Yuri Narushima is the mangaka who created Planet Ladder, a fantasy series noted for the extreme complexity of its background-- and by extreme, I mean that two volumes in, there was a diagram of seven planes of existence, their political set-ups, and the ways in which they were related to each other that looked like a circuit board and was just as easily comprehensible-- and the fact that the character with the most poignant and tragic backstory was the spirit of a Japanese engineering student who was swept out of the Earth during WWII, and eventually transplanted into the body of a giant robot chicken.

Planet Ladder, apparently loosely based on a Japanese folk tale, loosely follows a basic quest framework, in which a Japanese girl is swept into a fantasy world because she's the Chosen One who has been prophesied. (For those of you who hate Chosen Ones, note that this is satisfyingly upended later on.) She meets an emotionless constructed boy with a gold hand (I think he has a twin, but I forget the details) and has a femmeslashy relationship with a bad-ass woman named... er... Bambi.

In an interlocking plotline, a young man rules a world which succumbs to a horrifying disease which makes your limbs, including your head, suddenly fall off. He is saved only by being put in total isolation. By the time the heroine meets him, he is so traumatized that he passes out if anyone touches him. His sole companion is the giant robot chicken. This is because a scientist was trying to save the population by transplanting their souls into robots. But before this plan could be launched, almost everyone was dead, with only one robot finished, so the last dying man's soul had to be popped into that one. That prototype robot happened to be a giant chicken. Just go with it.

There's also a complicated cross-dimensional political story which I found almost totally incomprehensible. It did not help that in an early volume, when I was still trying to remember who was who, Tokyopop's handy character guide switched the descriptions of the hero and the villain.

Complete in seven volumes, with a somewhat rushed finale but pleasing conclusion. Dense epic fantasy with angsty men, tough women, and a giant robot chicken -- what's not to love? The art's good too.

The Young Magician also uses the narrative strategy of dropping the reader directly into the middle of the action and letting us try to put together the sense of the quite complex story as we go along. One does get the sense that there is a coherent story, but the fly-on-the-wall viewpoint makes us work to understand it.

As best as I can figure out, the Guino clan of magicians adopted a traumatized, amnesiac little boy during the Crusades and attempted to teach him magic. The boy, Carno Guino, bonded with another magician, Rosalite, whose body stopped growing when she was a child.

It's now modern times in Hong Kong (the magicians are either near-immortal or operating out of a timeless dimension) and Carlo and Rosalite are trying to stop a magician from another clan who is imitating Jack the Ripper in order to read the future in human entrails.

Insanely complex, with tons of largely-untold backstory. The foreground has an unusual amount of social realism, with a sub-theme about the difficulties of racial minorities in Hong Kong. (One character is a Filipina maid, and another is East Indian/British.) The conclusion alternates rather gory magical battles with lengthy infodumping about the relationship of magic and genetics. The tough-talking Carno is apparently one of two main characters, and the other one doesn't even appear in the first volume.

I await the arrival of some sort of Fowl of D00M.

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