Of course, very few historical manga are straight up adaptations of history. Most take some liberties with the material. Some, like today's selection, take a lot of them.
LE CHEVALIER D'EON (Shuvarie d'Eon), based on the story by Tow Ubukata and drawn by Kiriko Yumeji. First published in 2005, and first published in North America in 2007.
During the reign of Louis XIV, something strange and supernatural is afoot. Learned men are being possessed by strange spirits that spur them to write crazed poetry in the blood of innocents as they shapeshift into strange reptilian creatures. The only defense Paris has against these monsters is the Chevalier Sphinx, a fearsome woman who masterfully wields her blade against those who threaten the city. What few people know is that the Chevalier Sphinx is in fact the male Chevalier d'Eon, a hapless police officer and secret agent for the king who calls upon the spirit of his dead sister (not to mention a frilly dress and wig) to transform into the Sphinx. What are the mysteries behind d'Eon's transformation and those behind the poor men force to write these bloody psalms?
Le Chevalier d'Eon is a nifty concept for a historical AU, but its fast pace and lack of backstory ruin what potential it may have had.
The pacing is nothing short of relentless. We begin the story mid-fight, and those fights never seem to let up. They seem to follow the same sort of pattern: d'Eon screws up at his day job, we meet the victim of the week, the victim transforms, the Sphinx shows up to save the day, and the status quo returns. The only relief from the formula comes from d'Eon's occasional visits to the king, which in the end serve only as exposition dumps. Even these are rushed through, so the reader is never given an explanation for anything, and the story is in desperate need of it where d'Eon is concerned. We never learn who d'Eon's sister is, why she is dead, or how she is able to possess her brother, and it's a plothole that's simply too massive to be brushed aside.
Speaking of the Chevalier himself, he's a bit too feckless at times to be truly interesting. In all fairness, it is part of an act he uses to get info without making him suspicious, a tactic familiar to fans of The Scarlet Pimpernel. On the other hand, this means we get a lot of tedious scenes where d'Eon screws up and the chief makes him do menial tasks as punishment, leaving his errand boy Robin to clean things up. He doesn't even seem to change all that much when he transforms aside from his outfit and his increased fighting skills. It's rather strange, considering that there really WAS a Chevalier d'Eon who was a spy as well as one of history's first transgendered figures. That's a great hook for a story. I just don't know how it was transformed into this rushed, spotty mess.
Le Chevalier d'Eon has surprisingly ornate artwork, which is fitting for a series set in the Baroque period. There's a high level of detail on the characters and textures, and everyone seems to be outlined in thick scratches of black ink. Unfortunately, that same level of detail was not spared for the backgrounds. Instead, that space is filled with thick, rough hatching and speedlines. Panels are cramped, which gives no room for the action to flow or for the details to truly shine. It's not like Yumeji wasn't trying, but it's all too cluttered to be appealing.
Aside from the usual translation notes, there's also a little script where d'Eon and Robin provide historical context for the story, talking about things like the court of Versailles.
The artwork has some interesting qualities, but the story is too rushed and scattershot and the art too messy for its own good.
This series is published by Kodansha, formerly Del Ray. The series is complete in 8 volumes. The physical volumes are out of print, but the series is being rereleased in e-book form through most large e-book retailers.
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