Sometimes fantasy worlds can be so large and full of detail that they become a bit difficult to get a firm grasp of. Such was the case with volume one of Taiyo Matsumoto’s No. 5. Matsumoto’s artwork impressed as always with its creativity, texture, and seemingly paradoxical balance of both sparseness and excess. Plot-wise, however, the book threw readers in the deep end with the sheer amount of lore and fantastical concepts introduced on every page. How does the series’ recently released second volume compare? Do the narrative and the visuals work together more successfully?
So what’s it about?
Here’s a plot summary courtesy of Viz Media:
The members of the Rainbow Council were created to be superior to normal human beings and to keep the peace. But with no wars to fight, what purpose do they serve other than public relations? The strange psychic twins called No. 4 use their power to try to convince No. 5 to reverse his course as he tries to stay one step ahead of his pursuers. Meanwhile, No. 1, the leader of the Council, thinks back to a bloody incident 15 years ago that bears on the present day…
Unclear actions, clear emotions
Stylistically, it’s clear at this point that No. 5 has little interest in perfectly linear storytelling. With that said, Matsumoto tosses readers more of a life-line this time around to help get one’s barrings and follow the plot more easily. There are fewer principle characters; only a small handful receive significant page-time and introspective focus. The cuts to and from flashbacks are also a bit more polished and less disruptive to the book’s overall flow. There are even a few pages a ways into the volume that provide a very literal summary of what’s occurred thus far. It’s very brief, but it helps to reinforce the connections between the manga’s disparate travelers.
Speaking of travelers, there is a persistent sense throughout that all the characters are on pivotal journeys. Some of these have major implications for the world at large while others are comparatively more insular, but they’re all rooted in the characters’ changes and desires. The Rainbow Council’s members are fleshed out into interesting figures, even (or perhaps especially) when their internal thoughts remain more obscured. This is a manga about extraordinary people who don’t fit any sort of mold whatsoever, and whose interactions are all the more interactions due to their stark differences. The No. 4 twins are particularly strong characters thanks to the contrast between their seemingly all-seeing nature and the position they actually occupy within the Council.
Nonetheless, that’s not to say that all of the writing’s past issues are completely gone. There are some passages that bore a tad, but fortunately they’re shorter and less mind-numbing that much of Vol. 1. Given how glacial the pacing still is, readers’ mileage will likely vary on if enough “happens.” With that said, if you don’t mind adjusting your expectations to simply follow characters along their journeys and take in the sights, then No. 5 makes for an intriguing read.
Much of the fun in any Matsumoto’s work comes from seeing how he designs the world of the story: architecture, landscapes, animals, etc. No. 5 is an excellent showcase for this, as it features what is likely the most imaginative world of any of his localized series to date. From giant babies floating in the sky to deer-like creatures with sunflower heads, Matsumoto delivers fantastical imagery without explanation, simply leaving the reader to appreciate it for what it is. It’s befitting the overarching sense of travel, the unknown, and emotional vulnerability; one never knows where the next day or goal will take them.
Beyond just the fantastical, No. 5′s artwork continues to impress on a technical level as well. There’s a real sense of the world being lived in, with close attention paid to how characters relate to and impact their environment. Take the ways human bodies disrupt clean blankets of snow as they trudge through them, for example. There are also a wide variety of angles and compositional choices used that serve to enhance the wonder or tone of the subject matter. Take, for instance, the bird’s eye view used when depicting a character descending a spiral staircase. In showing the entire spiral at once, a potentially unremarkable architectural reality becomes evocative of both the literal and metaphorical ways in which these characters’ actions and lives are far from straightforward.
All in all, No. 5 Vol. 2 is an enjoyable followup to the series’ debut volume. The storyline and sense of time become easier to piece together the further in one gets, and the characters’ journeys are emotionally provocative even if somewhat opaque at times. The art also continues to be a selling point as Matsumoto delivers work that is incredibly stylistically distinct while also being technically sound and consistent. Though more enjoyable than the last volume, this installment carries the same ethos, just more heightened and polished as it goes.
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