Kieli, Volumes 1 and 2
written by Yukako Kabei
illustrated by Shiori Teshirogi
Eighty years ago, a brutal war over natural resources led to the creation of the Undying, a corporation of reanimated corpses robbed from the battlefield and given a “core” that makes them immortal and virtually indestructible. Now, though, is a time of peace, and the church has been hunting down and exterminating the last of these so-called “Demons of War.” The orphan girl Kieli saw this happen with her own eyes when she was a child.
But that is not the only wonder—or horror—that she has seen. She can also see spirits. Kieli’s classmates ostracize her for her strange behavior, and her only friend is the restless ghost of Becca, a girl hit and killed by a train. Becca’s mischief, in turn, gets Kieli involved in the life of Harvey, one of the last remaining Undying, who, like herself, can also see spirits. Harvey carries with him a radio possessed by the ghost of a Lance Corporal that he killed during the war, and Kieli accompanies them both to the site of that last battle, ostensibly to put the Corporal’s spirit to rest for good. Needless to say, they do not go unmolested in their travels.
The two volumes of Kieli are adapted by Shiori Teshirogi from selected segments of a longer novel series by Yukako Kabei. They feel less like a tale with a distinct beginning, middle, and end than an episodic, somewhat repetitive sequence of events that is, at best, just a prologue. Really, though, Kieli’s larger objective is not a gripping action-adventure so much as it is a melodramatic exploration of the depth of the profound emotional attachments people develop for each other. In this manner, it is the best of both the worlds of prose and sequential art: The story achieves novelistic complexity of sentiment, while the artwork is simply top-notch.
Early on in the series, you learn that the Undying have no souls because their hearts were removed and replaced with machines. This concept does not translate well into English without an explanation that American publisher Yen Press does not provide: The Japanese word kokoro means both “heart” and “soul.” If the theme of Kieli could be encapsulated by a single word, kokoro would be it. Kabei’s narrative dives progressively deeper into the spiritual depths that motivate both Harvey and Kieli—the reasons why they both want to die and then, later on, the reasons they both want to live.
Teshirogi, for her part, has matched her artwork perfectly to this theme. Her panels are splendidly detailed in all particulars, capturing the horrors of warfare, the magnificence of the church cathedrals, and the hustle and bustle of small-town life with equal ease. Her characters are quite cute, almost moe, and should appeal to that readership demographic that likes the moe genre as well.
However, Kieli is most strikingly reminiscent of Makoto Shinkai’s Voices of a Distant Star, and like that contemporary classic of animation, it uses the horrors and abuses of war to enshrine the complexities and nobilities of the human spirit.