by Tohko Mizuno; translated by Stanley Floyd
published by Viz; $8.99 US
Review by Ed Sizemore
From the story so far recap included in Book 2: “April 2000, Akane was just a normal high school girl until one day she, along with her friends Tenma and Shimon, was suddenly summoned back in time to a world resembling Japan during the Heian Era (794 – 1185 CE). Harboring hatred for the people of the capital, the members of the Demon Clan are trying to destroy the land. Akram, the leader of the Demon Clan, summoned Akane, the priestess of the Dragon God, in order to use the power of the Dragon God for his plans.”
Haruka is a poorly written historical fantasy series. The first volume comes across as a presentation of discrete scenes rather than a focused storyline. This gives the book a meandering feel, like walking through the woods with no real destination in mind, just taking in the wildlife. I wondered more than once what a specific event had to do with the central plot of saving humans from being eradicated by the Demon Clan.
I know this book takes place in a pre-industrial Japan and life moved at a slower pace back then, but there is no sense of urgency by either the humans or the Demon Clan. In fact, at one point Akram tells Akane that he will wait until all eight of the priestess’ guardians are chosen before beginning his major assault against the humans. He says the battle wouldn’t be ‘fun’ unless the human defenders are at full strength. The Dragon God residing within Akane doesn’t seem to be in any hurry to pick the guardians, so the book feels like everyone is just killing time instead of each other. I can’t see why the Dragon God would ever finish picking all eight guardians under these conditions. Why not just keep stalling until Akram dies of old age? This lack of urgency destroys any dramatic tension the series hoped to have.
Another problem in the first volume is the lack of explanation. Who is the Dragon God? Why did Akram have to go almost a thousand years into the future to find a priestess? Why didn’t Akane know the Dragon God lived within her? How is she suppose to harness its power? Even worse, Akane doesn’t seem the least bit interested in learning the answers to any of these questions. I realize she’s a little overwhelmed by all that happened, but you think that one way of coming to grips with your circumstances would be to learn what’s going on. At the very least, you’d think she would like to know more about the entity living inside her. Instead, she’s content to let others lead her around.
The stories in the second volume are tightly structured. However, they don’t connect well with each other and seem only tangential to the central plot of the series. They’re meant to be character studies to let us better know the main cast. I would prefer that such storylines be directly connected back to the central narrative and actually advance the plot. Instead, this volume reads like a collection of short stories within a shared universe.
The artwork is your average shojo fare. The one place where Mizuno does well is the character designs. The faces are fairly generic, but each character has a unique set of expressions and fashion sense. The Major General always looks serene, Tenma always looks pissed, and Shimon always looks like he’s on the verge of tears. He also looks exactly like the lead character from The Heart of Thomas (a highly influential shojo/boys love story from the 1970’s). I found the similarity distracting. There’s nothing wrong with paying homage to a classic, but not when it distracts the reader from the work in front of them.
The Viz editorial department dropped the ball on this series, too. There definitely needed to be cultural notes included. It would be a tremendous help if the reader was given a brief introduction to the historical setting. It would also be beneficial to explain what royal court life was like at this time. Then the reader could appreciate the various relationships in the manga and how they are navigated. In addition, a explanation of the mythology of the series is needed, terms like ‘Dragon God’ and ‘Black Beast of North’. I would have loved to know how these figures relate to actual Japanese mythology. Just because Akane wants to remain ignorant doesn’t mean the audience does too.
Haruka was a disappointing read. After the first chapter of the series, nothing significant happens. Volume two was a complete waste of time. Instead, I recommend another historical fantasy with a time travel priestess, Inuyasha. The first volumes of Takahashi’s series are a much more enjoyable read. (Complimentary copies were provided by the publisher for this review.)