The Angel of Elhamburg

The Angel of ElhamburgCreator: Aki
U.S. publisher: Yen Press
ISBN: 9780316340465
Released: March 2015
Original release: 2013

So far, three of Aki’s manga have been released in English. First was her debut, Utahime, published by Digital Manga. Second was her short series Olympos, released by Yen Press as a single omnibus volume. Most recently published in English is Aki’s The Angel of Elhamburg, initially conceived of as a short, one-shot manga, but expanded to fill an entire volume. Also released by Yen Press, The Angel of Elhamburg is presented in an attractive hardcover edition with a dust jacket with foil accents. The manga was released in Japan in 2013 and in English in 2015. Aki’s manga tend to be historical fantasies with prominent European influences and a fair amount of melancholy and sadness. The Angel of Elhamburg falls into that category as well. Although I sometimes find aspects of Aki’s storytelling frustrating, I largely enjoy her manga and her artwork is consistently beautiful. I was very happy to see The Angel of Elhamburg licensed.

After successfully overthrowing the previous lord, Madeth has become the High King, something that would not have been possible had it not been for the support and efforts of his close friend and knight Lalvan. Madeth has extraordinary charisma—people easily love and willingly follow him—but he is uneducated and of low birth. He lacks the ambition and confidence that one would expect from a ruler. Lalvan, on the other hand, is exceptionally clever and capable. But despite his talents, and his peculiar ability to see spirits invisible to others, Lalvan has always been overshadowed by his friend and most often finds himself in an auxiliary role. Now that Madeth has become king, their relationship has started to fracture as long-hidden and suppressed insecurities, jealousies, and issues of trust threaten to destroy their friendship and perhaps even throw the kingdom into turmoil once more.

The Angel of Elhamburg, page 6Although the title is The Angel of Elhamburg, the role of the angel in the manga—a spirit that watches over Elhamburg Castle, the kingdom’s seat of power—is actually a relatively minor one. The fact that Lalvan can see the angel significantly impacts some of the story and character developments, but the angel itself is not an active character, merely a notable presence. The real focus of The Angel of Elhamburg is on the changing relationship between Lalvan and Madeth, with a particular emphasis given to Lalvan and his perspective of events. This highlighting of the characters is present in Aki’s storytelling as well as in her artwork. Although overall quite lovely, the backgrounds and settings tend to be somewhat limited; more attention is devoted to the characters’ facial expressions and body language, and to the details of their clothing and design. Because the manga’s focus is so much on people as individuals, The Angel of Elhamburg often feels very intimate and personal.

The Angel of Elhamburg is told in five scenes, or chapters. I particularly liked the structure of the first which is further divided into three acts following Lalvan, Madeth, and the angel respectively. However, once Aki decided to expand the manga, the narrative deviates from this initial structure and becomes more linear until the last scene. The final chapter is a little confusing at first since its use of flashbacks and flash-forwards obscures the story’s chronology. The Angel of Elhamburg is a bittersweet tragedy. With the manga’s classical feel and theatric nature, I could easily see it being adapted as a stage production. The rise and fall of a kingdom serves as the backdrop for the interpersonal drama and conflict, which is the true heart of the manga. There is a story, but The Angel of Elhamburg is probably best described as a character study. The Angel of Elhamburg excels in conveying the depth of Lalvan and Madeth’s individual personalities and fears, ultimately showing an established and evolving relationship that is believably complicated.

My Week in Manga: July 9-July 15, 2012

My News and Reviews

I managed to post the most recent Library Love was last week. Similar in format to my weekly quick takes, I’m trying to feature Library Love posts on a bi-monthly schedule, so you can look forward to the next one sometime in September. I also posted my first in-depth manga review for the month, Shigeru Mizuki’s semi-autobiographical work NonNonBa. It’s a lovely tribute to the woman who inspired his love of yokai. And speaking of Shigeru Mizuki! Another of his semi-autobiographical manga, Onward Towards Our Noble Deaths, was honored with the 2012 Eisner Award for Best U.S. Edition of International Material—Asia! Also, Katsuhiro Otomo was inducted into the Eisner Award Hall of Fame.

On to a couple of interesting things I came across online! Over at the Maga UK Anime blog, Helen McCarthy (author of The Art of Osamu Tezuka) has a great article looking at Monkey from The Journey to the West (which I finished reading relatively recently) and his appearances in Japanese film, manga, and anime—Monkeying Around. Library Journal has an interview with Prison Librarian Philip Ephraim on the Positive Effects of Comics. Manga is particularly popular at the prison where he works. Over the weekend PictureBox announced a very exciting license. Currently scheduled for next spring, I’m looking forward to the release of The Passion of Gengoroh Tagame: The Master of Bara Manga a great deal. I am absolutely thrilled to see bara being licensed in English. And finally, don’t forget about the upcoming Clamp Manga Moveable Feast which begins next Monday!

