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The Fine Print
All text is © copyright VIZ, LLC. No reproduction without written permission. All images are © copyright their respective copyright holders as noted. No reproduction without written permission. Image Copyrights
Ceres: Celestial Legend (manga) © Yuu Watase (anime) © Yuu Watase/Shogakukan BAndai Visual Studio Pierrot
Enter the realm of legend, and explore another side of Japanese mythology in a romantic drama that brings heaven down to Earth. By Andy Nakatani
Now I have landed at the pine-wood of Mio and am viewing the beauty of the shore. Suddenly there is music in the sky, a rain of flowers, unearthly fragrance wafted on all sides. These are no common things; nor is this beautiful cloak that hangs upon the pine-tree. I come near to it. It is marvellous in form and fragrance. This surely is no common dress. I will take it back with me and show it to the people of my home. It shall be a treasure in my house.
--From Hagoromo, as translated by Arther Waley in The No Plays of Japan (Charles E. Tuttle Co. 1976)
I nspired by an actual Japanese legend, Yû Watase's manga Ayashi no Ceres was originally serialized in Shogakukan's Shôjo Flower Comics. The story ultimately ran to 14 volumes and in 2000, it was adapted into a 24-episode animated TV series. This summer, Viz Comics will release the first issue of Watase's Ayashi no Ceres manga under the title Ceres: Celestial Legend in June, with Viz Video set to release of the first volume of the Ceres animated series the following month, in early July.
Like Watase's popular Fushigi Yûgi ("The Mysterious Play") manga and anime adaptation, Ceres contains plenty of romance, but its story is darker than Fushigi Yûgi's. As befits its origins in legend, Ceres has ominous undercurrents, and its themes are often on the edges of taboo. In tone, it's much like a Grimm's fairy tale; a story from outside our own time.
This sense of mystery even extends to the series' title--Ayashi no Ceres is yet another example of the type of word play that is so common in manga and anime. Ayashi means strange; wonderful; mysterious; marvelous; unearthly supernatural. But the kanji, or Chinese character that Watase uses for ayashi is not the traditional one. She uses instead the character for "bewitching." So the title literally means "Bewitching Ceres." The main character's name, Aya, also ties into the "Ayashi" of the title. Additionally, Ceres is the Roman name for Demeter, the goddess of the harvest, grain, and fertility, pronounced "keresu" in Japanese. Just to keep things interesting, the manga uses a different derivative of this name pronounced "seresu."
Not all the word play is serious, however--the anime adaptation of Ceres also has many Japanese pop-culture references. In episode three, look for Saiyûki and even Iron Chef references, and the character of Mrs. Q (Oda Kyu in the original Japanese) is blatant reference--both in the comical character's appearance and name--to the beloved manga and anime ghost character Obake no Q-Taro.
LEGENDS, MAGIC, AND REALITY
The hagoromo legend has as many as 35 variations throughout Japan. In the prefecture of Shizuoka, there stands a majestic 650-year-old pine tree that stands as a testament to this legend. It is said that this tree was where the fisherman found the tennyo's hagoromo. A festival is held there annually in which a Noh play based on the hagoromo legend is performed. In Hokkaido there is even a waterfall called Hagoromo no Taki, or "Hagoromo Falls," which is considered to be a Japanese national treasure, and so named because it resembles the tennyo's fluttering hagoromo as she moves gracefully in dance. (You can see pictures of Hagoromo Falls at http://town.higashikawa.hokkaido.jp/en/tenninkyou/ and the pine tree at http://photo.jcc.co.jp/photo/noro/dai_sizen/20/noro-02.html.) What's more, similar stories span the globe, and are found in legends from Japan, China, Sweden, the Middle East, and the Americas.
It was the very pervasiveness of the legend that inspired Watase to create her manga story, Ayashi no Ceres. Watase wasn't satisfied with one particular version of the legend, where the fisherman hides the hagoromo from the tennyo and the tennyo stays with the fisherman to become his wife and the mother of his children. Watase figured that the angel would be angry at the fisherman for hiding her cloak from her and for deceiving her. Thus, she began to write her own version of the story.
