Tenken manga review

A self-contained graphic novel by Yumiko Shirai, "Tenken" delivers a fairly solid narrative in an interesting, fleshed-out world. However, the brevity of the novel creates more of a focus on the immediate characters, which is surprising given the weirdness of the setting.

"Tenken" is based on the famous Shinto story of the god Susano and the eight-headed serpent Orochi. It takes place in a weird amalgamation of modern and primitive - people live in modern apartments and complexes, but they are visibly overgrown with vegetation. The two main characters are construction workers, but they use bamboo scaffolding to do repair work and so on. We quickly learn that the setting is post-apocalyptic, but many traditions and rituals remain in place from the "old world". However, some of these rituals prove to be more than mere superstition, and the nature of reality isn't quite as it seems.

The main story is all right, but not quite as interesting as the rest of the series. It's a pretty basic "boy meets girl, something happens to girl, boy defies all odds to save her" sort of deal. The characters at least get to spend some time together before that happens - not enough to justify their magnetic attraction, perhaps, but at least there's history implied between them. Even so, this felt like the most rushed part of the story - all the background was set up and put into place, and then a character-based plot was sort of put in wherever it could fit.

One of the sort of background details of the setting is the presence of radiation and its effects on the natural world. The main source of bamboo (for scaffolding) comes from irradiated areas, which means that to collect it individuals must venture in and expose themselves to radiation while harvesting it. This is one of the details that relies on the story's glossary. Essentially, the book sets up this whole world concept, comparable to the Zone of Exclusion from the video game S.T.A.L.K.E.R., but is forced to put it aside to focus on the character-centric myth. Still, the story does manage to tie all the different elements together, and keeps the reader doubting at the nature of the truth.

The art is stylized, but more in terms of the tools used than the design itself. The characters look fairly standard, but the brushes and techniques used to create them are unorthodox. This gives the pages a more aged, unreal look. However, the use of white space often makes scenes blend together, and though there are many scenes in the dark the black-and-white coloring (very little use of grey shades) makes it harder to really get that across. Still, it looks nice for the most part. It's definitely the kind of art you can't quickly scan through, because details can get lost in the general confusion.

Overall, Tenken was enjoyable to read. It focuses enough on the world as a whole as well as the main plot for it to be interesting. It's short enough to be readable without having to spend huge amounts of time on filler, but it's long enough to get invested in the characters and the world. I'd have appreciated the main plot being a little more developed, but that's simply what happens when the length is limited in such a way.

Rating: 8/10.

this manga was purchased with our own money from a bookstore.

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