Title: No. 6
Author: Asano Atsuko || Artist: Kino Hinoki
Manga: 9 volumes (35 chapters) || Anime: 11 episodes || Light Novel: 9 volumes
Genre: Science fiction, shounen-ai
Six perfect cities. One boy with an intense curiosity about the world he lives in, and wondering why it feels like there’s something wrong, or why does he feel like he doesn’t fit in. A stormy night, a door left opened. A wounded boy looking for a shelter from the storm. The meeting of these two boys will change the course of their lives from thereon, as well as the fate of the city called No. 6.
I’m going to follow a standard format my reviews from now on, half-assed they may be. This is the first one to be organized in this way (though technically, this is my third review. My first and second [half-assed] review’s here and here). Anyways.
Be warned: spoilers(?) abound.
I have a soft spot for dystopian stories, whether anime, novel or whatever, be it George Orwell’s 1984, anime like Psycho Pass (of both I will write something too in the near future), and now, a manga like No. 6.
No. 6 is originally a novel consisting of 9 volumes, and while the novel is being written/published, the manga version was created, as well as the anime (don’t ask me which came first, I’ll lose my concentration if I look it up, so just go Google it). The other two versions, while being faithful to the original structure of the story, and basically having almost the same endings, headed towards slightly different directions until the end (with the approval of the original author, of course). I’ll be focusing more on the manga and anime version since these are the ones I’ve finished so far. While I’ve found a copy of the novel, we’ll save it for later.
No. 6 is one of the six cities that was created for the purpose of “reviving” the human race, free from wars, hunger and destruction–a noble goal in a world that was starting to crumble, destroyed by humans themselves. Because of this very reason, every person who became a citizen in these six cities feel blessed and lucky. The city itself if beautiful, clean and shiny, free from garbage, sick people, vagrants, criminals, and such. People, though separated by castes, seemed happy and contented. Only the best and the brightest are handpicked and selected for the top posts and relevant jobs in the city. They are selected early from childhood via aptitude and IQ tests, and are given top-notch education by the state until they become full-pledged citizens.
Shion (or Sion, both are accepted translations), one of our protagonists, a genius Ecology major student (12 years of age when the story began), is kind of an oddball. He is intensely curious of what’s going on around him, and senses that No. 6 is not as perfect as anyone thinks. He feels as if he doesn’t fit in. He can’t pinpoint the reason why, but there’s a nagging feeling somewhere. All these thoughts were put to test when Nezumi (in English, “rat”) came to his life one stormy night.
He came out of the balcony one day, and out of nowhere, screamed a scream that blended through the raging wind and rain. A scream full of life, despair, and other emotions that he cannot express in normal situations. Afterwards he left the balcony door opened. A young wounded boy saw his act, finding it interesting, took advantage of the opened door and went in for shelter.
Nezumi is quite surprised that despite the real danger of assisting a fugitive, Shion never batted an eye, not even fazed despite threatening him. He even stitched up his wounds, gave him food, and lent him a shirt. They talked about various things through the night, falling asleep beside each other. The next day, Nezumi was gone.
A representative from the Security Bureau visited their house, searching for Nezumi. Shion admitted helping him, which stripped off his elite privileges, a comfortable life and a promising future in No. 6. He and his mother were banished to live in Chronos, a suburb outside(?) No. 6. Strangely, he looks as if he never regretted this decision. Moreover, though not shown in the manga or anime, it’s as if his mother respected his decision and did not blame him for it.
Four years later, he is working as an overseer of mechanical robots doing cleaning jobs in the city park, while his mother opened up a bakeshop in Chronos. A series of mysterious events sprang up: people suddenly collapse one by one, all shriveled up, getting older in an alarmingly fast rate and eventually dying, all in a matter of minutes. Shion unfortunately got involved again, and this time the reason is far more serious: he is being accused of murdering his co-worker who died under the same circumstances. Again, he was met by the head of the Security Bureau, and escorted to the Correctional Facility. This time however, Nezumi picks up and saves him. They ran off to a city outside the high walls of No. 6.
Here Shion is introduced to a world very much different from No. 6–the West End (which is just one of the various references and allusions to theater and Shakespeare). A dirty, gritty city far from No. 6’s squeaky cleanliness. And the story now focuses on the two, their life in West End, and how a certain event led them back to No. 6.
They found out that No. 6 was built in a place formerly inhabited by the Forest People. In their population, a Singer is chosen to communicate through singing, with the god Elyurias (which is represented by a wasp in the novel/manga/anime). They were killed in droves, leaving Nezumi as the sole survivor of the group. It was found out the the city’s lead scientist wanted to harness Elyurias’ power for nefarious reasons. This is also the main reason why Nezumi’s people were executed. Elyurias, seeing what had become in her land, vented her anger on the people of No. 6 by releasing parasitic wasps that prey on human beings, killing their hosts as they emerge fully grown from the nape. Shion himself is affected by this, surviving the ordeal with the help of Nezumi. It left him with a snake-like scar around his body, and his hair turning white.
