by Taka Amano; adapted by Sheldon Drzka
published by DC/CMX Manga; $9.99 US
Review by Ed Sizemore
Kiichi is an oni-born boy, who is traveling to one of the twelve great book depositories to find out what it means to be an oni (a traditional Japanese demon). His traveling companions are the librarian Mototaro; Hana, a literary character brought to life; and Mori, a member of the Amamori tribe. In the world of this manga, characters and objects in books can be brought to life. Mind you, not all books have this property, but a good many of them do. This volume tells of Kiichi’s arrival to the book depository and the events immediately thereafter.
This volume is focused on exposition and getting to know the characters deeper. It’s a leisurely paced book with a few minor action sequences to break up the conversations. Amano does an excellent job of dispersing information in this book. It’s like being fed a good meal. Amano serves you a tasty morsel and lets you have time to properly chew it. Just before the flavor from that tidbit fades from your mouth, you’re served the next delectable portion.
The world Amano has created in this book is fascinating. Not only do you have books that can literally come alive, you have oni (demons). Kiichi has the classical oni trait of a single horn growing from the top of his head. He has yet to manifest any supernatural powers, but he is a very fast runner and appeals to be pretty strong for his age. Finally, the old myth of the world resting on twelve pillars appears to have some truth here. However, there are only hints about the cosmology of this universe at this point. Amano has masterly combined divergent elements to create a world that I found myself wanting to learn more about.
I really like each of the characters that Amano has created. I don’t want to say too much about any of them, since one of the joys of this volume is the chance to slowly learn more about these traveling companions. I will say that each has a distinct and well-developed personality. It’s a great device to have them meet while heading to the same location. They are as new to each other as they are to the reader. We get to learn about each person as they reveal themselves and their backgrounds to each other.
It’s a bit difficult to give an accurate appraisal of the art. CMX supplied a gallery copy of this manga for review. Unfortunately, it was a very poor copy with dark streaks running through the pages. My review of the art is based on the preview pages available at Yahoo Japan instead.
The art work is well done. As Brigid pointed out in the comments to another review, Amano has very little tone work in his art. Instead, he relies on cross-hatching to achieve greyscale in the panels. Another distinctive feature of Amano’s drawings is the heavy use of black. Hana’s kimono is predominately black, Mototaro’s coat is black, the tree leaves are black, etc. It gives the art a starkness that actually makes reading it very easy. It also makes you feel like you’re looking at a page of text, since a number of panels are just pure black and white with no gray. Given the importance of books to the storyline, that mood seems appropriate.
I enjoyed this volume a lot. It’s evident that Amano took his time to think through the characters, the world they live in, and the storyline of the series. This book is definitely for readers more interested in stories that revolve around the characters and their world than in plot lines and action. This manga doesn’t fit into the typical gender- and age-defined genres. Instead, it’s an epic fantasy story told in comic format instead of novels. If you like good, take-your-time fantasy, then this a book for you.
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