Monday, May 18, 2015

Merry Month of Manga Review: KIICHI AND THE MAGIC BOOKS

Instead of failed attempts at playing with fairy tale tropes, let's look at a manga series that actually reads and feels like a proper fairy tale.

KIICHI AND THE MAGIC BOOKS (Moto no Moto no Ana no Naka), by Taka Amano.  First published in 2006, and first published in North America in 2008.


Kiichi is a lonely boy.  His only companion was his late mother, and the rest of his village thinks that his pointed ears and the horn on his head makes him look like a demon.  Kiichi's wanderings lead him to stumble into Mototaro, a travelling librarian who brings books from village to village accompanied only by a strange young girl called Hana.  In this world, books are rare and powerful, and if misused the images inside them can come to life and threaten others.  Kiichi saves his village from one of these rogue illustrations and in turn begs Mototaro to take him with him.  Mototaro reluctantly agrees, and now this motley trio travels the world to find new books and a place in the world for a lonely little boy.


Kiichi feels very much like a fairy tale.  That's not a slight against it in the least, as it combines Eastern and Western ideas with some inspired moments of imagination in a way that feels appropriate for all ages without being pandering or awkward.

The characters are all fairly archetypical.  We have a plucky outcast becoming a hero, a reluctant mentor/father figure, a pesky little sister, and so on and so forth.  Most of the differences are merely cosmetic, like the fact that Kiichi looks like a wee little oni.   It's played quite straight as well, and those who like to have deep characters in their manga might be a little disappointed.  The story also seems to meander for a little bit as it tries to find its focus.  It starts out like it's going to become a monster-of-the-week series, but then it takes things in an entirely different direction when we learn that there are other librarians out there who also want Kiichi and his powers for their own purposes.  This plot twist comes near the end of the volume and it's a welcome addition, as the monster-of-the-week thing was already threatening to grow quite stale.  It hints at a world bigger and more complex than the endless woods and tiny villages we've seen so far, and the story and characters promise to grow in size and complexity with them.  That's probably the best way to approach this sort of story - to start small and simple, but then to build upon those simple ideas and let the story bloom forth into something bigger and better.


Kiichi has a slightly unusual style compared to most manga.  Amano's style does have a touch of the ink-and-brush style of yore, which means that everything comes as freshly dashed onto the page.  It's an oddly old-fashioned touch for a manga that started out as a webcomic.  Still, Amano makes the best of it with the flat yet distinctive character designs and the heavy hatching she uses for the woodlands.  It also is beautifully suited to the magic battles, as Amano's style very much suits the notion of illustrations coming to life.  Otherwise her presentation is fairly simple and straightforward, which suits the simplicity of the story as a whole.


Kiichi and the Magic Books is an archetypical but well-told tale with a slightly unconventional artstyle.  It's a series that would be well-suited for younger readers and it's another quiet little highlight of the CMX library.

This series was published by CMX.  This series is complete in Japan with 5 volumes available.  All 5 were published and all are currently out of print. 

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