Today I look at a lovely new release from Yen Press, but is there anything good underneath all that loveliness?
OLYMPOS, by Aki. First published in 2008, and first published in North America in 2012.
PLOT: Ancient myth tells us of how Ganymede, a beautiful youth, was stolen away by the gods to serve as Zeus's cupbearer. Well...they were sort of right. Ganymede was stolen away long ago, but instead of being a servant he is a prisoner, kept like a rat in a cage for the gods' amusement. His most frequent tormentor is Apollo, but soon enough Apollo's continued interaction with humans leaves him questioning his own identity and his own lonliness.
STORY: I'll admit I didn't have high expectations for this one. I was expecting a heavily bishie-fied take on Greek mythology, where everyone is beautiful, tormented, and dripping with ho-yay. As I read on, I was pleased to discover that the work was not only deeper than expected, but closer to the myths that inspired it.
Aki's take on the Greek gods is best summed up as "distant." These are beings not only completely removed from the mortal world below, but even from each other. The gods reign in their respective realms, and when they do have to interact, they tolerate each other at best. Zeus is the most remote of them all, never speaking and appearing as a mix of man, feather, and cloud. That distance is made very real for Apollo when he is forced to spend time with Iris, a cheerful young girl meant as a sacrifice to him. The best parts of this manga are the times spent with them, with the constant contrast of her unwaivering belief in the gods and Apollo's more grounded, cynical take on godhood, as he has no notion of the mythology humans have created for him. It's this interaction which leaves Apollo questioning the very nature of his own godhood. To him and his fellow gods, divinity isn't this great, awe-inspiring thing like the humans believe, it's just a neverending parade of boredom. The strangest thing of all is that this distant take on the Greek gods doesn't feel inconsistent with the ancient myths. These gods may not be as libidinous and drunken as their ancient counterparts, but the basic idea about them is the same - that they are flawed beings like humans, and that it's these flaws that drive their actions.
There's only one flaw, but it is a fairly major one. Because so much time is spent on Apollo and co. ruminating and philosophizing, the story wanders like a drunkard to the point where it sometimes seems aimless. The beginning features a one-off plot involving an ambitious young German, whose identity is something of a bonus for those who know their archeology. After that, though, it's noting but Apollo messing with Ganymede and debating the nature of his existence. Sure, we get Ganymede's backstory and how he ended up where he is, and he contributes his own understandably cynical, pessimistic point of view. Another strange thing about the story, though, is that while it does ramble, it never becomes dull. It slowly brings in the other gods, and midway through it introduces the subplot with Iris, which finally gives the story some focus.
Olympos can sometimes be aimless, but Apollo's identity crisis eventually helps it to find its bearings and start moving forward. It presents a view of the Greek gods which is unique and yet consistent with the myths of old.
ART: Aki's character designs are heavily bishonen-fied, but she certainly has a talent for it. Here Ganymede and the gods positively swim in their draping robes and long, wispy hair and drip with dangling jewelry. She also sometimes dares to make the gods more bestial looking, such as Hades's satyr-esque look or Zeus's positively inhuman appearance. Panels are spacious and full of swirling hair, clouds, feathers, and flowers. The backgrounds are delicately drawn, all the better to match the delicate creatures that inhabit them. The page composition is rather free and easy, with panels layered upon one another in abandon. Thankfully, the size of those panels keeps the pages from getting too busy.
Olympos's art is delicate and lovely, an easy sell for anyone who can appreciate the finer side of shoujo.
PRESENTATION: There are plenty of lovely watercolor splash pages in both the front and between the two volumes that make up this omnibus. There are also author's notes after each volume, as well as translation notes.
Olympos is much like the Greek gods themselves: slightly flawed, but beautiful to behold and interesting to ponder.
This series is published in the USA by Yen Press. Both volumes were published in a single omnibus, and is currently in print.
You can purchase this volume and many more like it through RightStuf.com!
Want a chance to win this volume and volumes from 5 other series? Leave a comment to enter the 12 Reviews of Christmas here!