By Ark Performance. Released in Japan as “Aoki Hagane no Arpeggio” by Shonen Gahosha, serialization ongoing in the magazine Young King Ours. Released in North America by Seven Seas.
This is not really what I was expecting when I first saw this manga licensed. That should not be a surprise, as of all the major manga companies Seven Seas is the one that – for both good and ill – manages to surprise me the most. Still, when you see a manga whose premise seems to be ‘cute girls are battleships’ come out shortly after a ‘cute girls are fighter planes’ and ‘cute girls playing with tanks’ manga, you expect something along the same lines. But this is actually an action-oriented techno thriller manga, with lots of tactics and politics in among its occasional cute girl. It actually reminds me a lot of another Young King Ours title from way back. No, not Excel Saga, stop anticipating me. I’m referring to Geobreeders, which also had a tac unit fighting a mysterious organization with the help of a cute girl who was an enemy agent who had switched to work for our heroes.
This is one of those alternate future AUs, as aliens have come to Earth and made the seas impassable with their Fleet of Fog, which can stop almost any vessel humanity can put out there. Enter our hero, Chihaya, who has a dark past (his father sided with the aliens) and a somewhat shrouded upbringing (we know very little of what got him to this point). One thing he does have, however, is an alien ship that’s on his side. Iona is the ‘mental model’ (which is to see, personification of a cute young girl) of a submarine that can get through the Fleet of Fog with help and a certain amount of dangerous firepower. Now he and his crew (including an eccentric engineer who *really* reminds me of Geobreeders) take on tasks for the government, though always needing to beware of behind the scene manipulation by the United States (who, naturally, don’t come off too well here) or the aliens themselves (who have their own ships).
As an action thriller, this works quite well. The battle scenes are fast-moving and don’t confuse, there’s a good amount of tension even though you know our heroes are going to make it out of this somehow, and it’s balanced out by a large chunk of plot and backstory. Iona is sufficiently cute that we like and sympathize with her, but doesn’t make you want to be sick like some overly moe types. The hero seems a little one-dimensional so far, but I suspect backstory will come out in a volume or two to help there. Same with the crew – though I’m not sure we’ll ever find out why one of the crewmen wear a mask.
There’s nothing that really reaches out and grabs you here, but there’s also not much that does anything wrong. This is simply a good, solid, well-drawn manga, and you finish it wanting to see what happens next. That’s good enough for me.