Even a spiral has an end.
The fifteenth English language volume of Spiral: The Bonds of Reasoning came out last week (although I found a copy prior to the release date at Anime Boston), and with that, Yen Press closed the books on one of its longest-running and oldest titles. Spiral began its run from Yen back in 2007, and a volume was released every three months. I bought the first volume of it when it appeared on the shelves of a local Borders, having been interested in the anime but assured that it was of poor quality and that the manga was a better bet. I snapped it up easily – I’ve always loved mysteries.
It feels weird to review Spiral, having followed it for about four years. Its the longest manga I’ve ever followed from release to release (xxxHolic I didn’t begin to read until volume thirteen had come out in the States, and I bought a whole slew of them at once). So to review it seems to be definitively cap those years, a stretch of time that encompassed most of my college career and my entry into the world past it. For whatever its worth, the final volume landed my hands less than a month shy of the one year anniversary of my graduation from college.
Having said that…
Spiral was at its strongest toward the beginning, and in the final chapter. I say this since Spiral started out as a solid whodunit series, and then lost its way in the larger plot, a plot that ultimately went sideways when the central issues of the story were blown up to the grand stage. Basically, Spiral ceased to concern itself with a very limited matter (the Blade Children) and made that limited matter an issue that could destroy the entire world.
Now, this isn’t to say it got totally awful; it just got… weird. A bit absurd. Still enjoyable, although admittedly maybe only because I was by then something like ten or eleven volumes into the entire affair and so had already invested a bit of effort into reading it. At that point I was two-thirds done and really liked a few of the characters; how could I toss it all aside, even as things got a little more ridiculous with each new volume?
But the final chapter was… excellent. It was exactly as it should’ve been, and yet was also exactly what I was not expecting from the author. Because the author actually stuck to the more unpleasant bits and did not dodge them with a deus ex machina.
And this is where I start mentioning spoilers, so look away if you don’t want to know.
I did not think that Kyo Shirodaira, the writer (the art was done by Eita Mizuno), would actually follow-through on the whole “these clones have only a set lifespan set into their DNA!” thing. I absolutely believed that, somehow, some way, Shirodaira would concoct a reason for Ayumu, at the very least, to escape his mortal fate. But he doesn’t. When we see Ayumu two years after the close of the story, his vision is failing and he no longer has use of his left hand. We do not see him die, but there is little room left for doubt – Ayumu will die young.
I also really enjoyed the fact that the final chapter does still leave a lot up in the air. It notes that some of the Blade Children have had to be killed. It does not tell us Hiyono’s real name. There is an overall sense of hope brought about by seeing the Blade Children with whom we were most familiar still alive and living as they wish, but it is tempered by the aforementioned fact that some of their number went crazy even after Ayumu granted them a hope.
In my review of solanin, I talked about the sense of hope that is more adult, that feeling that there will be no Disney princess endings but that one can manage to exist in this world, and that maybe there is some good in this world. Perhaps best put, the kind of feeling that things will not be perfect but that they will be alright, that they could be alright. That sort of hope – that’s the hope that Spiral imparts in its final chapter, and it was something I wasn’t expecting from a shounen title.
I’m going to have to re-read the whole thing, I’ve decided. Because that big twist in volume fifteen – did I totally miss the foreshadowing? Because it took me completely by surprise. Maybe if I’d read it all over a shorter period of time it wouldn’t’ve. So I want to go back to see what evidence they left throughout all those pages and all those chapter before the twist. I feel like right now that it was a fairly masterful curveball. Shirodaira said he did it in part because he wanted them to be equals in the end, because he thought it would weaken the relationship if he did not. He did a good job of leveling the playing field between the two.
I also really liked how things ended with Ayumu and Hiyono. Hardly the stuff of romance, but I really liked it that way. Adults behaving like adults. No happily ever after, but that isn’t the end of the world. I can’t quite describe it. An understanding between two people and acceptance of it.
I’m probably giving Spiral too much credit. When things go odd, they go very odd, and it really is pretty over the top. Ayumu’s brother is an awful character, all the more because we are meant to come away feeling sympathy for him and being absolutely alright with the fact that Madoka stays with him and still loves him even though he orchestrated something so awful. That he supposedly had no choice in the matter due to fate doesn’t really brook any points for him, either, since Ayumu chooses so strongly to defy fate as best he can.
I’m sad to be done with Spiral, but I also wonder if that has more to do with the fact that it was a long-running series than with any matter of quality. The ending was very good, and the early volumes were, as I said… but the absurdity.
Ultimately… if you like mystery, you will really enjoy the first several volumes. And, at that point, you will probably have developed enough of an interest in the story to persist even when the weird junk really starts to crop up. And then… well, then you’ll probably be like me, bummed that the early mysteries have subsided in favor of guns and science fiction. But the end? The end is good. And you’ll probably be happy with it. But is it worth reading it all for a good end?
A lot of it will ride on your reaction to the characters. If you like them, then, yes. If you dislike them? Well, you’ll probably resent the wasted time. And, yes, it is possible to read a story in which all the characters are detestable but one does not feel like it was a wasted effort. And Then There Were None has a cast of nasty people, but I didn’t walk away having a sense that I’d wasted a few hours reading it. But Spiral is not the kind of story that will do that; if you don’t like the characters, then don’t bother reading it through to the end.
So, Spiral. I enjoyed it. But that’s just me. Will you?