Sand Chronicles, Volume 1

Creator: Hinako Ashihara
U.S. publisher: Viz Media
ISBN: 9781421514772
Released: January 2008
Original release: 2003
Awards: Shogakukan Manga Award

Sand Chronicles, Volume 1 by Hinako Ashihara was originally published in Japan in 2003. The English-language edition of the manga was initially published by Viz Media’s Shojo Beat magazine (issues twenty-six through twenty-nine) before being released as a collected volume in 2008. When September 2012’s Manga Moveable Feast focusing on Shojo Beat manga was announced, I immediately thought of the Shogakukan Manga Award-winning Sand Chronicles. One of the best contemporary shoujo series that I have ever read, Sand Chronicles is also one of my favorite shoujo manga period. The series is complete in ten volumes, although the main story finishes with the eighth. The final two volumes consist of epilogue-like side stories. While not absolutely critical for a satisfying conclusion, the “extra” stories round out the series and the characters nicely.

Twenty-six years old and about to be married, Ann Uekusa is preparing to move to America with her soon-to-be husband when memories from her adolescence come crashing back. After her parents divorced when she was twelve, Ann and her mother moved from Tokyo to the rural village of Shimane. Living with her grandparents in a small town where everyone knows everyone else’s business will take some getting used to, but Ann quickly makes friends with the other kids her age. After a rough beginning, she hits it off particularly well with Daigo Kitamura and even manages to befriend the more reserved Fuji Tsukishima and his younger sister Shika. Those friendships become even more important to Ann when tragedy strikes her family. The events that occur during the winter of Ann’s twelfth year will have profound effects on her for the rest of her life.

I am quite fond of Ashihara’s artwork in Sand Chronicles and find it to be very effective. There are two things she does particularly well in the manga. Her backgrounds, settings, and natural landscapes are beautiful and detailed, giving Shimane and the surrounding area a real sense of place. Ashihara captures the changes of seasons well, too, easily shifting from the snowy mountainsides in the winter to the summer storms in the woods. But perhaps most importantly, Ashihara’s art style allows her characters to be incredibly expressive. They show sadness and pain as well as laughter and joy. A glance or simple gaze can carry a significant amount of meaning even when the characters aren’t able to verbally express their feelings. This is particularly important in a series like Sand Chronicles in which the characters’ personal emotions and inner turmoil are just as important as their outward actions. Ashihara is able to convey and capture both the inner and outer aspects of the story and her characters through her artwork.

The overall tone I get from the first volume of Sand Chronicles is one of melancholy but not of overwhelming sadness. Sand Chronicles is a series that tugs at the heartstrings but at the same time I didn’t feel emotionally manipulated by it. This is one of the reasons that Sand Chronicles works so well for me. Some of the more climactic moments tend be a little melodramatic, but the emotions and feelings being expressed are honest and real. The characters, too, are well-developed and multi-faceted, even contradictory to some extent, lending to their authenticity and realism. They all have personal histories that explain their individual quirks and behaviors; they are who they are for a reason. Ann may exhibit strength, but she also shows signs of fragility, something that is true for many of the characters in Sand Chronicles. Their pasts inform their presents which in turn influence their futures, a theme that recurs throughout the volume and the series—something that Ashihara never forgets.

My Week in Manga: January 17-January 23, 2011

My News and Reviews

The Manga Moveable Feast for Karakuri Odette finished up yesterday. I was pleased to contribute not one, but two posts this time around (three if you count my quick take of the entire series). This probably won’t happen very often, but we’ll see what I can do. My first post was an in-depth review of the first volume of Karakuri Odette. This is the second in-depth manga review for January, so I’ve met my goal for another month, hooray! I also took a closer look at the androids of Karakuri Odette to see how they measured up to Isaac Asimov’s Three Laws of Robotics. It’s kind of silly, but I had fun with it.

Did you get a chance to see the live-action Gantz film last week? Or maybe you just heard about it? Or perhaps you have no idea what I’m talking about? Regardless, there’s been an increased interest in the manga series it was based on, so I’ll be giving away a brand new copy of Gantz, Volume 1 by Hiroya Oku. The contest will begin this coming Wednesday, January 26 and will run for a week.

Quick Takes

ES: Eternal Sabbath, Volumes 1-8 by Fuyumi Soryo. I originally read the first four volumes of Eternal Sabbath from the library, but I liked the series so well that I picked up an entire set for myself. Shuro’s development as a character was particularly interesting. Incredibly intelligent and mature for his age, he is inexperienced emotionally and has to come to grips with this. And he isn’t the only character to grow and change throughout the series. The story itself explores some tough moral questions. The ending was a bit abrupt and parts of it were a little disappointing—Soryo probably could have used a couple more volumes finish—but I still really enjoyed the series.

Gantz, Volumes 1-5 by Hiroya Oku. The artwork is gloriously graphic and slightly disconcerting, but I do like it. However, there is bit more fan-service and misogyny than is necessary, although some of it is appropriate to the story. Gantz is dark. Gantz is violent. Gantz is edgy. It’s hard to say where Oku is going to go with the series and what the aim is or if there is some deeper meaning, but so far the examination of the human psyche is very interesting. The willingness that some characters show to participate in a deadly “game” that they don’t even understand is fascinating. I’ll probably keep with the series for a bit longer; I’d really like to know what is going on and there’s a lot of potential.

Sand Chronicles, Volume 10 by Hinako Ashihara. This is the final volume of Sand Chronicles which remains one of my favorite shoujo series. The main story ended with the eighth volume; volume ten is a side story that takes place when the main characters are in their thirties. They still struggle to accept and deal with their pasts which is not at all an easy thing. The emotional authenticity of Sand Chronicles has been one of its highlights throughout the series and the final volume is no exception. It provides a very satisfying conclusion (and continuation) to the series. The focus this time is on Daigo and it’s nice to see a bit more of the story from his perspective.

