Seinen – Action, drama, sci-fi, war
26 Volumes (complete)
In 2036, three high school girls make their way to Tokyo. But this isn’t a pleasure trip to see the hustle and bustle of the big city. Tokyo is a ghost town, and Ibara, Aoi, and Taeko are searching for survivors of an accident from 20 years ago. But why are these three looking for people, and what happened to Tokyo anyway…?
I thought I would slog through Coppelion. Instead, I marathoned the heck out of it.
I had to quickly check the year this manga started serialization because in this series, in 2036, characters are still using flip phones. Yes, I know the Japanese were fairly slow to adopt smartphones since their flip phones were more useful than in other countries thanks to their messaging service and stuff, but it was still funny.
So, the first chapter introduces us to three seemingly normal high school girls. But it’s quickly evident that something is wrong in Tokyo. Throughout the chapter, the manga provides more tidbits. 20 years ago. Injections. Geiger counter. No suits. By the end, we learn that there was a nuclear accident in Tokyo, and radiation leaked all over the area. The three are part of a special squad known as Coppelion, genetically engineered individuals who aren’t affected by radiation. Led by a colonel at the military’s technical school who goes by the title Vice Principal (or VP), the girls (technically the Medical Unit) are meant to scout areas to find survivors and the cause of recent SOS signals.
As the manga continues, we learn more about the three girls, including each one’s specialty. Ibara is the leader since she’s the oldest and has good reflexes and stamina. Ibara can be strict, but she also intends on helping anyone in trouble. I do mean anyone; she manages to forgive and help many antagonists because she doesn’t want to see anyone else die. Glasses-wearing Taeko is good with animals and is the most knowledgeable of the group, often being the one relied on for information and medical advice. Meanwhile, according to Aoi, her only gift is her self-proclaimed cuteness. Aoi is the more fun-loving, slightly lazy one — a typical teenager in other words, and Aoi often worries she’s just dead weight compared to her more capable friends.
The three have some mixed emotions about being living science experiments, but they want to live — even if “living” is an odd choice of words for their doll-like existence. They all have their setbacks and worries, but the girls mange to pull through thanks to each other and the people they meet.
Coppelion is divided into four parts, but they’re not very balanced. The first couple of arcs are obvious, focusing on groups the girls are rescuing. But then the story gets too big to be contained by the arcs, having divide parts down into sections. But the sections don’t really help much in terms of finding a specific chapter or wanting to take a break if marathoning the series.
So as Ibara and company head to Tokyo, they eventually come across people who have managed to survive in the city. If you’re wondering how anyone could survive in such a disaster zone, well, that’s a part of the story. Suffice to say, it’s a combination of luck and hard work. As such, not everyone is thrilled at the thought of leaving Tokyo.
And for good measure — we learn there’s plenty of blame to go around for the ecological and humanitarian crisis in Tokyo, and many people are using the situation for their own benefit. If you’ve managed 20 years in an apocalyptic city where you felt (rightly or wrongly) that the government abandoned you, would you still want to leave? Especially if you’ve managed to make a home there?
Speaking of the government, the manga often shifts between the Medical Unit/Tokyo and what’s going on in the new (well, old) capital of Kyoto. We have the Prime Minister who just wants to ensure his reelection and one of his cabinet members who has his own motives. The Vice Principal is often held back by them, which frustrates him, and so the VP often has to rely on a few of his connections to get around or bypass orders. Anyway, we also see leaders from other major countries like the US, Australia, and France visiting Japan. Those three are probably the most significant in terms of story while the others just mostly hang around going either, “Me too!” or, “No, we will!”. The leaders tend to be drawn and presented as an exaggeration of stereotypes. France’s president is drawn like a famous phantom thief and keeps offering items from the Louvre. USA is led by a big dumb musclehead. Their escalating arguments heavily contribute to the global situation becoming more unstable.
So as you would expect, life is a major theme of this manga. More specifically, life versus scientific pursuit and human development. Coppelion sounds the alarm on what humans are doing to the planet and serves as reminders people are not likely to easily change their behaviors. Plus, there’s the whole issue of the Coppelion. Is it right for people to create artificial sentient beings? To infuse embryos with genes to enhance them? Other topics covered include greed, pursuit of power, and the greater good. There’s just a lot to unpack here, as you might expect from a manga about an apocalypse.
