(Natsu, our heroine of Summer Group-B, with Arashi, her crush, and Semimaru, the group rebel/clown)
Sci-Fi Meets Shoujo Manga:
Before I read my first novel, before I watched my first drama, before I launched into a thousand and one obsessions, it all started when I read my first Japanese manga. The manga was Doraemon (which is also the first manga for 99 out of 100 kids, I stake my life on it). Some kids read it and moved on, some kids read it and became a lover of the genre of mangas for life. I fall into the latter camp.
Mangas run the gamut from childhood innocence to epic tales of love, loss and woe. I first encountered A Tale of Two Cities when it was used as an inspiration for a manga. Over the years, my manga consumption has decreased annually. For the most part, the quality is just not there. But occasionally a fun and interesting story comes my way and I happily devoured it in one sitting.
A few weeks ago, my sister called and told me she had come across a manga by the name of 7 Seeds, written by Tamura Yumi, who also wrote the seminal Basara that both of us love to pieces. (In fact, I love Basara so much I promise to devote a post to it soon). 7 Seeds, she told me, has been out for almost 10 years, and was still an ongoing series.
(Summer Group-B dressed for an imaginary Natsu Festival)
I read up on the synopsis and eagerly waited to borrow her set so that I could read it. Knowing Tamura, 7 seeds was bound to be colossally rip-my-heart-out-and-make-me-gasp-for-breath type of story content. The woman knows how to structure and deliver an expansive story and never having any loose ends.
I just finished 7 Seeds over the weekend (it is currently published up to book 16, and the series is likely only half done). It’s so good I can think about little else since then. I thought I’d jot down some thoughts about this intense story and see if I can lure some folks into reading it. A word of caution though – 7 Seeds is heady fare, it’s not rainbows, roses and unicorns. If even one person gets a happy ending in 7 Seeds, much less everyone, I will cry for joy. That is all, you have been duly informed.
(Natsu and Semimaru of Summer Group-B and Ango of Summer Group-A- the world oddest possible love triangle)
7 Seeds is a post-apocalyptic science fiction story. We start off the entire story by meeting a teenage girl, Natsu, who wakes up on a raft in the middle of a body of water, in a raging storm. She has no memory of why or how she got there. Together with four other strangers, they make their way to safety onto land. The next day, the theories abound: have they been kidnapped, are they on a reality show, are they castaways?
(Arashi takes care of Natsu)
After a few days of survival and some mutual distrust, the five individuals meet up with three others, who claimed they also woke up in the raging sea and floated to land. At this time, an older woman in the group says “7 people, the 7 people are together again, now we have enough.” The woman looks at the 7 teenagers and young adults, and tells them, you are not lost, you have not been kidnapped, no help is forthcoming, you must survive here on your own.
Scientists around the world predicted that someday a meteor would strike earth and possibly end our civilization. Other than thinking of ways to avert the tragedy, to find ways to help the survivors rebuild after the catastrophe, the scientists also planned for the worst-case scenario. What if the meteor cannot be stopped, what if every contingency plan to ensure survival of mankind fails. The scientists in Japan created the 7 Seeds Project as the final back-up plan.
The scientists created groups based on the four seasons (Summer, Fall, Winter, Spring – actually five groups, Summer group is split into A and B groups, which I can explain why later), each consisting of 7 individuals and a guide (a total of 8 people per group). The guide is an older person who has been instructed about the project and is tasked with helping the 7 people survive. The 7 people have been chosen specifically for their task: to survive and repopulate earth.
(Arashi and Semimaru – the Odd Duo)
The premise is this: if civilization was wiped out for any variety of reasons after a meteor strikes earth, it probably means earth is no longer habitable. But after a period of time, hundreds to thousands of years later, earth may again be suitable for human inhabitance. The 7 Seeds Project took these people, cryogenically froze them, and allowed a computer to determine when earth would be habitable again, at which time they would be thawed out and tasked with restarting human civilization.
Each group was given a season identifier (and the names of the people in each group are names which typically is associated with that season in Japanese), and situated to different parts of Japan. Winter Group in Hokkaido, Spring Group in Eastern Honshu, Fall Group in Kansai, Summer Group-A in Northern Kyushu, and Summer Group-B in Southern Kyushu.
(The kids of Summer Group-A during the happier idyllic times before they turn into perfect survival machines)
The group that we meet at the beginning of the story is Summer Group-B. We think that these eight people in Summer Group-B will be our protagonists, but Tamura is wickedly subversive. After a few chapters spent with these guys, who finally accept help is not coming and they start to journey to find other survivors, we meet another set of main characters, the members of Spring Group.
