Saikano Vol. 1

By Shin Takahashi
232 pages, black and white
Published by Viz

Relationships, under the best of circumstances, can be a little rocky when they’re first starting out. You’re figuring out your place in the other person’s life, as well as their place in yours. There’s a lot of learning that needs to be done, and pitfalls just waiting to trap you. In the case of Shin Takahashi’s Saikano, though, Takahashi is able to create a relationship hurdle like no other you’ve ever experienced.

Chise and Shuji are a new couple struggling to make their relationship work. Chise is pathologically shy, always apologizing and unable to express herself to her new boyfriend. Shuji’s constantly terrified that he’s going to destroy their relationship, resulting in his actions being somewhat akin to a bull in the proverbial china shop. When another country attacks Japan, though, Shuji discovers that Chise is connected to the defense of Japan… but not in any sort of way he’d ever imagine.

There’s no way to really get around mentioning the big revelation that shows up about sixty pages into Saikano, but fortunately, the back cover blurb decides the same thing and spoils it as well. Still, it must have been startling for readers who first encountered the story being serialized in the pages of Big Comics in Japan, who at the end of the second chapter discovered that one of the two characters in this mismatched-kids-in-love story also transforms into the Ultimate Weapon of Japan’s Self-Defense Force. It’s a pretty big turning point, and Takahashi handles it really well, letting the surprise roll over both the readers and Shuji alike. What really impressed me about Saikano is that even once we see machine guns, missiles, and metallic wings extrude themselves from Chise, the book never ceased being a love story. Really, it’s just one more obstacle in their path, admittedly a very different one than most people are familiar with. There’s so much to love about Saikano; these are two really interesting characters, each with their own ways of expressing themselves and their differences from each other. Seeing Chise able express herself on paper instead of out loud adds so much to her story, and really explains both why she would’ve volunteered to be part of the SDF as well as her attraction to Shuji. And as for Shuji… his struggles to stay with Chise not only make him interesting, but more importantly they ground Chise and let her try and hold onto her humanity. It’s really fascinating watching them interact with each other, which says a lot about the strength of Takahashi’s writing.

The art in Saikano is not at all what I was expecting, but in a very good way. Takahashi has a very light, loosely defined style which looks almost like the book was printed from pencils rather than inks. In many ways, it reminds me a lot of Arthur Dela Cruz’s art on Kissing Chaos, using just a handful of lines and shading to define characters. It works wonderfully, though, making them look more “real” by their sketchy style. It’s almost like you’re getting a glimpse into the personal sketchbook of an observer who’s drawn their life stories, able to catch both sorrow and joy on their faces. Seeing Chise transformed in this loose style is a real revelation as well; in many ways, seeing the highly technical gun extrude from her body in this art style makes it look all the more alien and out of place, which seems to have been Takahashi’s intent all along. My only complaint with the art is that Takahashi occasionally uses photos for background shots, and it clashes a great deal with the rest of the book. Takahashi’s art is so graceful and relaxed that seeing something so sharply defined as a photographic background just doesn’t work.

Saikano Vol. 1 was a real delight to read from start to finish; it’s not at all what I was expecting to read, with Takahashi taking a love story and adding in a science-fiction twist… but still leaving the book ultimately a love story. I have absolutely no idea where the next volume will go from here, and to be honest if it ended after this one volume I think I’d have gotten enough enjoyment that I’d be satisfied. That said, the idea of six more volumes makes me extremely happy indeed. I’m definitely back for the next installment.

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