Volumes: 25 (ongoing)
Shoujo and I don’t tend to get along very much. More specifically, high school shoujo romance and I don’t get along because those seem to be the only kinds of shoujo manga that are adapted into anime nowadays. The flitting between abusive relationships seen as totemo romanticuu, or blushy hand-holding gormless teenagers rubs me the wrong way. It’s a shame that anime does such a disservice to an entire subset of manga when it has a much wider variety of titles and genres on display.
Take 7 Seeds, a post-apocalyptic survivalist shoujo manga. What’s interesting about it is it still has a lot of the same stylings of your typical shoujo manga. For example, there’s the heart-skip panel where the layout of the pages are set with on big strip down the middle of flowers and hearts and sparkles and bubbles, which is supposed to represent the heart of the main character skipping a beat. In your usual shoujo high school romance manga, that scene is used when senpai noticed me~! In 7 Seeds it’s used when the protagonist has just noticed that senpai is being eaten by a giant man-eating plant.
When I say 7 Seeds is a post-apocalyptic manga, I don’t mean some pussy apocalypse. It’s not like Akira or Neon Genesis Evangelion where there was a little disaster but people are still going to school. I mean hellfire raining from the sky, land swallowed up by the oceans, entire human population eliminated. Humanity had seen the apocalypse coming, so they set up the 7 Seeds programme. 4 groups of healthy teenagers were placed into stasis across Japan, set to re-open when the planet became inhabitable again.
For a person like myself who has a big hard-on for apocalyptic landscapes, 7 Seeds is fantastic. There’s the requisite first discovery of the tattered remains of cities that have some truly powerful scenes. It can be the big sweeping shots of Tokyo being reclaimed by the land as the skyscrapers become overgrown, to some really simple little things like a subway car collapsing under the weight of someone simply leaning on it, crumpling as though it was made of seaweed from years of corroding and rust. They go a long way to establishing the setting and giving you a proper feel for the scale of the devastation and where the world is at now.
The planet’s ecosystem has been altered drastically and there’s lots of cool ideas brought in to make nature more volatile. Some of it is your standard angry ecosystem such as giant bugs that plants its eggs into your body, but then there’s more insidious versions too There’s creatures that collapsed in the desert and appeared dead, waiting for the monsoon season to arrive again, upon which they would all burst into life and terrorize the poor group that had set up camp in this calm valley. One of the characters accidentally awoke a monster by peeing on it, causing it to think the rainy season had arrived. Its connection to science is pretty loose, but it plays with these ideas of how the rapid evolution in the post-apocalypse could work in enough crazy unique ways that I don’t mind that they’re perhaps a bit silly.
I do have a bit of an issue with how they depict the characters’s state in this hostile world. Considering they spend an awful lot of time crashing through undergrowth and being hurled into the water, it’s surprising how intact a lot of their clothes are. The story seems to gloss over a lot of the general day-to-day details such as how they get food, how do their shoes stay intact through so much travelling, how are they able to transport the amount of gear they would need to survive from place to place, and a bunch of other details. Maybe they raided a surprisingly intact clothes store at some point and their bags are full of spare shoes and t-shirts. Or maybe the people who put these teenagers in stasis in the first place gave them the most resilient clothes humanity could develop. It seems like a strange complaint on my part, but given the manga spends so much time emphasising how inhospitable the planet has become, it pulls me out of the experience somewhat.
The story jumps between the groups within 7 Seeds that have been left on the planet, showing us the different group dynamics and how they each dealt with their situation. There’s also the occasional story that jumps to before the 7 Seeds were released and how humanity started to prepare for the coming apocalypse. You didn’t think humanity only had one plan, did you? The one involving the kids who were all jacked up on steroids and bred to be the best of the best was particularly memorable, especially the grim way the arc ended. I won’t spoil, but it’s one of those endings that makes you put your book down, breathe out deeply and then go outside and watch rabbits frolic for a while as you contemplate how lucky you are.
The most impressive feat of 7 Seeds is that, despite jumping from story to story, it manages to make each individual story compelling. Each one is meticulously planned out. Each character is noticeably different with personality and goals and fears that makes the group dynamics in each story fascinating. The focus on the manga is more on the broader picture of how we will face the apocalypse and how people react in these harrowing situations, but it never forgets that these people are humans. As much as I’ve got that hard-on for general post-apocalypse landscapes, the real meat here is in the people and how they react to the situation. The author is a truly fantastic storyteller.
It’s a fucking long manga by the way. There’s 25 volumes out at the moment and still ongoing, and with anything that long there’s bound to be some nitpicky problems. The art isn’t fantastic. Sometimes the squiggly way the lines are drawn means I can’t tell where one object begins and another ends, leaving me staring at a page for several seconds before I realise “oh right, she’s wrestling a mutant crocodile”. It’s also completely humourless, which might fit something this grim, but when a character is supposed to be the Funny Guy, it never comes across well. There is a way to work dark humour into a story like this, but the author never bothers. Maybe she’s aware she can’t do humour so simply never tries, which is probably for the best.
But these, and the earlier minor clothes problems, are but little flecks of dirt on an otherwise monumental achievement in storytelling and overall grimness. Now if only anime producers would adapt shoujo manga like this more often, rather than high school romance #5019 in which the most popular guy in school inexplicably falls in love with bland shy female lead because he is secretly a vampire walrus or whatever.