That day for the very first time… something from my books became real…I met someone from the sky.
Yellow Town – home to craftsmen and workshops, their smokestacks belching out yellow smoke that obscures the stars in the night sky. Young Theo (16) is something of a dreamer, loving fantastical stories since early childhood – but also something of an inventor, working as a mechanic at Chikuwa Barrack. One day, foraging through a giant trash heap called the Island of Dreams, he comes across a young girl lying injured and semi-conscious and, kindly soul that he is, takes her home. But who is she – and why has she one feathered wing (and a scar on her back where the other wing must have been)? She says her name is Mia – but she doesn’t remember anything else. Has she fallen from the skies? Theo determines to make her a new mechanical wing to replace the missing one. But even though he and his friends try to keep Mia safe from prying eyes, word gets out and one evening, a gang of thugs arrive to kidnap her. A winged child is a valuable prize and will fetch a high price! Theo fights with all his resources to protect her – but is shot. Is it too late to save her?
Nicke’s first published manga plunges us into a yellow-skied steampunk world inhabited by humans and cat people (such as Mr Chikuwa, Theo’s employer) – although when venturing outside Yellow Town in the forest, Theo encounters fairy-like little people and strange wild beasts. In the fascinating interview with Nicke translated by Melody Ribeiro at the back of the first volume, we learn that the young mangaka loves Studio Ghibli (Nausicaa, Laputa) as well as the manga of Chica Umino (Honey and Clover) and the game Kingdom Hearts. All these influences are evident in the text, especially Laputa in the boy discovering/rescuing a mysterious girl with special powers. And it’s worth noting here that the manga was first published in France by Ki-oon in 2018 with a trailer specially created by Gonzo. I haven’t managed to trace any Japanese edition so far. Quite how this came about is not covered in the author interview but it would be fascinating to learn more.
The art is distinctive and attractive, although Nicke’s main characters all look childlike and far younger than their given ages; the influence of Chica Umino shows through sometimes in the eyes and the facial contours. The mangaka’s use of colour is attractive (the double-page colour spread at the start is especially striking) and the steampunk look of Yellow Town is convincing. The story bowls along at a reasonable pace, with cliffhangers occurring at the end of each chapter to ramp up the tension.
However, there’s an over-familiar ring to Beyond the Clouds. I can’t help feeling that I’ve seen this plot unfold many times before. Even the story beats feel well-worn. It’s sometimes charming, sometimes scary – but the perils are ones we’ve encountered so many times in other anime and manga that for adult readers, there isn’t very much to encourage them to keep turning the pages.
So even though this has been awarded a T rating (13+) it would work well for keen manga readers in Years 5 and 6 (UK). In fact, it feels very like a children’s story (this is not a criticism) especially as hero Theo confirms his love of reading tales of wonder at the start of the narrative and shares his enthusiasm with Mia later on.
The translation is by Stephen Paul flows nicely and Abigail Blackman has done another excellent job on the lettering. The extras in ‘The World of Beyond the Clouds‘ at the end comprise character sketches and biographies and the interview with Nicke (complete with photos).
Given her undoubted talent for drawing, I imagine that Nicke will go on to produce some truly original storylines and world-building. And I’d wholeheartedly recommend this story for younger readers (not the very young but perhaps those who have enjoyed Cressida Cowell and Philip Reeve).
(Online cover images for Volume 1 have the subtitle ‘The Girl Fallen from the Sky’ but Kodansha are using the subtitle ‘The Girl Who Fell from the Sky’ on the print editions. A digital edition is promised but not yet available. )