In the 19th century empire after the war, rose "mechanical boxing" which involved people who had had their bodies modified. Under his uncle's tutelage, Levius, a lonely youth who lost his father in the war and whose mother is in a coma, enters the mechanical boxing scene...
I am feeling like breaking rules with this manga – I am going to review early (at 3 chapters) and I am going to advertise a bad reading attitude. I’ll do this, because the first chapter of Levius is so stunning, that, frankly, I feel it’s better to read it in isolation or make a stop before going further. I’ll also rate capriciously, based on my impression of a the first chapter, for the sake of attracting attention of more readers (though this manga seems to get enough love at home, as well as be licensed and sold far ahead of English fan scans in
Of course, it’s a matter of being in the right mood (I never feel secure about praising), but the first chapter of Levius is one of the most exquisite reads I’ve had in a while. It is a thing of beauty. It manages to feel fresh. At one moment all of its parts align and you see a work of art coming to life – an artificial heat taking its first beat, with that scarily powerful, seemingly lazy majestic grace that you witness in works, made by the talented. So - I am not going to spoil you this moment. I’ll simply point out three important aspects:
The first one is the unusual art. I’ll probably never be closer to truth, when I call art in a manga “impressionistic”. Not only this manga employs depth of field, balances lively linework with detalization and is able to show readable expression in realistically-drawn eyes, but it also uses the aesthetics of XIX century, which are close to the time of Impressionism. The flow of panels is smooth and cinematographic. Levius belongs to seinen, but it makes good use of the type of tense airy frames, that we often see in female-oriented works.
The second is the setting – it’s a XIX century mechanical cyberpunk, so to say. The world is europeish, done with commendable attention to period fashion and architecture, but with a completely alternative history. The source of the unusually advanced tech has been hinted on, but not disclosed. The tech is detailed, but hidden a bit, as if to not stand out. And the mechanical boxing… Ah, nevermind, I am not telling.
The last one is the writing. In the first chapter (which I focus on right now) it’s a bit out there, in the context we’re unfamiliar with, in the personalities of the characters we do not know enough. It’s non-linear at times, so you need to catch up quickly. It may be annoying to some readers to not understand things fully, but it’s obviously intentional. As for me – I like that there’re hints on a world, as if barely contained by the frames.
Then time jump 5 years back, to show us how things have gotten to this point.
The serialized Levius displays the same quality (and qualities) in the art, albeit its drawing style understandably gets slightly more grounded to serve steadier storytelling, and in the immediate writing, under which I mean the very fabric of the words in character lines. There’s undeniable cleverness in some aspects of the story too. People are connected in complex ways or refuse to connect, people are swept away by history (and crushed under it, as it is a world after a civil war) and by scientific progress (as it is a world with limbs being replaced by tubes with vents).
As far as I can see there’re two main problems:
There’s a crack in the very foundation of the story, because some of the core motivations are too strange to empathize with, and a tad too much edge leads to a certain alienation between characters. Alienation and impressionistic art both work marvelously in short format, but will be tested harshly by a longer story.
French readers on batoto say that by the second volume the story turns to the more traditional structure and tropes of battle manga. I believe it, I can see it being disappointing, though I also expect fighting scenes to be done well. (By the way, after the 3 volumes that are shown on this page the manga was continued as Levius/est for at least two more volumes in another magazine).
And, as far as I am concerned, the first chapter was perfectly self-contained, it was enough, I don’t care all that much for the rest. More details make the structure heavier, less elegant. I am able to continue reading only by separating the two things in my eyes. (I haven’t found proof that the first chapter was released as a one-shot, even if it feels like that, by the way.)
Anyways. It remains to be seen what will happen to the plot, of course. The art and the writing may be a bit too high-brow for some readers, but unless the plot is butchered completely, we’re looking on at a niche hit, if not a full hit.
I do recommend the first chapter of Levius to all and everyone (*sigh* ok: if you're legally cleared to read about violence, that is). Additionally this manga, in any of its parts, is a definite must for readers who look for handsome comic art. As for the series itself and readers, who are not art-centric, – at least look into it, if you’re up for early adoptions of ongoings, or, at the bare minimum, remember the name for the future.