‘In this world… there exist cheap seeds that ignite easily just by a firm touch of a finger…and then there also exist rare and expensive seeds, far beyond the reach of a mere peasant. The National Grainelier Special education and Research Institute studies and cultivates these rare seeds.’
Luca and Abel are childhood friends growing up in an impoverished village far from the capital. Abel dreams of becoming a Grainelier – but Luca has been illegally cultivating and selling rare seeds (Amaranth) to try to make enough money to live on. His mother died long ago in strange circumstances and his father, Christophe, has become a recluse, rarely leaving his room. The young man is aware that Christophe is cultivating rare seeds – and that his research work is forbidden by the Graineliers. When the Graineliers make a night raid and arrest Christophe, Luca flees with his father’s research: a handful of rare seeds which he swallows – and collapses.
Two years later, Luca awakens. Rescued by Abel and his father, he’s been asleep all this time and the seeds he swallowed have been subtly altering and changing his body. A chance encounter with a mysterious little girl called Chloé leads the two into a risky venture involving a single unusual seed. But the Graineliers become suspicious and start investigating when strange events are reported at an old church where the young men have been hiding out.
Rihito Takarai is probably best known outside of Japan as the mangaka of challenging BL series Ten Count and the charming shonen-ai Seven Days. Takarai-sensei is appreciated (and justly so) for her beautiful artwork, distinctive character designs and unusual storylines in both BL and josei manga although Graineliers marks her first venture into shonen territory (the Japanese publisher is Square Enix) with a story that could best be described as science fantasy. She’s used flowers and seeds before as the underlying theme for a manga in Only the Flower Knows – but that is set in a university research department and grounded in reality. So Graineliers is an intriguing departure into fantasy, albeit with a scientific slant: the Graineliers are well versed in the science of plant husbandry. Is this militaristic organization really pursuing their researches for the ultimate good of mankind or trespassing into dangerous territory? The setting is another new departure (an alternative nineteenth century Europe, Mediterranean France, perhaps?) but, as always with Rihito Takarai, it’s the characters and their interactions that are the main draw. And even though the laconic Luca, with his troubled past and uncertain future, is the main viewpoint, it’s cheerful Abel who provides a welcome counterbalance.
This first volume is handsomely produced with a striking cover enhanced by lettering that sports curling roots and leaves; inside, Rihito Takarai’s water colour illustration is lovingly reproduced, bringing out a range of vivid greens. An excellent translation from Jocelyn Allen captures the nice little touches of humour and preserves the French flavour that lends the manga its Mediterranean atmosphere.
I’m delighted that Yen Press have brought us this unusual and intriguing manga, even though it’s very much a work in progress. The second volume came out in Japan in 2016 but the third is yet to appear. The artwork is delicately beautiful as always and the first volume leaves us on a tantalizing cliffhanger with many unanswered questions. Who is Chloé? What threat does Lord Gilles Nicholas, the Special Grainelier Research Chair, pose to Luca? And what will become of Luca as the seeds he swallowed continue to change his body from within?
The combination of beguilingly attractive art and an intriguing story concept will appeal to readers in search of something truly ‘different’. Recommended.