Touted as a “holy” city, No. 6 is one of six utopias built for the survivors of a terrible world war that left the Earth decimated in most places. While everything seems perfect on the surface, things aren’t what they seem. Shion, a teenage boy, begins to question the perfection of No. 6 and finds himself on the run from the authorities. He is forced to leave the city and escape into the West Block, the “trash dump” of No. 6.
At the 2014 American Library Association Midwinter conventions, YALSA, the Young Adult Library Services Association announced their Great Graphic Novels list for 2014. Of the 78 titles listed, 10 of them were manga. No. 6 is sci-fi story set in a dystopian future where the perfect city may not be so perfect, and danger lurks both outside and inside the city’s walls.
No. 6 starts out introducing Shion with his life set to go on the elite track, where he will work in a lab and want for nothing. On his 12th birthday, he lets out a rare burst of emotion in the chaos of a storm that lets in Rat, a boy who has escaped from a correctional facility. Shion helps Rat, but his act of kindness is discovered and he and his mother are forced to leave their home in Chronos, the elite area of No. 6, and move to Lost Town, for regular folks, where his mother opens a bakery. Four years later, Shion is working in the Forest Park Administration, monitoring the clean-up robots, when a body is discovered. When it seems the authorities are covering up the cause of death, Shion expresses his doubts about the city. His work partner then suddenly dies, and Shion is made a suspect. The only person who can help him is Rat, who rescues him from the authorities and whisks him away to West Block, a rundown section outside of No. 6, where life isn’t just hard, it’s dangerous: Making the wrong move or trusting the wrong person can get you killed.
Shion isn’t your typical dystopian lead. He is easygoing and rather naive. He doesn’t resent the system when he and his mother lose their elite status, and he is happy with his life in Lost Town. Being dragged into West Block forces him to see another world, where trust and friendship are mocked and scorned, but he doesn’t give in to the cynicism all around him. His compassion and more trusting nature do get him into scrapes, but they also helps him to win over other cynics. While he is hunted by the authorities of No. 6 for something he didn’t do, he still wants to help save the people inside the city from a deadly parasitic bee that also nearly killed him.
Shion’s mirror image is Rat. His background is completely unknown, but he knows how to live in the West Block, and even when Shion first meets him, he already knows how to defend himself and even kill if necessary. Rat’s home is filled with printed books, something not found in No. 6, with a lot of classic literature and poetry. He is good with micro tech, and he creates robotic rats that can be used for surveillance and intelligence gathering. He is also an actor and singer, using the stage name of Eve. Rat also hates No. 6 with a passion and wants to see it razed to the ground with everyone inside.
These differences create an interesting dynamic between the two main characters. They had very different upbringings, and they hold almost opposing beliefs, especially about what should be done about No. 6, but there is a fascination they have with each other. Rat doesn’t believe in most of what Shion says, but he has developed a soft spot for him, causing him to take risks he wouldn’t before. Shion is captivated by Rat and will defend him violently when he thinks he is being insulted. It is a complex relationship that will only grown in interest as the story progresses.
Other regulars in the cast include Shion’s mother Karen and his childhood friend Safu inside No. 6, and Dogkeeper and Rikiga in the West Block. All support Shion in their own ways. Dogkeeper seems to be warming up to Shion, even through she finds his trustworthiness as pointless as Rat. Rikiga was a reporter who was friends with Shion’s mother, and she directs Shion to him for additional assistance. Safu is an elite who stayed friends with Shion after he and his mother were exiled because of Shion’s kindness towards her. She actually loves him, but Shion is a bit too clueless to get it.
No. 6, like other dystopian stories, argues against humanity finding happiness in a utopia. The power of those at the top ends up corrupting them, poisoning the good intentions the city was originally built on. In the city, the rights of the people to express themselves and be individuals are slowly taken away, until swearing loyalty to the city is how the day starts, and any discontent can be reported to authorities. Those in power look down with contempt on the people they are meant to be benefiting, seeing them as subjects to be used in experiments that have not yet been explained. They disregard their own laws, escaping to the West Block to enjoy vices they have outlawed from the city. It is the perfect example of absolute power corrupting absolutely and science being abused for some supposed “higher cause.”
Science is much more advanced in this future world. In No. 6, all books are electronic. Technology can create robots as small as a rat, and every part of No. 6 is monitored, from the weather to litter. This advanced technology is also used to control the populace by monitoring them and weeding out any dissent the moment it is uttered. The biotech being used there also appears to be the greatest danger to the people though the experimental Black Bee, which literally sucks the life out of its hosts and eats its way out of the body. The reason why this parasite has been developed or planned to be released on the citizens of No. 6 is still a mystery.
No. 6 is a story of the struggle to survive against adversity and the system. Despite his sheltered life, Shion has learned to adapt and find ways to survive in the harsh West Block. He barely survives infection by the Black Bee, and the experience changes him not only physically but emotionally as well. It gives him the strength to not only continue living but also to fight for those he cares about. No. 6 has all the elements teens love: drama, relationships, and pulse-pounding action. The uncertainty of whom to trust and the mystery of what is going on in the city add to the dark atmosphere. Fans of dystopian stories like the Hunger Games will no doubt enjoy this series as well.
Review copies provided by publisher.