Archives for August 2013

Red River, Vols 1-7

When manga publishers first started their digital programs I was hoping for more backlist titles to become available, especially from Viz. I was particularly happy when Red River started coming out in a digital edition. I’ve long regretted not just buying this series when it was coming out, because I suspected I would really like it. At the time though I was buying a ton of other manga and I was leery of committing to a 28 volume shoujo series. I’ve been piecing together volumes of this series here and there, and I have a decent amount of both the first several books and a few concluding volumes, but nothing in the middle. I was glad I could switch back and forth between print volumes and my iPad to give the first part of this series a try. The arresting cover image of the first volume provides a nice overview of the series. A girl in modern clothing is being menaced by a bunch of people holding daggers, against a backdrop of a blue sky and stone buildings from another era.

The girl who is about to get stabbed on the cover of Red River is Yuri, a cheerful high school student who had just received her first kiss from her classmate Satoshi. Yuri goes to school and hangs out with her younger sisters, but a number of odd things seem to happen when she’s close to water. A glass bubbles over and hands reach out to her from a school fishtank. The incidents get worse and worse, to the point where Yuri is carried away in the middle of a date when she steps near a puddle. Yuri finds herself in a bathhouse in the capitol of the Hittite empire. Chased by armed men whose language she doesn’t understand, Yuri runs into a courtyard and encounters a handsome man who promptly sweeps her off her feet and kisses her. Prince Kail distracts the men and sends them on their way, claiming he knows nothing about a woman in strange clothing running through the city. Yuri can suddenly understand the language of the place she’s in, as princely kisses seem to serve as a universal translation device. Kail offers to swap Yuri in for the woman he was originally waiting for. Yuri concludes that he’s a jerk and runs off in the strange city yet again, only to be captured by Kail’s extremely evil stepmother.

Kail’s evil stepmother wants to use Yuri for a virgin sacrifice to work some strange magic to place her son as heir to the empire instead of Kail. Kail is an extremely quick thinker and prevents the sacrifice by showing up at the last minute to announce that due to his masterful powers of seduction, Yuri is no longer a virgin, and thus not suitable to be a sacrifice to anyone. Throwing her over his shoulder, Kail announces that he’s going to remove his “sullied baggage” from the room. Kail and Yuri start gradually falling in love, as he begins to appreciate her articulated moral sense and intelligence. Yuri soon realizes that Kail is doing the best he can in an extremely hostile court environment where his stepmother is doing whatever she can to plot his demise.

While there are a few references to magic here and there, Red River is much more of a historical adventure than it is a fantasy story. Yuri doesn’t really have magical powers, but she might as well have them due to the effect she has when Kail decides to announce that she’s the incarnation of the goddess Ishtar and uses her to inspire his troops as a gambit to protect her from his stepmother. While Kail gives Yuri the position of his concubine and they sleep in the same bed every night, she still remains a virgin, since he backs off when she mentions her boyfriend back home. The “will they or won’t they” tension that appears in the first few volumes is mainly due to Kail keeping his distance from Yuri because he knows he needs to send her back to his own time, and Yuri is determined not to care for Kail too much when she has to go back to her family.

While Yuri seems to have an unfortunate habit of getting kidnapped fairly often, she’s also extremely level-headed and pragmatic. Kail rescues her, but she also uses some quick thinking to rescue him a number of times. She throws herself into training when she’s given the role of Ishtar to play, determined not to embarrass herself and Kail. When she’s stolen away by a prince from a rival country, she spends her time improving the sickroom for prisoners of war that are deemed near death, and her introduction of modern sanitation helps the prisoners heal as well as providing herself with a slightly sick troop of soldiers inside the enemy walls.

Shinohara’s art has a bit of an old-school feel to it. This series was first published in 1995, so the character designs might look a tad old fashioned. But the many action scenes and the historical settings and costumes are handled with great clarity. Even when the paneling might focus more on the character’s emotions and interactions, there’s usually an architectural detail or background element that grounds the reader in the scene. Yuri believably shifts from tomboy to gorgeous depending on the situation and clothing she finds herself in, and Kail transforms from a slightly arrogant prince to a person who is much more kind and concerned.

