Volume 6 of Shinobu Ohtaka’s Orient is something of a transitional volume as it takes us from the Blue Demon God/Obsidian Goddess arc into the Awaji Island arc, and while there’s not too much action here, there’s still plenty it needs to set up for the next big fight.
A lot of this centres on new character introductions, which it gets straight into as Musashi and the gang try to make their way east through a forest that feels more like a jungle. Jungles, of course, are synonymous with flesh-eating plants, and that’s exactly what they come across here, with Kojiro and Tsugumi being captured by an Octopus Pot demon. This gives Musashi the opportunity to not only show off his new sword skills, but also make a name for himself as he rescues another traveller who had been captured by the demon, who turns out to be Michiru Saruwatari, a samurai girl around the same age as our main trio. It turns out Michiru and her wizened retainer are travelling to the port town of Harima, where the Uesugi Alliance are gathering all their forces for an attack on the Green Demon God, Yamata no Orochi, which occupies Awaji Island.
While she initially seems just another pretty face for Musashi and Kojiro to drool over, we do see flashes that Michiru is both knowledgeable and resourceful in her own right, saving herself and Musashi after a contrived tumble off a cliff with one of the most useful demon metal blade powers we have seen so far. She doesn’t seem much of a fighter, but she has a lot of potential for being a utility or support-type character, so I am looking forward to seeing more of her and how she makes use of her unique abilities in the upcoming battle, as it’s obvious even at this early stage that she’s going to be a central character in this arc.
We also get an opportunity here to fill in some of the gaps in the overarching plot and backstory, as it tries to keep things moving along in what otherwise is a quiet volume. We finally get to hear how everything started and what plunged the country into this mess, while a reveal that Kojiro’s father was involved with the Uesugi Alliance gives our main cast a firm reason to follow Michiru to Harima to try to meet the leader of the Uesugi to find some answers. Once again, it’s very careful about how much it reveals so there’s still that hook to keep pulling you forward, but there’s enough for you to understand where things are going.
The world building here is still the series’ strongest aspect, and you really start to feel the characters’ world expand, particularly as we get all this information and start meeting different samurai bands. I found it amusing in the way it mixes in modern technology as you begin to see everything from cars to tanks being used as transport which are dressed up to try to make them feel not quite as out of place as they should be in a 16th Century setting, but still end up being hilarious to look at. Meanwhile, we get a greater feel for the mythological and religious inspiration behind some of the demons, as it chooses one of Japan’s best-known monsters (and one of my favourites), the eight-headed and eight-tailed Orochi, as the next one to take down.
This is one fight I’m certainly looking forward to as the monsters are one of the main areas so far where Ohtaka’s art has really excelled, and even just seeing it as a silhouette here makes it seem a scary creature. Let’s not forget the background art either though, as we get some really striking panels as we are introduced to the Uesugi leader, Tatsuomi, who puts so much value on blood ties that he prays to his ancestors in a spectacular room creepily adorned with their skeletons. Exterior shots of Harima and the Uesugi castle are also really detailed, and you can really get a sense of scale in what is the largest location in the series so far. Character designs are also strong, with Tatsuomi cutting a striking figure with his Yakuza-style tattoos and missing eye.
I love the “don’t mess with me” vibe he gives off, which he completely doubles down on when Musashi finally bumps into him, throwing him and his friends first into prison, then recruiting them for the war effort against Orochi, splitting them between different platoons. This is where it feels like we are finally getting into the next part of the story as it introduces all the main players who will not only be key to the battle, but who are also competing against Musashi in a fight to be platoon leader as the story heads into Volume 7, where hopefully things will start kicking back up a notch in terms of the action.
Orient continues to be published by Kodansha in both digital and physical formats. The physical copy is well presented, while translation is handled by both Nate Derr and Kevin Gifford and it reads perfectly well with no issues to speak of.
Overall, while Volume 6 of Orient is no match for the meat of the previous volume, it still feels like a smooth transition over to the next part of the story, introducing a swathe of new characters in preparation for the upcoming arc, while filling in bits and pieces of the overarching plot while it can. With this being a long-running shonen manga it’s rather expected we get these types of volumes from time to time, and I feel like Orient handles it pretty well despite there being not too much going on. While it is tempting to skim through to get to the next part of the action, it’s still worth taking the time to appreciate some of the world building and character introductions and avoid missing some of the finer details that may pay dividends later on.