This manga has an interesting publishing history in the United States. In the early 2000s, Viz published the first two volumes of No. 5 but stopped. Now it’s back in a new, shiny edition. No kidding, the words on the cover have a cool opal shine to them. As a fan of the author, Taiyo Matsumoto, I was ecstatic Viz was giving this book another go. But I was a bit apprehensive: what made them stop publishing after two volumes? I can now say that it’s not because it is bad, as this manga is Tatsumoto at his most original.
The world of No. 5 is treacherous. It is set in the far future where Earth has been turned into a wasteland by the ruling elite. To keep people in line, the elite created the Rainbow Council, a group of super-powered government agents meant to protect the world. To hide their identities, the members' names are numbers based on rank. For One Piece fans, it’s basically if CP9 had the codename conventions of Baroque Works. But one of them, No. 5, betrays the Council and is now on the run with the mysterious woman Matryoshka. It is up to the government and the other eight Rainbow Council members to track him down.
What immediately stands out to me from this book is the art. I always enjoy art outside the norm of manga conventions, and this book is a breath of fresh air. Matsumoto has a distinct style and he’s allowed to dip into his surreal tendencies. At times, it has more in common with a Salvador Dali painting than a traditional manga. As Matsumoto enjoys experimentation, the drawings do become a bit sketchy. However, I like it when an artist can try new things and give audiences a new view of what manga art can be. People may think the sketchy style is easy, but look at any panel and see how many lines the author must have drawn to get the effect. You realize how much effort the author has to put into pulling off his style.
The character designs are also a great deviation from the norm. These characters are from the future, so they have a wildly different view of fashion than we do. At the same time, they have a retro-futuristic look to them as if to harken back to the days of 1960s anime. Then there’s just the straight-up strangeness, like a government official wearing a rabbit costume. It's a unique take on sci-fi fashion.
Even with the interesting designs, the characters felt a bit flat. That’s always going to be an issue when your story has nine-plus major players. Still, it would have been nice if I got to know them more as people. Because the manga focuses on the world and its strangeness I wasn’t able to connect with the characters as much as I would like. It’s surprising coming from the author of Ping Pong, which had great character development.
As a fan of the strange and experimental, No. 5 is a welcome addition to my reading list. The art is superb and the world is intriguing. Even though the characters are flat, we know enough about them that I want to find out more. If you want to read something you’ve never seen before, I’d recommend No. 5 and other works by Tatsumoto such as Tekkon Kinkreet.
No. 5 manga volume 1 features story and art by Taiyo Matsumoto.
In a world where most of the earth has become a harsh desert, the Rainbow Council of the Peace Corps has a growing crisis on its hands. No. 5, one member of a team of superpowered global security guardians and a top marksman, has gone rogue. Now the other guardians have to hunt down No. 5 and his mysterious companion, Matryoshka. But why did No. 5 turn against the council, and what will it mean for the future of the world?Add to CartLearn More