Erementar Gerade, Vols. 15 + 16By Mayumi AzumaDMPRating: Teen (13 +)
Cou and Ren finally arrive in Edel Garden, but what unfortunate secrets does the mysterious land hold, and what does it mean for the duo? With only four volumes remaining, Mayumi Azuma's Erementary Gerade heads towards it conclusion with flashbacks to Ren's past, unexpected reunions and more.
Volumes 15 and 16 kick off with an extended flashback to Ren's past, detailing her childhood and revealing her motivation for wanting to journey to Edel Garden in the first place. In doing so, Mayumi Azuma also takes an opportunity to expand a bit on inter Edel Raid relationships, depicting an isolated town comprised entirely of Edel Raids. The flashback confirms a long held suspicion, that Edel Raid's are always women, and it takes a few moments to revisit the long absent theme of male/female relationships through it's discussion of Edel Raids, their relationships with their Pleasures and such. Sadly it doesn't really linger on this for too long or say anything terribly interesting or that hasn't already been touched upon throughout the rest of the series. Sadly, while the flashback does reveal more of Ren's past, it turns out to be a fairly typical shonen protagonist past. Traumatic, unpleasant, with only a few close friends, full of loneliness etc. Beyond that most of these volumes are either spent reintroducing us to characters such as Wolx, the Edel Raid hunter who appeared way back in the single digit volumes of the series, or expanding on a needlessly complex contest between members of Orga Night regarding their attempts to capture Ren. It becomes even more confusing and befuddling when you learn that everything they've been doing has been without their leader's knowledge. Characters who only appeared once or twice throughout the series stand around discussing Ren's arrival, and the revelation that there's still an evil mastermind who we know nothing about this late into the series, just leaves the entire thing feeling cumbersome and anticlimactic.
Visually the series continues to be fairly middle of the road. It's perfectly serviceable but not much more than that. These volumes also have a distinct lack of action scenes, which means that visually the artwork needs to make lots of scenes of characters talking and discussing things interesting. It certainly tries and there are a few striking scenes that verge on the memorable, but sadly it's mostly just there. Not horrible, not amazing. To make matters worse, the dozen or so Orga Night characters who are all running around don't look terribly memorable and are oddly difficult to tell apart if they're not a woman or sporting a beard. Admittedly character designs have been something that have plagued the book for a while, but suddenly pushing half a dozen or so characters to the forefront who don't really have established personalities or really recognizable or memorable designs just makes it difficult to tell them all apart. On more than on occasion I found myself wondering if this or that character had appeared briefly in earlier volumes or if they were entirely new.
Over the last few volumes the series has lost what little bite and uniqueness it had when it came to dealing with Edel Raids and humans as a stand in for male/female relationships, a theme that was hard to ignore in the earlier volumes. Lately it's felt more and more like a standard shonen adventure series and these two volumes just hammer that home. Reading them I can't help but feel a bit baffled by the fact that there are only two volumes left. At no point does it feel like the tension or action is ramping up, or that the story is ready to head towards it's ultimate climax. I can only hope the last two will salvage things and prove to be memorable, but at this point I'm not really holding my breath.