The dystopian sci-fi manga gets off to a strong start.
Published by Kodansha Comics, No. 6 Vol. 1 contains the first three chapters of the dystopian manga. Based on a novel series written by Atsuko Asano and featuring artwork by Hinoki Kino, No. 6 stars two young men (Shion and Rat) on the run from the authorities of the titular city No. 6. Blending futuristic cityscapes and technology, oppressive government tropes, and body horror, Vol. 1 covers a lot of ground in a short amount of time. With that said, is it good?
First of all, major props have to be given to Kino. This is a gorgeous manga on all levels. As far as the characters go, their body language and facial expressions are very well-rendered throughout. Even more stunning are their hair and clothing — the shading for these is amazing, and the variety of textures present helps to make the world of No. 6 feel more immersive. This attention to detail extends to the volume’s background art as well. The city No. 6 is a beautiful, towering locale, and its idyllic visuals reinforce what the writing has to say about it: that it is supposedly perfect, and utterly devoid of suffering. The city looks so clean that it becomes unnerving — one can tell that it’s all a facade. The strange, sci-fi touches to its design hint at an unseemly truth, while still leaving its exact nature mysterious enough to build tension. Kino also does a fantastic job on the few occasions where the volume ventures into body horror — I don’t want to spoil anything, but Kino does creepy very well.
Thankfully, No. 6 Vol. 1 doesn’t just impress with its visuals; the plot is exciting as well. Shion is a dynamic protagonist — someone who knows the dystopian society around him isn’t all its cracked up to be, and who does what he thinks is right, but is still understandably terrified and hesitant to leave life as he knows it behind. The character shows great potential for growth, and his simultaneous ideological unity and disagreement with Rat creates the kind of complex dynamic that great series are built off of. The volume also does a great job introducing important plot elements such as the presence of a lethal infection spreading in No. 6 and Rat’s apparent ability to communicate with and through actual rats. No concrete answers are given yet, but Asano and Kino make one care enough to read further to find them. That’s more or less the best thing a first volume can do, is it not?
With all that said, I still have a few qualms with this volume. There are multiple instances where the visuals could be a bit clearer in terms of what they’re actually depicting. It’s never a big enough issue to leave me utterly clueless, but it still takes me out of the narrative a bit. It’s hard to love a segment of a comic when you have to reread it multiple times just to get a grasp on what physical motions are occurring in it. I also think that the volume’s third and final chapter was the weakest due to it feeling too rushed. I appreciate that the creative team came out of the gate running and building narrative tension, but just a little more decompression would have made it easier to process all the new story elements being introduced.
Overall, No. 6 Vol. 1 is a very exciting volume. It lays the groundwork for a thrilling dystopian sci-fi epic, with great characters and a unique setting. I’m often critical of dystopian stories that don’t approach the genre uniquely enough, but Asano and Kino have already convinced me that they have something special to say with this series. There are some visual clarity issues here and there, and the last chapter of the volume could have been decompressed a bit, but these gripes are relatively minor. I’m still very excited to see where No. 6 goes from here.