REVIEW: Manga: Romance with a Capital “R”: From Far Away by Kyoko Hikawa
From Far Away by Kyoko Hikawa. Publisher: Viz. Retail: $9.99 each. 14/14 volumes released in English. Rated T for Teen (some fighting, no sex).
I’m starting to feel a little like Harriet Klausner, with all the positive manga reviews I’ve been doing. But everyone knows there’s a lot of mediocre manga out there. I’m trying to share the good ones that I’ve come to love. This next one I came to love overnight just a few weeks ago and the romance is still new and sparkly in my eyes. That’s probably not the best way to review, but consider yourself forewarned. But for that reason I’m giving this a B+, since A’s really need to stand the test of time with me.
First, thank you to you readers! You recommended this to me after my Basara review, and I read it overnight. “So what?” you might think. “Manga reads fast.” So it was 14 volumes, I dropped $70 for it (yay for coupons and sales), and I couldn’t put it down, except where I had to because I was stupid enough to only buy the first seven the first night. But I was up and hitting the bookstore first thing the next morning.
This is young adult romance and fantasy/adventure, just what I would have wanted to read as a young teen. Had these books been available back in the ??’s, they’d have become instant favorites of mine, up there with The Three Musketeers. Reading them now I know that they’re an instant comfort read for me whenever I want to be swept away into a world that, while it contains evil, is also chock full of warmth.
This isn’t a complex or a deep story. Manga readers have read many variations of it, though since this one is by one of the mangaka of the golden age, chances are she’s one of them who taught them their tricks. A girl gets transported to another land where she’s the key to saving it from a great evil and meets a handsome but lonely hero who needs her love. But as we know in romance, it’s not so much the plot as how you tell it.
The heroine, Noriko, is cute as a button. But not stupid-cute, or martyr-cute, or inept-cute as so often happens in these tales (including others by this author). She’s smart. For the first book or so she doesn’t even speak the language, but uses her head to figure out what’s going on, and makes it her first responsibility to learn to communicate. She’s very positive and loving. She comes from a close-knit family and has a loving background, no angst baby she, and she’s able to spread that to others. But most of the others don’t fall in love with her – this is not a harem story. They form other connections, those of family and friends. Noriko’s no Mary Sue. OK, she’s a little too good, but darn it, she’s so *cute* at it!
The hero Izark is the source of angst in the story. Noriko is The Awakening (stupid name but you get the point) that opens Izark up to becoming the Sky Demon, who is foretold to be a monster of great evil that will destroy the world. As a human, however, he’s about the nicest guy imaginable, though a very withdrawn one. As one might guess, neighbors and relatives weren’t inclined to think the potential Sky Demon was very loveable and shunned him, leaving him with serious angst. But Noriko only saw her rescuer and a hero and a lonely man and fell in love. And therein lies his redemption and the redemption of the world. Here a fight with a demon has thrown him into the pain of childhood flashbacks, until memories of Noriko intrude and he realizes what she means to him (the three pages and two have some fighting and running between) (as usual, reads right to left below and on the page):
Like all good fantasies, there’s a great group of side characters that you come to care about, good and bad, and most people are a bit of both. There are also some excellent action and fight scenes, as good as the better ones I’ve seen in shounen manga (for boys); they had me on the edge of my seat. The comedy is pretty silly and I got a kick out of some things like the village where everyone made up background stories for travelers, each more ridiculous than the last. And there are some wonderfully romantic and emotional moments throughout that had me tearing up.
The art is very 80’s shoujo, but I loved it because it also has a lot of elements from the 20s. I mean, get a load of the villain (on the right). His palace is totally art deco. The artwork throughout the book is mostly clean and simple lineart. There’s not a lot of shading, and not a lot of background detail except where it’s needed to establish a setting. But while there are books where I love intricate art, I didn’t miss it here.
Some people won’t like this because the world is a fairly standard fantasy one, though it seems to be based upon an ancient Indian or Middle Eastern one from the costumes. There’s one main plot thread and not a lot of divergence. The h/h’s relationship never progresses beyond kissing, no sex here, but plenty of romance. The story isn’t realistic and gritty, though the lessons it teaches about friendship and love and how to live are as important and real as you’ll find in any adult manga. The morals are positive but not childish. I found the story very uplifting, which to me is what a comfort read is all about.
All in all it’s a great series for kids and adults who still love kid’s books. This is one longer series I recommend buying, especially if you have teenage girls who love manga. It can be found as a complete set at some places like justmanga.com for $114 with free shipping, or bought individually from discountanimedvd.com for $7.50 a volume for $105. But if that’s too much, do go to the library and try this one out.
I just realized I’ve reviewed three fantasy manga in a row, albeit very different ones. Next time I’ll try to do something different.