This week’s bizarre fish manga is The End of Goldfish Kingdom. Like Chimoguri Ringo to Kingyobachi Otoko, it concerns goldfish to some degree.
The End of Goldfish Kingdom (金魚王国の崩壊, Kingyo Oukoku no Houkai) is a webcomic drawn by The Imitation Crystal (模造クリスタル, Mozou Crystal) about the beauty and horror of innocence. “Webcomic” can be a damaging label, I feel, but really this is just a manga that happens to be online (one with exceptionally long chapters at that). It is a bit surreal, somewhat disturbing, and quite depressing. It reminds me of Yume Nikki, an independently made video game by developer Kikiyama. If you have played and appreciated Yume Nikki, I feel that you may very well enjoy this. It’s not near as off the wall as Yume Nikki can get, but the atmosphere is very similar. If you wish, you may read some of it [here] (in English), or all of it [here] (in the original Japanese).
Oh, and I was joking about “this week’s fish manga”, although I actually did find another one this week and imagined it would be funny to do this every week. But no, this won’t be a thing.
Every chapter of Goldfish Kingdom starts with a piece of historic art defaced with goldfish as its cover page. The first chapter’s cover page is this piece. Recognize it? After being struck with this strange visual, the manga begins.
Pictured above is protagonist Mikaze, a child. We are introduced to her at a festival, where we see she has just won a pet goldfish from one of the stands. She’s loving it. See? She’s very happy. She gets a bowl for her new fish and her parents take her home.
Let’s pause and discuss the elephant in the room.
That’s SOME art, huh?
At the start, Goldfish Kingdom is drawn messily, sketchy, and seemingly without much skill. I’m pretty sure it’s drawn in pencil/with traditional tools on actual paper and scanned into a computer, too. I have to imagine this can be a turn off. Personally, I have no issue with it although I can recognize these qualities. Au contraire, I actually appreciate the way this manga is drawn.
Goldfish Kingdom looks a bit like a disturbed child drew it, but one who also has a solid grasp on paneling and direction. The “disturbed child part” definitely feels appropriate; especially given how adept The Imitation Crystal is at depicting emotions and dread. As for the paneling and direction, Goldfish Kingdom is a quiet manga. Much time is spent looking at the environment, viewing simple actions, or just characters doing things to no dialogue and few if any sound effects.
It’s a touch unsettling, but in my opinion also very engaging. It’s easy to get drawn into the slow and deliberate pace of this manga. It also seems the author does have some artistic competency (as evidenced by the picture above), although nonetheless the scribble-like quality of the characters and such suits the manga’s tone, and also its message. Still, before we continue on, I should mention the art does improve, and quite a great deal at that. Here are two examples: , . Solid art evolution across the board while still retaining the subdued, penciled style; it’s nice, isn’t it? Quite cute as well!
Not long after Mikaze returns home, she begins to research fish. We see that she has many books, and see that she possesses surprising artistic talent. In just a few pages, with no words on the matter nor any narration, we learn much about Mikaze. It seems she is smart, that she acts of her own volition, is creative, and really likes her new pet. However, the perceptive might notice that the presence of books on animals on her shelf and the several stuffed critters at her bed indicate she does not simply like her pet: she has an appreciation for all living things. This turns out to be a problem.
Mikaze now refuses to eat fish. Not long after this scene, we learn that she refuses to eat any meat now. It’s not that she’s become a vegetarian, exactly; instead it seems she’s awakened to the concepts of death and “eat or be eaten”, and she has disagreements with this system of living. She will now only accept stuffed animals that don’t eat other animals as her bedside companions, as those that do only perpetuate death. There will be no sinful idols in her room.
However she is still innocent. She doesn’t know everything. The first chapter ends.
Chapter two starts over the course of the next few days, which seem normal enough. Mikaze goes to school, where her best friend, Yuka, awaits. They talk, they smile. Mikaze has some problems with the cafeteria’s use of meat at lunch, but she manages to continue on without a fuss. Yuka seems like a good friend to Mikaze, prompting her to speak up when she’s looking down in the classroom during recess. The manga is quiet and calm as usual and there are no problems.