Shion’s characteristic kindness and naivete (which Nezumi calls his “natural airheadedness”) becomes a light that lends a speck of hope in the story (though he almost lost it and became quite scary at some point in the story when Nezumi got hurt). Despite all that happened to him, he stays positive, even rubbing it off on his friends, and helped Nezumi realize how to become human again.
At first, Nezumi saved Shion as a payback for what he did four years ago. But when he realized that being with him affected him much as a person, he began to doubt himself. The thick walls he had built around his heart for the sake of survival hardened through the years, making him trust no one. But when Shion lived with him, these very walls melted slowly but surely. In the end, there’s nothing he wouldn’t do just to keep Shion safe and happy.
Shion too, feels the same towards Nezumi. When he was still a resident of No. 6, it feels that he’s looking for something that he cannot find inside the city. When he met Nezumi that night, it left a large gap in his heart, wishing he could see him again, wanting to know more about him. Being together with him in the West End gave him a lot of happiness that he had never found in the confines of No. 6.
This, boys and girls, truly confirms that the pairing does actually exist. It may not be as blatant as other pairings out there, but you can really feel in every page that trust they have towards each other. They may bicker, argue, waver and doubt each other’s feelings sometimes, but in the end they always come back towards each other. What they do throughout the series is kinda boring, really: going shopping together, Shion watching Nezumi leave for work while cleaning up the plates, Nezumi picking up Shion from work, Nezumi doing the cooking while Shion takes care of the cleaning, blah. They look and acted more like a middle-aged couple, sharing the household chores and work, rather than young un’s in the blossoming stages of love often shown in other shounen-ai and yaoi mangas. And I find that cute. Really. Or maybe them being too intimate with each other may distract the viewers/readers from what the author really wants to convey in the story. Though I like my yaoi mangas hot and steamy, this time, the almost lack of romantic nuances made it all the more romantic.
The most intimate scene perhaps is when they shared is a kiss (it actually happened twice), that looked so innocent and sweet you’d rip your guts just to see more (I almost did, after letting an “awwww~” escape my mouth and grinning like an idiot).
Whew, I’m okay now. Back to reality. It’s easy to reduce this as a boy’s love (or shounen-ai, if you’re that finicky with labels) story, but looking past the relationship of our two protagonists, one can see the more pressing, more serious thoughts the novel/anime/manga is trying to tell us.
It was eventually shown that Safu, Shion’s childhood friend who is an elite like him, was kidnapped and experimented on in order to unleash and control the power of Elyurias. Shion, along with Nezumi and some help with their friends, Inukashi and Rikiga, entered No. 6 once more to save Safu. However, they are too late, for due to the experiments being done on her body, it was already physically impossible for her to be saved. Her final wish was to see Shion again for the last time, and for him to destroy the Mother–the structure that imprisons Elyurias.
In the end, the walls of No. 6 fell for the first time, allowing people from inside the city to see what the outside looks like, and the people from the West End looking in. Shion and Nezumi were able to come out alive. Nezumi’s sole desire was to see the demise of No. 6, and now that it has been completed, he couldn’t see himself staying in the city any longer. However, he does promise Shion–through a kiss–that they will see each other again. Aww.
Why does the future in the dystopian genre look so bleak? If they are not bleak to begin with, they usually start off as a “perfect world,” only for the protagonist and/or antagonist to find out that it’s not as perfect as it tries to be. Is it because right now, we are all faced with the harsh realities of life, like global warming, never-ending wars and strife around the globe, pollution and overpopulation, etc.? Have we really lost hope in the future? These questions never fail to pop in my head every time I read/watch anything from the genre. It made me think sometimes that I hope I’m dead already if one of these future will happen in real life. I don’t want to see that. I never wished to be old and helpless in such a bleak world.
No. 6 started off in a similar vein. A model city, filled with happy and contented citizens, free from want and hunger, in fact, is actually built at the expense of the majority of people. While the city looks squeaky clean and safe, the West End is dirty, dilapidated and rowdy. The people there fight tooth and nail for everyday survival. The city never bothered with them as long as they keep their population in check. And if they exceeded the threshold, the city conveniently “cleans” the West End, destroying the city, reducing the population to avoid a rebellion, and arrest people, serving a far more sinister purpose: to collect more samples in their human experimentation projects.
It is often said that there is a price for progress. But why does it have to be the weak, the downtrodden, who must pay for the price? Why does works like this often portrays the sacrifice of many for the sake of the chosen few? It is here where conspiracy theories thrive: with the elite thinking that they are the chosen ones, the dumb masses–the inept, the weak, the sickly–all must be subjected under the rule of the elite. The elite must think and decide for them. But once the shit hits the fan, they are the ones who must give way for the select few to live.
The story concludes with an ending that’s open ended, leaving readers/viewers to draw out their own conclusions. Though we can say that this is a decent ending in itself in the sense that most of the major questions were answered, greedy fans like me are left with more pressing questions: Will Shion and Nezumi meet again? When is that? Can we see it? What happens to No. 6 and West End? What about the cities Nos. 1-5? Will the people finally be able to live the lives they wanted?