The Girl from the Other Side: Siúil, a Rún, Volume 1

The Girl from the Other Side: Siúil, a Rún, Volume 1Creator: Nagabe
Translator: Adrienne Beck
Adapter: Ysabet Reinhardt MacFarlane
U.S. publisher: Seven Seas
ISBN: 9781626924673
Released: January 2017
Original run: 2016

The Girl from the Other Side: Siúil, a Rún by Nagabe was easily one of my most anticipated manga debuts of 2017. Nagabe is known as a creator of somewhat unusual or unorthodox manga, The Girl form the Other Side easily fitting into that category. (Nagabe’s work was actually first brought to my attention thanks to a series of beautifully drawn boys’ love doujinshi featuring birds.) The first volume of The Girl from the Other Side was originally published in Japan in 2016, while the English-language edition was released by Seven Seas early in 2017. The quality of the physical release is admittedly a little disappointing–the cover stock feels ephemeral and ink tends to smudge and transfer between pages (granted, this does at least seem to be thematically appropriate)–but I’m thrilled that The Girl from the Other Side is being translated at all. It’s also worth noting that the manga does share some obvious parallels with another unusual series, Kore Yamazaki’s The Ancient Magus’ Bride, but even considering their similarities they are quite different from each another.

Once upon a time, two kingdoms existed in a world divided into the Outside and the Inside. Humans live on the Inside behind a wall intended to keep the monstrous Outsiders and the dark curse associated with them at bay. Coming into contact with an Outsider is to be avoided at all costs; to do otherwise means risking ones’ life and humanity. But the darkness of the Outside is slowly encroaching upon the light of the Inside. Humans are succumbing to a cursed disease and are abandoning entire villages as they unsuccessfully try to flee from it. Out of fear and suspicion, people have started to turn against one another in a desperate effort to survive. In the midst of this turmoil is a young girl, Shiva. Unexpectedly left behind in an area which is now considered a part of the Outside, she is waiting to be reunited with her family. In a peculiar twist of fate, Shiva is being guarded and cared for by an inhuman Outsider who she simply calls “Teacher.” The circumstances are unusual and dangerous for them both as Shiva’s safety becoming more and more difficult to guarantee the longer she remains on the Outside, set apart from others.

 The Girl from the Other Side: Siúil, a Rún, Volume 1, page 32The fact that Shiva’s very life is in danger is clear from the beginning of The Girl from the Other Side. As a sort of prologue, the manga opens with her being warned of the curse brought by the touch of an Outsider while the first panel of the story-proper shows her lying listless on the stump of a tree. She has only fallen asleep, but the visual cues of the scene are closely reminiscent of death. An ominous feeling of uncertainty–is Shiva actually alive or is she dead, how much of her world is real and how much of it is a fairytale–pervades The Girl from the Other Side. Shiva is young enough that she doesn’t completely understand everything that is happening to her and doesn’t know enough to be afraid. But as she experiences more her awareness grows, even when Teacher tries to shield her from life’s harsher realities. Likewise, readers gain more knowledge as the underlying truths of Shiva’s situation are slowly revealed. However, they don’t have Teacher to soften the blows for them. To some extent Shiva’s innocence protects her from the tragedy and heartbreak inherent to The Girl from the Other Side which is so obvious from an outside perspective.

The Girl from the Other Side is incredibly atmospheric, a beautiful and surprisingly gentle and charming story which simultaneously manages to be disconcerting and unsettling. The series is very dark, in both theme and illustration. There is a tremendous amount of ink on the manga’s pages–the oppressive shadow of death which haunts the story is reinforced visually, the darkness permeating the scenes. Shiva, with her light-colored hair and dressed in white, stands apart from the unwelcoming environment. She is obviously out of place, separate from what is around her. In contrast, Teacher is clothed in black and at times is barely discernible from the background. But although an Outsider and demonic in form, Teacher is Shiva’s only hope, trying to safeguard her from anyone who would seek to do her harm. Their strange yet sweet and endearing relationship is core to The Girl on the Other Side. The life that they have, no matter how impermanent, carries great weight as they face an uncertain future together. The Girl from the Other Side is a gorgeous and striking work; I can’t wait for the next volume to be released.

Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland and Through the Looking-Glass

Alice's Adventures in Wonderland and Through the Looking-GlassAuthor: Lewis Carroll
Illustrator: Kriss Sison

U.S. publisher: Seven Seas
ISBN: 9781626920613
Released: August 2014
Original release: 1865, 1871

Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland and Through the Looking-Glass and What Alice Found There are two well-loved, oft-adapted, and extremely influential novels written by Lewis Carroll, the pseudonym of English author Charles Lutwidge, in 1865 and 1871 respectively. I was initially a little surprised when Seven Seas announced that it would be publishing a newly illustrated omnibus edition of the novels in 2014, especially as the company had moved away from publishing prose works in recent years in order to focus on manga and other comics. However, the novels do nicely complement Seven Seas’ releases of the various Alice in the Country of manga. What makes Seven Seas’ edition of Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland and Through the Looking-Glass stand out from others are the incredibly cute and charming manga-influenced illustrations by Kriss Sison, an International Manga Award-winning artist from the Philippines. In addition to a gallery of color artwork, hundreds of black-and-white illustrations can be found throughout the volume.

Alice was enjoying a leisurely afternoon on a riverbank with her older sister when a very curious thing happened—a rabbit with a pocket watch hurries by talking to itself. When Alice follows after it she tumbles down a rabbit hole to find herself in a very strange place indeed. What else is there to do for an inquisitive and adventurous young girl but to go exploring? And so she does. As Alice wanders about she discovers food and drink that cause her to grow and shrink, animals of all sizes and shapes that can talk, and people who have very peculiar ways of thinking about and approaching life. Eventually she returns home to her sister, but several months later she finds herself once again slipping into a fantastical world when she crawls through the mirror above a fireplace mantel. Of course, Alice immediately sets off exploring, encountering even more strange and wondrous things and meeting all sorts of new and perplexing people.

Alice, by Kriss SisonDespite already being familiar with the story of Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland and Through the Looking-Glass (mostly through the seemingly infinite number of adaptations and otherwise Alice-inspired works) and despite having been encouraged for years by devotees of Carroll’s writings, I had never actually read the original novels for myself until I picked up Seven Seas’ edition. I’m really somewhat astonished that it took me so long to do so and it truly is a shame that I didn’t get around to it sooner. Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland and Through the Looking-Glass is absolutely marvelous and an utter joy to read. It’s easy to see why the novels have been treasured and continue to be treasured by so many people for well over a century. The books are incredibly imaginative and delightfully clever. Carroll liberally employs puns and other wordplay, turning nonsense into logic and vice versa. Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland and Through the Looking-Glass has been translated into something like seventy different languages; though certainly worthwhile, I can’t imagine these interpretations were easy to accomplish due to the novels’ linguistic complexities.

What particularly impresses me about Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland and Through the Looking-Glass are the novels’ broad appeal. Both children and adults can easily enjoy the works. Younger readers will likely be amused and drawn to their silliness while more mature readers will be able to more fully appreciate the cleverness of Carroll’s prose, poetry, and song. I would wholeheartedly encourage just about anyone to read Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland and Through the Looking-Glass. Even without counting the multitude of adapted works, there are a huge number of editions of the original two novels available. There is bound to be a version that will appeal, whether it be Martin Gardner’s extensively annotated editions, which reveal references that modern readers are apt to miss, or one of the many illustrated releases. While I may one day move on to The Annotated Alice, I was very pleased with Seven Seas’ Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland and Through the Looking-Glass. Carroll’s novels and Sison’s illustrations are a delightful combination. I am very glad to have finally read the novels and anticipate reading them again with much enjoyment.

Boogiepop at Dawn

Boogiepop at DawnAuthor: Kouhei Kadono
Illustrator: Kouji Ogata

Translator: Andrew Cunningham
U.S. publisher: Seven Seas
ISBN: 9781934876060
Released: August 2008
Original release: 1999

Technically, Boogiepop at Dawn is the sixth volume in Kouhei Kadono’s series of Boogiepop light novels illustrated by Kouji Ogata, however it serves as a prequel to the entire work. Seven Seas jumped to releasing Boogiepop at Dawn after publishing the first three Boogiepop novels in English—Boogiepop and Others and Boogiepop Returns: VS Imaginator, Part 1 and Part 2. It was a decision that made sense: the entire series wasn’t able to be translated, Boogiepop at Dawn ties in directly with the early novels, and the volume was partially the basis for the Boogiepop Phantom anime. Boogiepop at Dawn was originally published in Japan in 1999 while Andrew Cunningham’s English translation was released by Seven Seas in 2008 (two years after the first three books). I discovered the Boogiepop franchise late, after the novels and manga available in English had already gone out of print, but I have still been thoroughly enjoying the series and looked forward to reading Boogiepop at Dawn

As an agent working for the secretive Towa Organization, Scarecrow is responsible for finding other humans who, like him, have extraordinary psychic and physical abilities and strengths. The Towa Organization is very interested in these remarkable people; by controlling them it hopes to control the course of human evolution. Scarecrow’s search is made easier by the fact that he poses as Kuroda Shinpei, a private detective; he is able to continue his primary investigation while working more mundane cases. Scarecrow meets Kirima Nagi, a young woman who has been hospitalized with an undiagnosed but painful condition, while searching for evidence against another Towa agent whose loyalty has been called into question. Nagi has the potential to become one of those exceptional, highly-evolved people he is searching for, but instead of reporting her to the Towa Organization, Scarecrow decides to go against his orders, saving her life by risking his own and triggering a sequence of events that will leave multiple people dead.

