Manga, Manga Everywhere so let’s sit down and read!

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Merry Monday ladies and gents! It’s that time again! Tonight I thought we’d start a series of manga reviews, based upon/inspiration for anime series. This is not an unusual tale, as many series cross the artist gap; successfully or not! We are no strangers to this in the West, as I’m sure you could name half a dozen such transitions in under thirty seconds! Try it….

Did you manage? I certainly did! Tonight, the first of these is “Tenkuu no Escaflowne” (The Vision of Escaflowne). Escaflowne is, I must say, my absolutely favourite feature of the anime genre. Ever! (underscored!) But the manga series is one of the worst I have ever persevered in reading! Why am I therefore reviewing something which I wasted several days of my life and wads of cash on?

Good question! I believe the point of reviewing is to showcase the good the bad and the ugly. To introduce people to things they might like and to make them think hard about things they may not. So I apologise if my treatment of the manga series from this point onward is scathing. At least rest in the knowledge that I am one of the biggest Escaflowne fans you will find. (I’m a woman obsessed, PM for a list of crazy Escaflowne things I’ve done/said/read/watched/bought/sold/made/drawn/written/dressed as!)

Here we go! FIGHT! (Streetfighter theme music!)

So, let me briefly set the scene on the commonality between the two. Both featured (dun dun dun!) a girl, taken by magic from modern day Japan to another world. (If you have been reading my previous reviews, this will not be a surprise to you) This world is called Gaea (or Gaia, if you prefer—also a common setting in the anime/manga/video gaming world of Japan). There she meets a young prince called Van, who due to the death of his parents, is the newly crowned King of Fanelia; a small backwater country. He is the heir to the much fabled and highly mysterious ‘guymelef’ (mecha suit to me and to you) named Escaflowne.

Here is where the similarities end! While the anime series paints a vast and epic landscape against which politics, magic, prophecy, alchemy, love, death, philosophy, mystery and intrigue are set, the manga series creates an incoherent toilet-bowl of monsters, violence and slap-dash two dimensional characters. It’s almost like looking at a five year old’s drawing of the Mona LIsa: there is a vague resemblance to something recognisable and magnificent, but little more.

The anime series is immersive. It’s visionary! It is a blend of East meets West and a product of real creativity and an outpouring of real artistic and unbound thinking. For example, Fanelia, the home of young Prince Van Fanel, resembled medieval Europe crossed with feudal Japan. It’s nestled between white cliffs and lush green forests where dragons prowl. Yet across the continent is the cultured and cosmopolitan Palas, the crown city of the country of Asturia, which draws its inspiration from 16th and 17th century Venice and Paris. Even the Ottoman or Moroccan style architecture boasts this inspiration. It feels like someone has visualised a world and built it stone by stone: it could be real. It’s boundless.

The cities, forests, and vistas of the manga are contrived and nothing more than backdrop. Similarly the clothing designs and the motivations of the characters are rushed, secondary and nothing seems to be driving the plot at all, other than McGuffin after McGuffin.

While the anime tries to create a blend of shoujo and shonen styles, impressive mecha, elaborate fight scenes and samurai, the character design decidedly shoujo, the manga is bare-faced in its shonen appeal. The best way to demonstrate this is to examine the main character of the series.

Hitomi’s production origins, it must be said, are anything but deep and pure. She was always intended to be the protagonist, but as a helpless target of lust, trapped in the storyline by nothing more than her ability to be useful to others and her inability to control her magical gifts. Her personality and drives are secondary to this. Her development in the anime series however took her back to the drawing board in order to strip her back, from being a curvy, unconsciously-panty-flashing damsel in distress, to a scrawny, REALISTIC, fourteen year old; her nudity of no interest to the viewer or any of the other characters. Her only real interests lie in beating her best on the school running track, telling fortunes with her tarot cards, and keeping her crush on the handsome upperclassman a secret! This is refreshing! So wonderfully refreshing! Unfortunately Katsu Aki, the mangku doesn’t agree. His Hitomi spends most of her time naked, turning into crystal and powering the Escaflowne, just like her original design. Boring. Done over and over with depressing inevitability.

Escaflowne as a franchise has had mixed success, and has found itself interpreted in no less than three separate manga series, one movie and a game on the PS2. One of my lowest geeky moments was attending Amecon, courtesy of Leicester University’s manga and anime club many years ago, and seeing boxsets of the series being offered for next to nothing while volumes of the VHS languished on the bring-and-buy stalls next door. Thank goodness the manga didn’t take off with the same passion only to be dropped on its head, or we’d up to our armpits in horribly drawn, badly crafted manga muck!

Having said that, I hope I’ve piqued your curiosity and have reviewed something which has been different to the usual quality fare I present before you! Till next time my lovers!