Monday, May 15, 2017

Merry Month of Manga Review: HARUKA: BEYOND THE STREAM OF TIME

What happens when you take a derivative otome game from the PS1 and try to turn it into a manga?  You get a really incoherent mess, if this thing is any indication.

HARUKA: BEYOND THE STREAM OF TIME (Hanukanaru Toki no Naka De ~Hachiyou Shou), based on the video game by Ruby Part & illustrated by Tohko Mizuno.  First published in 1999 and first published in North America in 2008.



PLOT:

Akane was just a normal girl enjoying the walk to school with her friends Tenma and Shimon. As the cherry blossom petals swirl around her, Akane finds herself and her friends transported to Heian-era Japan.  It seems that Akane is an incarnation of the Priestess of the Dragon God.  This power grants her eight stones which embed themselves in her selected guardians, stones which grant them great spiritual power.  That power will be needed as the kingdom is under threat from the alluring yet dangerous Akram, who wishes to destroy everything.  Will Akane be able to gather her guardians and save her past, or will she fall for Akram's honeyed words?



STORY:

You know how the common logic is that movie adaptations of video games are always awful?  It seems that with few exceptions, the same is true for manga adaptation of video games.  Haruka comes from a time when visual novels were fairly new, and it's clear that they had no idea how to adapt this sort of material into anything remotely coherent.

If this premise sounds familiar to you, don't worry - it's not just you.  Haruka comes from the tail end of the isekai shoujo trend of the 1990s, the same one that spawned works like Fushigi Yugi, Magic Knight Rayearth, and Escaflowne.  As such, it borrows liberally from a lot of these works and others like them, especially from Fushigi Yugi.  It also doesn't add much either.  If anything it feels very condensed, a common symptom of media-to-manga adapatations.  It also retains the blank slate quality of its heroine.  I read through the entire volume and couldn't tell you a thing about Haruka other than she's kind of fretful and kind of dumb.  She's also got terrible taste in men, as she's given a wide variety to chose from and ultimately goes with the villain because he's the prettiest under his mask.

This manga also stands as evidence as to why most reverse harems stop at six boys.  Haruka's got a team of eight various bishies to assemble, in addition to a villain and a handful of supporting characters.  Granted, two of those boys include her school friends, but it's simply too many characters for any writer to juggle at once.  There's just not enough page space to give these guys the kind of space needed to develop any sort of character.  As such, I could barely tell them apart despite them having very different character designs.

The plot is at once vague yet convoluted and it's hard to tell how much of this is because it's a condensed version of a game and how much of this is due to the quality of the writing in that game.  Akram basically wants to kill everything because he likes death and suffering and whatnot and he needs Haruka's priestess powers to do so.  Meanwhile, all of her various protectors and supporters try to stop this, even as most of them waste their time by flirting with Haruka and fighting one another for her favors.  Despite the fact that there is a lot of info-dumping done by a number of characters, I still couldn't tell you what was going on beyond the basics.  It's all so clumsily told that I'd be suprised if anyone could make sense of anything beyond the first few pages.  I have no idea what the game this is based on is actually like, but I can only hope that it's not as much of a mess as its adaptation.

ART:

Tohko Mizuno isn't a mangaka by trade.  Her big claim to fame before this was as character designer for the Haruka game.  I guess that means that none of the characters will be off-model, but it also means that she's not very good at turning those pretty illustrations into a proper manga.  Her character style is very much of its time, which.makes Viz's decision to publish this in 2008 all the more baffling.  Their audience's taste had turned away from the sort of angular, waifish, and (in the case of the guys) more masculine sort of characters that were all the rage when this was originally published.  At least it's a fairly timeless take on that aesthetic and she does a great job with the costume design.  They look good but they're not so ornate as to clutter up the page.

That's about where my compliments for the art end.  Her costumes may not be cluttered, but her composition absolutely is. Her pages are crowded and the visual flow between panels is positively stunted.  She's hopeless at conveying any sort of motion, much less action.  Her backgrounds are boring.  Mizuno has no idea how to tell a story with images.  She only knows how to draw pretty people posing, and that is not the same thing.

RATING:


Haruka: Beyond the Stream of Time is a mess both visually and narratively.  I genuinely wonder why Viz dredged this up from the past when it was well out of date, based on material the West was not familiar with, and had no charms whatsoever to recommend itself.

This series was published by Viz.  This series is complete in Japan with 17 volumes available.  All 17 were published and are currently out of print.

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