Boogiepop at Dawn, page 7Although Boogiepop at Dawn is a prequel, it really is intended to be read by those who are already familiar with Boogiepop in general and with the first few volumes of the series specifically. But for those readers who are, Boogiepop at Dawn is spectacular and a very satisfying addition. Ostensibly the volume is the origin story of Boogipeop—a supernatural entity in conflict with the Towa Organization who is also keeping watch over the super-evolved humans, destroying them when necessary—and to a small extent it is. But Boogiepop actually makes very few appearances in the volume. However, Boogiepop at Dawn does provide an extensive background for another of the series’ primary characters, Nagi, and explains the purpose of the Towa Organization. Many of the other protagonists and antagonists from the earlier Boogiepop novels make a showing as well, which ties everything together very nicely. I was particularly pleased to learn more about Nagi’s father, Kirima Seiichi, an author of peculiar importance to the series whose story hasn’t been fully revealed until now.

Boogiepop at Dawn is a collection of four closely connected narratives with an additional framing story that bookends the volume. Most of the stories focus on Nagi, either directly or tangentially. Much like the other Boogiepop novels, Boogiepop at Dawn employs elements from a number of different genres, but it may safely be called speculative fiction as a whole. All melded together in the volume are bits of mystery and detective work, horror, action and martial arts, the supernatural, and science fiction. Boogiepop at Dawn is engaging and at times chillingly dark with heavy psychological components. The individual stories are seen from different perspectives, at various points following Scarecrow, Seiichi, a serial murderer, and an assassin. Boogiepop is mostly a presence in the background, but an important one nonetheless. Boogiepop at Dawn is also similar to the earlier volumes of the series in that it does not adhere to a strictly chronological structure, but it’s fascinating to seen the beginnings of the plot threads that will become so entangled in the other novels.

Boogiepop Returns: VS Imaginator, Part 2

Boogiepop Returns: VS Imaginator, Part 2Author: Kouhei Kadono
Illustrator: Kouji Ogata

Translator: Andrew Cunningham
U.S. publisher: Seven Seas
ISBN: 9781933164236
Released: October 2006
Original release: 1998

Boogiepop Returns: VS Imaginator, Part 2 is the third volume in the Boogiepop light novel series written by Kouhei Kadono and illustrated by Kouji Ogata. It is also the third out of four Boogiepop novels to have been released in English. Translated by Andrew Cunningham, the second part of Boogiepop Returns was published by Seven Seas in 2006. In Japan, the volume was released in 1998, the same year as the first two books in the series. Boogiepop Returns is actually a two-part story, and so after reading the first novel in the arc I was particularly anxious to read the second. With all of the setup and steadily increasing tension in the first part, the story needed a conclusion and the final volume of the arc promised to deliver just that. Boogiepop is kind of an odd series which freely mixes the surreal with the real, making use of multiple genres in the process. But it’s also a series that I find peculiarly appealing because of that and because of its willingness to explore the more troubling aspects of the psyche.

A year ago a young woman committed suicide under the influence of an entity known only as the Imaginator. Her life was ended when, being pursued by Boogiepop, the Imaginator failed to change the world through her. But now the Imaginator has returned to inspire yet another person, this time with much greater success. Asukai Jin, with the Imaginator as a catalyst, has begun to use his unique abilities to not only read the hearts of other people but to manipulate them as well. Meanwhile, the mysterious Towa Organization also has a vested interest in the direction humankind is taking. Spooky E, a synthetic human and one of its agents, is actively hunting Boogiepop in order to prevent the spirit’s interference with the organization’s affairs. In an effort to draw Boogiepop out, he has arranged for the love-besotted Taniguchi Masaki to serve as a decoy by impersonating Boogiepop. Masaki didn’t initially realize he was being used as a pawn, and even if he had there was very little he could do to stop the developing crisis.

Despite the title being Boogiepop Returns, the real Boogiepop actually plays a very small albeit very important role in the two novels and is mostly relegated to the edges of the narrative while the other players take center stage. Granted, when Boogiepop finally does make an entrance during the second volume’s finale, it’s pretty spectacular. But until then the story largely follows the more mundane characters, the seemingly normal teenagers who have been caught up in the battle over the fate of humanity and who frequently are the victims of the supernatural and superhuman forces at work. At the same time, they are also dealing with their own personal issues and troubled relationships. In many ways I actually found these smaller struggles to be more emotionally immediate than the novel’s grander schemes, probably because they’re more relatable and the more realistic elements help to ground the stranger aspects of the Boogiepop series.

