A short time ago I got sick and had to cancel a bunch of plans and stay at home. And as I was lying in bed I thought to check out that manga I’ve heard about recently - Spirit Circle by Mizukami Satoshi. It was a Sunday morning and I didn’t have much to do - still not feeling 100% it seemed like a good enough excuse to not do anything serious. So I started to read.
And finished the whole manga in one go. Poof! - about 4 hours of my life were gone and I do not miss them at all. Because Spirit Circle, friends, is amazing.
The biggest problem with recommending a manga like that is trying to spoil as little as possible. So if you feel like reading something - something very imaginative where the thoughts of the author fly free, something that takes you on an incredible journey in a relatively short amount of chapters, something that has certain light tones but which are painted over a mature story which - and that’s the best part - has a pretty satisfying conclusion, and if you’re not good about spoilers, then thank you for attention, please go read the manga.
For those who remained (if anyone even showed up :-) let me tell you more sweet details.
The Premise and the Strengths of the Spirit Circle
A regular Japanese School Student that can see spirits meets a girl and the girl wants to kill him with something that looks like a glowing hula hoop. It says something about the world of manga and anime that a premise like that sounds a bit generic. But Devil is in the details - and there’s a lot of those. Both the reader and the hero are given very little answers from the get-go - only that the heroine hates him not because of anything he did, but because of their past lives. And to find the answers, he will have to learn about those lives.
If you read Jack London’s novel The Star Rover (also known as The Jacket) you’ll immediately understand where this is going. The story of Spirit Circle takes place over a relatively short period of time in the present - but also spans several lifetimes in different places and different ages. And they’re all pretty good.
This is kind of why it is hard to definitively state what genre is Spirit Circle, besides simply going with “fiction”. It has some action but it’s not an action manga. It has some romance but it’s not a romance manga. Giving it a name of its own, I’d call it “slice of lives”.
The time you spend with each “life” varies, but they’re all not terribly long as far as manga goes - but you also get the full picture of what that incarnation of our hero was and how that life went. A complement to how they’re written is the fact that they manage to give me a very specific feeling.
You know the feeling when you saw a very vivid dream, full of details and realistic emotions but then you suddenly wake up back to the real world? And for a few waking moments, you desperately try to go back to the dream - because you had a life there, and you can’t just abandon it, doing that feels like cheating on something or someone important. Spirit Circle, in my opinion, does a great job of conveying that feeling.
But also in the real life the details of your “dream life” disperse in a few moments, maybe an hour or so. You might feel a little mellow for a bit longer, but it’s hard to put a finger on anything specific of that life which felt so real just a moment ago. Well, imagine if that didn’t happen. Imagine if you woke up in your bed with your life and things to take care of - but the weight of the life you “had” never leaves you. A full story that you lived but that happened to someone else, a story that you no longer can do anything with - imagine having to deal with that.
I don’t want to give any details to any of the lives that your hero sees not to lessen the impact of it. But I will say that they’re all great, written with care and almost infinite imagination in how they vary and places that they go to. While being their separate lives in different times and ages, they all are connected to the over-arching story. Things introduced in one chapter emerge in the next one and none of them feel completely separated - there’s pretty much no filler in the manga.
Both the art style and the writing seem somewhat light in tone, but it’s also not really a comedy manga. It deals with some serious, mature and often grim topics. The lighter tone seems not like a fun, easy going story, but more like optimism in the face of unfortunate circumstances.
The reincarnation is a valuable tool for the story in a different way, besides the ability to tell a multi-setting story. Spirit Circle has a relatively small cast of characters - some are more and some are less fledged out. But there’s also quite a lot of characters. Wait, what?
In different lives and time periods, we meet new characters that are different incarnations of the ones we’re already familiar with. And while different lives of the same soul may be quite different people, there are some traits that carry over and unseen, unspoken connections that are forged between these souls.
The Weaker Parts
No manga is perfect - at least I’m yet to see one - and Spirit Circle is no different. There are some weaker parts.
First of all, the art style is fun to look at, but it’s quite often nothing spectacular. There is a lot of dialogue and expository narration and sometimes it’s just two characters talking with an unremarkable background - or even just a blank one.
This is definitely a text-heavy manga and arts serves a more complementary role to the story. It’s definitely no Berserk or BLAME in terms of the visuals. But it’s not bad. There are some interesting shots and bursts of action feel dynamic.
Also, while lacking in luscious backgrounds and epic scenes with thousand details, one thigs the art has going for it is the characters. While characters look somewhat cartoonish (which isn’t inherently a bad thing) Mizukami Satoshi nails the portrayal of emotions on people. When they are sad, bittersweet or joyful you can immediately tell that based on their expressions.
Speaking of characters, that’s another thing I could barely muster to call a weaker part. Some of the secondary characters - the supporting cast - aren’t as fledged out as I’d like them to be. You get the idea and the concept behind the characters, meeting them in different lifetimes and such, but I felt like there should’ve been more about them.
And that’s pretty much it when it comes to the weak points of this manga.
The Strongest Part
It made me feel real emotions. I felt sad when a tragedy happened, I felt happy when something good was revealed, I felt cheated when things were unfair. I went through this entire story and feel richer for doing so.
I hope 1000+ words of me singing the praise to Spirit Circle sold it to you enough. It’s just 45 chapters about 25 pages each and if you have a few free evenings or some downtime I definitely recommend anyone with interest in great stories to check it out.