I'm a librarian who loves anime, manga, and reading a wide variety of genres.
If you'll remember, I hated the live action Aquarian Age: Juvenile Orion movie. It looked awful, it was confusing, it completely skipped out on its own climactic battle, and then it just ended. I was curious to see how well the manga would work for me, and whether it would make more sense than the movie.
As it turns out, the live action movie and the manga only have a few similarities. However, like the movie, this first volume of the manga jumps back and forth between a lot of different characters. There are Kaname and Naoya, two friends. Kaname has weird dreams and back pains, and there are hints, early on, that Naoya isn't a normal teenage boy. There's Tsukasa, a gentle teen with amnesia, and Tomonori (I called him Nakaura in my review of the movie, but I'm switching to his given name now), who is both a priest (I guess?) and the mathematics teacher at the school everyone goes to. Mana is a teen who has recently transferred to the school – she desperately wants to find and reconnect with Kaname, who was both her childhood friend and her savior. Isshin is the oldest of the students. He develops a crush on Mana the instant he meets her, which is unfortunate, since she seems to be completely fixated on Kaname (who keeps telling her to leave him be).
This world has five factions, plus the mind breakers. The factions are: Arayashiki (Asian magic), WIZ-DOM (Western priests), Darklore (the guys with black wings), E.G.O. (humans, mostly girls and women, with special powers), and the Erasers (alien beings with white angel wings).
If I'm interpreting things correctly, mind breakers are able to act as the masters of members of these various factions, allowing them full access to their powers so that they can use them in battle. In this volume, Naoya suspects Mana of being a mind breaker, so he attacks her in an effort to force her to reveal her powers. Kaname jumps in to protect her, accidentally revealing that he is a member of the Darklore faction. Meanwhile, there's some stuff with Tomonori, who seems to consider Darklore to be his enemy, and Tsukasa, who secretly has the ability to grow white wings where his ears should be.
Basically, this first volume of the manga series was just as choppy and busy as the live action movie. On the plus side, it made slightly more sense. I especially appreciated the extras, which included a 10-page explanation of the trading card game on which this series was based. In the card game, players are the mind breakers, and they control cards belonging to each of the various factions. I still thought the manga was way too busy and confusing, but suddenly the reason for it all made much more sense. It was busy and confusing because it was trying to incorporate the rules and features of a complex trading card game.
I didn't care for the characters any more than the setup. In most cases, I didn't get to see them enough to care much about them. Naoya looked like a villain, until the moment he and everyone else decided he wasn't. Mana was a naive klutz whose actions didn't always have anything to do with what was going on around her. For example, the instant Kaname came on scene, she forgot that she was scared and that Naoya was trying to kill her (with magic, even!) - reuniting with her childhood best friend was far more important. She later tried to explain this away by saying that she had known about Kaname's wings for years and was therefore already used to weirdness, but...no. I just didn't buy it.
I can put up with a lot in a manga if it at least has nice artwork. Gokurakuin's artwork wasn't terrible, but some things definitely looked odd. At times, characters' heads were positioned too low on their necks, and there were more than a few funky hands.
If my coworker hadn't lent me the whole series, I'd probably be giving up after this first volume. It was better than the live action movie, but that's not really saying much.
Three pages of a comic-style author's afterword, a one-page preview of the next volume, a little over a page of translator's notes, a chart detailing the ways in which characters refer to each other (for example, Mana vs. Kirihara-san vs. Kirihara), 10 pages of information about the trading card game, and two pages showing off some Juvenile Orion merchandise.
(Original review, with read-alikes and watch-alikes, posted on A Library Girl's Familiar Diversions.)