Recommendation: Nabari no Ou
Several months ago I wrote a nice long review that was appropriately breezy and lighthearted for a series that I really liked and would certainly recommend, but didn’t go the extra mile and blow my mind or anything. A few volumes later, I ran into a little bit of a problem. I didn’t just like the series, I loved it.
Writing about a series that I really truly love is a million times harder than writing about something I merely liked. I’ll look past any flaws in the material, I’ll defend it to the end from any naysayers, I’ll feel inadequate at conveying all the ~feelings~ that I have for it, etc etc. It’s not that I love it too much to write about it; it’s that I care too much to write about it. That probably didn’t make much sense, and neither will this review. But I’ll try my best anyway.
Nabari no Ou starts out with a shounen-y premise but neatly avoids most of the cliches found in that demographic. In short, the main character, Miharu, possesses the power of a godlike ninja scroll thing, although he doesn’t want anything to do with the ninja world. Nonetheless, various clans are out to get that power for themselves and he gets dragged into it. If any of the following things appeal to you, you will probably enjoy Nabari no Ou a whole lot:
- Gorgeous art (like, really, REALLY pretty art, so pretty it hurts)
- Strong characters across the board
- Good-looking characters across the board
- (Subtle) gender equality
- No true good/evil divide
- Bromance, and every other kind of relationship out there. Boy/hermaphrodite! Guy/older woman! Girl/immortal owl!! Familial, platonic, romantic, it’s all there.
- Cats, characters who love cats, characters who are cats
Can I just say how much I appreciate having the main character not being a complete blundering loudmouthed idiot who doesn’t think before getting into fights? And the rest of the cast is fantastic too. Not spectacular at first, but they grow so much throughout the story; there’s a lot more depth than what appears at first glance. There’s characters from either side of the ‘hidden’ and ‘surface’ world– leaders, unwilling members, healers, civilians, all with their own mess of ideals and conflicts, ties, relationships, and secrets. Rather than being a story solely about special techniques and powering up and showdowns, it places its focus on the people involved in it all, and the relationships/conflicts that develop as a result.
What I find the most striking is the art, in every way. It’s not just the evolution of it– as it starts out in early chapters as average at best, but soon develops into something really special–but something else. I like how quiet it is. I’m not sure if there’s proper word for it, but it’s the kind of vibe that makes me feel peaceful, and tells you the story using what isn’t said out loud. This is why I find books and manga more comforting than their animated counterparts; it’s a silent activity, and Kamatani’s skill at page composition later in the series evokes that feeling perfectly. The scenes without any dialogue are especially good, in a way that you can only appreciate if you read it yourself.
I didn’t expect to like this series as much as I did, but looking back it really shouldn’t be a surprise. Over the years I’ve picked up what I do or don’t like, what speaks to me, and Nabari has all of it. It’s more often than not bittersweet; its relationships are low-key and free of drama; it has action and humour without resorting to fanservice. There are series that win you over immediately, there are some that you learn to love for what they are, and then there are those that somehow end up including everything that resonates with you. And this is one of them. I love it to the extent where I can barely bring myself to write about it without feeling inadequate. Well, almost.