Tuesday, July 15, 2014


Today's review comes from a source that is shockingly rare in fantasy manga - a novel series.  You can find plenty of original stories, many based on video games, some even based on someone's Dungeon & Dragons notes, but literary sources are rarer than you would think.

GUIN SAGA: THE SEVEN MAGI (Guin Saga Shichinin Nomadoshi), adapted from the novel series by Kaoru Kurimoto & drawn by Kazuaki Yanasigawa.  First published in 2001, and first published in North America in 2007.

In the kingdom of Cylon, the leopard-headed warrior Guin rules over all.  He has barely had time to adjust to life as both a king and husband before things begin to go wrong.  A terrible plague is coursing through the land, turning its victims into black-limbed husks.  Times are so desperate that some have taken to killing innocents because they believe bathing in blood will protect them.  When Guin tries to investigate the source of the plague, he is led to a red light district that is concealing all sorts of dark secrets.  There he finds spider demons, witches, wizards, and a spunky dancer girl who becomes a companion.

Guin soon learns the terrible truth:  he is the cause of all the supernatural misfortune in his kingdom.  His strange appearance and strong spirit has drawn them to his kingdom, and they are determined to make him and his people suffer.  Now Guin must set forth to discover the source of the evil and eradicate it once and for all.

Guin Saga's reputation is more than a little intimidating.  It's a light novel series that ran well over 100 volumes before the author's recent death.  While the main series was complete, she died while working on a number of side stories. This manga series is based on one those side stories, and that means that you have to simply take some things for granted, because it presumes you are already familiar with the main story line.  You simply have to accept things like a man with a leopard's head because...well, just because.

I also suspect that the plot's rather jumpy tone also can be blamed on the story presuming you are familiar with the main story in the first place.  You start out with the plague, and then BAM! SPIDER DEMONS EATIN' WHORES!  By the time you begin to come to terms with that, the story decides to spend an inordinate amount of time in a witches' lair, where a nearly naked black witch speaks a lot of mystical mumbo-jumbo while hitting on Guin.  Things only start to come back into focus once they find a headless wizard (don't worry, he gets better).  He's the one who makes the connection between everything from the spider demons to Guin's marital troubles with his distant, disdainful queen to Guin.  The end result is a perfectly good way to start a quest, but it feels like it takes forever for the story to get to a point and that it needlessly makes things confusing.

Speaking of pointless and confusing, let's talk about Guin's new friend Valusa.  She's a whore "dancer" who alerted Guin to the spider demon in the first place.  Since she's out of a job, Guin takes her in.  She's grateful, but she mostly expresses her gratitude by trying to sleep with Guin.  Thankfully, we're saved from this uncomfortable situation by the aforementioned prophecy, and Valusa insists upon following Guin on his quest.  There's nothing wrong with her being grateful for his help and wanting to help fight, but she seems like she will be more of a liability than anything else.  She hasn't demonstrated any particular skill for fighting or magic wielding.  She doesn't hold any sort of literal or metaphorical key to solving Guin's problem.  Unless she's planning to help Guin with the power of fanservice, I don't see much point to Valusa and her place in the story.

I had high hopes for this story because of its literary sources, and I feel like the story was starting to shape up into something interesting.  The problem is that it takes far too long to get to that point, and throws in some pointless fanservice to boot, and all it does is leave the reader adrift in confusion.

Once again, I found a manga series that was released in the 2000s, but looks like it was drawn a decade earlier.  The character designs outside of Guin are weird and unappealing.  They remind me a bit of Mazakazu Katsura's (Video Girl Ai, I"s) older style, with their big heads.  Still, those faces contain strange faces, with wide-set eyes and small squashed faces.  Their boobs are also weirdly wide-set, and placed upon short, stocky bodies.  It's really telling that I struggled for a good long while trying to figure out if the witch was drawn in a way that could be construed as racist.  Ultimately, I concluded that it wasn't the case because she didn't look any stranger than most of the cast; almost everyone was badly drawn. 

Yanigasawa does try his best to put some life and detail into the artwork. The backgrounds are well-detailed, and the monsters are fantastical and strange.  The panels are large and uncluttered, which at least means that he can't take any blame in how hard the story can be to follow.  It's just that the art is kind of strange and off-putting and doesn't entirely mesh with the story.

There are flashes of inspiration here and there in both the story and art, but the story is a little too convoluted for its own good and the art is a little too squashed and strange to appeal.  I hate to say it, but Vertical kind of got stuck with a dud here.

This series is published by Vertical.  5 volumes were released, and are currently out of print.

You can purchase this volume and many more like it through RightStuf.com!

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