Ludwig II, Vol. 1
Ludwig II is remembered by history as the “Mad King” of late 19th-century Bavaria. Arrogant Old World aristocrat, lavish spender, and indulgent patron of the famed composer Wagner, he whiled away his days lost in luxurious dreams of his own creation while the rest of Europe descended into political conflict. Or did he? Perhaps in reality Ludwig was as shrewd as he was sensitive. He was also intensely secretive, after all. The only ones who would know for certain were the two people he most loved and trusted: his cousin Elizabeth, the Empress of Austria, and handsome, pure-hearted manservant Hornig—who has known the fiery passion of Ludwig’s flesh as well as his heart.
Veteran manga creator You Higuri is both prolific and popular on both sides of the Pacific. Unlike some artists, who are known primarily by one masterpiece, Higuri is a “name” in the manga publishing world first and foremost, with no one title, whether the boy’s love manga Gakuen Heaven or the dark fantasy romance of devil and maiden Seimaden, as especially standout. Her tales as often as not run in the direction of the torrid and the baroque, and she has cultivated an interest in European—especially Germanic—history and culture. Ludwig II, originally published in Japan in the 1990s and reprinted in 2007, is a near-perfect marriage of Higuri’s particular tastes and her talents and without question are among the most unabashedly fun to read of any of her works published in English thus far.
The first oversized, 300-page volume is quite the historical melodrama, covering a heady amount of territory at a surprisingly rapid narrative pace, but it is less about the turmoil of history per se than about the larger-than-life, tumultuous personalities inhabiting it. This is fortunate because, for many readers, the history will be decidedly obscure. But as is the case with many manga aimed at a female audience, Ludwig II oozes excesses of feeling and decadent homoeroticism. Hornig is not, needless to say, Ludwig’s first male lover, and much of the story focuses upon the king’s intense horizontal conquests with other men and his much more complicated—but platonic—relationships with women. While his betrothal to Sophie ends badly, only her elder sister Elizabeth is truly close enough to him to understand him. Or so she claims in the impressionistic, poetic introduction.
As always, You Higuri’s artwork is exquisite—her best asset even in works that are as strong overall as Ludwig II. The bold lines, asymmetrical layouts, and European subject matter may resemble an updated Riyoko Ikeda’s Rose of Versailles to widely read audiences. Furthermore, this manga has been researched, and it shows in the artist’s painstaking detail of costumes, props, and settings. She might not always be dead-on accurate—sometimes she takes deliberate license with the facts, as acknowledged in the extensive afterward—but it’s more than enough to fall under the enchantment of Bavaria’s spell. Recommended, especially to fans of shoujo and boy’s love manga.-- Casey Brienza