If you are reading the 12th volume of Ultimo (which has the words “Final Volume” emblazoned on the back cover) it's not really a spoiler to tell you there is a final battle between the doji and their creator Dunstan. I won’t spoil the outcome, but believe me, it is as unpredictable as the rest of Hiroyuki Takei's many plot twists.
We’ve known the battle with Dunstan (Stan Lee's alter ego in the story) was coming for two volumes now. I must admit, making the main villain of the series a super buff Stan Lee was a stroke of genius. And while he plays a major part in this final battle, the real heart of the volume is Yamato’s fight to win Sayama to his side. This is the Romeo and Juliet forscience fiction puppet/mech people. It's really Yamato’s crush that drives a lot of the plot, including some time travel. Personally, I figure if you're warping the space-time continuum to see someone, you are well past the crush stage!
The final battle with Dunstan is about much more than defeat or victory. As Dunstan points out when he casually says, “Actually, my experiment is just beginning! But no more dolls! It will continue with people!” He either knows he will not be defeated or that whatever defeat he suffers at the hands of “puppets” will not matter in the least. Is he right? That, friends would be a spoiler. I will say that I think after twelve volumes I have figured out the reason the word “puppet” is used to describe the doji when the word “android” is a more accurate. I think Ultimo is an epic riff on Pinocchio. A master craftsman watches his living puppets learn about the nature of good and evil. Of course being a fighting manga rather than a nineteenth-century Italian children’s novel, Dunstan takes a more active role fostering conflict than Geppetto does.
Whatever Yamato, Sayama and the other various doji masters think, Dunstan is pulling the strings and it seems like maybe even his control is not total. One of most interesting things about this manga, and specifically this final volume, is how much of it is open to interpretation by the reader.
And if you want to probe the true meanings of Ultimo even further, this volume comes with tons of extras including a Karakuri Illustrated Profile section that has intricate drawings of all the Karakuri with extensive notes. The designs of the Karakuri are stunning. They are unique as they are stylish. Takei Sensei is a profoundly gifted mech designer, and these are some outstanding examples of his talent. But he's also quite the philosopher, and each one comes with his musings of good and evil and life in general. Some of it is very dark, so be warned!
On the whole, you'd be hard-pressed to find another series as unique and as far out as Ultimo. Even beyond the unusual mash-up of Stan Lee and Takei Sensei, it's truly unlike any other manga out there. And the ending even more mind-bending than I expected!
Ultimo volume 12 is available right here!
by Rob McCarthy
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