My Week in Manga: May 15-May 21, 2017

My News and Reviews

Other than the usual My Week in Manga, I didn’t manage to post any other features at Experiments in Manga last week. This was largely expected since I’m still catching up from my trip to the Toronto Comic Arts Festival. I have, however, been working on writing up some of my random musings about this year’s festival and hope to have those ready to post within the next few days. There is one thing that happened last week that I’d definitely like to share with everyone, though: the artwork that I commissioned from KaiJu was finished!

KaiJu Tokyo Demons Commission

The illustration is of the characters Sachi and Kadoyuki from Lianne Sentar’s Tokyo Demons, a series which I love very, very much. I’m also quite fond of KaiJu’s original work as well, some of which I’ve previously reviewed here at Experiments in Manga. The creative team’s current comic is Novae which is absolutely wonderful and well-worth checking out.

Elsewhere online: Lilian Min talks to Jane Mai and An Nguyen about their new book So Pretty / Very Rotten in the article The Complex Femininity of Japanese Lolita Fashion. One of Tofugu’s most recent podcasts, Interpreting for Osamu Tezuka, features Frederick L. Schodt. Also at Tofugu, manga translator Zack Davisson has some advice for learning Japanese. Speaking of Davisson, he’ll be translating two of Seven Sea’s recently announced acquisitions: Go Nagai’s original Devilman manga series (this is huge!) as well as Go Nagai and Team Moon’s Devilman vs. Hades manga. In other licensing news, Viz Media will be releasing Hinodeya Sankichi’s Splatoon manga.

Quick Takes

Flying Witch, Volume 1Flying Witch, Volume 1 by Chihiro Ishizuka. I was only vaguely aware of Flying Witch before Vertical Comics licensed the manga; although I haven’t actually watched it, a twelve-episode anime adaptation of the series first aired a little over a year ago. Flying Witch is a manga about Makoto, a fifteen-year-old witch who has moved to the country to stay with her relatives while she completes her magic training. She’s a bit of an airhead and has a terrible sense of direction, but she’s earnest and kind and quick to make friends with the locals. The focus of Flying Witch is on the everyday lives of Makoto, her relatives, and friends. It’s a gentle and harmless manga that much of the time isn’t even about magic though it can still occasionally be charming. The manga’s artwork, much like the story itself, is functional but not particularly distinctive and even the worldbuilding is somewhat lacking. Flying Witch isn’t a bad series, but it didn’t really grab me, either. Granted, I don’t have a particular interest in witches. However, I did really like the series’ countryside setting. Additionally, The Harbinger of Spring, a nature spirit introduced in one of the final chapters of the first volume, was a fascinating addition and easily my favorite part of the manga.

Jane EyreJane Eyre adapted by Crystal Silvermoon Chan and illustrated by SunNeko Lee. Charlotte Brontë’s Jane Eyre holds a very special place in my heart; I first read it in high school and it remains one of my favorite novels. To varying degrees, I’ve enjoyed the numerous films, novels, comics, and other works inspired by Jane Eyre that I’ve encountered as well. And so I was very curious to read one of the most recent adaptations, Chan and Lee’s Jane Eyre comic from Udon Entertainment’s Manga Classics line. (This is the same creative team which worked on the adaptation of Victor Hugo’s Les Misérables, one of Manga Classics debut titles.) Though overall Lee’s artwork is attractive, I wasn’t entirely satisfied by the character designs of the leads–Jane as a young woman doesn’t look much older than when she was a child, and Mr. Rochester comes across as too traditionally handsome. Other than that relatively minor complaint, Chan and Lee’s Jane Eyre remains true to Brontë’s original and is an enjoyable and very accessible rendition. Some small changes have been made, as Chan describes in the essay about the adaptation process, but all the major characterization and plot points remain. The volume also includes additional historical background information. Now I really want to reread the novel again.

Sherlock, Volume 1: A Study in PinkSherlock, Volume 1: A Study in Pink by Jay. I believe Sherlock is the very first manga to be released by Titan Comics, recently followed by Yano Takashi and Kenji Oiwa’s Assassin’s Creed: Awakening. The fact that Titan isn’t a typical manga publisher and hasn’t released many manga may partly explain why Jay’s adaptation of the BBC’s television series Sherlock was first released in English as six individual comic issues before being collected into a single volume. Titan’s catalog largely consists of comic adaptations of Western television and video game franchises, so Jay’s Sherlock fits in nicely with the rest. Sherlock is a modern reimagining of Sir Arthur Conan Doyle’s Sherlock Holmes stories, A Study in Pink influenced heavily by Doyle’s novel A Study in Scarlet. It’s been a while since I’ve actually watched A Study in Pink, but Jay’s interpretation does seem to be a very faithful one, including character designs that are based on the show’s actors, most notably Benedict Cumberbatch (Sherlock) and Martin Freeman (Watson). Some of the action can be a little difficult to follow, but otherwise I largely enjoyed Jay’s version of A Study in Pink. However, because it is such a close adaptation and nothing much is added or taken away I’m not entirely sure who the best or intended audience for the Sherlock manga would be; most people would likely be satisfied with the original episode.