Then, some really, really fucked up shit happens.
The End of Goldfish Kingdom is a webcomic about the beauty and horror of innocence; I said that at the start of this review. I would call Mikaze’s innocence beautiful. She’s compassionate and doesn’t want things to be hurt, even at the cost of her own suffering. It’s a view that’s naive, but well-meaning. At this point in the manga, we see the horror of innocence.
It’s not worth saying what happens, especially since the scene when it does happen is powerful. Chapter one of Goldfish Kingdom is mainly just a setup, introducing us to Mikaze and what will be the core of her conflict for the series. Chapter two really sets the tone, more so than anything previous, and tells you nearly everything you need to know about what you’re getting into.
Goldfish Kingdom punches you in the gut with some very simple things. Ultimately, this is a story concerning children, so they’re all going to be childish. That’s why I say the manga’s about the two sides of innocence. Kids can be cute, but they can also be scary. Innocence is not inherently good, it simply means one is guiltless and pure. Without ill intentions, one is easily capable of cruelty. On the other hand, Mikaze’s ways of thinking may have matured sooner than most, but there are still many unknowns that end up troubling the value system she’s begun to nurture. As an innocent, she ends up getting hurt a lot because of this — emotionally and even physically.
More things happen and Mikaze loses a lot of faith in the world, humanity, and herself. It’s very sad. So, let’s switch perspectives. The Imitation Crystal felt now was a good time for something completely different, so why don’t I follow his example?
This odd chapter’s cover page seems to not be some altered artwork, but instead an original drawing from The Imitation Crystal of a strange-looking girl. She is protagonist Kaho. She likes shrimp.
Kaho has a completely different pace and vibe from Mikaze. She’s also wonderful, and her chapter is a relief after how heavy Mikaze’s story got before the turnover. Unfortunately, in this review I’m going to have to make my time spent on Kaho brief. While Kaho’s chapters are as long as any other chapter, her appearances in the series as a whole are limited. So far, only two chapters (original Japanese releases included) focus on Kaho. She’s precious, so I really don’t want to spoil anything regarding her. That said, I can spare a few details.
Kaho goes to a different school from Mikaze, and as far as I can tell their stories never intersect. That said, the exploration of innocence remains. Kaho is a straightforward, enterprising girl of few words. When she does speak, or, erm, utter a sound, it will probably make you chuckle (she has a habit of saying a single word or a very simple sentence followed by an ellipsis, IE: “Shrimp…” though the translation usually tosses the ellipses). That said, she sure has a creepy look to her, doesn’t she? A sharp “w”-shaped mouth, deep black perfect circles for eyes…it’s off-putting at first, but I think it ends up looking super cute! ●w●＜エビかわいい
Kaho wastes no time endearing herself to you. She’s also full of surprises. Enjoy it when you get to her first chapter.
Now then, let’s get back to Mikaze and learn what the deal is with this manga’s title.
When we next see Mikaze we find that she has stopped going to school after her several harrowing experiences. I should mention, while this series’ central and consistent theme is innocence, each chapter so far has felt unique. The conflicts examined are different, the questions asked are different. It makes rereading this series easy, as there’s always something new to think about. For chapter five (Mikaze’s return) much of the time is spent focusing on how Mikaze’s parents react to her behavior and mindset. I won’t get into it just yet, but I felt really muddled inside reading this chapter. It’s scary in a way that’s different from what you’d usually call scary.
Anyway, why is this manga called The End of Goldfish Kingdom?
When Yuka comes to pay Mikaze a visit, we are given an answer. Mikaze has been drawing a lot in her room, and Yuka is very interested in the art all around. She asks what each piece depicts, encouraging Mikaze to speak more and feel better as she describes her drawings. Yuka requests one of the pieces to take home, and Mikaze allows it. She picks one, and we receive a story.
