There will be spoilers for the manga, novel, and anime series for No. 6. This review is exclusively for the manga, but because the anime is based on the manga and the manga is based on the novel, this review is likely to spoil all forms of media.
Trigger Warning: Discussion of suicide, genocide, and prostitution as it appears in the manga No. 6 may be discussed.
Shion is an elite student in the perfect city of No. 6. Because he excels, his family is afforded luxury and benefits provided by the city through a caste-based system. However, one evening, when Shion feels the urge to throw open his bedroom balcony doors and scream out into the typhoon outside, he inadvertently calls over a mysterious and disheveled young boy named Rat. It turns out Rat is a fugitive and has just escaped from prison.
Despite Rat admitting to being a criminal, Shion takes the time to take care of Rat's wounds and encourages him to stay. Though Rat warns Shion that this could hurt Shion and his family, Rat acquiesces and stays the night with Shion. The following day, Rat is gone. The police of No. 6 drop in to question Shion and his family over the missing fugitive, and when Shion admits to aiding Rat, his family is punished by dropping in the caste system. As a result, Shion and his mother are forced to move out to the poor parts of No. 6, and Shion is unable to move up in academics and is forced to take a more labor-based position.
Even though years have passed since their first encounter and Shion has suffered greatly. As a result, Rat isn't far from Shion's mind. It isn't long before they are reunited, though, as Shion is faced with what could only be described as the impending destruction of No. 6 as society knows it. While at work, Shion and his coworker discover the body of a seemingly elderly man. However, while in their office, Shion's coworker suddenly begins to age rapidly and dies in front of him, leaving behind a corpse and what appears to be a bee or wasp. Police immediately swoop in to arrest Shion for murder, only for Rat to rush in and whisk Shion away outside of No. 6, where people suffer to survive, all hoping to one day be granted entrance to No. 6.
There, Shion must face the fact that No. 6 is nothing more than a beautiful facade hiding conspiracy and corruption. Shion also must face the fact that while Rat is his savior, Rat has his own painful past – a past that pushes him to seek revenge against No. 6, even if that means mowing down everyone living behind its safe walls. Shion wants to uncover the corruption of No. 6, protect Rat, and protect the innocent citizens of No. 6, but can he when Rat plans to crush it all no matter the cost?
Admittedly, I really wanted to find and read the light novel for this. The manga and anime didn't interest me in the least, but I wasn't able to find the light novel in English available for Kindle, so I had to settle for the manga. Deep down, I still think I would have preferred the light novel version, but the manga is still a good time.
Another shameful admission I have is that I really didn't want to read the manga because I didn't like the art from the anime. I haven't seen the anime, but I've seen clips, and I had a friend in high school who actually cosplayed Shion from the anime, so I've been aware of this series for a while. The anime art was just not something I liked, so I figured the manga would be the same, and I was not interested in that at all. Thankfully, though, the art style in the manga is much better – in my opinion. They look youthful and pretty, and I am a big fan of pretty boys in BL, so if that is your type, you won't be displeased.
Now, something that you might be displeased with is the romance itself. When I first went looking for this, it was presented to me as a BL story, so I was expecting a lot more romance than there ultimately was. That is not to say that this is totally devoid of romance, but if you are expecting something heavy in the land of romance, unfortunately, this won't be for you. However, if you are interested in a dystopian series with a hint of BL romance sprinkled on top, then I think you'll be pretty pleased with this. I actually think the fact that the romance didn't take center stage heightened the romance for me, so I wasn't disappointed in the least.
Something else I like about how the romance develops is how much of a slow burn it is. It is extremely subtle, but they don't try to hide it under useless misunderstandings or having the male leads question their feelings. It's clear there is some kind of romantic tension, and the two characters are only not acting on it because there is something much bigger at play than their fickle romance. It was much more realistic to me than much of the BL I've read as of late. It made the final confession and romantic moment really hit home and worth the wait, though, again, it is worth noting that if you are looking for some grand romantic moment, this is not the one for you. Much like the development of the romance throughout the series, the final romantic climax is just as subtle. Nice, but subtle.
I do have to say that the ending itself is a bit disappointing. We get the resolution of the growing romantic tension, only for it to end tenuous and a bit empty. Rat leaves, and Shion stays with both of them quietly, hoping they'll meet again. I think it was meant to be a bittersweet parting with Shion working to fix No. 6 while Rat goes off to find himself, but it left me feeling empty – and not in that “ouch, this got me in my feels, and I love it” kind of way, but in more of a “wow, that's it?” way, which is unfortunate since the series is really good otherwise.
I want to say this is worth a read because I think it really is a nice change in terms of BL manga, but the ending was so lackluster that I am not sure that I readily recommend it. If you are fine with the journey being better than the destination, then I think I could say it is worth a read. However, if you are like me and believe the ending can make or break a good story, this one might not be worth the journey. I am still happy that I read it. Having heard so much about this for so long, I feel like I can finally move on to other things with no regrets.
Have you read No. 6? If so, what do you think? Do you agree with my assessment? Do you not? Let me know, and comment below!