Grand Guignol Orchestra review

Grand Guignol Orchestra


Manga reviews – In an 18th century inspired world, everyone runs the risk of developing the Galatea virus, which renders people into blood-crazed monsters with the delicate features of puppets… welcome to Grand Guignol Orchestra.

‘If only everyone were a doll like me’ – this is how Kaori Yuki’s newest manga, ‘Grand Guignol Orchestra’, starts. If you are into dolls, frills, blood-thirsty creatures and especially have a strong love for mystery, then this is probably just the thing for you to read next. Also expect: a minivan that looks like a Baroque hearse, elaborate maid outfits and machine guns.

Kaori Yuki is a manga artist perhaps best known for her intricate Gothic imagery, gender-bending characters and painstakingly well-informed plotlines. I first fell in love with her works while reading ‘Angel Sanctuary’, and then I simply couldn’t stop, I had to read everything, from ‘Count Cain’ and ‘Godchild’ to ‘Cruel Fairytales’ and ‘Boy’s Next Door’. Not one of her mangas was disappointing even in the least. So of course I got more than excited when her latest work, Grand Guignol Orchestra Vol 1, was licensed by Viz Media and the first volume of the series got published in English.

‘Grand Guignol Orchestra’ is a feast for lovers of supernatural mystery involving doll-like creatures – a niche genre, indeed. Its plotline develops in an 18th century-inspired world, where everyone is running the risk of being infected with the mysterious ‘Galatea Virus’ – a disease which transforms its victims into blood-crazed creatures with the physical appearance of delicate ball-jointed dolls called ‘Guignols’.

Now, knowing Kaori Yuki’s love for historical backgrounds, it is safe to delve a little into the origins of these names and see what probably inspired them. ‘Galatea’, for one, comes from Greek mythology, where the sculptor Pygmalion fell in love with his uncannily beautiful sculpture with female form, ‘Galatea’.

For another, the term of ‘Grand Guignol’ is derived from a 19th century Parisian theatre bearing the same name, which used to entertain audiences with a taste for the perverted and the naturalistic gothic. Kaori Yuki’s bewitching vampire-puppets, then, sit on a fairly solid basis of grim psychology and are all the more alluring through their historical allusions.

The plot is delusively simple: the members of the Royal Orchestra tour this outlandish world with the purpose of a) entertaining the citizens in the towns as yet untouched by the plague and, b) annihilating the Guignols through their music. However, there are many mysteries laid behind the Orchestra’s Baroque lavishness, and a rumour is going round that this is Her Majesty’s unofficial Orchestra, whose members will accept less money, will go farther and take more risks. Indeed, its members may strike one as an unusual array of characters, and they certainly don’t look much like your average travelling band.

At the head of the Orchestra, there is the singer, the androgynous Lucille, in possession of a mysterious book wherein a collection of very special melodies is to be found, which can be sung by him and only by him. There is Kohaku, the violinist, whose very distinctive scar seems to hint at some gruesome happening in his past, and who is all too fond of his gun, which he uses on Guignols whenever he gets the slightest chance. Lastly, there is the cellist, Gwindel, an exceedingly calm and imperturbable character, only moved from his serene detachment if something chances to happen to his beloved hedgehog that goes with him everywhere.

Every chapter of the manga builds up to a lot of tension and hints at yet another secret ready to unfold. Every character, even the less important ones, holds a piece of a puzzle, and each time you think you have rightly guessed at a chapter’s underlying secret, you realize that you’d better think again. Each ghostly town that the Grand Orchestra travels to is like a Chinese box: Toussaints is a city whose inhabitants are very religious and attend every mass, upon the clock. But oddly, there are no children in this city. In the fortress-town of Niobia, there are no women, but the Duke’s palace is packed full with attractive maids. The layers and layers of enigmas, the elusive identities of the characters and the general Romantic post-Apocalyptic atmosphere combine to keep the reader on the edge and constantly guessing.

Kaori Yuki’s art, as always, is flawless, and you might just find yourself in the position of falling in love with an image, like Pygmalion. All of Yuki’s artwork is beautifully detailed, and she has the almost uncanny ability of making both physically flawless and physically monstrous characters just as alluring. The eclectic style of outfits, ranging from Rococo to futuristic, and of backgrounds, going from sumptuous faux Romantic palaces to barren deserts and from that to desolate city ruins is also enchanting in its strangeness.

With ‘Grand Guignol Orchestra’, Kaori Yuki has managed to create yet another imagined past (or possible future), captivating in that it cannot be easily labeled and that its images and concepts are almost surreal but still, somehow, grounded in familiar history.

Buy on Amazon: Grand Guignol Orchestra Vol 1

Buy / pre-order on Amazon: Grand Guignol Orchestra: v. 2