I was intrigued by the manga Ocean of Secrets by Sophie-chan as soon as I saw the cover art. And when I read the short description, which told of a young girl named Lia whose seemingly normal life is turned upside down when she’s swept away in a storm and rescued by a magical ship, that was all I needed to know I had to check this one out!
My expectation going into the story was that it would have a steampunk feel to it, with lots of romanticized, high-flying adventure and a lyrical feel. I suspected that it would have echoes of other stories I’ve read or seen that are part of this subgenre; nevertheless, I hoped that it would offer a fresh take on some of the tropes that tend to crop up in these stories. For the most part, those guesses were accurate, though there were a few surprises along the way.
At first, it seems Ocean of Secrets is a fallen-through-time story, as the trappings of the ship Lia finds herself on and the people who inhabit it are very old-fashioned, and there’s a pseudo-Victorian feel to everything. However, in truth, it’s almost as though Lia has been taken to another dimension. I won’t say more than that in the interest of avoiding spoilers, but suffice it to say that having my expectations of the story turned on their head a couple of times in quick succession was both dizzying and refreshing.
It has to be said, though, that a more negative aspect of that dizzying feeling came about because of the pacing of the story. I’m used to manga stories moving along at a pretty good clip and trying to communicate a lot (often too much, in this reader’s opinion) in just a page’s worth of emotive frames. However, the speedy pace felt nearly breakneck in the first volume of Ocean of Secrets. I didn’t necessarily feel like I wasn’t understanding the story, or that key information was missing, as I have with some of the other manga I’ve read. However, because of the shockingly swift pace, it was hard to find my footing in the story, and everything felt very surface-level, like the plot was a water bug skimming along over a pond, looking back at me and wondering why I couldn’t keep up.
That said, I felt a surprising amount of connection to the main characters, Lia, Albert, and Moria, even with how fast things were moving. The author managed to inject a surprising amount of pathos into the story and the characters, even while hurrying the reader along like a tour guide who’s behind schedule (and we’re walking, we’re walking . . . we’re running, we’re flying . . .). Even though I figured out some of the hidden motivations early on in the story, I still found myself caring quite a bit about whether the characters would achieve their respective goals, and where their stories will go from here.
Beyond the rather shallow feel of the overall story, there were a few other dissonant notes that I couldn’t help noticing. For one, the brief explanation of the magical system was a bit dubious and felt video-game-esque in a way that was jarring and out of place, even in the fantastical realm of the story. And though there is a brief info dump at the beginning of the story to explain the world Lia finds found herself in, I was left with a lot of questions when all was said and done. While it’s good to retain some mystery, it’s not so effective when that mystery strays into the realm of confusion. Beyond this, the way that some of the plot points were connected felt shaky, so much so that I spotted some fairly major holes along the way. It was to the point that I was able to guess the primary plot twist very early on in the story, which (to my chagrin) is something I’m usually not great at.
And while the first installment of this story contained the allusions and tropes I fully expected it to have, it sometimes strayed into hackneyed territory. As this title is the author’s debut, I wasn’t surprised by this, though I had hoped for better. Granted, the overused elements were primarily the type that I enjoy, so it didn’t detract from the story much for me (though it does involves the played-out theme of elemental magic, and there was a Bermuda Triangle reference that made me groan a little). But while the presence of a few trite story elements didn’t bother me all that much, a fresher take on this genre would have taken this story from good to great.
Minor slip-ups aside, though, I enjoyed the introductory installment to this new manga series, and I hope I get the opportunity to see where the story goes next. It includes so many of the elements I love from some of my favorite series—high adventure, a fantastical and aesthetically pleasing setting, and characters whose backstories hint at great depth and lots of secrets to discover. As the author mentions in the bonus material at the end of the volume, it looks like the series will encompass several stories within this world, though they may or may not be contiguous, so I’m curious to see the many new characters who are sure to be introduced along the way. As I mentioned, the author of Ocean of Secrets is a fledgling manga author/artist, and while there’s a lot of room to grow, I think this series has the potential to be a lot of fun, and promises the reader all sorts of secrets to discover as the protagonists find their way in their mysterious, magical world.