No.6 was built to be the perfect utopia. No one is ever unhappy—at least no one you’ll ever see. Our hero is bright young boy named Shion whose future seems sown up in the very best of ways. Shion has been handpicked to go to all the elite schools and he lives in a world of luxury and plenty. Except… even though Shion is very idealistic and generous of spirit, he just doesn’t entirely buy into the idea that he’s living in a utopia, and one day he figures out why—when a mysterious, wounded person shows up at his door and tells him about life outside the walls. After that, of course, everything changes/Shion’s life is never the same….
For me, one of the compelling things about this manga is that the character of Rat/ Nezumi (our mysterious wounded interloper). The pronoun used to describe this person is ‘he’ and ‘he’ is used universally by everyone who interacts with Rat. But, Rat, we learn fairly early on, is an actor. The few times that we see Rat in stage make-up, Rat is clearly performing as female. In fact, Rat’s stage name is “Eve.” There’s a very in-text (as opposed to subtext) romance that blossoms between Rat and Shion that culminates in an in-text kiss. There are also several moments in which Rat plays up his queerness. At one point, when Shion get exiled outside the wall–(okay, it’s a spoiler, but you expected that, didn’t you?)—and a guy accosts Shion. He’s obviously is looking for a pretty boy to do unspeakables with. Rat jumps in and ‘claims’ Shion as his. This is a theme—whenever Rat has an opportunity to play gay, he does it with gusto.
Since this wasn’t marketed as yaoi (though that could just be because it’s not explicit beyond a kiss) and Rat is a HUGE fan of Shakespeare, I’ve been on the alert for a reveal that Rat is a girl that has been living as a boy, ala Olivia in “Twelfth Night.” I could be wrong. I could be very, very wrong and this could just be an awesomely out-there gay love story. But, there are a few moments that have me wondering. Particularly notable is a scene where Shion puts his hand on Rat’s chest and Rat asks, “What do you feel?” Shion says, “The hard chest of a man.” Rat’s response is, “Yes, sorry, I don’t have very big boobs.” Which could just be Rat being sarcastic, but it’s not clear… They seem to sleep in the same bed, so you’d think that Shion would say something if he was shocked to discover the truth. Shion, though, seems pretty bi—he’s got a lady friend who, before he’s exiled and when she’s off to study abroad, bluntly asks him for his “sperm” by way of asking to sleep with him. He’s shocked, but that could either be because he’s queerer than a three dollar bill, or because WHO WOULDN’T BE when asked out like that???
So, I don’t know. It’s one of the things that has kept me reading, but I wouldn’t be disappointed either way.
Because on top of these compelling characters, there’s also a fascinating parasite plague that’s affecting no.6 (which turned Shion’s hair white and gave him a snakeskin-patterned scar that wraps around his body) and a mystery about why Rat hates no.6 with a fiery passion that seems far beyond the norm.
We also have some fun side characters, including a woman known only as “Dog-keeper” who was raised by dogs (literally). She now runs a hotel in the slums where people can snuggle up to dogs while they sleep (very Japanese, that.)
What can I say? I’m hooked. The library had two volumes collected (which takes you to chapter 8; this is a monthly manga.) I picked them up because they were marked as “new,” though I think the manga has been running since 2011(?) At any rate, there are 20-some chapters total on MangaPanda to-date. I will definitely read them all. Wikipedia tells me that this manga is based on a nine volume novel series, so there’s lots of story to tell, but also a finite arc with a conclusion to look forward to.