Quick Takes

Bónd(z) by Tōko Kawai. Bónd(z) collects four of Kawai’s boys’ love shorts: “[bónd(z)],” “Situation,” “Kitan Garden,” and “Sakura.” Despite being part of Digital Manga’s 801 imprint, Bónd(z) is actually fairly tame when it comes to graphic sexual content; the most explicit probably being a genital piercing. The first two stories in the collection were my favorite. Coincidentally, they both involved a pair of best friends coming to terms with the fact that their relationship is more than just that. However, Kawai takes two very different approaches with the stories. “Kitan Garden” is a fluffy and somewhat unusual fantasy. “Sakura” is the oldest work and the least accomplished, but it still has its moments.

Get Jiro! written by Anthony Bourdain and Joel Rose and illustrated by Langdon Foss. I was both a little hesitant and excited when I learned about Get Jiro! Ultimately I decided to give it a try, and I’m glad that I did. Although not without its problems—several plot elements are rushed or not entirely developed, particularly during the story’s climax—Get Jiro! is great, violent, bloody fun. (There’s even a nod to Akira in there.) Jiro is a phenomenal, and deadly, sushi master who isn’t about to let the other chefs-cum-crime lords in a future Los Angeles boss him around. Get Jiro! takes foodie culture to absurd extremes and has a great potential to offend some readers along the way if they would decide to take the comic too seriously. I had a blast reading it, though.

Hikaru no Go, Volumes 21-23 written by Yumi Hotta and illustrated by Takeshi Obata. Everything that takes place after the seventeenth volume of Hikaru no Go seems to me more like an extended epilogue rather than a part of the main story. However, these final volumes do provide a satisfying conclusion to the series as a whole. I respect that Hotta dared to take a more realistic approach to the ending instead of taking an easier way out. Even if you have no interest in or knowledge of go, I do recommend giving Hikaru no Go a chance. It’s a great series. The characters are so enthusiastic that I found myself easily swept up in their excitement about go and their struggles to become the best players they can.

Olympos by Aki. I was fairly obsessed with Greek mythology in high school, so I was looking forward to reading the omnibus edition of Olympos. The manga isn’t a strict retelling of any of the Greek myths; instead, Aki primarily uses the various gods and settings to create her own tale. Unfortunately, it ends up being too lofty and semi-philosophical for its own good. Occasionally, something interesting or thought-provoking would catch my attention, but for the most part I wasn’t engaged enough that I wanted to make the effort to follow the characters’ circular conversations. However, Aki does nail the capricious natures of the gods and her artwork is gorgeous. Yen Press’ attention to the physical production and quality of the manga makes for a beautiful volume.

The Legend of Korra, Episodes 1-12 created by Michael Dante DiMartino and Bryan Konietzko. I am a huge fan of Avatar: The Last Airbender. I was very excited when I heard that the creators were returning to that world with The Legend of Korra, taking place about seventy years later. Except for the last five minutes or so of the last episode and a couple of casting choices, I was not disappointed with the new series. I particularly enjoyed the updated setting which shows evolution not only in technology but in bending as well. The Legend of Korra is readily accessible to those who never saw its predecessor, but those who have will appreciate some of the nods and references made to it. 

Tsuritama directed by Kenji Nakamura. Local legends, social anxiety, fishing, and aliens—an odd combination that Tsuritama somehow manages to make work. The first half of the series is a coming-of-age story while the second half spins off into a hunt for aliens. From the very beginning Tsuritama was a strange series, so the shift in direction actually flows pretty well. Some of the quirkiness did seem a bit forced—a few plot and design elements are outlandish without much justification—but I enjoyed Tsuritama immensely. I couldn’t help but watch it with a grin on my face. Visually, the series is a treat with great animation and an appealing style. The story being told can be a bit silly (which I don’t at all consider a bad thing) and Tsuritama looks good doing it.

My Week in Manga: April 4-April 10, 2011

My News and Reviews

There’s not much news from me this week, not that there ever really is, but I did announce the winner of the Omnivorous Old Boy manga giveaway. Not very many people entered this time ’round, which makes me sad, but there were some good entries. The other post from last week was my review of Royall Tyler’s translation of Murasaki Shikibu’s The Tale of Genji. Reading The Tale of Genji has been a goal of mine for a while now and I am very proud of myself for completing it. It is a project, but I’d encourage others to give The Tale of Genji a try. However, while I was very happy with Tyler’s translation, it might not be the right one for you. I found a fantastic post at Kitsune’s Thoughts that is very helpful in deciding on a translation to pursue: How to Choose English Translation of The Tale of Genji.

