Bizenghast Wins! Last OEL Manga Standing
I was surprised to receive a copy of Bizenghast volume 6, since I’d thought Tokyopop had ended all of their OEL manga print plans. (OEL manga are comics created by non-Japanese creators in the English language but drawn in a manga style. I’m ignoring Princess Ai, of course, since it’s co-created by Stuart Levy, CEO of Tokyopop, so it gets special treatment.)
Even though I’ve never read earlier volumes in the series, I figured the longevity deserved recognition, so I’d check it out. And I can see why Bizenghast has found an audience: M. Alice LeGrow has created an involving fantasy world that reuses classic elements with plenty of features the teen audience will find appealing.
This volume starts with a grumpy talking backpack carried by an exotic-looking boy (toned skin, curly dark hair, almond-shaped eyes). His brother has an opinion on everything, ranting while they wander a department store. The dialogue is hip and knowing and full of attitude.
The main story, though, is about Dinah, an orphan in the mysterious town of Bizenghast. She has a mission involving The Mausoleum, something about orders from the Afterlife and helping ghosts. A seed is stolen and a guardian murdered, so she and others need to find out why and who’s responsible. Meanwhile, the town’s going crazy.
Chapters ponder the logic of dreams and introduce the brothers’ sister, who creates talismans to aid in their mystical quest. Various religious aspects and allusions provide some thematic depth to the material. There are horrible sights in a hidden basement and a secret letter from the past, all classic elements of this genre. The mythos underlying this world is full of creepiness, magic, and bigger unknown forces. Everyone seems taken over and turned against Dinah, except for one of the helpers, who has a crush that remains unspoken.
I felt lost much of the time, not knowing what’s happened in the past, and I found the quest familiar and a bit predictable, but I could see the appeal of the characters. The art isn’t particularly manga-esque to my eyes. If it wasn’t presented in this context, it would remind me of some classic fantasy indy comics, perhaps (for example) the work of Teri Sue Wood. The designs and settings are great, full of detail and with a lot of attention paid to appearance.
The combination of exploring dreams and the afterlife with teens who act like teens, shopping and paying attention to clothes, makes this an updated gothic fantasy with particular appeal to younger readers who may be less familiar with the stock elements. No word on whether we should still expect to see volume 7, the concluding chapter, next year.