Ever since I read its first volume, Kodansha’s No. 6 has been one of my favorite manga. The sci-fi premise combines economic class struggle, body horror, and philosophy in a unique way that I’ve never seen before. The artwork is consistently beautiful as well, with a variety of textures that are always pleasing to the eye. Vol. 7, by writer Atsuko Asano and artist Hinoki Kino, features chapters 24-27 as well as a back-up story. Vol. 6 was the series’ best thus far; does Vol. 7 achieve the same high standard?
This is another great volume, and the best so far in terms of plot. No. 6′s early installments struck me as too repetitive in terms of Shion and Rat’s dynamic, but all that built-up tension is paying off splendidly in the series’ endgame. The difference in the characters’ moral limits has been a repeating theme, and those limits get put to the ultimate test here. The resulting shifts in the characters’ thought processes are very well-written, and their voices remain believable even as they change considerably. The supporting cast members don’t receive much page-time, but they get just enough to shine while moving their portions of the plot forward.
Artistically, Kino impresses as always. At no other point in the series has the rendering of characters’ facial expressions been so important, and Kino doesn’t drop the ball when it counts. The main characters’ bodies say just as much as the dialogue does; if you removed all of the volume’s text, the emotions and pacing would still make perfect sense.
As per usual, the most visually pleasing details are in Kino’s texture-work. Rat’s hair and jacket are frequent examples of this, and there are also some lovely nature shots in flashbacks. Another example can be found in a two-page spread from the volume’s back-up story, which is one of the series’ best. The image is of Rat and Shion sitting in their apartment at night, with part of the room illuminated by a lantern. There’s a sense of sparsity to the image, but every little detail is well-drawn. As a reader, I felt as if I was taking in the whole scene just like the characters were.
I have very few complaints with this volume. Narratively, there’s nothing I would change. Even Safu, whose scenes usually bore me, undergoes some interesting and unexpected development here. My only qualms are with the art. It’s never bad, but there are segments that just aren’t as good as the rest. This is mainly the case with scenes involving bit part characters. The low amount of detail with which they are rendered stands out dramatically when compared to the intricately detailed protagonists and scenery. There are also a few odd page composition choices interspersed throughout the volume.
Overall, No. 6 Vol. 7 is a great read. Shion and Rat’s relationship continues to serve as the series’ backbone, and it is more poignant than ever. The supporting cast also shine in the brief page-time they receive. As always, Kino impresses with their artwork, though I do have a few small qualms here and there. Nonetheless, this volume is close to perfect. I’m looking forward to reading the series’ final two volumes, but also dreading the fact that I won’t have any more of it left once I do.