I read these volumes over the weekend, and was very entertained! I think Red River is one of those series that benefits from being able to read many volumes at once, because the story lines are fast-paced and interesting, with plenty of cliff-hangers at the end of most volumes. While Red River is certainly a romance, it focuses much more on the expansion of the Hittite empire and the political machinations of the royal family. Yuri and Kail are a sympathetic couple, even if some of their issues would be solved if they were only able to sit down and have an honest conversation about their feelings. Fending off witchy evil stepmothers, dodging kidnappings, and dealing with bronze age military tactics do take up quite a bit of time. One thing I did miss in these volumes was author’s notes. I don’t know if there just weren’t any attached to this series, or if there was a decision made not to include them, but I would have found it interesting to hear about the author’s research. It seems like most of the historical shoujo manga that gets translated for English audiences tends to focus more on Japan as a setting, so Red River is certainly unique in that aspect. While there’s certainly enough romance to keep most shoujo fans happy, the setting and emphasis on action and adventure make this a very appealing series for readers.

Escaflowne Eps 1-4


It was a funny coincidence that I decided that I would embark on a rewatch of The Vision of Escaflowne and finished the first disc the day before Funimation announced that they’d acquired rights to make this classic anime available again. I haven’t watched a ton of anime, but Escaflowne is by far my favorite series. Every two years or so I decide to watch it again, and I’m generally fine with just watching a show once or twice. This show really rewards those who see it multiple times, as the characterization, setting, and storyline are so rich and complex, I often feel like I find something new to appreciate with each viewing. I’ll see if I can work through my old Bandai DVDs by the time the new edition from Funimation comes out, and feel free to dig out your copies of Escaflowne and join me in a rewatch in anticipation of what Funimation decides to do with the rerelease.

Hitomi the heroine of the show is sympathetic without being cloying. She’s a bit of a jock, as she’s dedicated to her track team. Hitomi also indulges in a bit of mysticism as she’s her school’s resident tarot card reader. She has a goofy crush on the captain of the boys’ track team at her school, and she spends plenty of time with her best friend awkwardly blushing and obsessing about him. Hitomi starts seeing visions as she’s running of destruction, giant metal monsters, and a young boy fighting. Her visions become true as Van Fanel appears on the high school track, pursued by a dragon. Hitomi and her friends narrowly escape while Van kills the dragon, but Hitomi and Van are carried off to to his world Gaea, where Earth appears as a second moon in the sky.


Van is the reluctant prince of the country Fanelia, a place with a strong martial arts tradition, a missing older prince (this is significant), and a hazardous habit of sending out future rulers to slay dragons as a rite of passage. Van has a habit of initially addressing Hitomi by yelling “Hey Girl!” (and not in a Ryan Gosling sort of way) but he seems to call her by her first name whenever she’s in danger. Van seems to be doing the best he can in a role he doesn’t want, but he’s affected by violence and doesn’t particularly want to fight even though he can be good at it.

The world of Gaea is an interesting place. It is quasi-medieval, but people have ancient mecha called Guymelefs. There’s a bit of a steampunk and mystical vibe to the technology shown on Gaea, as you see cogs and gears snap into position, and the mecha seem to have the creaky joints of old machines. In addition to humans, there are humanoid animals that live on Gaea as well, with the most prominent being Van’s catgirl Merle. There’s trouble for Fanelia as the Zaibach Empire has cloaking technology for their mecha (like the Romulans!), and an insane military captain in the form of the androgynous and dangerously emotionally unstable Dilandau. Fanelia is razed to the ground and Van is suddenly a prince without a country. He manages to escape with Hitomi and his country’s greatest treasure – the Escaflowne Guymelef.


As Van and Hitomi try to figure out what to do, they fall in with Allen Shezar, whose talents as a swordsman are rivaled only by the puffiness of his sleeves. Alan is a Knight of the country Asturia, and he leads a somewhat piratical crew aboard the airship The Crusade. Hitomi promptly develops a crush on Allen, while Merle jealously guards Van’s attention. One of the things I enjoy about this series is that the world seems so rich, and there is plenty to think about between viewings. What were Allen’s adventures aboard his airship? How did Van and Merle develop a close bond? The world of Escaflowne just seems to exist in a special place where there’s space to ponder the history and relationships between the characters going beyond just the animated episodes.

The show was developed in 1996, but despite the limitations of animation at the time, it doesn’t feel all that dated. The rich setting combined with the strong orchestral and vocal score give the series an epic feel. The theme of the horrors of war and violence is established early, as the fighting provoked by the Zaibach Empire is portrayed as devastating, not glamorous. Even though I’ve probably seen Escaflowne already 5 or 6 times, it sill seemed fresh and interesting when I watched it again, which is the mark of a series that is just timeless. I’m looking forward to watching the rest of my old DVDs now and finding out more about the new edition of this series coming soon.

