by Daisuke Igarashi
published by Viz; $14.99 US
Sora, one of the boys who has the ability to survive underwater, is missing from the hospital. He usually shares some kind of connection with Umi, but Umi is unsure of Sora’s location. Ruka, the girl from the first book, watches over Umi while the adults wonder what to do about Sora.
The story is slight, with more hinted at than revealed, because that’s not the point. This volume, like the first, is full of mystery and wonder and supernatural (in the sense of “beyond the natural”) events. For instance, while looking for Sora, Umi and Ruka swim in the ocean during rainfall, and the author shows us on the page what that experience might feel like. Igarashi’s thin lines and subtle shading have a delicate, flowing sense that makes the ocean seem like outer space — the last unexplored frontiers, enigmatic areas where the unnatural might still be possible.
Nature’s power is often underrated, and although experts think they understand (and control) it, Umi and Sora are the source of unexplainable mysteries, such as why animals will leave their normal environments to follow the boys. Ruka’s involvement is teaching her about the interconnections of the ecosystem, such as why typhoons are valuable and necessary, even though they inconvenience humans. Even beyond the natural, Umi thinks the typhoon is “a ship for spirits”, carrying more than fish far from home.
This is a book of interconnections, but I’m not sure I can find the depths in this book that a Japanese reader can. Japan is an island, after all, while I live far from any coastline. I was reminded of this cultural difference reading the first chapter, which flashes back to Jim as a young man 40 years ago. (Jim is a marine biologist working at the aquarium who acts as Sora and Umi’s guardian.) He’s out attempting to harpoon a whale as part of his stay with some native islanders. Combined with the recent mention in a volume of Oishinbo, I realized that my attitude toward whaling (bad idea, risks extinction) is likely very different than that held by some Japanese (tradition, food source, should resume). I suspect that his “coming of age” struggle to kill a whale isn’t supposed to have the connotation of old-fashioned wrongness that I read into it.
Americans don’t pay as much attention to the seasons or the weather or the ecosystem. We think we’ve tamed all that. For that reason, I suspect a younger mind might be more receptive to the book’s message. Fish turning into points of light, a meteorite that may be an answer at the same time it fulfills an ancient myth, riding whales around the world, different groups of academics in conflict… there are a lot of questions here. And something of an anti-scientific bent in favor of legend and feeling and beings with exceptional abilities just this side of plausible. A nighttime conversation late in the book discusses how much can’t be observed and how important memory is in its place.
You can read the first chapter of this volume online, along with some newer ones from the eventual future volumes. That’s an excellent way to sample the unique thin-line art of the series as well. (The publisher provided a review copy.)