The story is divided equally between Summer Group-B and Spring Group, whose travels takes us (so far) through most parts of Japan, half of which are now submerged under water. Spring Group has encountered and/or reunited with most of the various groups, either permanently or temporarily. The Spring Group story is narrated through Hana, a 17 year old girl, who is beautiful, strong, and resilient.
(My beautiful Hana, heroine of Spring Group)
Why 7 Seeds Is Sporking My Heart:
Tamura creates a vivid post-apocalyptic work that is awe-inspiring. New ecosystems have formed, new species have evolved, and half of Japan is under water. Seasons are different, and there is no help coming. The groups do manage to make it to their cache, which is an underground bunker that was stoked with supplies and tools for creating a new community. But 7 Seeds is less about physical survival has it is a psychological study into what how different groups and different individuals adapt to their circumstances.
One of the central plot elements in 7 Seeds, which the reader is aware of from the very beginning, is that Hana has a boyfriend that she loves and misses. Hana spends time wondering if he survived. The reader is told right off the bat that Arashi, a member of Summer Group-B, is said boyfriend! And Arashi spends his entire time wondering if Hana survived.
(Hana and Arashi in happier times)
These two kids are gorgeous and totally in love. It kills me that they have been split into different groups, though later someone remarks that is must have been done purposely as another psychological experiment. Up to book 16, our lovebirds have not yet reunited, but through other forms of written communication, know each other is alive. Ah, hope, such a glorious glorious thing. I adore Hana. Some folks think she’s too perfect. Hey folks, pretty much only specimens of perfection were chosen for 7 Seeds, so cut Hana some slack, okay?
The various groups are introduced in different ways. The reader meets Summer Group-B through their thawing process and immediate acclimation. We meet Spring Group after they’ve been thawed for a few weeks and have started to learn to survive. We don’t meet Fall Group until members of Summer Group-B run into them, at which time Fall Group has already been thawed three years prior and have built a small society (albeit a dictatorship society where two members have overthrown their guide and have subjugated the rest of the members to doing all the labor). Summer Group-A, we meet through their backstory (which is OMG, I’ll get to it in a second). And lastly, Winter Group is introduced via their thawing process as well.
(Takahiro with his wolf-dog)
Winter Group has one of my favorite characters in the entire manga, Takahiro. He is a famous high school pitcher, the best in fifty years, who actually suffers from self-esteem issues and worries he’ll fold under pressure. When Winter Group is thawed, they immediately discover that three of the members didn’t survive the process, we see three rotting corpses. Within days upon thawing, their guide and another member is killed during a Sabretooth tiger attack, leaving Takahiro and two other members alive.
The three form a close knit bond, especially since the other guy is also a star baseball shortstop and the two guys know of each other. The other member is a gorgeous young lady who is a talented Japanese traditional dancer. Both guys fall for the dancer, but Takahiro is happy when it’s clear that the shortstop and the dancer mutually have feelings for each other. However, they are being tracked by the tiger, who attacks once again and the shortstop tries to fight the tiger to allow the other two to get away. Before they run to the cave, Takahiro has been injured, and they see that the shortstop is laying in a field all bloodied.
Since Winter Group is in Hokkaido, there is a snowstorm and the dancer uses all her remaining clothes to keep the injured Takahiro alive. She goes outside in the storm and performs a beautiful dance amidst the falling snow, and freezes to death. Takahiro sees her final dance, and knows that she is sacrificing herself for him, and because with the death of the shortstop, she no longer has the will to live.
(Pitcher Takahiro and Shortstop Fubuki)
After Takahiro gets out of the cave, he sees the shortstop coming towards him, telling him that he didn’t die. Together, the two of them bury the dancer, and they head towards finding their cache. Along the way, the shortstop entreats Takahiro to find the strength to survive, to believe in himself. The tiger tracks Takahiro and tries to attach once again, but a wild dog fights the tiger and saves Takahiro. It turns out that the dog was the same dog Takahiro had saved earlier, and upon the death of the dog, Takahiro turns around the discovers he is all alone. The shortstop did die in the earlier attack, it was the dog who kept him company and he imagined to be his friend.
With the dog’s death, Takahiro discover two cubs and he names them after the shortstop and the dancer, and he continues on his journey with the cubs by his side, the LONE survivor in the Winter Group (see, told you this stuff is heady). We meet Takahiro again when he runs into Arashi and a few other Summer Group-B members, and by then Takahiro has got long hair, bushy beard, and the cubs are full grown – and we discover that 15 years has passed. Winter Group was thawed 15 years prior, and Takahiro has survived on his own the entire time.
