Volumes: 1-17 (Complete)
Ten years ago, war broke out between the Barsburg Empire and the Raggs kingdom. Teito Klein, orphaned by this event, had been pressed into service as a battle sklave for Barsburg, which made him less than popular at the military academy he attends. However, one other boy, Mikage, persists in being his friend, which leads to trouble for both of them when Teito unexpectedly runs across someone from his dimmest memories . . .
It’s hard to give a decent summary of this, because so much of the story revolves around who Teito is, what he does (and doesn’t) remember and why, and how those memories influence him to make the journey he ultimately takes. I liked it a lot as a fantasy. There’s a lot to be said for a story that spans 17 volumes but knows from the beginning where it wants to go, and doesn’t detour at all along the way. As a story, the focus on playing up possibly-romantic relationships between guys unfortunately takes away from some of the more complex relationships that are trying to develop.
I liked the layers of mystery. Teito hasn’t forgotten his origins because he was very young (about four) when everything happened, but also because his memories were deliberately locked away from him. Even that young, what he knew was dangerous. Even now, remembering the wrong thing at the wrong time could ruin everything.
And the world itself has layers. On the purely human level, the Barsburg Empire has all but wiped out the kingdom of Raggs, and they’re eager to move in on what remains. But a large part of the story is also about spiritual matters. The King of Heaven allows every soul to choose three wishes for which to live its life, and once those three are fulfilled, the soul returns to him. However, evil forces offer to grant those wishes in exchange for the soul—and they are working to lay the foundation for the return of Verloren, the god of death. Seven “ghosts” were assigned from heaven to help keep Verloren imprisoned, and Verloren’s body and soul were separately sealed. But he’s working out a plan for revival.
In the beginning, when everything is just starting to unfold, it can feel a bit random. Ayanami remains a good villain, but the Black Hawks in his group struggle to feel meaningful for a long time. I liked how Mikage—and his admonition to Teito against revenge—form a key part of Teito’s struggle, up to the very end. Teito dearly wants to honor his best friend’s wishes, but at the same time, he’s human. He wants justice for all the evil that Ayanami inflicted, as well as revenge for all the pain and suffering.
I don’t really care for the hinting at homosexual relationships in the story (especially with Frau, because he’s got to be twice Teito’s age), but as the hints stay relatively subtle it didn’t subtract much from the story for me.
The ending is really good. It had a bit more epilogue than I expected, which was nice, and it tied everything up in a surprising yet satisfying way. Which is even better considering the major twist that happened not long before that which subverted a lot of my expectations for how the series was going to turn out. I liked how characters that could have been one-offs like some of the Oaks turn into crucial players. I liked the history of the seven ghosts and how Teito has to untangle some of the things that went drastically wrong for each of them.
Overall this is a pretty good fantasy that takes a few volumes to really dig in. It’s not something I would consider top-tier like Fullmetal Alchemist or Kekkaishi, but it does a good job building a solid story with a number of surprises. I rate this series Recommended.
(Apologies for the glut of posts. I’ve been watching/reading some things over the past season but I don’t like to review them until I’m finished, as I would prefer to look at the overall story than just one episode or a few chapters of manga.)