Manga is a medium of storytelling that continues to intrigue me and disappoint me at the same time. A lot of the art is beautiful and I love losing myself in the details. But even then I find it too difficult to ignore the flat, dumbed-down, sometimes cringe-worthy portrayals of women and girls that pervade it. I wouldn’t say that Ocean of Secrets, vol. 1, is an exception to this, but it does offer more positive representation than manga is known for, and a female lead who’s more resourceful than most.
The story, written and illustrated by YouTube sensation Sophie-chan, opens with 17-year old Lia. Her family adopted her when she was 10 years old and she has no memory of where she came from, or who abandoned her. One day, Lia’s little sister, Nina, drags her to the beach and convinces her to go for a ride in one of the docked boats. When they get caught in a storm off the coast of Canada, Lia is thrown overboard and lost at sea. There’s a bizarre moment when Nina hesitates to throw Lia a rope (something she regrets too late), but it’s unclear whether the issues this raises will be explored further, and it feels like a strange thing to introduce so flippantly. In general, the story suffers from trying to cram too many moments like this into a limited page count.
Fortunately for Lia, the unusual brother-sister duo, Moria and Albert, rescue her with their flying ship. She wakes up wearing a strange armband (we later learn that it calculates the wearer’s magic level) and is annoyed that the only clothing available to her is an old-fashioned dress with an oversized collar and a big bow on the front. She befriends the siblings suspiciously fast and learns that they hail from Lyronaz, one of three magical kingdoms in the sky. For the past ten years, the siblings have been on the run and avoiding the Peacemakers, magical bounty hunters, after Albert was accused of a crime he didn’t commit. Eventually, the story leads the trio back to Lyronaz where they must uncover truths and face their past.
It’s a familiar story, and one that would have benefited from a slower pace and more complex character development. As it stands, it reads like an action story, glossing over intimate moments and rushing through a plot that deserves more time to unfold. Still, Lia is one of the more interesting female characters I’ve come across in manga. The first few pages introduce her as a moody teenager, somewhat stereotypical in her apathy, but at the same time harboring a desire to find answers and find out who she really is. By story’s end, she sheds her melancholy ways and transforms from rescued to rescuer—albeit in a rushed, slightly nonsensical manner.
Sophie-chan’s art is clean and simple, and a bit underwhelming. There is a lot of white space that leaves panels feeling unfinished, and several scenes feel like they’re missing key transitions. She seems to prefer telling over showing, not the most appropriate approach for a visual story, and we miss the chance to truly sympathize with the characters because of the lack of reactions and emotions we’re allowed to observe. Overall, neither the illustrations nor the story, one that has been told many times and better, bring anything new to the table. I was left wanting a lot more.
Tokyopop gives Ocean of Secrets, vol. 1 an age rating of 13+, though I don’t see why it wouldn’t be appropriate for younger tweens in the 10-12 age range. There’s no swearing and the only “violent” scene consists of when a Peacemaker magically pins Moria to a wall and blood trickles down her hands. Older teens might find the story too simplistic and surface-level, but it’s a good recommendation for tweens and younger teens who enjoy fantasy or adventure manga.
Ocean of Secrets 1
Publisher Age Rating: 13+
Series Reading Order: (Wikipedia or Goodreads)
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NFNT Age Recommendation: Tween (10-13), Teen (13-16)