The end of a story can be both good and bad, to varying degrees. Some are good in the sense that they wrap up the story well, others are good because you no longer have to stomach whatever you chose to be viewing. Some are bad because they leave the viewer with more questions than answers, others are bad because the viewer is forced to acknowledge that the story they loved so much has nothing more to show. The examples I provided are obviously juggled between objective and subjective analysis, but it brings a lot to the table in terms of how I rate a title. A good ending can save a series, while a bad ending can ruin it. But that’s common knowledge.
To make things clear from the start (something this story doesn’t do), I enjoyed reading Ibara no Ou tremendously. It had that dark, adventurous atmosphere that made it easy for me to become immersed. In a way, it reminded me of the Metroid games, with a lot more characters present. I hadn’t planned on reading the entire thing in a day, but the story held me in its iron grip throughout the entire thing. Even by the end, I was still craving a little more.
There are a few things that should be noted before someone dives into Ibara no Ou:
1. Do not expect outward explanations.
This isn’t to say that the story doesn’t explain what’s going on. It does better than many stories I’ve read in the past. What I mean is that you shouldn’t expect an explanation of why the situation is the way it is. The main antagonist of this story is an “evil for the sake of being evil” stereotype. His involvement in the whole process is never explained, though briefly hinted at. The process itself isn’t even explained. By the time the story begins, everything has been set up. By the end, it is still never explained. How the process started, and why. Why was it funded? Who funded it? Who allowed them to continue the process? Who authorized the equipment? Why assume that those involved with the process would stay quiet about it?
The story is effective if you immerse yourself in the current situation. One can describe it as being encased in a glass chamber, excluded from the reality outside of it. If your focus is on the current situation, Ibara no Ou makes a lot of sense (despite it being fantasy). But your focus can only remain inside the chamber. To step outside of it will only get you lost and alone. And confused.
2. Deus ex machinas will occur often.
You know the age-old cliche of suspenseful adventure stories. A character is at the end of their wits, and it looks like they’re not gonna be able to survive. But suddenly, they’re saved by someone or something at the very last second! This could work a few times, if the reader genuinely suspects that the character in question is capable of dying. Though, when it’s the main character and there are many chapters left, it’s not as effective. The main character has plot armor 99% of the time. The story’s not fooling anyone.
There was actually a small tidbit at the end of the story that explained said deus ex machinas, which took me by surprise. I appreciated this story’s attempt at trying to fill its mistakes. It gives a sense that this story knows a lot more than one would expect.
3. This story is Fantasy. Fantastic things will happen.
Who is the strongest, most intimidating person you could possibly think of? Got someone? Now, imagine them facing off against a giant lizard-type creature whose strength and agility far outweigh even the most physically gifted human beings. These creatures are also twice their size. Do you think they stand a chance?
How about surviving a fall from hundreds of meters into a stone-filled sea? Controlling other people’s minds? Being able to survive with only your heart and one of your lungs? Shooting off part of your ear to wake up from a hallucination, then never mentioning it again? Remember the creatures I was talking about? Do you think they could outrun them? There are others things I could point out, but they would require more explanation. And for the sake of avoiding as many spoilers as possible, I’ll refrain from going any further. Just know that not everything is going to be realistic. There are little miracles spread throughout almost every chapter.
For what it’s worth, Ibara no Ou is a fantastic read for those willing to immerse themselves in a world that is not ours. Though, not without its issues. Some of these issues come from the cast of characters. I always found that its hard to really develop characters in hostile situations. They’re almost guaranteed to act a certain way, and hardly stray from that instinctual means of survival. Most of the characters come across as one of two things: strong and independent, or weak and dependent. It’s this simplicity that makes the characters less than what they could be, but for the situation that they’re placed in, it’s excusable. I only wish there were a way that these kinds of stories could show more personality than what’s expected or logical in that case scenario. It’s always boom or gloom; fighting on versus giving up.
At least the cast is diverse to some degree.
I’ve already picked on Ibara no Ou’s story quite a bit. However, for what was set up, its end result was satisfactory enough for me to ponder it afterwards. Though, I can say wholeheartedly that the build-up was much stronger than the climax. As the train chugged along, and the information was slowly being spoon fed to my brain, I began to become more and more uninterested in what was left of the series. Part of this was because of trying to process any logical sense out of what I was reading (it’s still difficult). Another part was because the flaws became all the more apparent. Ibara no Ou’s story thrives on suspense and intrigue, while also being complimented by standard characters and great pacing. Once everything came to fruition, the pacing became more of an avalanche of exposition, while the suspense was rapidly fading away, giving way to only the standard characters. In comparison to other stories, Ibara no Ou’s ending is satisfactory, but doesn’t properly translate to the build-up that it gave itself.
In one panel in particular, I remember thinking to myself, “She kinda looks like a turtle.” That’s one way you could describe the art. It certainly has an interesting style. It reminds me a lot of old fashioned styles of character design. The characters look more realistic, with the women and children being shown in a more cartoonish light. Speaking of diversity above, this is one of few stories from out east to feature a black guy among its main cast of characters. It also features a few Americans and a small child, too. For the most part, they don’t look Japanese, except perhaps the eyes, which is a really nice attention to detail. The creatures all look and feel fairly terrifying, as well. The art was a definite strength, which helped capture the mood and emotion of the characters’ reactions. Though, I couldn’t help but laugh at some of their screaming faces. Their agape mouths took up half their face. Seriously.
If Ibara no Ou were to finish how it started, this may have become a favorite title of mine. However, as the smoke and mirrors started to show, its quality started to suffer. Knowing that the characters would only show so much, I began to distance myself from them. The story lost its charm when it tried to become psychological. The logic began to falter, as well. Even more than it had to that point. There was one instance by story’s end that really threw me off, but I’ll let the reader find out exactly what. Believe me, you’ll know it when you see it. Not a perfect story, but a better story than most.
Personal Score: B+
Critical Score: B-