October 31, 2011 Leave a comment
I picked up IO a while back, had a look at it initially and then simply continued reading. The name itself isn’t all that brilliance and doesn’t really tell you anything about the actual story, but once you get past it you will find a brilliant piece of story telling and great artwork. This is an odd story, it starts off as a fairly run of the mill romance story with a good helping of ecchi and fanservice, but we also have an element of the supernatural, along with a sci-fi and political conspiracy sub-plot, all taking place in and around one of the small islands that make up the Okinawan archipelago. It is a manga that is very hard to categorize and I very much enjoyed that element of it. I am a fan of sci-fi, but I often find it can all get a little too much, in the case of IO it is all very subdued and quite subtle.
The story starts off simple enough; Nakabaru Taiyo is on a school trip to Okinawa. 10 years ago his father disappeared at sea, and so he wants to go to the small island of Zamami (this island actually exists and is one of the Kerama islands in the Okinawan archipelago). He also hits on every girl and woman he sees. He sees one girl pushing a trolley that is loaded with diving equipment and attempts to help, what is curious is that this girl recognizes him, slaps him and blames him for her mothers death. This is how the story begins and Taiyo attempts to unravel the mysteries of his past and his connection not only with this girl and her sisters but also with Zamami Island and the surrounding sea.
The story itself is not especially long, only 36 chapters, but it has a nice pacing. Rather than simply dump all the mysteries and little plot devices on the reader within the first couple of chapters we get it in small doses. In fact its not until around chapter 20-22 that there is anything significant told about his past and the island. Although there are small clues given to us in the previous chapters. What we get at first then is essentially an ecchi romance comedy with some supernatural and political elements thrown in.
What I like about the plot and the way the story moves forwards is that there are no right or wrong answers, only mysteries. There are supernatural phenomena and various ruins (which are apparently dotted all over the Okinawan archipelago without any real date to them), which remain a mystery throughout the story. We also have an element of governmental conspiracy thrown into this mix, and this is where I think the story shows its true strength. In many other manga where conspiracies play a large part it is easy for them to be sidetracked and basically lose the plot, in the case of IO this does not happen (well maybe once or twice), rather the conspiracy adds to the story and in fact deepens the mystery surrounding Taiyo and the island. And what I find most impressive is that there are no real ‘good’ or ‘bad’ guys, rather a murky shady of grey. All the different groups and agencies in the manga who are researching the ruins and the white whale are very ambiguous, with different goals and aims. There are some for example who help Taiyo and the sisters in various ways, although they true aims remain unclear and are clearly not to be trusted.
The main characters are all quite interesting with intertwining pasts. Taiyo is essentially the classic ecchi skirt chaser who tries to hit on every woman he sees, especially if they have big breasts. He is however serious about unlocking the mysteries of the island and his own past. I liked this about him, since he is a well-rounded character and actually cares for the three sisters who he has a connection with. He cares about them so much that he will put himself in harms way to save them. So, while he might be this classic skirt chaser, with a penchant for big breasts, he is very much an interesting and far more complex character than you otherwise might think.
We then have the three Miyara sisters, Nagisa, Shibuki and Mio. Nagisa is the eldest and a professional diving instructor; Yaiyo immediately falls for her because of her figure and looks. She also knows a lot about Taiyo’s past and attempts to keep it a secret fearing that what ever happened before may happen again if he remembers. Shibuki is the second sister, she was the one who slapped Taiyo initially and clearly holds a grudge against him. She is a fairly traditional Tsundere character, hitting and kicking Taiyo, but potentially harbouring romantic feelings. And Mio is the youngest and the most mysterious, with a very specific connection to Taiyo.
IO’s artwork is rather nice, I would probably call it a little retro (the manga was publish in 2000), the character designs are definitely not those of many current manga or anime, but I liked this about the manga, since it was something a little different. There is some nudity involved, but entirely of the wet/see through clothing, exposed nipples/breasts kind (and I think it either has a mature/ecchi tag on some manga sites). The landscapes are also well drawn, and considering the manga takes place in and around the sea this is a good thing. It is not the most detailed artwork, but from my limited knowledge I would say that it is entirely hand drawn rather than the CG backgrounds that we have started to see more often in manga. One thing I especially love about the artist Koio Minata is his ability to create immensely moving scenes without using any sound effects or text, simply through the artwork.
There is one thing that did get on my nerves while reading this manga, the diving explanations. I understand that most of these terms will not be familiar to your average reader but I just got irritated at explanations for different phrases popping up in the manga. There were large parts of chapters that were effectively devoted to explaining different pieces of diving kit, terms and other aspects of scuba diving. Koio Minata has clearly done his research and has a great deal of interest in diving, and while I commend him for the impressive attention to the detail of diving that he has provided in the manga, I did find that there were times when it was a distraction, even if it did not detract from the overall feel of the manga, also it does not happen on all that regular a basis.
Overall I would say that this manga is definitely worth reading, it manages to have a good balance between ecchi fanservice, romance, sci-fi with a supernatural twist and political intrigue while maintaining a coherent story that is both mesmerising and gripping. The title is a little odd yes, and the artwork may look a little old-school, but once you get past those elements you will find a manga that you want to continue reading from start to finish. Unfortunately I cant really describe it any better because I would be giving away massive plot spoilers, it is simply up to the reader to discover this manga and finding out for themselves. I am personally very glad I found this manga and continued reading it.