Friday, August 27, 2010

The first volumes of two manga series from a few years ago which I just got around to trying

The Good Witch of the West Vol. 1 (Tokyopop) Despite the title alluding to The Wizard of Oz, this shojo fantasy has nothing to do with L. Frank Baum’s work (at least, not in the first volume), but does rather heavily reference the Cinderella story, with mention also being made of fairy tales Rumpelstiltskin and The Wolf and The Seven Little Goats.

Beyond the specific fairy tales referenced, the influence of the literary genre is readily apparent in the plot and characters.

The lovely, virtuous teenage girl Firiel Dee lives in a lonely village and is raised by two kindly caretakers, because her mother has died and her father, an astrologist/scholar named Gideon Dee, spends all of his time in a tower, studying the stars with his apprentice, an orphan by named Rune (Kinda sorta short for Rumpelstiltskin).

When noble’s throw a ball, Firiel attends and, despite being a commoner, catches the eye of several of the royals, for both her beauty and an heirloom from her dead mother, an heirloom which proves she’s actually a princess.

This revelation is quickly followed by the disintegration of her world, as “inquisitors” attack her village and separate her from the various members of her family, and broad, nationwide (kingdom-wide?) intrigue intrudes in her life.

Noriko Ogiwara is given a “story by” credit on the cover, but Ogiwara actually wrote the young adult prose novels this manga series by Haruhiko Momokawa (who gets an “art by” credit) adapted this from.

Having never read the novels its based on, I have no idea if this is a good adaptation of them or not, or if any English readers would know/care anyway.

All the echoes of fairy tale motifs made the story rather instantly familiar and somewhat compelling, despite Momokawa’s sometimes hard-to-read lay-outs (it reads right-to-left, which I’m quite used to, but there are a lot of double-page spreads with overlapping dialogue and narration, and I found the visual cues along the vertical axis too cluttered to read effortlessly far too often).

Part of that may simply be how shojo-y it is, with a lot of transparent dialogue bubbles, and plenty of shifting between different forms of dialogue bubbles and formal ways to deliver the verbal information.

The character designs are all pretty strong, but the often non-existent backgrounds also made this a bit more of a challenge to read than I would have liked.

As for the plot, it’s obviously a pretty elaborate one, and it’s just getting started by the close of the first volume, so I think I’d need to check out at least one more volume to decide how much of this series I really want to read. I was curious enough about what happened next to want to try at least one more, so there’s that.

The world the story is unfolding on seems to be a vaguely European one, although of a fictional variety with unusual place names. One detail I really liked—and which is probably mostly responsible for my curiosity about future volumes—is the presence of “dragons.”

When Firiel arrives at the ball, she gasps at the site of a Tyrannosaurus Rex skeleton in the entrance hall, and a character refers to it as a display of the bones of a dragon slain by one of the nobles of the castle. Later, reference is made to the “land of dragons,” and we’re shown panels of pterosaurs and sauropods. I’m a sucker for dinosaurs in just about any media, but I really liked the connection between what we’d think of as dinosaurs and what the characters in this comic think of as dragons.

Hayate The Combat Butler Vol. 1 (Viz) Hayate is a hard-working sixteen-year-old high school student with perhaps the worst parents in the world. Well, they don’t beat him or anything like that, but they are both so lazy and so bad with money and so into gambling that they’ve accrued a huge debt—which they leave as a Christmas present to their son. Since the debt is owed to the yakuza, they’ve decided to sell the yakuza Hayate’s organs.

On the run and fearing freezing to death like the poor hero of A Dog of Flanders, he decides that since all of his hard work has failed to pay off, he has no choice but to become a bad person, and he attempts to kidnap a 13-year-old and try to ransom her.

The plan doesn’t quite work out how he intends, but it ultimately spares him from the yakuza—the girl turns out to be incredibly wealthy, she thinks he’s declaring his love for her rather than attempting to kidnap her, and she ends up hiring him as her butler.

That plot synopsis doesn’t really do manga-ka Kenjiro Hata’s manic pace and zany plotting justice; does it help if I note all of that takes place in the first chapter or so? And that Santa Claus—“Santa-san,” as Hayate calls him—appears to torment Hayate throughout? What about if I note that in order to buttle for for his new mistress, Hayate must prove himself by defeating Robot Nurse Eight, a robot designed to be the ultimate butler, and Tama, a huge pet tiger that only Hayate can hear talk?

The plotting in this first volume is kind of all over the place, but by its end a cast is established: Hayate, his new mistress Nagi (whom thinks Hayate loves her), Nagi’s beautiful maid Maria (whom Hayate actually is sweet on) and head butler Klaus, who spends most of the volume trying to get rid of Hayate, often violently.

There’s a loud, flailing energy and sense of humor about the book that was a lot of fun, even if there isn’t a whole lot going on beneath the surface. I’m definitely looking forward to volume 2.

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