The Hunt is On, the first volume of Nie Jun’s Seekers of the Aweto graphic novel series, is something truly beautiful. Drawing inspiration from everything from traditional Chinese art to contemporary western comics, its watercolour style and vibrant, almost psychedelic colours are simply mesmerising, bringing a mythological adventure and the stunning world it takes place to life in a way that’s not quite like anything else out there. The Hunt is On is sheer artistic beauty on every page.
And the story that unfolds through those pages is an enchanting one. In a fantastical version of ancient China, it tells of a group of “Aweto seekers”—nomads who travel the land in search of rare creatures that are part plant, part worm, that a worth a whole lot in the marketplace thanks to their scarcity and strong medicinal properties. (Mythical though they sound, aweto are actually real—caterpillars with a cordyceps fungus growing from their heads).
Xinyue is the youngest of this particular group of aweto seekers, and has the unusual ability to control insects by playing his drum. His older brother Qiliu is part man, part animal, with big dragonfly-like wings, and their mother, Bu Ren Niang, has the wisdom, experience, and love that only a mother can bring. The three of them travel the Silk Road in search of aweto, with no end of troubles from other aweto seekers, and from the people committed to protecting the earth deities (chadolo) upon whose heads the aweto grow.
But the group’s latest aweto-seeking adventure takes an interesting turn when a baby chadolo starts following Xinyue around. Without knowing what else to do, Xinyue decides to take it with him, at least for now, until he figures out what to do with it. As you might guess, this child is more than just a regular earth deity, and might be the clue to finding the fabled celestial aweto that grants immortality to anyone who eats it.
With that setup, The Hunt is On sets Seekers of the Aweto on the path to being something enchanting. There’s something almost Indiana Jones or Uncharted-like in its story of rogue treasure hunters, but seen through a lens of myth, fable, and Chinese history, with a dreamlike art style and a sense of atmosphere that channels Studio Ghibli. It’s exciting, funny, spiritual, surreal, and poignant in equal measure, and brings all those moods together in a way that’s effortless.
The Hunt is On is a gripping read in its own right, but it’s also the first book in an ongoing series, and it lays the groundwork for what should be some wonderful developments to come. The relationship between Xinyue and Qiliu is a curious one, with two brothers who seem to love each other deeply but couldn’t be more different as people and in what motivates them—and for all the love they share, those differences bring their share of conflict that goes beyond sibling rivalry.
There are some fascinating other characters the aweto seekers meet who are only minimally involved in The Hunt is On, but seem like they’ll be a big part of the ongoing story, like Ashmi, a fierce warrior from a tribe of chadolo protectors who makes it her duty to find and bring home the baby that’s latched onto Xinyue. And in its final pages, this first book drops a shocking cliffhanger that’s going to make the wait for the next volume an agonising one.
If The Hunt is On is any indication, Seekers of the Aweto is going to be a series to pay attention to in the coming years. Nie Jun is creating something remarkable here.
Seekers of the Aweto, Book 1: The Hunt is On is written and illustrated by Nie Jun, and published by Graphic Universe. It comes out 2 March 2021.
A review copy was provided to Shindig by the publisher.