The titular “Goldfish Kingdom” is an imaginary place conceived by Mikaze, and the tale of its fall says a lot about her. As she tells it, she seems to be the most excited she’s ever been in this series. She boldly states that she intends to revive this kingdom, though it should be clear that a Goldfish Kingdom never existed in the first place. However, I called this manga surreal and gave this review a “surreal” tag for a reason. Although it’s yet to happen in the translated chapters, eventually Mikaze begins to commune with emissaries of the Goldfish Kingdom. How much of this is her imagination and how much it should be taken at face value I know not enough Japanese to discern. We’ll have to wait and see.
After being put into a good mood, The Imitation Crystal felt Mikaze should be miserable again. Yuka mentions that the day before, a girl’s cucumber pot she’d been nurturing for a project in class had been ravaged by a boy. She expresses disdain for the kind of person who would thoughtlessly do this, and, well…
Mikaze stops eating plants as well.
This is what I was touching on a little earlier. Mikaze’s parents don’t know what to do and I don’t blame them. It’s not that Mikaze is doing anything “wrong”, so punishing her for refusing to eat isn’t valid. Speaking to her doesn’t seem to work either, as she is overwhelmed with guilt for feeding off the lives of other things. Just imagining being in this kind of situation with a child of my own really sinks my heart. To have your child starve herself, but for an honest and kind reason, while completely at a loss on how to get her fed without upsetting her a great deal; the idea of this just plain upsets me.
Let’s stop here.
I think The End of Goldfish Kingdom is a fantastic series. I learned about it a few years ago, and started reading it a bit with the moderate Japanese skills I possess, but I quickly stopped since I knew I was missing significant details. Thankfully a year prior to this writing it was picked up by a scanlation group who put out the chapters at a good pace (given every chapter is immense, what narration there is often complex, and the series is quite unknown) for a bit. Sadly, it was dropped, but maybe someone will pick it back up again. I definitely want more people to read it. You should read it.
As of this writing the webcomic is still ongoing with nine chapters completed (five translated) and a tenth currently being written, but updates are very slow right now (at about one or two page every week or so, sometimes going for a month without a page). I can’t blame The Imitation Crystal for this; far as I can tell The End of Goldfish Kingdom makes no yen. There are no ads on the website, no merchandise at a store, and no tankoubon compiled. I think it’s a shame, since I’d like to spend money on this series. If I’m missing something, please let me know! Although, there are a few OTHER ways to give The Imitation Crystal money. First, he released a manga in 2013 called Beank & Rosa (ビーンク&ロサ) (buy from Bookwalker, honto, ebookjapan) that ran for a bit in Matogrosso (an East Press magazine) before being compiled into one volume. It certainly looks nice, but I haven’t read a word of it so take this recommendation with a grain of salt. Hell, I’ll probably buy it. On that note, if anything besides Beank & Rosa comes out on there, here’s The Imitation Crystals’ Bookwalker author page. Second, he seems to have many doujinshi (independent, not porn manga) that he draws often and sells through Melonbooks. Take your pick (WARNING: while these books are safe, this website is not safe for work). All of them are digital books, so you don’t need to worry about shipping. Here is a guide on how to register to the site.
I repeat, The End of Goldfish Kingdom by The Imitation Crystal is a free webcomic and there are no means of giving the author money for it. Still, you can visit the following links to support him in other ways:
The End of Goldfish Kingdom official website
The Imitation Crystal’s website
The Imitation Crystal’s Bookwalker (guide) author page: [link]
Beank & Rosa: Bookwalker, honto (guide), ebookjapan
The Imitation Crystal’s doujinshi, on Melonbooks (guide) (books SFW, site NOT)
Look for サークル名 and click 模造クリスタル to find his author page.
A comprehensive list of The Imitation Crystal’s work (Japanese)
And hey, one last thing!
Let’s listen to good music while we read good manga!