“Fourteen” (or 14-sai in japanese) is a horror and Sci-Fi manga written by Kazou Umezu. A man famous for his contributions to the horror genre such as “Cat Eyed Boy”, and his huge hit “The Drifting Classroom”, which has often been called the Japanese version of “Lord of the Flies”. Kazou Umezu was active on the manga-scene from the beginning of the 60’s all the way until 1995, where his final series “Fourteen” ended.
Before I really start the review, I want to quickly say that there of course will be some spoilers, however I’ll do my best to present them in a way that’ll allow you to still enjoy the series despite having read this review.
So, let’s start with a quick summary of the plot. An eyeball is found inside of a factory that produces chicken meat. This eyeball quickly evolves into one our protagonist, a mutant named Chicken George, that looks like a human with a chicken head. The story takes place in a weird and twisted future set in 2200, and Chicken George discovers that the end of the world is nearing. In “Fourteen” we follow Chicken George, Arthur Young, who is the president of the united states and his son, very aptly named “America” as they attempt to deal with the nearing apocalypse.
As for the characters, most of them sadly aren’t that great. For most of the first half of the manga we primarily follow one of the protagonists Chicken George, the hyperintelligent, and surprisingly emotional mutant chicken. This first half is where the characters really shine, primarily because of Chicken George, and his sidekick Chicken Lucy (a literal chicken that can speak) being such fun characters to follow. They’re mysterious, weird, at times very emotional and somehow very charismatic because of their weird combination of character traits. Watching him struggle with ethical questions and dilemmas and interact with humanity while having a key say in their fate is extremely entertaining and without a doubt some of the best parts of this manga. And funnily enough, despite being freaks/mutants/chickens, Chicken George and Chicken Lucy ends up at times being extremely relatable characters.
Other than Chicken George, the two main protagonists are the president of the united states Arthur Young and his son America Young. Arthur Young is a freshly-baked father and most of his character plays on his obligation to both his country and his son. This does make for some fun and interesting scenes, however later in the series this part becomes less and less relevant, and Arthur Youngs character mostly ends up acting for the sake of moving the plot forward, and not getting much more development.
America Young, is the last of the 3 protagonists and the least interesting one. He’s a baby for most of the series, but during the last couple arcs he takes the role as protagonist, sadly his characters is quite shallow, with no other motivations than loving his father and wanting to save humanity, he turns into a pretty standard do-gooder, without much character development.
While having a couple really good and fun characters, the rest of the series cast is sadly extremely forgettable, and doesn’t serve much of a purpose other than existing for the sake of moving the story forward, except maybe 2 or 3 minor characters.
And now for the art. Overall I’d say the art is pretty average. Throughout the whole thing the art is very dark, and while this does well to show just what kind of a dark and gloomy world the story takes place in, after a while it isn’t great on the eyes. The big use of black is part of Umezo’s style, and is apparent in a lot of his other manga as well, however in Fourteen there is a lot of small panels, and the lack of space and “darkness” of the art can make it unappealing to look at.
I noticed two main issues with the art while reading, the first being the way he draws characters at times. A lot of the time its fine, but in panels with multiple characters standing near each other, or with characters in the background, the body proportions sometimes get quite weird and wonky. And secondly this is something that seems to just be part of Umezo’s style as well, but when he draws “action-shots” as I call them, which is essentially characters moving, it’ll often look weird and at times as if they’re standing still. He does use lines to imply movement, not always though, and even at times with movement lines, characters can still look weirdly still.
Drawing humans isn’t his strong suit, but when it comes to drawing animals, weird creatures, complicated machinery and the like, the art gets very nice to look at. It’s unfortunate that humans are such a huge part of this story, because a lot of the panels without them are vastly better than the ones with them.
One of my biggest critiques with this manga lies at the paneling. There’s only used rectangular panels in varying sizes throughout this entire manga, which makes the reading experience quite dull at times. It works when it comes to getting the story across, however at times it gets annoying having extremely similar pages over and over again and over again.
Now to say some more good about the art, when it comes to drawing page spreads (a page-spread is when two normal pages are used to usually draw just one big panel) Umezo does so excellently, sadly we aren’t treated to many of these in the first half of the manga, however suddenly he boldly gives chapters with 3, 4 some even around 5 spreads, and it is excellent
Pretty much all my critique of the art is null and void when he does these. The pages aren’t cramped with dull panels, the dark art style really works on the bigger drawings in my opinion, and the movement in them is often very limited, which works in its favor. When you suddenly reach a chapter filled with page spreads, it simply becomes a joy to read.
Overall, I’d say I enjoyed this series. The story takes many weird twists and turns, and while most of these twists are great, and very fun to experience, the parts in-between making up a lot of the story can at times be a slog to read, especially during some of the middle and latter arcs where the story slows down a bit. The art is serviceable for the most part, kind of bad at some parts, but when its good, it’s really good, and just great fun to look at. Chicken George carries the first half of the manga and him and Lucy are some are very fun and memorable characters that makes you keep reading despite the not-so-amazing art during the first half. The second half dips in quality on the character side, and while the story has its ups and downs the art, and most notably the page spreads are what carries the second half.
I’d definitely recommend trying out this series, mostly just to experience the dynamic duo that is Chicken George and Chicken Lucy, but also to see the weird apocalyptic sci-fi world that Kazou Umezu has created.
Overall im going to give this a 6/10