Yamada-kun and the Seven Witches, Volume 10Yamada-kun and the Seven Witches, Volumes 10-12 by Miki Yoshikawa. From the beginning Yamada-kun and the Seven Witches wasn’t without its problems, but I thoroughly enjoyed the first part of the manga. However, I’m now starting to find the series somewhat wearisome even though there are some things that are quite well done and that I still like about it. With these three volumes, Yoshikawa brings the second major story arc of Yamada-kun and the Seven Witches to a close and begins yet another one. To the Yoshikawa’s credit, each time the story is more or less restarted it makes logical sense, but at this point it feels like the series is being stretched out far longer than it was originally intended. (I suspect that Yamada-kun and the Seven Witches may be a victim of its own popularity and success.) The first story arc was highly entertaining, but I wasn’t as impressed with the second and the third hasn’t instilled much confidence in me that it will greatly improve. On top of that, the manga’s fanservice has become more and more forced as the series has progressed. Where at one point it was incorporated well into the story, more recently the fanservice is haphazard at best. Because at first I did greatly enjoy Yamada-kun and the Seven Witches and appreciated its gender play and themes of friendship, it saddens me to see the series’ decline.

Adaptation Adventures: Udon Entertainment’s Manga Classics

One day long ago when I was still very small my parents brought home for me a box filled with Great Illustrated Classics—small, compact adaptations of classic literature with illustrations on almost every other page intended to introduce younger readers to some of the great, influential stories of the Western canon. I devoured them. It’s largely thanks to that series that I became so well versed in the classics. When I was older I would go on to read the originals of some of my favorites. And even those that I never got around to, I became familiar enough with their stories that I could hold my own in conversation and understand references made to them.

Literacy is something that I care very deeply about. Closely related to that, I also feel that exposure to the classic stories that have gone on to become such an integral and influential part of Western culture and world literature is important. However, I realize how intimidating those classics can be, especially for those who are reluctant readers to being with, or who simply don’t enjoy the authors’ styles of writing or find the length of some of the originals to be formidable. Because of that, I believe that efforts to adapt these stories in a way that is more approachable and appealing to a larger audience can be extremely valuable, which brings me to Manga Classics.

Manga Classics

Manga Classics is a line of graphic novel adaptations jointly released by Udon Entertainment and Morpheus Publishing. Their aim is to present faithful, high-quality adaptations of classic stories in a format intended to be especially appealing to young adults—that is, full-length, manga-style graphic novels. Udon isn’t the only publisher to attempt something similar to this. Recently I’ve seen other comics, graphic novel, and manga adaptations of classics released by publishers like Marvel and One Peace Books (to provide just two examples) with varying levels of success.

Strong adaptations can be notoriously difficult to achieve. Purists will often outright shun adaptations as they almost never carry the same nuance and complexity found in the source material or because they may stray too far from the original. Adaptations are especially challenging when trying to present a story in an entirely different medium, such as adapting prose into comics or film. For me, I consider an adaptation to be a great one if it is entertaining and engaging in its own right while at the same time inspiring readers (or viewers) to seek out the original stories. I feel that Manga Classics’ first two adaptations have accomplished this.

Pride & PrejudiceThe Manga Classics series debuted in 2014 with adaptations of Jane Austen’s Pride & Prejudice and Victor Hugo’s Les Misérables. Out of the two, I am most familiar with Pride & Prejudice. I’ve read the original, I’ve seen many of its film and television adaptations (if you’ve not already discovered the recent webseries The Lizzie Bennet Diaries, I highly recommend it), and back in high school I was actually even a main cast member in a Pride & Prejudice stage production.

The original Pride & Prejudice was first published in England in 1813. The story follows Elizabeth Bennet, the second-oldest daughter of an English family with a country estate outside of London. Elizabeth’s mother is determined to see her five daughters married, and married well, so when the wealthy (and young) bachelor Mr. Bingley moves into the neighborhood, her scheming immediately begins. Fortunately, Bingley and Jane, the eldest Bennet daughter, hit it off. Unfortunately, due to some misunderstandings and interference from Bingley’s best friend Mr. Darcy, their romance is cut short. And because of that, Elizabeth’s opinion of Darcy suffers greatly, not that she held him in very high regard to begin with. To add to the awkwardness, Darcy, to his dismay, seems to have developed feelings for Elizabeth. Things get even more complicated from there as manners, social standing, morals, and some very strong personalities come into play before the Bennet daughters find their way in life and love.

