Can you believe that it's been five years and I still haven't covered a single Kaori Yuki manga? That's kind of remarkable considering she's got just as many works in print here as someone like Arina Tanemura. She's certainly worthy of discussion...it's just a shame I have to start with this one.
GRAND GUIGNOL ORCHESTRA (Guignol Kyutei Gakudan), by Kaori Yuki. First published in 2008 and first published in North America in 2010.
Across the realm of Queen Gemsilica, a dread plague runs rampant. It turns people into Guignols, foul beings that are like a cross between zombies and porcelain dolls. The only thing that can defeat the Guignols are the royal orchestras, as their music stops the Guignols in their tracks and even work some miracles. There are two orchestras in the land, one official and one unofficial. Our story concerns the unofficial one and its leader Lucille. Through the eyes of their newest member, Enes, we learn some of the secrets behind the orchestras and the Guignols.
I swear, Kaori Yuki's storytelling just keeps getting sloppier with the years. Angel Sanctuary was pretentious but densely plotted. Godchild was shallow and melodramatic, but that mood suited the pulpy anthology style and vaguely Victorian setting. Grand Guignol Orchestra is something else, though. It's little more than a mishmash of fantasy tropes, Victoriana, and gem-themed names.
There's not much to the members of the orchestra: one's pissy! One's quiet! There are some others but they're not all that interesting! The most interesting character is Lucille, who is basically this universe's equivalent of a castrato. Here, being a castrato is less about chopping off your junk and more about harnessing voice magic and possessing a magic book which is TOTALLY not The Book of Deus Ex Machina. The only one who gets anything resembling a character arc is Enes, and that mostly involves a dead brother, a hidden identity, a giant conspiracy, and a buttload of aaaaaaaannnngst. What's weird is that Enes spends the first half of the volume being depressed and the second half being the one espousing the power of friendship against a chauvinist with delusions of grandeur. I will take that over the jokes made at Lucille's expense about their gender during that part because I will happily take The Power of Friendship over trap jokes.
Grand Guignol Orchestra is just all over the place both narratively and tonally and because of that I can't take it seriously. The cast are little more than one-joke notes or melodramatically angsty and the mythos is a mess. Worst of all, it's all dragged out just long enough to make you wish it would just end already.
Yuki's art skills have also gotten sloppier over the years. There's much less of the dark and rich linework that defines her early work and a lot more flat, generically cute faces. The wardrobes and hairstyles alike are still frilly and fussy as hell and the backgrounds are packed. She certainly gave herself a challenge when it came to visualizing the notion of sound and the quality of music. Does she succeed? Oh god, no. At best, she slaps on some vague screentones and calls it a day. I guess she felt she needed to lighten up on something because as always, her panels and pages are overstuff. It's just a chaotic pile of faces, layers, flashbacks and hair and as a whole it's just tacky.
Grand Guignol Orchestra is anything but grand. It's a hackneyed, dull mess with art that only occasionally echoes Yuki's earlier days. This is for completionists only.
This series is published by Viz. This series is complete in Japan with 5 volumes available. All 5 have been published and are currently in print. This series is also available digitally through Viz.