WARNING: MARKED SPOILERS WITHIN REVIEW
"War, what is it good for?"
Gojikanme no Sensou, i.e. "The Fifth Hour of War - Home sweet home" or "Last Hour" (in the french translation) is a somewhat surreal slice of life story that features war.
However for a story where war is the central conflict, readers will seldom see it. What of life on the mainland? How many casualties have there been? What about the rest of the world? In the fifth hour of war, the reader's perspective is equal to that of the characters. Together, readers experience the same sense of isolation, detachment and confusion as that of our
main characters - Saku Futami and Miyako Aishima. As alluded by the title, the sun is setting on a war where solders are recruited from schools and civilian life is becoming noticeably contained.
First of all for the story and characters. This I give a 7/10 and 8/10 respectively. First of all I want to correct as mistake on the genre listings of this series. This story is a tragedy through and through. People die on both sides and if they don't they may live only to loose even more.
Its a surreal juxtaposition on the horrors of warfare and the shojo-like every day life of country side students. While an unspecified number of people die on the warfront, people on Aojima desperately try to keep life normal. Orphans are abound, food is limited and students returning from the warfront can only be treated by their unlicensed teachers. The "Home Sweet Home" of these characters may be without physical warfare but its rife with refugees and veterans hardly able (and sometimes not) able to cope with the horrors they've experienced. A story sweet in that the students still have dreams as mundane as competing in high school sport competition, and bitter in the knowledge that there are probably no high schools left to take part in such events.
There is no grand goal for any of the characters to complete. Nor is there any grand adversary which can truly be fought off. The characters are forced to recon with the hand they've been dealt with and the reader is forced to read as children are shipped off and wait and see if they ever return.
The sci-fi intrigue in this story and it's integration within the almost shojo-est slice of life was a significant part of the enjoyment I got when reading this series. As such even if you find yourself uninterested in the characters, staying around to uncover the mystery of the world the characters live in may be worth it. Who are they fighting? Why are they fighting? Why are our central characters the only ones exempt from fighting?
The story would probably be difficult to enjoy if you don't like at least one of the main characters. Fortunately, I find all the frequently showcased characters to be well-rounded in their personality and actions. All of them are defined writing and art wise. Saku, particularly is one of the more interesting of the lot. He's headstrong and easily agitated and definitely rough around the edges. He's a teen with a tendency to follow irrational feelings and this may turn people off his character. Miyako, a childhood friend of his, is an airhead whose character type can be briefly summed by "the mothering kind that cooks for everyone else". While Saku pushes for answers on the side of the sci-fi and war plot line, Miyako is the centre point for all the slice of life story beats. These characters are far from one dimensional despite how short the series is, and because of that I got to truly enjoy the series.
Next is the Art. I also give it a 7/10. As much as its pleasant and soft - there are no extraordinary or truly distinguishing feature to it. Nothing strong enough to validate an 8 or above. It is far from bad however, for the cute and round simplicity of the character designs and the soft backgrounds blend well with the slice of life genre of the story. The author is able to convey the emotions of the characters and the mood of a scene well. On the other hand, the background can be somewhat lackluster when not a focal point of a scene. There is little detail, and if this is something you find important in your manga, it can be a bit of a disappointment. A short conclusion for this sections would be: at its worst the art is serviceable and at its best it’s good at conveying the emotions and ideas of the story. It isn’t however, the staple of the manga.
Overall I personally enjoyed how the story portrayed the effect of war on the Homefront. I think those that enjoy short but odd stories may enjoy this. It’s nothing mind-blowing but it has a very interesting take on war. In the French volume, it was given the genre of “poetry”. I take it as a strong hint that the storyline isn’t as important as the idea’s it’s trying to convey. The story content can at time seem very much metaphorical. With a supernatural and otherworldly twist, this manga attempts to convey the emotions of civilians during war.
//MILD SPOILER REGARDING IT//
There is a penultimate make or break point to this series and that is the ending. Its not a pretty ending. It's very much bitter-sweet with a ratio of 90:10 bitter to sweet. The Sci-fi reveals may also turn off a reader. For a story marked as a comedy, anyone who reads the series not expecting the direction it takes, its easy for them to feel disappointed or bitter over it. If there is a chance that the endings of series such as this are important to you, I would read carefully as the ending might completely ruin the series for you.
Some may consider the ending rushed, but personally I feel it fits well with the image of war the series strove to convey. I think it was definitely intentional. In this series the war ends abruptly. In fact, the bombshells that fall in the penultimate chapters of this series aren't much unlike like the bombs dropped on the unsuspecting citizens of Hiroshima and Nagasaki.
Whether you consider this a botched ending, is up to personal taste. Considering seemingly no one has read the whole series, there is no general consensus I know of.