~by Hinoki Kino
~original story by Atsuko Asano
Hinoki Kino's manga adaptation of No. 6 is the second adaptation of Atsuko Asano's nine-volume series of science fiction novels to be released in English. The first, and my introduction to No. 6, was the 2011 anime adaptation directed by Kenji Nagasaki. While I largely enjoyed the anime, the rushed and fumbled ending left me disappointed. The first volume of the No. 6 manga was originally published in Japan in 2011, a few months before the anime began airing. Kodansha's English-language edition of No. 6, Volume 1 was released in 2013. It's highly unlikely that Asano's original novels (which are really what I would like to read) will ever be licensed in English, and so I was intrigued when Kodansha announced that Kino's manga adaptation would be published. Since the series is still currently being serialized in Japan, I'm hoping that the story will have a properly executed ending this time around.
On the surface, the city of No. 6 appears to be an ideal, utopic society. The crime rate is negligible. Medical and technological advancements offer its citizens unprecedented comfort and care. Shion is among the elite of the elite. Identified at a young age as a prodigy with a particular affinity for medicine and ecology, he and his mother have their every need provided for by the city. But when Shion saves the life of a young fugitive named Rat, helping him to escape, Shion is stripped of his status and special privileges. He has seen a brief glimpse of the darker side of No. 6. Four years later he'll see even more when he stumbles upon a pair of bizarre deaths and he becomes the perfect scapegoat for the supposed murders. With his own life now in danger, Shion has a decision to make: flee No. 6 and the only life he knows or remain in a city that no longer considers him human.
The first volume of No. 6 does a nice job of establishing the series' two main protagonists: Shion and Rat. Although the two young men share an important connection with each other, they come from very different backgrounds and have very different personalities. Shion is intelligent but sheltered and there's a certain innocence about him. He comes across as a bit naive and socially awkward, but he is intensely curious and searches for the significance behind things. Even though most of Rat's past hasnt' been revealed, it is quite clear by the end of the first volume of No. 6 that he has had a much rougher time of it. He is quick-witted but world-weary and cynical. The underlying meaning of a situation isnt' nearly as important to him as is the immediate reality. It's simply a matter of survival. In part because they are so different, Rat and Shion find themselves drawn to each other.
After only one volume, No. 6 has yet to really distinguish itself from other dystopian fiction. It's a fairly standard set up with a seemingly perfect society that's not quite everything it appears to be. The manga itself often feels very rushed in places and lacking in details in others. There were a few scenes that had I not previously seen the anime would have left me momentarily confused. In the afterword Kino admits to having had to cut much more from the manga than was ideal in order not to surpass page limits. Even so, No. 6, Volume 1 provides the needed introduction to the story and outlines the world in which it takes place. I hope that now that the stage has been set that the manga will have room to breath and slow down a little. It is a different version of the story than was seen in the anime; I'm looking forward to seeing where Kino takes it.