Random Manga Theatre 71: Kaikisen

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Hit the “Random” button and see what comes up! In this feature, we take a look at whatever manga the Random Number God decides to throw at us and find out if it’s worth your time.

This time: Kaikisen, by Satoshi Kon

What intrigued me the most when this title came up was the author. Many of you may know Satoshi Kon from his directorial roles in classics like Paprika and Paranoia Agent, but I was surprised to find out he actually started out as a manga artist. This 200 page one-shot was published all the way back in 1990, and was only his second foray into the manga world. One can quickly see a lot of Kon’s signature touches. There’s a big emphasis on nostalgia and the conflict between ancient tradition and urban modernization. At the middle of it is a generational fight. Yosuke is the son of the local priest in a rural seaside town. In order to drum up tourism, one day his father reveals a secret that had once only been between the family: There is a Mermaid’s egg that the shrine protects every sixty years before returning to the sea. The grandfather is of the old guard, disgusted at what his son has done to his home, where his father simply wants to make the area more relevant so that people’s lives can be made better.

There is a nice little subplot between Yosuke and Natsumi. They are both reaching a crossroads in their life, one in the face of a new life and the other in the process of rebuilding one lost.  Yosuke feels trapped by the generational inheritance that seems inevitably lined up for him. Natsumi is trying to forget her life in the city by returning to her roots to dwell in its nostalgia. Both characters have their problems, and by using each other to work out their own feelings they come to better understand what they want out of life. It’s a muted romance that is told more in looks and caring words than public displays that I found really sweet.

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What starts out as a pretty solid conflict actually gets kinda railroaded by the fact that the egg is actually magical. Curing wounds and cancer, the egg catches the eye of Ozaki, the owner of a construction conglomerate that is managing the town’s revitalization. Clad in a white suit and wearing sunglasses at all hours of the day, this man is so ridiculously evil looking it’s actually somewhat humorous. He even gets around to literally kicking a dog at one point. I would have ended the story with the reconciliation of the family. We learn that it was really the death of Yosuke’s mother that spurred his father to start wanting to modernize the town, so that people wouldn’t die to preventable deaths like hers. Instead we get this long and confusing car/boat chase as Ozaki tries to get away with the egg.

In the end, despite his obvious douche moves, I actually find Ozaki’s aims quite commendable. He wants to study something that may have cured cancer, give the guy a break would ya? It’s not like anything gets better by Yosuke giving the mermaid her child anyway, the town is still hit with a tsunami and the area devastated. It really felt like a hollow ending that didn’t do anything with all of the personality it had built up until then.

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Verdict: Starts Strong, Peters Out

I loved the way the characters were built up, and although it was only 200 pages you could really feel for the characters and their circumstances. Even the comic relief and his father, bit characters at best, are given a lot of backstory as to their motivations and you really get a feel of what it’s like to grow up in this kind of rural town. Still, the best of series can be ruined by a bad ending. It reminded me a lot of Toradora, where things seemed to be progressing well and then the story took a nosedive into crazytown which ended up souring my experience. Thankfully this manga wasn’t that bad, I would definitely recommend it if you have an hour to burn, but just know you’ve been warned.

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