Umi No Misaki is the latest manga by Kou Fumizuki, who coming off the success of his previous work, Ai Yori Aoshi, took what he learned from it, especially the limitations of the medium he was writing in, and decided to see what he could do to remove much of the obstructions he found himself presented with when crafting this new tale. You must understand, Ai Yori Aoshi, was a very typical harem story with a bit of a twist, in that the choice of which girl he'd pick (since that's part of the 'drama' of those lackluster tales) was already decided before the harem was even formed. As that story progressed, he proceeded to further subvert the genre, in that he didn't include hyper violent tsunderes, axe crazy yanderes, girls with any sort of super power, sex crazed maniacs, or the various other cardboard cutout wack (yeah, I called those harem girls wack!) jobs you find in damn near every single Harem Anime/Manga, though admittedly the girls weren't without their quirks. Finally, the main character himself wasn't a goddamn jellyfish by any stretch of the imagination, and even less so in the anime adaptations of all things. I could see myself having a beer with Kaoru Hanabishi or going to war with the man at my back. Through it all, I really got the sense that the manga-ka was writing the story to prove a point: Harem stories don't have to suck. More that they can stand on their own. They don't need a hyper powered magical ninja vampire who hits the spineless main character in the stratosphere at every possible moment for looking at her funny while secretly lusting after his body while nuclear powered cat girls and omega supreme goddesses somehow find themselves being attracted to him to for no real reason at all.
Hey, Akihisa Ikeda. For all the hanging plot threads, lackluster writing, and especially for all the drama you introduced but will never be able to resolve in Rosario + Vampire due to your complete lack of writing and plotting talent...Fuck You! Fuck you very much! Also, get those chapters out faster, I need my True Moka fix.
I believe that Kou Fumizuki actually proved that point spectacularly well with Ai Yori Aoshi. Hell, the series even had, horror of horrors, sex in it! And not just that hilarious juvenile college kid fucking you still almost never see, like in Yosuga no Sora, but rather the deep and meaningful love making that were it not for my own parents who've been married forever (and still haven't come back off honeymoon) I'd have relegated as a myth that Hallmark promotes to sell more cards and De Beers subsidizes to sell more diamonds. Still, with all that, I rather got the impression that he was chaffing under the limitations that the Harem Story imposed on him even despite his epic level subversions of the genre. With that in mind, and to continue the trend of subtly telling several of the current crop of story writers they need to grow the fuck up, or try to be a kid with skill, we get his next creation Umi No Misaki.
Umi No Misaki is about a whole lot of things, but primarily it is a story about a god and about a harem. Let me be as crystal clear on that last as I can possibly be. It is a story ABOUT a Harem, not a Harem Story. This distinction is both subtle and profound; which makes Umi No Misaki completely divorced from the Harem Story concept, though it shares some similarities in the way that Dragon Ball Z and Banner of the Stars both had starships. It may well be an even more subtle and final “Fuck You” to the Harem Story genre that he originally used to prove his point.
Then again, maybe he's just writing the story he wants to write, and doesn't give a shit about the genre(s) at all. Though I'd have to say that proves a point all on its own too, and makes the original points proven that much more profound if so.
Umi No Misaki takes place on the made up island of Okitsushima (and its larger neighbor Hontsushima), which appears to be a couple hundred miles off the coast of Japan; possibly an ancient offshoot of the same creation process that birthed Hawaii. Legend has it that the Dragon God came to this land, and finding it beautiful, decided to live there. While there, he met and married one of the local girls, who became the first of the Cape Maidens, who are revered on that island as living gods themselves. When the Dragon God's mortal form died, the Cape Maidens and people kept the faith that he would return, and every so often, he is reborn into the world and returns to the island he so loved...and back to the Cape Maidens who revere and love him still.
Enter into the picture one Goto Nagi, who's mother came from this island. It had long been a dream of his to return there and see what his long deceased mother's life was like before she met his father and had him. While there, he meets a very beautiful girl by the name of Narumi Shizuku, quickly followed by two others: Nagumo Karin and Mitsurugi Soyogi. I'm pretty sure you can tell where this is going almost immediately, and there are really no twists in this story as far as that aspect goes. The story is actually a very subdued, almost whimsical series, where the reborn Dragon God who was never born there now finds himself the object of worship for this island (though for now, it's kept mostly under wraps) and given the three girls, the current generation of Cape Maidens, to pretty much do with as he wills. They're lucky, as Nagi is a damn good person, and didn't do what he could have easily done right then and there. I admit, I would have likely been far less...patient...than he. In that respect, his relative immaturity and inexperience is working very well for what he really wants to do. It's been a crisis of faith to one extent or another for these three girls to finally meet their god, and here is where the story really shines. This god has no real desire to be that divine creature that this island has worshiped for so long, and yet, he finds that with these girls that he cares for and has come to love, only by being that god, can he help them overcome the stigma of living as the Cape Maidens for so long. It is through their faith that he is slowly bringing them out of their shells and letting them be who they really are, which is what he really wants. The story continues well beyond even that, but through it all is him adjusting to the status he's been handed or perhaps always born with (there's a few indications he's definitely more than meets the eye), and reconciling it with the persona of Goto Nagi and the faith these maidens have placed in him as both Dragon God and Nagi.
At 76 translated chapters as of the writing of this review, that's really all this series is about. No big ki blasts, no big transdimensional hopscotching across planes of existence, no big war battles, and no over the top larger than life gag characters...the closest we get to that is the slightly hyperactive teacher...nothing of that nature. It's a subdued little story about faith, love, divinity, and the little adventures that go along with it. It's slice of life, and very character driven. As far as it goes, I just want to see where this goes and how far the characters can grow and take this really interesting little situation they've found themselves in. Nagi is adjusting, but I suspect it wouldn't go nearly as well if he didn't have the three exceedingly beautiful and interesting girls of the Cape Maidens there to...encourage him. The girls themselves would have remained wound up tighter than an overstressed steel cable just waiting to snap if he didn't show up, and watching who they really are emerge as they find out it's okay to be who they are because their god told them so, is something I really find to be a rather cool little story dynamic. Like I said in the intro, it's also story about divinity and how people and the divine respond to it, which is something that so few stories actually explore. It's worth it for that sort of character study alone, if nothing else.
The art style is very indicative of the style that the manga-ka honed in Ai Yori Aoshi. One also gets the impression that he felt very constrained by the limiations of the setting of his first manga, as this one can...to be honest it's filled with pure scenery porn. Expansive landscapes, nightscapes, and seascapes, beautiful sunrises and sunsets; he's just going nuts with the paint brush. When they animate this sucker, they're going to need to get the guys who did the AIR TV series in on this one, because damn if this one isn't going need just that little touch lense flaring magic to really set it off.
All in all, this is a wonderful little read. Nothing too exciting or over the top; if you're looking for action you won't find it here. Where it really excels is the characters and how they interact with each other in the unique circumstances they find themselves in. For those with faith in a higher power, it really makes a good study of what would happen with those who finally meet that higher power and to those who find they ARE that higher power. True, one could go all eldrich horror in such a story (which is a lot of fun too), but in this case it's more of the compassionate side of that equation, and not nearly explored enough. I think I can actually recommend this for everyone to at least try, though I can guarantee not all will like it.
Finally, I will say this...or I would say it to Nagi if I could. If he does do as requested and only pick one, he better be damn sure about the fate of the other two. There is a dark side to this sort of thing, and they've not been shy about talking about the fate of some of the other maidens in the past in accordance with their duties to the island.