Kieli is one of those manga I would have completely passed over if I had only read the summary on the back cover. The first sentence reads “Crafted from the corpses of battlefield casualties…” at which point my eyes started rolling skyward and the words “mindless violence again?!” were uttered. If it wasn’t for the cover artwork or flicking through the book, I wouldn’t have taken a chance on it and Kiele would be left warming a shelf. Happily that's not the case, and here we are.
Kieli follows the story of the titular orphan girl as she tries to come to terms with her unique ability to see and speak to ghosts. She runs into Harvey, a drifter that is heading a few towns over and can also see ghosts - though Kieli is fascinated by Harvey, the feeling isn't mutual - Harvey is an Undying and is hunted, like the rest of his kind, by the Church. She manages to tag along with Harvey, curious about his past and his abilities.
I was completely blown away by this collection, especially given my initial low expectations. Towards the end I was actually deeply moved about what was happening to the characters and when the end came along I ended up being completely overjoyed. For a manga spanning only two volumes it is an incredible achievement to get someone to feel that wealth of emotion for a pair of characters. The story, while not giving a huge amount of back story, is just an incredibly well written character drama. While Harvey is the most supernatural character, he is also by far the most human, while Kieli herself just seems such a natural character, reacting to situations in such a believable way and remaining every inch the naïve child, who grows to maturity as the series progresses.
Thankfully it is not just the story that is so compelling. The artwork has been beautifully crafted and the character's personalities shine through. Harvey is always drawn as battered and world-weary from years of constant fighting and time itself, and despite his youthful appearance, he always looks his age. Kieli herself is shown the same amount of respect for most of the book; she does initially fall into the stereotyical female manga character, but the artist for the series never feels the need to mock his own creation by using chibi-style artwork. Everything has been handled with a large amount of care and it pays off hugely.
If there is one drawback, it's that the violence in the series can be a bit extreme. While not on the same level as Gantz or Hellsing, it still can be quite brutal at times. In some cases it is needed to convey the brutality of some of the deaths of those Kieli sees as ghosts, but for those not fond of violence it can be a little off-putting.
Apart from that minor niggle Kieli is still a fantastic read. While it is only two volumes long, it is perfectly paced to make use of every frame and makes sure that the series does not outstay its welcome. If you passed this by on the shelf, now would be the time to pick it up and give it a try.