Elizabeth Bennet and (blushing!) Mr. Darcy

Elizabeth Bennet and (blushing!) Mr. Darcy

Reading the Manga Classics version of Pride & Prejudice reminded me how much I enjoy the original novel, its story, and its characters. I was also struck by how perfectly Austen’s work is suited for shoujo. The story has been adapted by Stacy King and illustrated by Po Tse. The narrative has been slimmed down and largely focuses on Elizabeth and the ups and downs of her delightfully antagonistic relationship with Darcy. All of the major plot points are still there although some of the other characters (such as Elizabeth’s younger sisters) aren’t as fully developed. But the story still works and works quite well. The only thing I didn’t really like about Manga Classics’ Pride & Prejudice was the portrayal of Mr. Collins, the heir to the Bennet estate. To some extent he serves as the story’s comic relief, but he comes across as too much of a caricature in the graphic novel (visually and narratively) which clashes in style from the rest of the comic. Generally though, Po Tse’s artwork is quite lovely and occasionally even stunning. Elizabeth and Jane’s hair is gorgeously drawn and particular attention has been given to Regency period clothing and architecture as well. (A preview of the first chapter is available here!)

Les MisérablesI am much less familiar with Les Misérables. Although I know the basic story of the novel, I’ve never actually read the original. Nor have I seen any of its direct adaptations. However, I have listened to multiple sound recordings of the musical many, many times. I’ve seen the recent 2012 film adaptation of the musical as well, but that’s a couple steps removed from Hugo’s original.

Les Misérables was first published in France in 1862. The novel (one of the longest ever written) is an epic work of historical fiction set in the first half of the 19th-century, a rather tumultuous time in France. The novel begins in 1815 after the defeat of Napoleon Bonaparte and, following a large cast of characters, digressions, and subplots, climaxes with the June 1832 uprising in Paris. The most well-known story out of Les Misérables is that of the ex-convict Jean Valjean, the officer Javert whose goal is to recapture Valjean, and a young orphan girl named Cosette who becomes Valjean’s charge. Those three individuals and their relationships and connections to one another and the rest of the characters form the core of Les Misérables. Politics, religion, economic and social conditions, philosophy, morality, redemption, and love all have an important role to play in the novel as well.

Cosette and Jean Valjean

Cosette and Jean Valjean

Because I’m not as familiar with the original Les Misérables it’s difficult for me definitively say how the Manga Classics’ adaptation directly compares. However, I can say that it reads very well. Most of the subplots have been dropped in favor of the main storyline following the Valjean and Cosette and those who are directly involved with them. The adapter, Crystal Silvermoon, has taken great care to consider other adaptations of Les Misérables in addition to the original in the creation of the graphic novel. Because Les Misérables is so lengthy and complex there would be no possible way to include everything, but the most iconic scenes are all present in the Manga Classics adaptation. Stacy King provided additional assistance with the scripting and SunNeko Lee served as the volume’s illustrator. Stylistically, the art is a little simpler than that found in the Pride & Prejudice adaptation. However, it is more even in tone which suits the story’s serious and dramatic nature. Once again, particular attention has been given to the setting. I found the Les Misérables graphic novel to be engaging and, perhaps more importantly, it’s the first adaptation that has really made me interested in picking up the original.

Because it is so easy to create an unsatisfying adaptation of any work, let alone a work that is well-loved or held in high esteem, and after seeing so many poor adaptations, I’ll admit that I approached Manga Classics with some apprehension. However, I was very happy to discover that the line’s first two adaptations were very well done. Though I might have a small nitpick here or there, I sincerely enjoyed both volumes. I could easily see Manga Classics being used in a classroom setting, but I think the graphic novels will appeal to readers outside of that context as well. I am very pleased that new audiences will have the opportunity to be introduced to some of the classic works of literature in such an approachable format. Hopefully, like Great Illustrated Classics did for me, Manga Classics will inspire new generations to seek out those original stories.

Spring 2015 will bring three more adaptations to the Manga Classics line, graphic novel versions of Jane Austen’s Emma, Charles Dickens’ Great Expectations, and Nathaniel Hawthorne’s The Scarlet Letter. So far, Manga Classics has approached the source material of its adaptations with care and respect; I can honestly say that I’m looking forward to seeing future Manga Classics releases.

Thank you to Udon Entertainment for providing copies of Pride & Prejudice and Les Misérables for review.