THE WRATH OF HEAVEN
Watase's Ceres begins with twin brother and sister Aki and Aya Mikage. On the eve of their sixteenth birthday, Aya falls off a bridge and mysteriously floats down into harm's way. Yes, into harm's way--she lands in the middle of a busy street and a mysterious cool character (who we later find out is named Toya) saves her from oncoming traffic.
Aya, it seems, is a descendent of Ceres, the angel that came down to the heavens as told in the legend. Ceres and the fisherman who took her hagoromo had children together and started the Mikage clan. Over time the Mikage family was able to achieve success and prosperity by reaping the benefits of their celestial heritage--eventually forming the rich and powerful Mikage Financial Group. However, Ceres is indignant about how she was wronged by the fisherman. She wants her hagoromo back and in order to get it back she transcends time and death itself. Through the generations she is reborn into the consciousness of her female descendants and takes full control of her descendent's ego when that person turns sixteen. To circumvent facing the vengeance of Ceres, the Mikage family performs a ceremony upon the birthday of each of its female members to test whether or not Ceres resides within their consciousness. If they do have Ceres inside of them, they are killed off.
This is where Aya's problems begin. On Aya's sixteenth birthday, the Mikage perform the ceremony and find out that Ceres resides in Aya's ego. Aya's own family tries to kill her but she manages to escape from their clutches. Aya eventually discovers that Ceres can overtake her own ego and cause her to physically transform into Ceres.
Ceres's ultimate goal is to get her hagoromo back but she also wants revenge and wants to destroy the Mikage family. Even without her hagoromo, the wrath and power of Ceres is formidable--she has celestial powers such as flight, telepathy, and electrically charged power blasts.
To preserve the Mikage and the family's wealth and power, the head of the Mikage Clan, Aya's grandfather, wants to destroy Ceres, even if he has to extinguish his own granddaughter in order to do it. Meanwhile, Aya's cousin, Kagami, who is the CEO of the Mikage Financial Group, has an agenda of his own. He plans to use genetic technology to harness Ceres's power to further extend the wealth and influence of the Mikage.
To complicate matters even further, the ego of the founder of the Mikage clan, the man who originally stole Ceres' hagoromo, has been reborn into Aki, Aya's twin brother. Aki is torn and conflicted--as Aya's older brother he wants to protect her, but when the ego residing within his own takes over, he wants to dominate Aya/Ceres.
Every shôjo (girls') manga must have a love interest for the main character and in Ceres, Aya's love interest is Toya. Toya is the ultra-cool hired gun of the Mikage. He has been coerced into helping the Mikage because he believes that they have the technology and the know-how to help him regain his memory.
Suzumi Aorgiri is another descendent of a celestial, although her powers have not manifested as strongly as Aya's. She takes Aya into her household and assigns her brother-in-law, Yuhi, to be Aya's protector. To complete Aya's love triangle, Yuhi has fallen hopelessly in love with Aya.
Where is the hagoromo? Will Ceres get it back and be able to return to the heavens? What will happen to Aya if and when Ceres does get the hagoromo back? Who is Toya and where does he really come from? Aya and her friends travel throughout Japan seeking out the answers to these questions.
At its core, Ceres is a tale of a girl put into a severely traumatic situation--her own family trying to kill her, her own transformation into a being over which she has no control, and her twin brother's personality change into a domineering alter ego--and finding ways to cope with it. She turns to new friends, such as Yuhi and Suzumi, for support, and despite (or perhaps because of) all of this trauma, Aya also experiences revelations in matters of the heart. Head over heels in love with Toya, at the same time she has grown close to Yuhi. As Aya struggles survive, she matures as a woman, learning lessons of love and friendship in the process.
But it's not all heavy themes and drama--despite the seriousness of the story, there are comic breaks interspersed throughout the drama featuring superdeformed character, creating a unique narrative rhythm.
Drama, comedy, handsome guys, and tangled romances...maybe Ceres isn't that different from Fushigi Yûgi, after all.