Thursday, May 3, 2018

Merry Month of Manga Review: ANGEL'S COFFIN

Once again, we return to the works of You Higuri, a mangaka with a love of history and an even greater love of turning real historical events into shoujo-tinged nonsense.

ANGEL'S COFFIN (Tenshi no Hutsugi - Ave Maria), by You Higuri.  First published in 2000 and first published in North America in 2008.


Marie is a minor noblewoman in the dying days of the Austro-Hungarian empire.  She has a massive crush on the crown prince Rudolf, but she doesn't dare get close enough to him to make her feelings known.  Then she accidentally summons a demon named Seto who promises he can make Marie's wish come true.  As Marie grows closer to Rudolf, Seto finds himself falling for her in spite of her cursed destiny.  Will he come to terms with his feelings or are he, Marie, and the world doomed to burn together?


Between this, Ludwig II and Gorgeous Carat, it's clear that Higuri has a major fondness for stories about fin de siecle Europe.  Who else would write a shoujo manga about the death of Prince Rudolf and the downfall of the Austro-Hungarian royal family?  Who else would turn this story into a supernatural love triangle?  Most importantly, who else would manage to ruin such a dramatically rich topic by turning what was a very real tragedy into a pile of romantic nonsense?

Prince Rudolf was a very real man, the son and heir of the strict, old-fashioned Emperor Josef and his psychologically fragile empress Elisabeth.  Rudolf spent most of his short life in a deep depression  aggravated by his father's refusal to let him take on any political duties due to Rudolf's sympathies towards the more nationalistic and radical parties growing within the country.  Eventually it was too much for him to bear, and the two ended up dead in what was presumed to be a murder-suicide (although there is much debate on that point).  The truth of his death was covered up by the royal family, and in retrospect it is seen as the beginning of the end not only for his family line, but for the empire itself.  The only problem is that like Ludwig II, she takes a true story full of melodrama and mystery and turns her leading man into a romantic ideal.

Higuri whitewashes a lot of the inconvenient details of the real Rudolf and Marie.  I expected her to gloss over the fact that Rudolf was married and had other mistresses on the side.  What I didn't expect was for her to write out his depression entirely, framing Rudolf instead as a man who is simply too pure for the world.  I definitely didn't expect her to treat his death not as a desperate act but instead the result of a betrayal by the rebellious forces Rudolf sided with.  This twist in particular was so ludicrous that it was almost laughable.

Marie doesn't get treated much better.  She's written like a naive, dreamy teenage girl, the sort who imbues a handsome face with every virtue and throws tantrums until she gets her man.  From that point on, she ceases to be an active figure in her own story and instead serves as only a prop for others to fight over.  In many ways she's the perfect stand-in for the audience, but that means that anyone who isn't a teenage girl will likely find her insufferable.  The only character that comes off worse than her is Seto.  He's given little to do in the story but angst after he grants Marie's wish, and the supernatural goings-on around him are both completely at odds with the story and utterly overblown.  Considering how much she changed for the worse, Higuri would have done much better to write a completely original work instead of writing shallow, melodramatic historical fanfiction.


At least You Higuri can always be counted on as a good (if not brilliant) artist.  Her character designs may always be kind of generic, but she draws them in such a lively manner that it helps to allievate what might otherwise be a stiff historical drama.  She also clearly had plenty of fun drawing all the fancy dresses and some of the more ornate interiors.  If there's a downside, it's that Higuri's page composition can get a bit sloppy at times and it muddles the effort she puts into her pages.


Lest you forget that Higuri is primarily known as a BL mangaka, she includes a side story about Rudolf's valet pining for him from afar.  It's little but fluff there to pad what is already an overly florid piece of nonsense.


Angel's Coffin has decent art and makes use of an interesting and inherently dramatic scrap of European history, but her insistence in shoving these true stories into shoujo conventions ruins them every time.  Her version of history is too tidy, too tame, and too inert for its own good. 

This book was published by Go!Comi.  It is currently out of print.

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