story by Tou Ubukata; manga by Kiriko Yumeji; adaptation by Ikoi Hiroe
published by Del Rey Manga; $10.95 US
Review by Ed Sizemore
It’s 1753 and Paris is terrorized by a madman who brutally murders virgin women and uses their blood to write occult prophetic poetry. A mysterious woman called Chevalier Sphinx, dressed in a elegant French ball gown and wielding a rapier, kills the insane murderer and confiscates his writings. However, another gruesome poet has risen to take his place and carry on these ‘psalms’. We discover that there have been five previous poets, each up picking up where his predecessor left off. The Parisian police and the French king, Louis XV, want to figure out where these poets are coming from and how to stop them. But in this series, not everything, or everyone, is what they appear be.
As the summary illustrates, Le Chevalier d’Eon is a fast-paced book. In the first volume, we see Chevalier Sphinx eliminate two poets while a third one begins to rise up. The other lead character is D’Eon de Beaumont, secret agent of the king undercover as an inept Parisian police officer. We’re also introduced to King Louis XV, the Paris police department, and D’Eon’s able assistant, Robin. Between the battles and the investigation, we are treated to the comedic adventures of D’Eon as he interacts with his police chief. These episodes serve as an effective break from the normally bleak and serious tone of the book.
Spoilers and evaluation follow.
The artwork is beautiful and richly detailed. Yumeji chooses to keep the art realistic. He does an effective job of subtly changing the drawing style to suit the various environments found in the book. The street scenes are done with heavy rough lines to convey a gritty feel. When we are in the chambers of the king, the lines are thin and polished to convey elegance. The only disadvantage to such well-crafted art is the grim scenes showing the poet’s victims. Readers should be warned the scenes inside the poet’s workroom are straight out of a splatter film.
My only complaint with the art is the battle scenes. I found them a little hard to follow at times. Part of this is caused by the use of extreme close-ups that make it unclear at times whose hand or foot or sword you’re looking at. Another problem is the heavy use of speed and motion lines. An example of how extensive the speed lines are is one panel featuring a single character with no background surrounded by 360 degrees of speed lines. When there are two characters fighting in heavy shadows, the speed and motion lines make the art confusing instead of exciting.
You would think a manga that does so many things well would be a more engaging read. However, Le Chevalier d’Eon is so focused on the plot that we get almost no characterization. The lead character, D’Eon, is a man who becomes possessed by the spirit of his dead sister, puts on a formal evening gown will all the frills and lace, and fights occult poets who turn into monsters. There should be nothing boring about a character like that. Yet, D’Eon is given no more depth then my description. Because the manga moves quickly from one scene to the next, there is no space given to get to know the characters apart from the ongoing investigation. What is badly needed are scenes where we see the characters outside of the investigation so we can connect on a more personal level.
The other problem with such a plot-driven manga is that there is no time to get familiar with the setting of the story. The only reason we know we’re in the 18th century is the way people dress. We only know it’s Paris because we’re told so. This story could be set in any European city in the recent past and nothing would change. We’re dashed from place to place without any distinctive details to get us a real sense of the city in which the events are happening. In fact, each street looks the same. It would be nice if they included some landmarks and varied the look of each street to help give a better sense that we are moving around in different sections of Paris.
Le Chevalier d’Eon is a fun read, but it’s not very satisfying and leaves no lasting impression. As soon as I put the book down I realized I was thinking about something else and had no real desire to read the next volume. There are plenty of potentially interesting ideas and people in this work, but they’re squandered on poor execution. There are just too many mangas published each month to spend time on a book that doesn’t grab you instantly. Le Chevalier d’Eon could have been a great book if it had slowed down and took its time to tell the story with more depth. (A complimentary copy of this book was provided by the publisher for review.)