Seraphim 266613336 Wings is a remarkable curio for the fan of anime or manga. A little-known collaboration between two of the world’s most famous anime directors (Mamoru Oshii of Ghost in the Shell fame together with Satoshi Kon of Perfect Blue, Millennium Actress, Paprika and more), it was serialized between May 1994 and November 1995 in the prestigious Animage magazine in Japan. But artistic differences and disputes over who should receive what credit for the work took their toll, and the series was suspended. It wasn’t completed and now never will be: Satoshi Kon died of cancer in 2010 at the tragically young age of 46.
The 16 chapters that did get published have finally been collected, translated to English and published by Dark Horse Manga. The manga is everything one would imagine a creative collaboration between these two masters of the genre to be. It’s a sweeping and imaginative dystopian adventure.
In the near future, a mysterious plague has broken out. Extremely contagious, it kills quickly, rendering the infected senile as well as distorting their bodies into the winged, angelic shapes that inspire the disease’s name: Seraphim. Social order and national borders break down in the wake of the infection, and a large swath of Eurasia becomes an anarchic wasteland of the infected as well as the warlords and criminal gangs that emerge in the absence of government. Heavily militarized borders keep refugees – and infection – out of the remaining bastions of civilization.
An order called the ‘Magi’ emerges, and seem to play a dual role of enforcing order on behalf of the World Health Organization (WHO) while also feverishly trying to develop a cure. Amidst all of this, a child, Sera, is found to be immune to the disease, and her immunity has also stopped her aging. A team of techno-commando Magi have to take her (and a mysterious pet dog) deep into the reaches of anarchic northern China where she was found in the hopes of discovering the reason for her immunity and possibly a cure.
Such is the stage on which this lavish story plays out. Many of the details remain unclear, since the series never finished. The resolution to the story also remains unknown: it ends abruptly after Chapter 16. Like the initial stages of any good manga, these early chapters raise more mysteries and questions than they answer, and such answers that emerge do so only as tantalizing and complex hints.
What’s the reason for Melchior’s nickname ‘country-killer’? What’s the real goal of the mysterious behind-the-lines mission that they’re on? What exactly are the Magi, who controls them, and what is their ultimate aim? What’s with the hordes of deadly birds that have appeared and brought global air travel to a halt? And what exactly is the significance of the strange dog that accompanies them? Sadly, many of these questions remain unanswered, but just enough of the manga was penned for readers to begin to put together their own theories on some of its mysterious twists and turns.
What’s the point of reading an unfinished comic? What does exist is a wonderful work, and the reader is quickly enraptured by the beautifully illustrated dystopia, the complexity and believability of its post-apocalyptic order, the mystery of what has happened, the rich historical and religious symbolism, the detailed plot that slowly unfolds and the characters whose compelling personalities gradually emerge. It’s a vintage work by two of the genre’s masters, and the 228 pages of manga produced under this title make for a delightful read.
To make the package more enticing, and to situate its historical importance, Dark Horse includes a short essay by the original editor of the series, Takashi Watanabe, several pages of sketches and artwork, and a lengthy essay by editor Carl Gustav Horn discussing the series and its importance in the context of Animage’s pioneering and innovative manga publishing. This rich essay also considers the broader work of both authors and the influence they had on the development of anime and manga. It’s frustrating that the series ends with no conclusion, but the thoughtful reflections and add-ons make the package more than worthwhile, whether the reader wants it on their shelf for the story, or for its historical, literary and artistic importance.
It’s surprising this collaboration has remained so obscure. It was only collected in single volume format in Japan in 2011, and only now – a full two decades after its original serialization – been translated into English. The skilled Zack Davisson provides his usual talented translating work, and the collection is published in paperback at a reasonable price.
As a punctuation mark on the career of two of manga and anime’s greatest creative forces, or simply as a rollicking good story, Seraphim is a must-have for any collection. It’s a prescient one, too: in a world where pandemic, incurable outbreaks of disease and their attendant breakdown of social order are a reality we’ve now come to witness, it underscores the vitality of manga in imagining the twists and turns, the likely problems and possible solutions, of our future worlds. Sadly, Seraphim’s inconclusive nature means that it doesn’t provide any answers, but it’ll certainly set your imagination afire and will not disappoint.
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