by Arina Tanemura; adapted by Heidi Vivolo
published by Viz; $8.99 US
Review by Ed Sizemore
In the 30th century, all Earth is united under one rule. Kyoko Suomi is the princess of the Earth Nation. She has been living incognito so that she could enjoy an ordinary life. However, her sixteenth birthday is coming up, and the people of Earth want to finally meet their princess. Kyoko doesn’t want to give up her friends and freedom. There is only one way for her to avoid her public debut: she must awaken her twin sister Ui, who has been asleep since birth, and have Ui become princess. To rouse Ui, she must find all twelve of the god stones and the telepaths who can activate the stones. And so, Kyoko begins her quest.
At first glance, I didn’t think I was going like Time Stranger Kyoko. In truth, I wasn’t even sure I would make it through the first volume. This manga is very frilly. There are lots of flowers and bubbles in the borders and backgrounds. The boys are effeminate and very cute looking. Kyoko’s father, the King, is a 40-year-old man who uses cosmetic surgery to keep himself looking 18. The King also has a super-cute cat-girl android as a companion and gets jealous when she shows affection to anyone but him. Kyoko and her two bodyguards all sleep in this gigantic bed together, but their relationship is very chaste and proper. The bed is large enough that three can sleep on it together and never get within arm’s length of each other.
In addition, the first chapter and the beginning of the second chapter have a frivolous air. Everyone seems to be kidding around. Kyoko acts more like a spoiled 12-year-old, instead of someone getting ready to turn 16. The big crisis in her life is that her friends will find out that she’s the Earth Nation princess. It’s hard to see that as either a serious or significant problem. Plus, there’s lots of chibi (cutesy deformed) artwork and a couple of over-the-top characters and situations.
However, halfway through the second chapter, the series settles down and becomes more sedate in tone. Once Kyoko is confronted with how selfish and childish she’s been behaving, she actually starts acting her age. She’s finally beginning to take her powers as a Time Stranger seriously (which simply means she can manipulate time). Once this change happened, I found the characters and the story to be engaging. The frills were also toned down at this point in the book. The third chapter drew me in enough to want to finish this volume and to read the next.
Time Stranger Kyoko is a futuristic fantasy story. Tanemura has created an intriguing world with the look and feel of late renaissance Europe. The people’s daily lives are a blend of advanced and ancient technology; you have cell phones, blimps, lasers, and watermills seamlessly blended together. There are also tribes of genetically altered people called kirito. In these first two volumes, we encounter merpeople, dragon people, demon people, and flower people. Magic and powerful magic items featured prominently. Readers encounter god stones, magic swords, potions, staffs of power, etc. It’s a wonderful mix of diverse elements that Tanemura makes feel natural and normal.
This manga has great cast of characters. Once Kyoko settles down and gets serious, she really blossoms as person and a potential leader, especially in volume two. My favorite character is her younger bodyguard, Sakataki Jin. He is a prince of the dragon tribe and was the successor to his father’s throne until his tribe was destroyed. He’s the emotional anchor of the series, very somber and completely devoted to his duty. There’s romantic tension between him and Kyoko, but both are too shy to say how they really feel. The other bodyguard is Sakataki’s older brother, the more carefree Hizuki. He’s something of an enigma. We don’t know why he wasn’t chosen as the future leader of the dragon tribe. He keeps his thoughts and feelings to himself, so we also don’t know what motivates him.
My only concern is that this manga ends with volume three and there’s a lot of ground still left to be covered. At the end of volume two, only five of the twelve god stones have been found. Either the third volume is going to be told at a breakneck pace or much of the story will have to happen off-stage. This is a shame, because with volume two Tanemura really hit her stride with the series. The character development, the plot lines, and pacing all come together to make for a very enjoyable read. So just as you’re getting comfortable and settled in as a reader, you find yourself being shown out the door.
The artwork is gorgeous. This is the most detailed artwork I’ve ever seen for any comic. It’s the manga equivalent of the baroque period. There are layers of ornamentation throughout the book. In one of the sidebars, Tanemura talks about how many assistants she seems to have hired. Given how lush this book is, it’s easy to see why she needed so many people to keep the book published on time. What’s amazing is that all this detail never overwhelms either the reader or the panel. Tanemura is careful to compose each page so that narrative flow is never disrupted by the meticulous artwork. She also knows which panels to lavish attention on and which to keep simple. It’s a great series to flip through and just admire the art and composition work. Kudos to Viz for the print quality on this manga. It could not have been easy to print a book with such tiny details in the artwork. The reproduction here preserves every line clearly and distinctly.
Overall, Time Stranger Kyoko is a solid read. It’s slow-starting, but once the story hits its groove, it becomes an enjoyable series. However, it appears there is a lot of lost potential with this manga. With twelve god stones to find, this series had the makings of a good epic quest, but for whatever reasons Tanemura has chosen to end the series at book three. Especially after the quality of volume two, I can’t help but think about the series that could have been. I am thankful for the books that we did get.
(Complimentary copies were supplied by the publisher for this review.)