As for other great things online, The Manga Critic posted about The 2011 Eisner Nominees for Manga and Manhwa. I read and enjoyed Usagi Yojimbo: The Special Edition by Stan Sakai, so a recently completed four-part interview with him at The Daily Cross Hatch caught my eye: Part 1, Part 2, Part 3, Part 4.

Also, coming up later this month is the Manga Moveable Feast for April 2011. Instead of focusing on a specific series, this time we’ll be focusing on a specific creator—Rumiko Takahashi. Rob McMonigal of Panel Patter will be hosting the Feast and has put out the First Call for Call for the Rumiko Takahashi Manga Moveable Feast! Also of note is Rob’s year long Takahashi spotlight: A Year of Rumiko Takahashi.

Quick Takes

The Tyrant Falls in Love, Volumes 1-2 by Hinako Takanaga. The Tyrant Falls in Love is a spin-off/continuation of Takanaga’s debut series Challengers. It is however, much more explicit than the first series. The tone, too, is much more serious, although some of the humor from the original series remains. The Tyrant Falls in Love follows two side characters from Challengers but happily Tomoe and Kurokawa have a brief guest appearance, too. Tatsumi is still an incredibly violent homophobe and Morinaga reveals just how much of a manipulative bastard he can be (sad, but true.) Morinaga’s character is further developed in volume two when we get to learn a bit more about his family and past. 

Utahime: The Songstress by Aki. I don’t remember where I first heard about Utahime, but this one-shot manga was a very pleasant surprise. I wasn’t blown away by it by any means, but it is a solid fantasy that I thoroughly enjoyed. I also liked the artwork and character designs. Their personalities and interactions were also very well done. Kain’s very existence as an unheard of male songstress calls into question the validity of his country’s policies regarding the treatment of songstresses. Finally, the assumptions and traditions begin to be challenged. In addition to the main story, there is unrelated short included in the volume called “Darika” that I also quite enjoyed.

Vassalord, Volume 4 by Nanae Chrono. So, Vassalord still doesn’t make a lot of sense, although it looks like a semi-coherent plot-line might actually be developing out of the bizarrely addicting mess. A few story elements are starting to pull together, but it really feels like Chono is just making things up as she goes. Though, I guess that’s probably not too surprising for a series that was based on a pinup illustration. Fortunately, or perhaps unfortunately, her artwork and characters make for great eye candy with some pretty heavy boys’ love and yuri-ish overtones. So, yeah, I’ll probably keep reading it if Tokyopop keeps publishing it in English. The relationships between characters are certainly fascinating.

Wish, Volumes 1-4 by CLAMP. Wish is a delightful, lesser known short series from the immensely popular creative team CLAMP. I know quite a few people who absolutely hate the translation decisions made for this series, particularly the choice of pronouns (the demons and angels are technically genderless.) I didn’t find the translation to be too bad, but the lettering is absolutely terrible. It unfortunately distracts from what is otherwise a very nice series with a lovely story, endearing characters, and great art. CLAMP throws in some interesting red herrings but when the truth is finally revealed it all makes sense. I kind of hope Dark Horse picks up this series for one their fabulous CLAMP omnibus treatments.

Chi’s Sweet Home: Chi’s New Address, Episodes 53-104 directed by Mitsuyuki Masuhara. I love the Chi’s Sweet Home manga series so it’s probably not surprising that I really enjoy the anime adaptation, too. They are both so freakin’ adorable. Although the animation is fairly simple, sticking close to the charming artwork of the original, they don’t forget to include wonderful details like the flicking of Chi’s ears. Also, the anime’s theme song is marvelously catching; I’m willing to watch the opening for every episode, and it makes me giggle every single time. Each episode is only about three minutes long (including the opening), but the bite-sized installments seem somehow appropriate for the pint-sized Chi.

Spice & Wolf: Season One directed by Takeo Takahashi. The first season of the Spice & Wolf anime covers the first two volumes of the light novel series. The anime stays true to the heart of the original but also includes some nice changes, interpretations, and twists of its own. Overall, I wasn’t particularly taken with the primary animation and character designs although I really liked the backgrounds and landscapes. I did find the economic theories and strategies easier to follow in the anime than I did in the books, but that may have been because I already knew what was going on. The near constant bantering and teasing between Holo and Lawrence is still there; I really adore those two together.