Planet Ladder Volumes 1-7 by Yuri Narushima
This fantasy series is bogged down by an excess of exposition, but after a slow start it gets much better as the series develops. Kaguya is an ordinary high school girl, living with her adopted family. She’s remarkably passive, allowing her mother to dress her up like a doll and use her as a fortunetelling subject. Every time Kaguya picks a final card, it ends up being blank. One day a group of warriors appear at her bedroom in the middle of the night and address her as the “Princess of the Choosing.” Different factions want to claim Kaguya, but she ends up going with a silent android who possesses a whip-like weapon called gold. Kaguya is transported to a new world.
Kaguya begins to navigate the unfamiliar landscape accompanied by her nonspeaking companion. She meets a haughty but intelligent noblewoman Shiina Mol Bamvivrie who she nicknames Bambi. Bambi begins to explain more about Kaguya’s situation. There are multiple worlds at war, and Kaguya is the one who is able to choose the one world that will survive. A despotic ruler named Kura from the world Geo is determined that his will be the only world that will survive, and he plans to war with the other dimensions to succeed with his ambitions. Kura is opposed by the Mad Prince Seeu, the sole survivor of Asu. Seeu was raised in isolation by machines, and his personality has been damaged due to lack of human contact. A man named Kagami sometimes takes over the body of the android Gold, and he seems to know Kaguya. Kagami also has a mysterious connection with Seeu.
The first few volumes of Planet Ladder were slow going, and I had the impression that Narushima simply had too much story to fit into the amount of volumes she was given for the series. Characters frequently engage in massive info dumps, and by the forth volume a flow chart is added to the book in order to illustrate the relationships between the warring worlds. The art starts out a bit on the grey and gloomy side, and the frequent changes of location as the manga skips from character to character on different worlds was sometimes confusing. Things get better as the series develops and by the fifth volume I was more interested in the emotional connections between the characters. Planet Ladder has occasional moments of inspired surreality such as the introduction of Waseda, a refugee from Japan whose mind has been downloaded into the body of a giant android Rooster.
Bambi and Kaguya are separated, and Bambi decides to ally herself with Kura in the hope that she’ll be able to find “that slow little princess” again. Bambi becomes one of the powerful owners of a living weapon, and she carries out Kura’s orders of destruction. Kaguya meets Prince Seeu and adjusts to the difficulty of living with someone who is only used to functioning alone. She cheerfully demands that he accompany her on walks and talk to her and he often responds by going to sleep in self-defense.
The art definitely improves in the latter half of the series, with the layouts becoming less crowded and the frequent shifts in location are more intriguing than confusing. There are some arresting images associated with the Mad Prince, as Seeu has holographic communicators that look like birdcages and experiences a vision of phantom hands reaching out to touch him. Kaguya is horrified by the conditions of his castle, especially the dumping ground of abandoned Kagami bodies.
By the final volume the large cast of characters and their respective worlds are on an inevitable collision course. Kaguya, Seeu, and Kagami all play their parts in an attempt to preserve life and thwart Kura. I thought that the storytelling had improved so much by the seventh volume, I wish Narushima had been able to apply what she was capable of then to the series from the start. I wish there had been less exposition and more focus on the relationships between the characters. I also would have appreciated more weirdness. After all, when one character is a Japanese android chicken, that seems to promise a certain level of oddity that I thought wasn’t truly followed through on.
Planet Ladder is out of print, but it is worth seeking out if you tend to be a fantasy/scifi shoujo manga completist or if you enjoy complicated worldbuilding. It does require a certain degree of patience to get through this series, but I thought it had a strong finish.