Takasugi-San’s Obento Vol. 1

Takasugi-San’s Obento Vol. 1 by Nozomi Yanahara

This title is available on, and the print volume is available for pre-order.

I’ve always been a bit interested in bento, even though I haven’t made it yet. I like the idea of all the cute bento boxes and accessories you can buy, and it certainly seems like a healthy way to prepare lunch. Takasugi-San’s Obento will appeal to foodie manga fans and those who enjoy slice of life stories. Takasugi is a hapless newly minted professor who hasn’t been able to get a regular faculty position since getting his doctorate. While the manga says his subject area is geography, his research methods look a lot more like cultural anthropology to me. While Takasugi is in his early thirties, he gets blindsided with adult responsibilities very quickly when he gets word that his long-lost aunt has died and left him her 12 year old daughter Kururi.

Kururi ends up being a tiny, doll-like girl who mainly presents herself as a blank slate. She does however get extremely excited about grocery store bargains, as she and Takasugi mainly attempt to bond with each other through the process of making lunch for the next day. Along the way they explore favorite meals and how the preparation of a bento can take on a deeper meaning. Kururi shops around to find the ingredients for a lunch her mother used to prepare for Takasugi after he makes an offhand comment about remembering his Aunt’s lunches. When Takasugi observes the differences between Kururi and her classmates at school he concludes that the way to fix things is to put more ingredients in her bento.

Different dishes and geographic variation with food are addressed as Takasugi and Kururu slowly get used to living with each other. They communicate mainly through food preparation. There’s a bit of a humorous element to this slice of life manga, as Takasugi’s eagerness to prove that he isn’t creepy for being the guardian of a 12 year old girl comes across as somewhat creepy, and his colleagues are constantly talking about Takasugi’s lack of job direction. There are some glimmerings of romance, but the focus of the manga is on food preparation, and I hope it stays this way for the next volume. It was interesting to read about the various ways of making bento in the context of this slice of life story.

Red Blinds the Foolish by est em

I wasn’t sure at first what I was going to write about for the 801 Manga Moveable Feast, and then I remembered that I bought a few volumes of manga when Deux was going out of business and hadn’t gotten around to reading them. In particular I’ve been hoarding a couple Est Em books that I haven’t read yet, I think just because I just liked knowing that there was some English language Est Em manga that I could look forward to.

As I picked up this volume, one thing that caught my attention was a quote on the back by translator Matt Thorn comparing est em to Ursula LeGuin. At first I wasn’t sure what to make of that comparison, but as I thought about it more it seemed to make sense, as both authors explore concepts, ideas, and place in their work in an extremely thoughtful way. I tend to think of est em as a literary titan among yaoi authors. Red Blinds the Foolish doesn’t disappoint the reader looking for more thoughtful yaoi.

The main story in this volume focuses on Ratifa, a young successful matador, and Mauro who ends up butchering the bulls that are killed in the ring. Maruo is bull-like in some of his characteristics, as he is color blind just like a bull. This type of set-up might seem like a bit like metaphoric overload from a lessor creator, but est em’s slice of life approach documents the growing relationship between the couple in such a natural way that the reader ends up absorbing a lot of philosophy and bullfighting information without being hit over the head with a hammer of symbolism. There are fairly explicit sex scenes in this book, but I didn’t find them to be particularly lascivious because they take place in the context of a conversation between the characters. They could just be going out for coffee or eating tapas and and talking but since this is a yaoi manga they’re having sex.

The last third of the manga is a few short stories focusing on relationships in various stages – established, just beginning, and nostalgic. What makes est em’s work so interesting isn’t so much the specific details of the plots of her stories, but the general sense of wistfulness or longing she evokes by the time the reader reaches the conclusion. Seeing est em illustrations and then going back to more commercial manga always gives me a bit of mental whiplash, as her style with delicate, not overly polished lines and a very judicious use of screen tone always evokes a sense of clarity. I enjoyed reading Red Blinds the Foolish very much. It shows how versatile est em can be, that she can produce a work that explores relationships like Red Blinds the Foolish and then is also able to make an abrupt turn into the wacky but still poignant with a manga like Working Kentauros.