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No. 5 Vol.1
Graphic Novel
145 Pages
Taiyo Matsumoto
VIZ Communications
If you can't get enough manga but want to try something different, No. 5 should satisfy that craving nicely, so long as you don't mind a somewhat off-beat experience.
Overall Rating:

Animefringe Reviews:
No. 5 Vol.1
By Patrick King

I'd like to think I don't get confused easily. Typically, I'm the one who gets to explain to my friends what the heck the most recent David Lynch movie meant. In fact, I rarely walk away from a book or movie feeling lost, but No. 5 gave my faith in my ability to figure things out a run for its money. After finishing it, I could swear I heard my brain sigh with relief. Yet, even though it wasn't similar to any manga I've ever read, I actually found its meandering away from normality a bit refreshing.

The story is not truly any stranger than any other science fiction or fantasy tale I've read. It is set in a rather desolate future (as most science fiction futures tend to be) on Earth where resources are growing scarce and international relationships are as tenuous as ever. The primary players in the book are members of the Rainbow Council of the International Peace Keeping Forces - ten people each possessing a unique power such as extraordinary strength or psychic abilities. Each person is given a number instead of a name (except two psychic twins who share a single number). The story begins with a murder, quickly tossing us into the action. No. 5, the title character, kills No. 9, who is pursuing him and Matroshka, a mysterious young woman. It soon becomes apparent that No. 5 has for some reason abandoned the Council and is now on the run from them. Unfortunately for them, No. 5 is a phenomenal marksman and strategist - and thus he is no easy target. Soon, international conflict and chaos erupts as No. 5 tries to escape his pursuers. As this is volume one, it is obvious that this is merely the beginning of a complex tale.

No. 5's cover should be the first clue that it is not going to look like any manga you may be familiar with. It is highly stylistic, and features mostly simple, unexaggerated designs. It is more surreal than real, but avoids the cartoonish look most Japanese comics, anime, and video games possess. The book is larger than the average North American manga as well, further suggesting its departure from the mainstream of the comicfs world. The book is mostly black and white with a brief color sequence in the beginning.

The character designs and artwork for the book are...odd. At times, I felt that I could have scribbled drawings that were significantly better than Matsumoto's work. They seem unfinished, sketchy, and even a bit distracted. Many panels have a focus on seemingly irrelevant events, such as the thoughts of animals in the vicinity of the characters. While I can appreciate originality in a comic book, I can't honestly say I enjoy the visual style of No. 5. I guess I'm still a sucker for big eyes and small mouths.

The story is undeniably intriguing, easily making up for the not-so-attractive visuals. I'm a big fan of complex tales, and I had to read this book twice before I really could figure out what was going on. I like it when I really have to dig into a work to get everything out of it. Not everything has to be brain candy, after all. I'm not sure I would recommend reading just the first volume of No. 5, for it really doesn't have a resolution, just a bunch of introductory events. If you're willing to invest some time and money into a deep comic book series, then this might be the thing for you, so long as you can get past the art. Don't pick this title up looking for cheap thrills, though, or else you'll be sorely disappointed.

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