Beyond the Clouds was one of those releases that kind of snuck up on me. I usually keep track of most, if not all, the manga new releases that sound cool. I found this one recently, right before it was set to be released and new I had to check it out. I didn’t know much about it at the time, just what the cover had to convey and the short description on the back, but the concept intrigued me: A mysterious girl with wings falls from the sky with one wing missing and a mechanically minded boy must help build her a new one and find her way home. It reminded me a bit of the concept of Castle in the Sky with a more steampunk aesthetic. As I’ve been looking into the series more and finally picked up the first volume, it’s become more and more interesting and I’ve found myself wondering what will happen next and how far the characters will wind up going over the course of the series.
The manga was originally created for a French publisher, Ki-oon, by a Japanese artist, Nicke, with no Japanese middle-man in-between. It’s something that I haven’t really seen too much before, but it makes for an interesting backstory on its production. The story itself follows the young Theo, a mechanic living in the hazy Yellow Town, who finds the injured and winged Mia when he goes to sort through a heap of discarded mechanical parts. Mia is missing a wing and Theo vows to create her a new one through his own skill and help her find her way home out of the smog of Yellow Town.
One of the main appeals of this series, at least to me, was the art style. Nicke has a very watercolor-heavy style and the cover of the first volume really stood out to me for that reason. I’m a huge fan of watercolor art and love seeing comic artists that incorporate this style. The line work is very loose and sketchy, which makes a great pair for the water color and gray washes that are used for shading. As a whole, it creates a kind of story-book or children’s fantasy book feel in terms of atmosphere and style. The one problem I have with Nicke’s particular style is a lack of especially dark values, which creates a kind of washed out quality to every page. It’s not a huge deal and I feel like some people may even enjoy this style, but I do think having more defined shading and values would really make the pages and panels pop more. The most Nicke does is add in areas of complete black, which is a start.
Otherwise I do really love how Nicke develops the world of the manga through the backgrounds and characters. The world of Beyond the Clouds comes off as very steampunk-esque with its focus on gears and an industrialized city within a fantasy world. We see Theo and Mia move through a town populated by mechanics and townsfolk working at factories and everything seems to have some sort of gear-inclusive theme going on. The whole town is overshadowed by this Industrial Era yellow smog that blocks out the sky, creating a kind of insular world for Theo who has never been out of the city. I’m really interested to see what the other places in this series are like if/when the characters decide to journey outside of it.
The characters Nicke decided to populate the world with are also pretty interesting. It’s this mish-mash of animal-like figures, semi-animal people, and then humans. We see full cat-like characters who are just giant, fluffy and adorable, and then half-human, demi-human like characters with just ears and tails as call-backs to their animal natures. I think it creates a nice feel or atmosphere for the series, to see this combination of different fantasy types. The way Nicke designs them also lends to this more light-hearted feel that may be skewed towards a younger audience that I mentioned a bit above. Her characters tend to be drawn with very soft lines and curves, making most of them look very young and innocent. I don’t think I’ve noticed too many hard angles when it comes to face shapes in particular. This particular style and character designs I think would definitely appeal to a younger audience.
The story itself is kind of a classic retelling: a boy finds a mysterious girl and tries to help her return home. It’s easy enough to come up with all sorts of combinations to this basic concept, and Beyond the Clouds is another one of those. The appeal of the story in particular is the world and the main characters. The steampunk style and the innocence and ingenuity of Theo and Mia I think will lend well to how it begins to differentiate itself from the other stories in this genre/concept. I think I’ll probably really enjoy seeing what kind of weird inventions Theo comes up with and how he finally constructs Mia’s missing wing for her. As for Mia, we’re already seeing that there is more to her than her innocent face and demeanor leads us to believe by the end of the first volume, so I’m interested to see how her past begins to unfold over the next couple volumes.
My main complaint about the series may be that it is a little bit too straight forward, and I wonder if that’s due to Nicke or the French publisher trying to pinpoint a specific younger audience. The villains in particular are very obviously evil and don’t seem to have much else going for them so far. The pacing can seem a bit rushed at times, but I’m hoping it’ll get a little better as the volumes progress since this is the start of the series with a lot of things being established at once. For the future of the series, I think I’d like to see a bit more nuance given to the characters, good and bad, and an expansion of the world outside of Yellow City. Overall though I’m very hopeful that this series will be a rewarding read.
Let me know in the comments if you’ve read this volume too and what you thought! Or if you haven’t yet, does it sound interesting?
~~Thanks for Reading!~~
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