The legend of mother Sarah, by Katsuhiro Ôtomo and Takumi Nagayasu (1990-2004).
After a nuclear war, humanity has been forced to flee Earth to satellite habitats in orbit to wait unit the surface is inhabitable again. One day, a group of scientists comes up with a non-nuclear bomb and suggest to use it to change the climate on Earth by burying the devastated Nothern Hemisphere in ice, which would make the Southern Hemisphere viable for vegetation again. Soon, a war starts between two factions: Epoch, who wants to follow this plan, and Mother Earth, who rejects it. Amid the political unstability, a new exodus to the surface starts.
Sarah is a mother of four who lost her children in a riot while descending from the satellite and is willing to go to any lengths to find them. She’s also a resourceful lady, mind you, and with the help of her friend Tsue the merchant, nothing will stop her.
I think this is better than Akira. There, I said it. It’s definitely a more mature work. Since Akira relied on Rule of Cool for everything, that also meant that it failed in the logic, consistency and tone department oftentimes. In The legend of mother Sarah, chapters are excellently planned and paced, with appropriate flashbacks for backstory. Tone is consistent and appropriate and promises to the reader are adequately fulfilled. There are science-fiction elements but they’re not over-the-top.
The tone is dark and depressing as fuck, but hey, that’s war to you. It managed to make me really angry. The bloodlust and the inability to let go of the warlords was well-achieved, to say nothing of the fact that they are actually better off with war, which entitles them to sack, pillage and hoard resources. And at the same time, Sarah never gives up. Sarah can kick ass but she will try to speak first and will try to avoid conflict. Sarah is determined to have a better world, and she will not allow violence or despair to veer her from this goal.
As you already guessed, this is clearly a seinen. Adult themes, including parenthood, childbearing, rape, war and morally difficult situations are dealt with. And though I’ve seen people express the opposite opinion, I didn’t find it heavy-handed or hackneyed. It can get very dramatic, but war and annihilation is not really a light topic.
The art is gorgeous. Nagayasu uses big panels, often spanning both pages, and there are plenty of awesome illustrations of landscapes and huge structures. The panels are well-planned and easy to follow. The characters are incredibly expressive, so much so that some key scenes have no text at all and work like a charm. Seriously, you look at their faces and know what’s going on, just like that.
To wrap it up, an excellent read.