captors, but so little is revealed that the time spent on them feels wasted. There are also several points that shift between past and present or imagination and reality, and the lines between said things are initially difficult to pinpoint. The resultant confusion doesn’t create an effective sense of haziness so much as it just slows down the reading experience. I also wish the plot progressed a bit more, but at least the final three pages make for a thrilling cliffhanger.
Overall, No. 6 Vol. 5 is another good installment in the series. The artwork continues to shine, Shion and Rat’s relationship remains tense without feeling stuck in place, and the ending is the series’ best thus far. On the negative side, some parts of the story could have used fleshing out, and there are several clarity issues with both the writing and the artwork. Nonetheless, this is a solid midpoint and I look forward to reading No. 6′s remaining volumes.