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June 25, 2012

Bento Bako Weekly: Olympos

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Written by: Kristin
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Title: Olympos
Author: Aki
Publisher: Yen Press
Volume: One-shot (2-in-1), $18.99
Vintage: 2008, 2009 by Ichijinsha, June 2012 by Yen Press
Genre: Greek mythology

To alleviate his boredom, the god Apollo captures the beautiful young Ganymede, Prince of Troy, and brings him to the Miniature Garden, a never ending landscape blanketed with undying flowers. Apollo tells Ganymede that there is no way to leave the garden, and the gods are not capable of speaking falsehoods. Regardless, Ganymede spends years in the timeless garden trying to find an exit, and even kills himself over an over hoping that everything will end. So when Apollo brings a young man named Heinz to the garden, and promises to grant him his wish if he can convince Ganymede to leave wit him, Ganymede refuses to listen. Heinz does his best to convince Ganymede, and for a brief moment, Heinz’s excitement and confidence convince Ganymede that maybe he really can leave this time. Yet as Heinz, an archeologist, begins to describe his dream of uncovering the ancient ruins of a famous historical city, Ganymede realizes that nothing exists outside for him anymore, and gives up once more. Ganymede’s role in the story is significant, but small considering the initial focus on him. Most of the story revolves around Apollo, who is trying to find meaning to his existence, and a way to end the boredom of eternity and omniscience. Ganymede was brought to the Miniature Garden by Apollo to draw the attention of Zeus, the immensely powerful king of the gods who drifts along without seeing or taking note of anything in existence. Zeus is above everything, so why should anything below him interest him? Apollo hopes that Ganymede, a normally short-lived human who can live eternally in the garden, who thinks and acts differently from the gods, will draw Zeus’s attention and cause….something. Even Apollo isn’t sure what, if anything, will happen, but it’s amusing to him all the same.

One day, a young girl named Iris is left in one of Apollo’s grand temples as a sacrifice. Through Iris, Apollo learns what the humans think of the gods, the labels and responsibilities that humans have assigned them, and even the gods they have created that as far as Apollo knows don’t even exist. Apollo is confused by the visage of him they have created, which is far too macho; Iris explains they want to make the gods appear strong. He is also confused by the offerings of food, because gods don’t eat. When he learns the humans pray to them, asking for help or guidance, Apollo explains that the gods do no such thing. That the changes in the weather, or other things that occur, happen naturally, and are not answers to prayers. Despite what he views as frivolity and arrogance, Apollo is drawn to Iris as a living, energetic, and passionate being. He talks with her often, and even beings to enjoy her company. He begins to neglect his sister, Artemis, whom he had always regularly visited before, because Iris is much more life like. Iris responds to him, talks about her life, and comments on the things he says. Artemis has little to truly say, and typically makes vapid, reflective comments, and has no real opinion or even appears to do anything at all when Apollo is not around. Soon, Apollo realizes that Artemis, as the moon to his son, may only be a reflection of him, and he can never think of her the same way again. Meanwhile, Zeus has been making several trips to the Miniature Garden to watch Ganymede, and Ganymede has been slowly growing use to the god’s oppressive presence. Realizing that something may soon happen, Apollo calls Hades, and they explain their plan to Ganymede, who is baffled by the flippant way in which they test the durability of the world. By piquing the interest of a being who pays no mind to anything else, they hope to upset the balance of the world, and possibly destroy it. At that moment, Hades offers Ganymede an escape from the world he is trapped in, a world belonging to Zeus. Hades’s domain is that of the Earth, that is, everything which does not belong to Zeus of the sky. Ganymede is understandably outraged at Apollo, who said there was no way to leave the garden, but something sinister seems to lie behind both Apollo’s and Hades’s words on the subject. Something that suggests that even if it means finally leaving, the cost may be too high, or meaningless. And, when finally faced with the knowledge that he can escape whenever he wants, Ganymede’s desires begin to change.

Yen Press has published a beautiful book with Olympos. The cover design is simple but lovely, and has a sort of metallic sheen to it. There are several high quality color pages included, depicting Apollo, Hades, and Ganymede. The translation is also done well. Aki’s artwork beautiful and flowing, from the characters’ long and wispy hair, to the detailed period style clothing. There’s not much in the way of backgrounds, but what is there is mostly flowers, trees, and birds. The character designs are interesting, though Apollo is a bit too young and pretty looking in my opinion. Hades and Zeus have the most unique designs, with Zeus looking like he is made up of birds and feathers, and Hades taking on a very distinct, dark and animal-like form. So even their physical appearances represent sky and earth (and light and dark). Don’t pick this up expecting it to be heavy with Greek mythology, however. There’s very little of that here besides the names. Aki’s gods take on the bare minimum of their traditional roles. Zeus rules the skies, but is so powerful that he is unaware of everything that exists below him. He is power, and little else. Apollo is the god of the sun, but has no control over the sun itself or the weather or anything at all, really. Poseidon’s control of the sea appears ceremonial only, as Hades claims to control everything below the horizon, which includes the seas (which he views as simply concave mountains). Hades probably has the most traditional stated role in the story. But none of that is really the point. This is a story from the gods’ points of view, which is separate from what humans desire them to be, as Apollo is quick to make clear to Ganymede and Iris. When you’re all-knowing, what is left to ponder? As Apollo changes, as he learns things about the humans and about himself, he begins to question his existence and his purpose. And although he plays quite a cruel trick on Ganymede, Apollo is written as a sympathetic character. He’s bored, he’s all-knowing and immortal, he wants entertainment. He picks Ganymede because he’s proud, clever, and beautiful. And he rips him from his home, his life, his family. It’s horribly cruel, and Apollo teases and toys with him within the garden, and yet he’s not presented as evil or inherently cruel. Just…god-like. He doesn’t have a grasp on reality. Much like Zeus, except Apollo is more aware of his surroundings and is capable of unique thought and change. That shouldn’t be an excuse for what he does, of course, but he also has moments of kindness and humanity. He learns, he changes, he grows up. He starts out as a spoiled child stealing a toy, and ends up like a depressed old man tired of the monotony of living. Ganymede changes, too, starting out with hope, gradually becoming hopeless and then complacent, and then finally becomes almost as curious and greedy as Apollo. It’s a fairly interesting exploration of immortality, godhood, humanity, and purpose, presented on a beautiful pallet.




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