From a world of planets, robots, and vengeful deities come The Ultimate Sky Doll Volume 1. Created by Alessandro Barbucci and Barbara Canepa, The Ultimate Sky Doll tells the story of Noa, a Sky Doll used for prostitution, as she goes on a journey to explore her world and discover who she really is. Things get pretty uncanny, so let’s dive in!
Piecing The Ultimate Sky Doll Together
Volume 1 is a collection of four stories, each continuing from the last. The big separation for these stories is that each takes place in a separate major location. Book 1, The Yellow City, gives us a peek at Noa’s life before the adventure begins. She is a Sky Doll, which essentially means she is a robot built to serve the needs of others, usually in the form of providing physical pleasure.
When she stumbles, quite literally, onto the ship of a diplomatic envoy heading to Aqua, she stows away on board in order to escape her rather dismal life. Noa is ecstatic to finally be free but quickly learns that her troubles have not been fully left behind on her home planet. There is something lurking — something living inside of her — that won’t let her get on with the rest of her life.
Reading Between The Lines
Overall, I would say something like Sky Doll isn’t typically in my wheelhouse. It’s very sci-fi, and while it gives me a lot to think about, I spent time working just to understand the general layout of the society volume 1 is meant to take place in. Even after reading it a few times, I still feel rather confused about what exactly happened in certain moments. Despite all that, there were definitely themes that I would be interested to see play out in future volumes of Sky Doll. The biggest topics for further exploration were religion and ideas of humanity/femininity.
“Oh Goddess, I Pray…”
Religion plays a very direct role in the plot of all books included in The Ultimate Sky Doll Volume 1. The diplomatic mission Noa has become a part of is a conversion mission to try and get the citizens of Aqua – who follow this idea of spiritual and physical enlightenment – to follow the Papessa Ludovica. It becomes clear too late that this conversion mission is intent on squashing the “heretics” who oppose the “true religion” of Ludovica’s.
In fact, this whole idea of a true belief is central to the plot, and to the conditions on Noa’s home planet. Ludovica wasn’t always the religious figure for her cult. Her and her sister, Agape, shared the position at first, believing that Ludovica’s physicality and Agape’s chastity would balance each other out well. Unfortunately for Agape, her divine powers allowed her to perform actual miracles, and made her too powerful in the eyes of the heads of state. Agape was killed, and her sister was instated as the only true head of the religion.
Against Ludovica’s plans, Agape’s memory did not fade, and people contested her power. On a more literal level, at least some of Agape seems to still remain. It has become abundantly clear that Noa has some connection to this Papessa and her powers. I can’t yet say what this story seems to be saying about religious conflict and power. It’s ingrained in every planet Noa visits, so it seems to be an inescapable fact of their universe that religious power is the true ruling power.
On the other hand, what we’ve seen so far has been mostly corrupt, or hollow, leaving me unsure of where on this topic Sky Doll will eventually land.
For Humanity’s Sake
As for humanness, a lot of that is tied to ideas of womanhood and femininity. From the beginning, we are made to see that Noa’s purpose in life has been serving men. As a Sky Doll, she is expected to do as she is told. She is actually implanted with a device that is supposed to suppress her memories and keep her from developing a personality. Despite this, Noa has a lot of questions and desires that she just can’t answer on her own.
Given that these dolls are programmed, how much of what she does is free thought? We have no way of knowing, and neither does Noa. There’s a constant grapple with trying to understand what makes someone a person and whether or not something can go against it’s intended design. This ties into larger ideas of humanity, but I think there needs to be specific attention to the gendered way these things play out throughout The Ultimate Sky Doll Volume 1.
I Am Woman
There’s an interesting problem here about how women are controlled or treated as lesser beings, but with the idea that there is the potential for real and even divine power within femininity. Popessa Ludovica is an excellent example of this. While she is the center of her religion, in truth she is predominantly a figurehead, with her advisors and the scheming “doll maker” making all the real decisions. Ludovica is also constantly compared to her sister. They sit on two very polar ends of the spectrum of female sexual expression – Ludovica is physical in all ways, whereas Agape is chaste and holier-than-thou.
Even looking at Noa, these confusing ideas about female power are once again explored. Noa was designed to be controlled, and even with her newfound freedom needs a man to turn the key at her back to keep her activated. She herself says that she’s dependent.
Yet Noa also has an inexplicable power about her, with the strange things she finds herself able to do. Going deeper into the story, her body is crafted by a man and is then expected to perform the tasks demanded by him. There’s an uncomfortable ambiguity in whether or not she’s a real person, and whether we should consider her body her own.
Given the dark and rather twisted places this story leads, the artwork provides an interesting contrast. The confusion and hectic nature of the plot come out in the intricacies of the detail in each panel. Surprisingly, the coloring of the story is vibrant and almost cheerful. I expected things to be lighthearted because of the artwork, but pretty soon the story became clear. I was left feeling the tension between the visual style and the tone of The Ultimate Sky Doll Volume 1.
Even though sci-fi isn’t my area, the artwork did a great job of pulling me into the story. It was beautiful and strange, and each chapter had its own sort of visual tone to match the planet they were on. I appreciate the battle between the content and the form, and I’m interested in how that may continue to play out in future volumes.
Contemplating Ultimate Sky Doll Volume 1
Overall, I enjoyed this a lot more than I thought I would. The heaviness of the content surprised me, but I also liked how thought-provoking it all was. Would I have ordinarily picked The Ultimate Sky Doll Volume 1 out at a bookstore? Definitely not, but I think it was great exposure to something I don’t typically enjoy. I have tons of questions and a lot of thinking to do, but that’s how you know there was substance to it. I’ll definitely be thinking about The Ultimate Sky Doll Volume 1 for a while.