Vaughan & Chiang's "Paper Girls" Builds a Familiar Yet Disconcerting World
Created by Mayumi Azuma, Erementar Gerade tells the tale of former sky pirate Cou, and his attempts to help a young woman named Ren get to a place known as Edel Garden. The twist? Ren’s a living weapon known as an Edel Raid, and an extremely powerful and rare one at that! With the help of their allies from Arc Ailie, a group dedicated to protecting Edel Raids, Cou must fend off numerous attempts from various groups and individuals to kidnap and use Ren’s powers for their own ends. The tenth and eleventh volumes of the series see the conclusion of a battle with one of those individuals and his harem of Edel Raids, and finally reveals the secret behind Ren’s desire to reach mysterious Edel Garden as well.
I keep going back and forth on this series. At times it seems incredibly interesting, with a surprisingly deep and socially relevant message regarding the treatment of women, mainly through the fact that Edel Raids are always women and the people who wield them have, so far, been overwhelmingly male. Add in bits about how respectful treatment of an Edel Raid helps to unlock their true power, partnerships should be equal, you shouldn’t treat Edel Raid’s like objects, the sexual and romantic undertones of some of the partnerships, and it’s not hard to view it as some sort of commentary on gender relations. The series will start to explore this theme and I get intrigued, but then the series goes and does something to lose me completely. Something like the introduction of a needlessly complex and elaborate tiering system for gauging Edel Raids powers and their abilities! Volume 10 is particularly bad in this area as it features several Edel Raid fights that refer to the tiering system and what types of Edel Raids are strong or weak against each other. Thankfully the battle is short and swift and volume 11 introduces us to a new location and gives Cou and crew time to wind down as they near Edel Garden, a region cloaked in mystery. We also get our first glimpse of why Ren desperately wants to go to Edel Garden as well, something that’s been a long time in the coming.
Visually the book continues to improve. The action scenes are definitely clearer and easier to follow then they were in the beginning, but the scenes in these volumes aren’t terribly exciting. For the most part they’re dominated by splash pages, two page spreads and large panels of people hurling energy at each other with lots of whirling lines and what not. The highlight of the fight scenes comes when an Arc Aile member, Cisqua gets involved. Unlike a lot of the other characters in the series, Cisqua doesn’t have an Edel Raid for a partner or weapon, making her the lone unpowered character in Cou’s group. She often gets involved with the fights and has to make do with her wits, intelligence and overwhelming firepower in the form of multiple missile packs. Her involvement in the fight scenes is always fun to watch and it generally comes with a hefty dose of explosions as well. The characters designs remain a little bland and forgettable, often feeling your typical JRPG designs. There’s a few that break this mold, Cisqua in her fighting garb is much more streamlined and sports a single color, black, making her stand out a bit more.
These volumes are clearly not a jumping on point for Erementar Gerade. The series is over half way done and they refer heavily to things that happened previously. So if you’re new and interested in the series, you’ll probably want to start from the beginning. With that said, these two volumes feel like a pretty big transition point for the series. Mayumi Azuma removes several antagonists, while at the same introducing new ones who seem set to be the ones who will plague Cou and his crew until the series climax. It certainly has the feeling of a series getting ready for a finale, and I find myself a little curious to see what that ending will look like.
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