The doomed love story between Masaki and the girl he likes, Orihata Aya, has always been an important part of Boogiepop Returns but it become especially prominent in the second volume. It is because of his love for her that he “becomes” Boogiepop, his feelings and the burgeoning romance becoming closely entwined with the larger events of the novel. The second part of Boogiepop Returns has some fantastic fights and action sequences, but the  novel also has deeper contemplative and philosophical aspects to it as well. Employing the trappings of science fiction and the supernatural, the Boogiepop novels explore thought-provoking themes of free will, personal identity, the individual’s place within society, sacrifice, and what it truly means to be human. The characters are all damaged or suffering in some way but it’s how they choose to live their lives despite that pain that makes them who they are and makes Boogiepop Returns such an interesting and at times even compelling story.

Boogiepop Returns: VS Imaginator, Part 1

Boogiepop Returns: VS Imaginator, Part 1Author: Kouhei Kadono
Illustrator: Kouji Ogata

Translator: Andrew Cunningham
U.S. publisher: Seven Seas
ISBN: 9781933164205
Released: June 2006
Original release: 1998

After reading Boogiepop and Others, I knew that I needed to read the rest of Kouhei Kadono’s Boogiepop light novel series, or at least all of the volumes that had been released in English. Sadly, out of the more than a dozen volumes, only four of the novels were ever translated and it is unlikely that any others will be. Boogiepop Returns: VS Imaginator, Part 1 is the second Boogiepop novel and the first volume in a two-part story arc. The novel was originally published in Japan in 1998, the same year that the award-winning Boogiepop and Others was released. The English translation of the first part of Boogiepop Returns by Andrew Cunningham was published by Seven Seas in 2006. Seven Seas was also the publisher that released the other three Boogiepop novels available in English as well as some of the Boogiepop manga adaptations (which I have yet to read). Technically, all of those Boogiepop books have gone out of print, but fortunately most of the volumes are still fairly easy to find.

When she was only seventeen, Minahoshi Suiko plummeted from the rooftop of Shinyo Academy. Initially it was believed to have been a suicide, but rumors start circulating among the students that it may have been murder or perhaps something even more sinister, something that is compelling others to follow in Minahoshi’s footsteps. It wouldn’t be the only time that Shinyo Academy has faced inhuman and supernatural influences resulting in tragedy and death. Asukai Jin is a counselor at a local cram school which is attended by several Shinyo Academy students. He seems to be able to look into the hearts of those seeking his aid, offering advice that is uncannily appropriate for each student and their specific situations. The odd ability which allows Asukai to see the flaws of others while being blind to his own has drawn the attention of the same forces a work at Shinyo Academy. The only thing that stands in the way of those forces is the fabled spirit of death Boogiepop, but there are those who are hunting Boogiepop down in order to prevent any sort of interference.

One of the things that I particularly enjoyed about Boogiepop and Others was its narrative structure, and so I was happy to see the first part of Boogiepop Returns use a similar one. Specifically, the story continues to be seen from the perspective of multiple characters, although in this volume the chronology is slightly less disjointed overall. The events in Boogiepop Returns take place both before and after those in Boogiepop and Others. (A handy timeline included in the back of the volume helps to make this all clear.) Although the plots of each novel aren’t directly related, the events of the first are alluded to in the second and both volumes do share some of the same characters. However, the importance of the characters’ individual roles has shifted somewhat. Taniguchi Masaki, for example, was a side character in the first Boogiepop novel; he wasn’t much more than a stepbrother to another important character. But in Boogiepop Returns he is one of the leads in the volume’s ill-fated love story.

The Boogiepop series has a fascinating mix of genres—science fiction, horror, mystery, and even a bit of romance all make an appearance in the novels. There are strong psychological elements and strange and bizarre occurrences, too. I didn’t find the second Boogiepop novel to be quite as dark as the first, but it could still be thoroughly disconcerting and it was consistently engaging. Because Boogiepop Returns is a two-part arc, most of the first volume is spent setting the stage and introducing the major players. At this point the significance of some of the events is still unclear and far more questions have been raised than have been answered. It’s difficult to say just exactly what is going on and perhaps even more challenging to anticipate what will happen next. This will probably either frustrate readers immensely or intrigue them. (As for me, I was intensely intrigued.) Much like Boogiepop and Others, the first part of Boogiepop Returns is peculiar and unsettling. I’m very curious to see how the story will continue to develop in the second volume.