But this isn’t just a manga about philosophical questions. At every turn, Ibara and her friends face resistance from those who disagree with them, their school, and the government. As such, gunfire is a common occurrence. Ibara does most of the fighting thanks to her own gun and above average fighting skills, but she’s not always just facing off against people in hazmat suits. Even when taking fire, Ibara still doesn’t want to injure anyone. She’s often called out by others for her naive behavior, and readers will find her saintly behavior a little too much to take at times. But just as bad is the constant reformation of the antagonists. Yes, very few people are wholly evil, but the constant “they’re not as bad as we thought they were, see!!” is also annoyingly repetitive.
While the initial conflict is about the girls finding people and then either battling the survivors’ reservations, government restrictions, and/or a lack of resources, eventually, the manga begins focusing more on the Coppelion, and one in particular. Ibara and her team are not the only Coppelion, and they encounter schoolmates all the way until late in Coppelion. Unfortunately, though, the story never does a good job of explaining the Coppelion school (How did Ibara, Aoi, and Taeko get teamed up together? How many Coppelion are there?).
However, the science of what’s going on in the world is explained rather well. Of course, this still requires some some hefty suspension of disbelief here. Initially, I’d compare it to Jurassic Park: the data in the real world doesn’t back up the explanations found in the book, but yet it feels like it could be in the realm of possibility considering modern scientific achievements. Had the Coppelion just had antibodies that block the radiation, that would have been one thing. But when we see battles with superhero (supervillain?) powers, the manga takes on a more fantasy-like tone. There are even giant robot battles, which was rather unexpected. Still, there’s a lot of enjoyment to be found here as readers empathize with characters and watch to see if the Medical Unit can help everyone survive. They’re always under a time crunch and always facing Murphy’s Law.
What also makes the manga good is the art. Backgrounds and scenery are amazing as we see Tokyo landmarks in decay, warped by nature. Animals and creatures do roam the city, some with signs of evolution after 20 years. Readers will see plenty of disturbing imagery, but blood and stuff is not added just for kicks. The action scenes are also well laid-out, making it easy to see the punches and bullets flying or the vehicles being flipped over. The pages are also busy without being overwhelming; there’s a lot of detail to balance the manga between melancholy and optimism. The fact the girls are wearing school uniforms instead of even military uniforms is silly. At least wear some easy-to-access holsters on their persons instead of carrying backpacks and kits.
Inoue’s art gets better and sharper in regards to the characters, but it also causes Ibara and Aoi to look quite a bit different from their early versions. Early on, Ibara is more of a cool, practical beauty, but she becomes more positive and cheerful, which seemed to be Aoi’s role. Aoi also looked a little on the plump side in the beginning, and it was like all of a sudden she lost a lot of weight. She refers herself as a cutie, and I thought it was supposed to be a bit humorous since I found Ibara to be the prettiest of the girls. Outside of the main three, the manga has several other Coppelion, but only one main male. The survivors skew male since a lot of them worked in energy, engineering, and such, and of course the military and politicians are all male. (Dang it countries, it’s 2036 — elect a woman and maybe these morons wouldn’t keep pushing the world toward war!!) Despite the abundance of hazmat suits, Inoue draws them in a way that you can still see their face and who’s inside. And combined with the beginning-of-volume character introductions, it is rather easy to get right back into the story after a long break.
Honorifics are not used. Generally, Miss/Mr. is used for -san, Representative for -iinchou, Dr./Professor for -sensei/-hakase, and that’s about it. Well, outside of the military/politicians’ positions being translated (Colonel, Secretary, etc.), but that’s standard. I noticed a few mistakes like a line of dialogue repeated twice, messing up a character’s line, and a sudden swap to Eastern name order instead of the series’ usual Western name order during these 26 volumes, but otherwise, it’s fine. A couple of girls talk in slang and hip speak, but that goes with their character.
Coppelion is a rather long series, especially for a digital-only release. But if you are into disaster stories, especially disaster stories caused by humans and are not too gruesome or depressing, Coppelion is highly enjoyable.
VIZ Media has the license for the Coppelion anime, and it’s available to stream on Funimation and Hulu.
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