Jul 27, 2013
lpf (All reviews)
As the sea assaults continents, slowly but surely, humanity is declining. Telecommunication is no more. Government gave way to local organisation. Quietly witnessing this apocalypse unfold, humans are living peacefully.

Among the many ways fiction depicts apocalypse, "peacefully" is uncommon. We like to think of the world ending in brutal, dramatic and lightning fast ways. Of humans against their fate struggling. But the end of the world in this manga is gradual, slow enough to give mankind the time to accept his fate, sit back, and enjoy the last hour of his age. Whatever will be will be – the die is long cast.

So unfolds the twilight of a transient humanity. And our little humans get many occasions to experience the transience of things – the transience of the world and that of themselves. Time and again, the beautiful melancholy of the dying world touches and overwhelms. The story unfolds at roughly the same pace as its monthly publication; we follow the characters as time passes, and as the curtain falls on the remnants of the world. The sea rises, and the landscapes that were dear to us disappear like smoke in the air. The machines that once served mankind meet their end too: aeroplanes, or engines, are for their last time used. Characters pass away during the series, but death is a fact of life that the living have accepted. As such, death is merely implied, and mourning but hinted at. Such is, among other understated occurrences of drama, what makes Yokohama Kaidashi Kikou a wonderful experience: the lament of its dying world, quiet yet staggering.

I think YKK is a story about a people that lost so much that it stopped taking anything for granted and started cherishing the things it has left. And, with its masterful art, atmosphere, and writing, it makes you cherish them too. It makes you cherish life, the characters' things, your own things. Here's a quote from the manga to illustrate my argument: "There isn't as much difference between the seasons as there used to be; however, I think we take greater pleasure in those differences." One common translation of "mono no aware", the manga's driving force, is "sensitivity to things". More precisely, the contemplation of things' impermanence and how it amplifies their beauty.

But YKK isn't only about treasuring what the characters have. It's about losing some of it, too. The characters' everyday life slowly changes, falters and disappears as the slow apocalypse has its way with humanity. And it's okay. The characters already accepted it, because "acknowledgement of the transience of things makes them more beautiful". Because of this peculiar way YKK handles tragedy, the dramatic parts (as well as the blissful ones) are extremely understated. And it makes them all the more powerful – even if it means that more attention and sensitivity is demanded from the reader.

Moments such as two characters' reunion after a long journey convey strong feelings like melancholy, surprise, and happiness. These moments are often handled without words, using panelling, faces and body language to convey feelings. In the saddest moments of the series, very little of Alpha's thoughts is given, trusting the readers to know our main character well enough to empathise with her sorrow, and form their own reaction to the happenings, finding their place in Alpha's journey.

The art is exceptional. Inanimate scenes are like poetry in motion. Alpha loses herself in many sumptuous landscapes, inviting the reader to follow suit. From the still functional lights of a submerged city to the view of Mount Fuji in the distance, mundane situations are made extraordinary and extraordinary ones are made otherworldly. Up the author's sleeve are countless tricks to heighten this experience; one such trick is the sparse, but wise use of colour. For example, one chapter shows Alpha enjoying a nostalgic view, and as day turns into dusk the varying colours make obvious – and beautiful – that a large amount of time passes throughout the panels.

As the characters grow, their design changes. By contrast, Alpha is an android and she doesn't change – the regular realisation that time passed before her knowing is never short of melancholy. Although stylised in design, human characters are clearly of Asian heritage. The inhabitants have black hair and share many features. The androids, thereby, stand out; their outlandish looks become a central part of their characterisation. Often replacing thoughts and speech, the characters' faces are expressive (save for Ojisan's sometimes all too subtle expression changes); anatomy is rendered in a detailed enough style to permit realistic and convincing body language.

Over the years, Yokohama Kaidashi Kikou has enjoyed a small, but very enthusiastic fanbase which I am proud to be part of. It ranks among the most gratifying and memorable stories. For a great number of reasons of which a single review couldn't make a comprehensive list, I enjoyed this manga tremendously and I sincerely believe that you will.

As the sea assaults continents, as governments and telecommunications die out, humanity is declining. Before Alpha's eyes, the world, which once seemed tireless, slowly calmed down...