The Greek gods were bishounen (sort of).
I’ve been hemming and hawing with how to go about this post, to be honest, since describing Olympos has proved to be a bit difficult which is maybe even evident in the very description that Yen Press prints on the back of their North American release of the manga:
From on high, the gods make sport of the mortals who toil below them. None know the cruelty of these beings better than Ganymede, a beautiful prince who was torn away from his family by the gods’ divine hands. Granted immortality, Ganymede now whiles away his days in an inescapable miniature garden for the amusement of the gods, particularly Apollo. But the gods themselves are no strangers to the boredom of eternal life, and as Ganymede quickly discovers, they will do anything to keep themselves entertained, both at his expense and at one another’s…
I puzzled at that the first time I picked Olympos off a shelf. On that occasion, though, Olympos lost out to the first omnibus of Kitchen Princess, the actual reason for my venture into the bookstore. I didn’t forget about it, though, so when I was pre-ordering the second omnibus of Kitchen Princess and the first omnibus of Girl Friends on Rightstuf, I decided to pick up Olympos as well.
The description Yen gives is accurate, if pretty unilluminating. The gods in Olympos are fairly unconcerned with the effects of their actions on mortals, and do frequently seem to be inspired by little more than boredom. But the manga ends up being more of an exploration of truth and identity than anything, as Apollo intermittently toys with Ganymede, visits Poseidon and Hades, and mulls over what he considers the stupidity and weirdness of humanity. It turned out a lot differently than I had expected based on the description, although I think I liked it more as a result, as I was expecting the story to focus more on Ganymede being punted about for the pleasure of the Ancient Greek pantheon rather than on anything like the nature of truth.
The pantheon, by the way, is fairly different than that which was recognized by the ancient Greeks, as the vast majority of gods and goddesses simply don’t exist. In some ways, the ones which do, are a rather spot-on pitch of the conception that the ancient Greeks had of them – both Apollo and Poseidon are fairly petty. In other ways, though, they deviate entirely, as Zeus is an completely other-worldly being who is wholly alien from a human’s perspective, not to mention the perspective of the other gods.
Although I enjoyed Olympos, the beginning of it is pretty bad – a 19th century man named Heinz is brought into Ganymede’s lonesome realm, and tries to help him escape, as Apollo has promised him the love of the woman he loves if he can get Ganymede out. Heinz isn’t an engaging character at all, and this weird introductory arc feels only more superfluous as the reader progresses with the story. Heinz very quickly exits the scene, and only comes up once in passing during the remainder of the story. If I had been reading this in a manga magazine, I probably would’ve dropped it at this point, since its pretty boring. Good thing owning the omnibus meant I kept reading anyway – already spent the money, might as well keep on!
Thankfully, the story improves from here, or my copy would be down at the comic shop on the used shelf in exchange for store credit by now. With Heinz off the scene, we spend a lot more time with Apollo, and our sense that he’s immature and capricious is confirmed. Ganymede himself gets more quality screentime than he could with Heinz around, although the story is primarily Apollo’s. I wouldn’t say that Apollo matures by the end, but he’s thinking more deeply about things, moving (partially) beyond, “I’m bored, humans are dumb.” And one would certainly hope to see some dynamism on the part of his development given the implication that the story stretches over the course of roughly two thousand years!
Yen’s release of Olympos collects the entire story into a single omnibus, a smart move for a short, fairly obscure series. The omnibus is an “over-sized” edition, with the page size larger than their multi-volume releases are. The larger page size befits the art-style, which is polished and pleasing to the eye. I think some may take poorly to the bishounen-ifcation of the likes of Apollo and Hades, but it serves to emphasize that their non-human-ness, to be clunky about it.
Also worth mentioning is that this release is, well, sparkly. Picture the football helments of an NFL team when under stadium lighting – that kind of sparkly, where its not immediately apparent when glancing at it. That is how Yen has done the covers and spine for Olympos. Pretttttyyyyy.
And since I have criticized Yen before for bad editing in their more recent releases, I should note that Olympos doesn’t suffer from this problem – no typos, no grammatical slip-ups, and it reads smoothly. This is a big relief for me; I’ve gotten pretty tired of the decreasing quality at several of the more prominent manga publishers in North America, so a turn-around in that decline is welcomed in my corner.
At under $14 at most online retailers, Olympos is worth checking out for folks looking for fare that differs from the legion of titles aimed at teenagers on the market currently. It isn’t a solanin or a Twin Spica, but I think it’ll please most people who want something different out of their manga.