(Adult Takahiro saves Hana – OMG, man with long hair, me loves!)
I love Takahiro because he is so steadfast and patient, so kind and hopeful – and his story is so sad yet he has remained so normal and not mentally damaged. So the exact opposite of the main character of Summer Group-A. Why does Summer Group have an A and B group? It’s because Summer Group-A is the ONLY group consisting of members specially bred for the 7 Seeds Project.
The Japanese government genetically bred around 100 or so kids from the best genes and raised them in a facility without any parents. These kids grew up trained in all manners of survival knowledge – fire, water, earth, medicine, animal husbandry, herbology, etc. These kids forged bonds that were broken when someone was eliminated as a candidate. Only the top 7 would be selected, and the surviving children discover that the eliminated candidates were never sent back to society but were instead killed.
When the final remaining candidates turned 18, they were given a final test in the wilderness. During the test, their teachers set deadly traps, allowing only the bravest and smartest to survive. By the end, the 7 chosen ones possess all the skills to survive, except they are traumatized beyond belief, and some have lost all sense of hope and humanity. When Summer Group-A is thawed, they first thing they do upon discovering that their guide is none other than one of their teachers at the facility is to kill him.
(The Poor Chosen Ones of Summer Group-A)
So, by the end of book 16, we’ve pretty much met all our survivors, and most have them have met others from various groups. I bet my behind Arashi and Hana will meet soon. But I also have a niggling sensation in my gut – there might be an OTP switch. Call me crazy, but Hana and Takahiro have developed a wonderful friendship (these are two people who were the SAME AGE when they were put into cryogenic freeze, except Takahiro is now 15 years older than Hana when they meet). Takahiro saves Hana time and again, and he knows that she is looking for Arashi and helps her.
(Sweet and shy Natsu loves Arashi, who is waiting for his Hana)
Don’t get me wrong, Arashi and Hana are pefect for each other. They first meet as kids and have grown up together before getting together as a couple. Their love for one another sustains their desire to survive in this new world. But Natsu, another girl in Summer Group-B, has developed a crush on Arashi. When our OTP has a potential other partner who is awesome, Tamura is bound to touch upon this possibility, if not fully embrace it. Let’s not forget, there is a reason for all this OTP talk, since the sole purpose of everyone who is part of the 7 Seeds Project is to procreate and repopulate Japan. Yes, the entire story has to come down to partnering everyone up and forming a community.
(Ango of Summer Group-A and his classmates)
I just hope to god that Summer Group-A folks all find their special someone soon before they go even more berserk after all the torture they have been subjected their entire life. I’m sure they will eventually. Though for now, two Summer Group-A guys have gone AWOL from their inability to socialize with the rest of the survivors.
The leader of Summer Group-A, Ango, is pissed that his friends who all died couldn’t be selected for the project when each of them is better equipped for survival than the regular folks who make up the other groups. What drives Ango over-the-edge is the discovery that Hana is the daughter of one of his teachers at the facility. The belief that Hana was selected because of her connection with one of the men who was involved in 7 Seeds Project leads Ango to try and kill Hana.
Where I left off, Hana is presumed dead, and Ango and Ryo have left the survivors of Spring, Winter, Fall and Summer Group-A behind. And these two have run smack into Summer Group-B. (I also wouldn’t be surprised if Natsu, our shy and lacking in confidence heroine of Summer Group-B, turns out to be the OTP of severely-damaged Ango of Summer Group-A, leaving Hana and Arashi intact, and sacrificing my awesome Takahiro of the lonesome Winter Group in the end – which would be epic, but god Tamura, please more happy, please).
(Ango has got issues and he’s taking it out on my Hana)
I promised I would explain why Summer Group has an A and B subgroup. It’s because the powers-that-be worried that what if by selecting the perfect specimens, it would actually be counter-intuitive to their ability to survive. The tall, the healthy, the good-looking, the no family medical history, the perfect eyesight – what if the environment has changed so much that these character traits are not conducive to survival. Summer Group-B is the back-up back-up plan, consisting of rebels, misfits and losers, exactly the opposite of the genetically-bred and survival-trained Summer Group-A.
7 Seeds is an amazing story (so far), and Tamura is a master at sustaining the pace and direction of her stories. Her works never start off strong and taper off. It always feels like she has an end in sight from the very beginning. When all is said and done, I cannot wait to see where 7 Seeds goes from here.
(And my Hana has cut her hair in the picture below because she means business!)