From its debut until now, Taiyo Matsumoto’s No. 5 has been consistently gorgeous. If there’s one thing Matsumoto loves it’s drawing architecture and other scenery overflowing with bizarre details, and that’s exactly what the imaginative world of No. 5 allows. With that said the actual plot thus far hasn’t always been gripping. How is the series shaping up now that it’s entered it’s second half in this week’s Vol. 3?
So what’s it about?
Here’s the official plot summary courtesy of Viz Media:
The old allegiances and friendships have been broken and the Rainbow Brigade now faces disbandment. No. 5 has eluded or killed every member of the Rainbow Brigade that has come after him so far, but now No. 3 closes in on him and is determined not to let any sentiments for his former comrade cloud his judgment. Elsewhere, No. 1, missing for over a month and struggling to understand what to do with his power, heads for a fateful meeting with No. 2.
Still weird, still gorgeous
This series tells the story of a man on the run, but the journey isn’t all fraught with despair. Matsumoto makes sure to convey perhaps the most pivotal aspect of any traveler’s story: the effects that the local and the visitor have upon one another in the brief time they share. This volume’s opening chapter focuses on a child named Idi whose sense of the world has been broadened with wonder. By meeting someone new, an outsider, she is able to imagine something truly else: an unknown, defined only by the promise of difference from her own experience.
Worldbuilding continues to be one of Matsumoto’s strong suits, and the countryside where Ida lives is stunning. Physical landmarks and societal customs merge and define a people’s way of life, with one character remarking “I know everything that goes on in these parts. This place is all I know.” What a beautiful place it is. The people herd bird-sheep, an amalgamation of species that delight in both their newness and their familiarity. Facets of the real world twist and intertwine into new forms while retaining a wonder at nature that rings true to life.
As always, Matsumoto’s artwork is a delight. Beyond the creative decisions made with regards to architecture and creature designs, there’s also just a fundamental understanding of how to structure comics. The composition of pages and images leads the reader’s eye along perfectly, one detail angling toward the next and then the next and so on, making the reading experience smooth and pleasing. There’s a contentment to be felt in just following the flow of the story as Matsumoto guides one along from marvel to marvel, small moment to small moment.
The world’s sense of vastness also owes to the aesthetic sparseness. There are plenty of wide shots of mountain ranges and valleys mostly undisturbed by humans, reminding one of just how much world there is to discover. White and black tones are effectively balanced to delineate background from foreground while being pleasing to look at, and few moments tilt toward either extreme. To look at Matsumoto’s landscapes is almost akin to meditation: an exercise in taking the world as it is.
With all that said the story itself still isn’t especially noteworthy. Small moments impress, particularly those that capture senses of reticence or awe. When it comes to characters’ motivations or the question of what comes next in a political sense, however, it’s hard to care beyond the panel in which said ideas are called to mind. Characters come and go and the pit stops along the way often feel meaningful, but the nature of interactions is so transitory that it can be hard to keep track of what’s actually happening narratively or of the larger implications.
The wrap-up and looking forward
On the whole, reading No. 5 Vol. 3 is a highly enjoyable experience akin to meditation, peering at nature, or simply vibing along in whatever form. The artwork is expertly crafted and uses fantastical imagery to cut to the heart of real emotions and problems, emphasizing the realism in the uncanny. Nonetheless, the overarching plot remains difficult to get invested in. Your mileage may vary on if this is due to the lack of time spent developing characters’ motivations, the need for further political exploration, or some other factor. Nonetheless, if you’re content to let Matsumoto’s tide push and pull you wherever it goes, then reading this volume makes for quite the relaxing experience.
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