Under Grand Hotel, Volumes 1-2 by Mika Sadahiro. Incredibly intense, Under Grand Hotel is fiercely passionate and violent. Turn to a random page and you’ll most likely end up in the middle of a sex scene, but I was okay with that. Taking place in an underground prison, the manga is certainly a fantasy but a completely developed one. Sword is the shot-caller at UGH and Sen becomes his cellmate and lover for protection. At first it’s simply a convenient arrangement, but it soon becomes more. It’s not really a romantic love that is fostered, but instead the two men become mutually dependent upon one another and their lives are intertwined to such an extent that they can’t break free.

Departures directed by Yōjirō Takita. Departures won an Oscar for Best Foreign Language Film in 2009, an honor that is well deserved, among many, many other awards. Daigo lands his dream job as a cellist just before the orchestra is dissolved. (As a fellow “failed” musician, I completely understand what he is going through.) He returns to his hometown and, mostly by chance or fate, becomes the assistant to an encoffiner. It’s a misunderstood a job that isn’t looked well upon, and so he tries to hide it from his wife and is unsure about pursuing it himself. Departures is a beautiful film that faces life and death head on without getting too heavy.

Gantz (World Premiere Live Event) directed by Shinsuke Sato. It was really unfortunate that they decided to screen this with an English dub rather than subtitles. Otherwise, the films seem to be a fairly decent adaptation of the manga so far and the visuals are great. The suits in particular are fantastic. However, for as much action and violence that is in the movie, the pacing seems to drag quite a bit. It also seems to be missing some of the intensity and edge present in the manga. I did enjoy Kenji Kawai’s score and the music was just the right mixture of creepy and driving. The actors did a fine job, particularly Kenichi Matsuyama, and I’m interested in seeing the second part of Gantz when it is released latter this year.

My Week in Manga: November 22-November 28, 2010

My News and Reviews

Last week was Thanksgiving vacation for me which means that I didn’t have to work but did have to do much more driving than usual. I did still find time to get some manga reading in and raided my youngest sister’s bookshelves in between visiting with my family. I even found time to post my review of the second Spice & Wolf light novel; I’m enjoying this series so far and will definitely be picking up the third volume when it’s released in December. And as a reminder, I’m currently running a boys’ love/yaoi manga giveaway, Feast of Firsts. The winner will be randomly selected on Wednesday, so you still have a couple days to enter.

It’s also time for the most recent Manga Moveable Feast, featuring Eiichiro Oda’s One Piece. David Welsh of The Manga Curmudgeon is hosting, so check out his post Setting Sail and the updating index. I’ll be posting a review of the first volume, Romance Dawn, later this week. This will be the first Manga Movable Feast that I will have participated in, so I’m particularly looking forward to it.

Quick Takes

Case Closed, Volume 1 by Gosho Aoyama. After being caught sticking his nose into a crime in progress, the teenage detective prodigy Jimmy Kudo is poisoned by mysterious men in black. Instead of killing him as intended, the untested poison instead transforms Jimmy’s body into that of a grade schooler. (And quite an adorable one at that.) As cute as Jimmy, now going by the name Conan Edogawa, and the art is, there is still a substantial amount of blood and gore. The manga vaguely reminds me of Encyclopedia Brown. The mysteries aren’t particularly complex yet, but watching Jimmy/Conan’s deductions is fun.

Fake, Volumes 1-7 by Sanami Matoh. Fake was the the first boys’ love series that I ever read. I often see it listed among people’s favorites, but I’ve never been quite as taken with it as others seem to be. Which is not to say I don’t enjoy the manga, because I do. Ignoring the fact that realistic police procedure is completely thrown out the window, particularly in the early volumes, the series has a decent plot and a fair amount of humor to go along with its sexual tension. Occasionally the recurring story elements and gags can get a little tedious. I really do like the relationship between Dee and Ryo though, and the secondary characters are pretty great, too.

Sand Chronicles, Volumes 1-9 by Hinako Ashihara. After borrowing and reading the first volume of Sand Chronicles from the library, I knew it was a series that I needed to own. I also knew it was going to break my heart and it did, repeatedly—this manga is so good it hurts. The characters must find balance between love and loneliness and selfishness and selflessness. None of them are bad people, but they do have issues to work through. The main story is completed in eight volumes while volumes nine and ten consist of bonus and side stories. Sand Chronicles won the Shogakukan Manga Award in 2004 and it’s seriously one of the best shoujo manga that I’ve read.

Twin Spica, Volumes 2-4 by Kou Yaginuma. I’m really enjoying this manga so far. It’s a quiet series and a bit melancholy at times, but very touching. The art is also lovely and quite good, although its cuteness sometimes seems at odds with the seriousness of the story. The students of the newly instated astronaut training program all face mental, emotional, and physical challenges as they strive to accomplish their dream of traveling to space. Twin Spica is very realistic science fiction, which I appreciate. I like all of the characters, but I think Mr. Lion is probably my favorite. I’m looking forward to reading future volumes as they are released.

Monster, Episodes 1-11 directed by Masayuki Kojima. So far the Monster anime series has been extremely faithful to Naoki Urasawa’s source material. And because the original manga is fantastic, that’s not necessarily a bad thing. Both the animation and the voice acting is solid. Although a few of the voices in the English dub annoy me from time to time, the casting is very well done overall. The soundtrack is also good and I particularly like the opening theme. The anime runs for seventy-four episodes, and I’m interested in seeing how the complex, one-hundred-sixty-two chapter manga will be adapted.