This was easily one of my most anticipated titles of the year since not only was it a new josei title, but one from the creator of one of my favorite ongoing manga. So why does it feel like a bit of a disappointment?
FRAU FAUST, by Kore Yamazaki. First published in 2014 and first published in North America in 2017.
To young Marion, Johanna was simply the strange yet smart stranger in town who needed his help. He could have never guessed that she was the Dr. Faust of legend, who made a deal with a demon and now seeks to reassemble the same demon she dealt with. Soon Marion finds himself joining her motley household of orphans and creations, all while holy crusaders try to hunt her down.
I've not been shy about the fact that I loved The Ancient Magus' Bride. I took to the manga from early on and I've been loving the anime as it aired. Hell, I even made a deal with a friend to get her autograph earlier this year! So naturally I was looking forward to this, Kore Yamazaki's latest manga, and that's why I found it so odd that it didn't grab me in the same way Ancient Magus' Bride did.
I wonder if part of the problem is the lack of whimsy. Despite the darker elements present at the very beginning of Magus' Bride, there's a lot of fanciful elements in it. Sometimes it's in the forefront with the main plotline, sometimes it's just drifting around in the background with the woolybugs, but it helped to make that world feel a little more alive. Frau Faust's setting is more urban, more vague when it comes to time period, and far less diverse in comparison. There are no ariels or dragons here, just demons and alchemy and it takes a while for even those to show up.
It also doesn't help that Marion isn't a terribly interesting character. He's a nice kid with a healthy love of books, but otherwise he's a pretty normal kid who mostly serves as straightman to the weirdness around him. I get that he's meant to be an avatar for the audience, but that doesn't mean that he has to be boring as well. Sadly, Johanna isn't all that much better. She's certainly sly, but even after the big reveal she's lacking in the sort of narrative hooks that keeps a reader invested. They dont't really show up until the last third when we meet the rest of her family, and by then that may be too late for some readers.
While Yamazaki's artwork is as fine as ever, she doesn't show it off nearly as much. The characters are more human-looking and down-to-earth, regardless whether they are actually human or not. Even the glimpses we see of Mephistopheles in the past makes him look more like a weirdo in a giant beaky mask than some all-powerful demon. The backgrounds are lovely when they appear, but they are mostly just a bunch of cottage interiors lacking in atmosphere. There is a lot more action in this series versus her previous one, and it's a lot more hands-on. It's not the most fluidly drawn, but she dose manage to capture some beautiful poses from time to time and thus lend them some grace. Overall it feels like most of Yamazaki's imagination was being funneled into her big hit and that Frau Faust suffered somewhat for that.
There's a side story afterwards, The Invisible Museum, with a teen girl who finds herself working for a strange man to recapture the magical (and mostly invisible) residents of his museum. In many ways it feels more like the strong start of a new series than Frau Faust's first few chapters do. The creatures present are imagined in intriguing ways and the smooth modern architecture of the museum makes them stand out all of the more as something unnatural.
Frau Faust gets better as it goes on, but it doesn't quite capture the magic of its predecessor. It will definitely be of interest to other Yamazaki fans, but it's not strong enough to stand out on its own.
This series is published by Kodansha Comics. This series is ongoing in Japan with 4 volumes available. 2 volumes have been published and are currently in print.
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