Manga Friday: The Luck of the Draw
The stack of manga to be reviewed has been getting shorter, down to the point where trying to put together a theme is difficult. So, this week, it’ll have to be random reviews. It’s all from Japan, and… that’s probably all it has in common.
Andromeda Stories, Vol. 3
Keiko Takemiya; story by Ryu Mitsuse
Vertical, 2008, $11.95
The epic conclusion of the SF manga series from the early ‘80s ends with a scene familiar from many derivative tales of the Planet Stories era…but I won’t spoil it. As you may recall from my review of the previous volume, a race of intelligent machines, called "the Enemy," has been conquering an unnamed planet in the Andromeda galaxy, and Prince Jimsa of the Cosmoralian Empire, our hero, wants to stop them.
However, being as this is a manga for girls from the early ’80s, most of this book has to be taken up with the relationship between Jimsa and his long-lost twin "brother," Affle. The two share a psychic connection – they feel each other’s pain and their not terribly well defined psychic powers work much better when they’re in close proximity – and they also are strangely drawn to each other.
(Need I mention that the "brother" is not what he seems? This will be important for that very familiar ending.)
Other relationships are equally as central, such as those involving “the Elder,” who was an important advisor to the rules of Cosmoralia but turns out to be More Than He Appears. He was Jimsa’s mentor, but turns his attentions to Affle in this book, as part of his general megalomaniacal plans to utterly destroy the Enemy. Since this is a shojo manga, it’s much more about emotional scenes and relationships than about actually fighting against killer robots.
(And the Enemy’s function is to put whole populations into a kind of cold sleep – entirely willingly – so that they can live in a virtual world of peace and plenty. This, as is common in pulp SF, is seen as horrible and effete, a fate worse than death – so slaughtering the millions or billions the Enemy now warehouses and cares for is the only possibly option. It would have been nice to have seen a little thought given to that background, and a recognition that it might not be all that bad just because it’s different.)
I’m not the audience for Andromeda Stories: I’m too old, of the wrong gender, and I’ve read far too much science fiction. But, if you’re not me, you might like this.
The Guin Saga Manga: The Seven Magi, Vol. 3
Illustrated by Karuaki Tanagisawa; Story by Kaoro Kurimoto
Vertical, 2008, $12.95
And this one is basically sword & sorcery fantasy, with a guy and his big sword saving the city of Cylon from a bunch of evil magical types. It might not be The Hour of the Dragon, but it’s in the same ballpark. In the previous two volumes – see my earlier review – we learned that Guin is this leopard-headed dude with big muscles and a bigger sword, who became king of a random fantasy kingdom out of, apparently, his sheer awesomeness. Those books were the set-up, in which we met Guin, the dancing girl Valusa, and Als the Torq Rat (whose purpose in this story is finally clear, in the same way that Liam Neeson’s part in Batman Begins becomes much clearer at the end).
To recap: there was this nasty "plague" that killed lots of people, and was clearly caused by something supernatural. Guin ran down to the Alley of Charms to get some help with the situation, but ended up running around stabbing monsters and fending off the advances of a bosomy and mostly undressed sorceress. As this book begins, Guin finally has the name of the sorcerer responsible for the plague, and so he’s off, sword in hand.
There’s a lot of running and fighting in this book, some giant tentacled horrors (and, yes, the story does go there), and various other things to remind you that you’re reading manga. And the good guys win in the end. Hooray! It’s a lot like a fairly generic Western epic fantasy novel seen through a manga filter – interesting but not particularly special. On the other hand, if you want fantasy stories about a Conanesque king with a leopard’s head, Guin is pretty much your only choice.
Le Chevalier d’Eon, Vol. 2
Story by Tou Ubukata; Manga by Kiriko Yumeji
Del Rey Manga, 2007, $10.95
This series is still a mad romp through cultural appropriation, a tale of possessed “poets” turning into stone gargoyle monsters by shedding the blood of virgins…in 18th century France. Opposing them is the transvestite hero: by day a bumbling policeman, by night possessed by the avenging spirit (and wardrobe) of his dead sister, who has her own very impressive magical sword. And if you thought the nuttiness of the first volume couldn’t be topped, just wait: this time, we get Jean Le Rond d’Alembert as the magically-powered head of the secret police and wearing a Marilyn Manson get-up. If that’s not enough, there are indications that Theosophy is somehow important to the plot, and that d’Eon’s servant Robin will eventually become the father of Maximilien Robespierre.
Did I mention that the heroes know that a new poet is rising because the King Louis XV’s autistic daughter Sophie starts yelling "Palms?" And that the big villain in this volume is a third-level poet, an orchestra conductor whose entire orchestra are transforming into gargoyles? Or that there’s some very obvious, but weird, Christian symbolism behind much of this?
In the words of many Internet comics reviewers before me, Le Chevalier d’Eon is made of awesome. It is completely and totally insane, and all the better for it. The art is brooding and overcomplicated, with spiky panel-pieces sticking out in all directions and nothing at all ever under-rendered. And the story is the usual manga monster-fighting in the least likely setting imaginable. Where but in comics could you find a story as gloriously nutty as this? Nowhere, that’s where.
Princess Resurrection, Vol. 2
Del Rey Manga, 2007, $10.95
I reviewed the first volume of Princess Resurrection some time back, for those of you with long memories. This is another monster-fighting comic, in which a family of gods are battling for control of the Earth (or maybe just to kill each other; it really doesn’t matter). Our “hero,” the bumbling loser Hiro, has gotten himself attached to a cute young female member of this family, Princess Hime. In the first book, he joined Hime’s childish robotic assistant, Flandre, and was in turn joined by the half-werewolf girl Riza Wildman, as part of Hime’s household. (Hiro is completely useless; he needs Hime’s blood at regular intervals, or he’ll die for a while, and he also has no useful skills. He might be a reader-identification character, but only is they have really low self-esteem.)
In this book, our group tangles with Hime’s younger sister Sherwood, who has her own robot – an adult model with combat capabilities – and a giant triffid that engulfs the house and attacks Hime. (What is it about manga and tentacles? Even the killer plants in manga are tentacled horrors.) Things work out decently, so Hiro can get seduced at school by a young vampiress, Reiri, and then everyone can fight off an attack by werewolves and survive an attack by a spider-monster that lives inside human stomachs.
This book settles down to being a monster-of-the-week story, with a sidebar in adding to Hime’s entourage. The individual stories are stylish and fun enough, though I keep wondering if parts of this (like Hiro’s utter incompetence) are meant to be funny, or just pathetic. It’s not a great monster-fighting comic, but it’s a pretty good one, and it’s building up a good cast of characters as it goes along.
Andrew Wheeler has been a publishing professional for nearly twenty years, with a long stint as a Senior Editor at the Science Fiction Book Club and a current position at John Wiley & Sons. He’s been reading comics for longer than he cares to mention, and maintains a personal, mostly book-oriented blog at antickmusings.blogspot.com.
Publishers who would like their books to be reviewed at ComicMix should contact ComicMix through the usual channels or email Andrew Wheeler directly at acwheele (at) optonline (dot) net.