May 11th, 2008 by Katherine Dacey Bookmark this post
The latest installment of On the Shojo Beat looks at three new additions to the Shojo Beat line-up: Kaori Yuki’s Gothic Fairy Cube, Tohko Mizuno’s magical girl manga Haruka: Beyond the Stream of Time, and Arina Tanemura’s debut work I.O.N.
Fairy Cube, Vol. 1
By Kaori Yuki
No one will ever accuse Kaori Yuki of writing boring manga. All of her work—Angel Sanctuary, The Cain Saga, Godchild—has the feverish quality of a Hieronymous Bosch painting, complete with tormented souls, grotesque creatures, and all manner of taboo-busting behavior on display. I’m happy to report that Fairy Cube, her newest series (in English, anyway), is as gloriously overripe as the best volumes of Godchild but considerably more coherent.
Like the male leads in Angel Sanctuary and Cain, the hero of Fairy Cube is filled with angst. Ian’s affliction stems, in part, from his ability to see spirits—but not just ghosts or demons. Ian sees fairies. And malevolent ones, at that—the kind that impersonate humans, enslave the weak-minded, and occasionally snack on a person or two. Making matters worse is Tokage, a sprite who stalks Ian, manipulating his family and friends against him with the skill of a puppeteer. When Tokage takes visible form, Ian finds himself banished to another realm where he incurs the wrath of a bloodthirsty fairy. And when I say “bloodthirsty,” I mean it—though Ainsel has a dainty appearance, her appetite for revenge outstrips Don Corleone’s. After the two are thrown together, 39 Steps style, in a forest filled with hungry critters, Ainsel grudgingly agrees to help Ian take on Tokage before it harms the people Ian loves best: his father and his childhood sweetheart Rin.
My summary barely skims the surface of Yuki’s intricately plotted story, which manages to touch on child abuse, schoolyard bullying, and matricide, all in its first thirty or so pages. (Oh, and fairy magic—but doesn’t that go without saying? And did I forget to mention the hot guys in eye patches? My bad.) The richly detailed artwork has a delirious, almost hysterical, quality to it that suits the manga’s luridly romantic tone. The sheer density of the images combined with the breakneck pacing can be a little overwhelming; at times, I wished Yuki would pause to savor some of her lovelier images. Yet the story hangs together, in spite of its outré moments. In fact, I’d argue that it succeeds because of these outlandish touches—in another manga-ka’s hands, the story would be desperately twee, a sentimental tale about a gentle boy who befriends a winged sprite. Not so with Fairy Cube, an intoxicating—if occasionally ridiculous—mix of horror, romance, and revenge.
Haruka: Beyond the Stream of Time, Vol. 1
By Tohko Mizuno
Like the heroines of Fushigi Yugi and Red River, Akane is an ordinary schoolgirl who discovers that she’s a powerful priestess from an alternate realm. In Haruka, that alternate realm is a sexed-up version of Heian-era Japan, complete with demons and bishonen galore. Two clans—one human, one demon—vie for control of the ancient Japanese capital, hoping to obtain the assistance of the ultimate human weapon: the priestess of the Dragon God, a.k.a. Akane. Though the head of the demon clan works his mojo on her—apparently he’s quite the dreamboat, though his mask and jaunty cap conceal his rakish good looks—Akane casts her lot with the humans, acquiring a team of eight smokin’ guardians to protect her from harm and help her defeat the demon lord Akram.
What this ho-hum story has going for it is elegant artwork. Tohko Mizuno’s sensuous lines yield some arresting images: a nobleman in his ceremonial robes, a ravenous merman with a trace of blood on his lips. The artwork isn’t stunning enough to offset the cumulative effect of paper-thin characterizations, wooden dialogue, and been-there, done-that plot twists, but it at least offers readers a little eye candy as they plow through yet another tale of an average jane who learns—surprise!—that she’s really a goddess.
By Arina Tanemura
Ion Tsuburagi is a superstitious ditz who chants the letters of her name whenever she needs Lady Luck on her side—say, before a math test or a student council election. Through a plot contrivance too creaky for Three’s Company, she meets Mikado Hourai, a hyper-serious hottie who chairs their school’s psychic powers club. Ion is instantly smitten with Hourai, insinuating herself into the club and accidentally exposing herself to one of his experiments. The substance gives her telekinetic powers that are activated by her old ritual of chanting “I – O – N.” Not surprisingly, her new-found abilities prove a blessing and a curse, enabling her to perform some life-saving maneuvers while jeopardizing her budding romance with Hourai, who views Ion as a test subject.
Most of I.O.N.’s problems can be chalked up to inexperience, as it was Arina Tanemura’s first published work. The art has a frenzied quality, with too many facial close-ups, busy backdrops, and panels within panels, preventing the story from unfolding smoothly across the page. Tanemura’s wide-eyed character designs are especially unappealing; like the titular character of Miyuki Eto’s Hell Girl, Ion and Hourai have the kind of saucer eyes that seem more suitable on a giant squid than a middle school student. Equally unsatisfying are the characters themselves, who behave foolishly and unnaturally. Ion, in particular, is so boy crazy that she barely seems to notice that her abilities would qualify her for full-fledged membership in the Justice League.
About the best I can say for I.O.N. is that Tanemura’s heart is in the right place. The underlying message of her work seems to be one of self-awareness and respect: make sure your boyfriend likes you for who you are, and not what you represent. Too bad that worthwhile message gets lost amid the wacky hijinks and tearful discussions about feelings.
I.O.N. is available now.