RED RIVER (Sora wa Akai Kawa no Hotori ), by Chie Shinohara. First published in 1995, and first published in North America in 2004.
Our story begins with a kiss. No, literally, the first page is our heroine, Yuri, getting her first kiss from the cutest boy in class/close male friend Satoshi. Now not only are things awkward between the two, but strange things keep happening to Yuri around water. It culminates when she is snatched by a pair of hands emerging from a puddle and emerges in a well in a strange land. It turns out that it's not only a strange land, but a strange time - specifically, it's a well in the middle of Hattusa, the capital of the Hittite empire, sometime in the middle of the 14th century BC. She stumbles into Prince Kail, whose tongue apparently doubles as a Babelfish as after a forcible kiss from him, Yuri is able to understand the local language. Kail then turns her over to his stepmother the queen, who is secretly the same sorceress who brought Yuri to Hattusa. It turns out that her son is last in line, and she needs blood for a curse to kill his elder stepsiblings, including Kail. Kail manages to save her, but now Yuri must find a way to get home without either being caught by the Queen and a way to keep Kail from sexually assaulting her.
This is a very old-fashioned shoujo story, and I don't mean that in a complementary sense. This is one of the many "modern girl is sucked into alternate world" that popped up after the success of Fushigi Yugi. It's also a very formulaic story, as it tends to follow the same five steps:
1. Yuri is endangered.
2. Yuri is saved by Kail.
3. Yuri is given a nugget of info on how to get back home.
4. Yuri puts herself into danger again
5. See Step 1.
So, let's talk about Yuri. If you want an intelligent heroine who has some idea how to defend herself mentally and/or physically, you are looking at the wrong manga series. Yuri is proactive only in the sense that she repeatedly plunges herself into danger without a thought or a plan. She's also a complete blank as far as personality is concerned. She's mostly there to be a plot device, a catalyst to get the story going. Her love interest, Kail, isn't much better. All they did for him was crank the Lecherous scale to 11, and it's hard to be invested in a character when he spends his time either saving the heroine from her own stupidity or attempting to rape her. Everyone else is as dimensional as a cardboard cutout.
In fact, the only interesting thing to be found in the story is the setting. The Hittites are rather obscure as far as ancient civilizations are concerned. They were a militaristic little culture tucked away in what is now Turkey, overshadowed by their larger, more prolific neighbors such as Greece and Babylonia. They had a distinct language, a long line of kings, but not a lot of large, spectacular sites. There is a lot about their culture which is still unknown, as it gives Shinohara a lot of room for invention without a lot of concern for historical accuracy. I wonder if she ever uses what is known of the culture for more than the concept of storm gods to sacrifice to. Based on what little effort she puts into her characters and plot, though, I sincerely doubt it.
The character designs are plain and generic for shoujo, where bodies are willowy, chins are pointy, and even the oldest characters look no older than 30 (which makes the king look especially ridiculous, like an actor with a cheesy beard glued to their face). The only detail comes from the pieces (mostly accessories) which Shinohara clearly copied from real artifacts. Too bad that the Hittites didn't leave much in the way of dynamic architecture or images of native clothing for her to copy as well, so expect to see a lot of mud-brick huts and plain robes, tunics, and loincloths. Not even the water, which is the primary medium for magic in this series, is given any sort of flourish of movement or beauty. Red River's art is so plain on so many fronts that it barely registers, save for the few bits of cultural plagiarism. It's effective, but nothing more.
Nothing to note here.
It's weird to think that I would rather recommend Fushigi Yugi to someone over a lesser knockoff like Red River. Sure, I hated the hell out of Fushigi Yugi, but at least it was a story with a personality of its own. Red River has nothing interesting going for it save for the setting, and it barely does anything with that. Since it has nothing interesting to note, there's nothing to be missed by skipping it.
This series was published by Viz. All 28 volumes were released, and Viz is currently rereleasing it digitally through their website. All volumes are currently in print, and 7 of the 28 volumes are currently available digitally.
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