Obscure Comic of the Month is a monthly feature which takes a detailed look at a little known entry from my personal comic book collection. Some will be from major publishers, others self published projects, Original Graphic Novels, issues and Manga. What they'll all have in common though, is that I've rarely, if ever, seen anybody talk about them.
ES Eternal Sabbath Volume 1 by Fuyumi Soryo – Del Rey/Kodansha 2002
Contain Minor Spoilers
Ryousuke Akiba calls himself ES, a code name taken from a mysterious scientific experiment. Ryousuke will live to be at least two centuries old and possesses strange mental powers: He can enter peoples minds, discover their darkest secrets, even rearrange their memories so that complete strangers will treat him like family. Ryousuke acts not out of malice but for survival – wandering Tokyo for reasons known only to him. No one recognises him for what he is … until Dr. Mine Kujyou, a determined researcher, meets someone who challenges everything she knows about science – ES, possessor of the Eternal Sabbath gene. But is he the only one?
ES was my first real foray into manga. Up until that point I'd dismissed it as both childish, and needlessly sexualized and over the top. This of course, was a gross generalisation and I knew if I wanted to get the most out of the world of comics I'd have to start reading manga too. I'd read Ghost in the Shell first, having watched and enjoyed the movie, but the manga was a strange beast, made of big ideas with comedic interludes. So ES was an attempt to get into manga at a more baseline level.
ES was a great choice, and a lucky one too, since I pretty much picked it up at random. ES was a good taster for getting into manga. There were no over the top characters, no lengthy action sequences, no ridiculous haircuts. If there was anything I needed to show me that manga could be more than it was stereotyped as, then ES was just the ticket.
The premise itself isn't completely original, but it's focus on just one particular science fiction premise makes it more unique than most. Ryousuke Akiba has the ability to erase and rewrite people's memories and so walks unchallenged and unnoticed by mankind. We're first introduced to him during a short story that would work just as well as a standalone tale.
We see Ryousuke acting as a sort of vigilante as he uses his abilities to punish a murderous high schooler. It's a great introductory sequence, explaining to us the logic and limitations of Ryousuke's powers as well as showing us the kind of mischievous rogue that he is. It also introduces us to some of the series common elements, such as the surrealist visuals used during the mind reading sequences. They're hit and miss at times, with the choice of visuals seemingly being surreal for surrealism’s sake, but they're always interesting.
Still, it's a great intro, and feel in parts very reminiscent of Neil Gaiman's Sandman. A sort of Sandman light if you will.
It's after this introductory tale that we start the story proper, where we're introduced to Dr Mine Kujyou, our point of view character. Mine is a neurological researcher who take a scientific perspective when looking at Ryousuke's powers. Mine is instantly likeable, curious and intelligent, but also goofy and a bit of a loser. She's quick to ramble about the science behind the mind, especially at inappropriate times, and the story becomes genuinely charming and funny because of her.
The plot wastes no time getting started, and Fuyumi Soryo feeds us with enough actual knowledge for the science parts to ring true. Ryousuke is enough of a magnificent bastard at times that it's a pleasure to see him just do his thing, and his past is mysterious enough to keep us interested without feeling asinine over hiding away too much back story.
The volume ends on a cliffhanger of sorts, with the reveal of how Ryousuke came to be, and the danger posed by another who has similar powers. It's one hell of a set up, and really feeds the reader enough knowledge to stop them feeling as though they're being strung along. It's such a great set up in fact, that I’m genuinely temped to re-read the rest of the series in earnest.
A few notes on the artwork then. Fuyumi Soryo is a great fit for the story, and every character has a charisma to them that makes you want to keep reading. The artwork is generally realistic with just a touch of manga sensibilities to make it feel expressive. It's probably also worth noting that there's a mild degree of female gaze going on with Ryousuke, he's traditionally good looking from a woman's perspective and his choice of clothes appear to be designed to accentuate this appeal.
That's not a bad thing by the way, if anything I found it rather refreshing. It's also worth pointing out that the chapter breaks have some very sexy artwork for what is otherwise a straight faced mystery series, setting early the subtext that would appear in later volumes.
Given that it was one of the first mangas I read, I was expecting ES to have aged badly after years of stuff like 20th Century Boys and The Kurosagi Corpse Delivery Service. But I'm pleased to say it reads as fresh as it ever did. It's a shame the series, and Fuyumi Soryo herself, doesn’t appear to have a bigger following.
Highly recommended if you're looking for a serious, hard science fiction series with a little bit of mystery and romance.
Jack Harvey 2015. ES (c) 2002 Fuyumi Soryo and published by Del Rey/Kodansha. Images used under Fair Use.