The movie Labyrinth came out in 1986 and featured a young Jennifer Connelly, lots of dancing muppets, and David Bowie in hose that left little to the imagination. I don’t know what people thought of it back then (besides what Wikipedia tells me) because I was not yet alive, but I know that when I first saw it in high school, I thought it was great. What older sibling hasn’t wanted to wish their younger brother or sister away? And what teenage girl doesn’t wish an immortal fae David Bowie was in love with her? And yes, let’s be honest, outside of the rationalizing Sarah/Jareth shippers can do about their relationship, it is sort of creepy and rape-y. (“Fear me, love me, do as I say, and I will be your slave”? That’s a bit much to ask, Jareth.) But this is not a review of the movie, but as it is Manga Mondays, a review of the manga sequel to the Labyrinth story published only a few years ago, entitled Return to Labyrinth.
Spoilers below the jump.
Return to Labyrinth starts out a little trickily, because the artist of the beautiful Alichino manga did the cover art, while a different artist did the actual illustrations in the books. The manga art is not terrible, but it was a bit disappointing to see Kouyu Shurei’s art on the front and then have a much more American, cartoony style inside.
The first thing I was surprised about upon reading this was that the main character of this story is by no means Sarah. In fact, Sarah has become a dowdy schoolteacher, is no longer the imaginative and fun-loving girl of the original, and is only seen a few times in the first manga (and only comes into the plot in the third, where these bizarre changes in character begin to be explained). The focus of Return to Labyrinth’s story is on Toby. I was a little disappointed by this because I’ve always liked and connected with Sarah on several levels: as a sister, as a geek, as a cosplayer, as a lover of fantasy. However, the plot is on Toby, for better or worse. Toby is a good kid if a bit emo and a little spoiled because the Goblin King (who still has his eye on Toby for the throne) has been helping him out in secret for years. This is played a little too pedo and creepy for my tastes in the first manga, but it gets better. Toby is eventually lured away, back into the Labyrinth, and the adventures begin. There are some cameos from old friends such as Hoggle and Sir Didymus, but mostly Toby makes new friends from among the Labyrinth’s inhabitants.
As the plot progresses, we discover several things: why Jareth needs an heir if he’s immortal, for one; the history of the Labyrinth, for another. The medium allows the authors to add details about the Labyrinth’s inhabitants, neighbors, and customs that a movie simply couldn’t share. I mentioned that Toby makes new friends; these companions as well as a new crew of villains (actually villainesses) from the neighboring country are just a few of the many magical folk we’re introduced to.
And Sarah (and the fanbase) aren’t forgotten entirely: while Toby learns what he must do to become Goblin King and contends with the treacherous Queen Mizumi and her daughters, Jareth, who it is revealed is really in love with Sarah, ventures out of the Labyrinth and into the human world to find her.
There are a lot of places you could critique this series from several standpoints: first of all, they replaced the capable female lead with a boy, and the main villains are female. To the first point, however, I’d argue that any story where Sarah willingly returned to the Labyrinth is probably poorly characterized fanfic—why would she go back after the harrowing and difficult experience she had the last time? And as for the women-as-villains issue, Mizumi’s romantic history with Jareth is arguably what turns the whole plot, and it would be hard to change her gender without changing the whole plot, not to mention Jareth’s preferences. Even so, she’s a bit generic. The other issue I’d point out would be the often cringe-worthy corny or “punny” humor employed in the writing, but on that topic I’d argue that the original movie was full of those kinds of jokes and visuals, so it’s really just a matter of staying true to the source material.
The ending of the series is actually pretty satisfying as well. I’ll leave it to you, dear readers, to find out what happens to Toby, Sarah, Jareth, and the manga’s new cast of characters, because I liked this series enough to recommend it. Slight spoilers for the shippers, though: Sarah still doesn’t marry Jareth.
However, the way it does end left me (as a shipper myself) nodding and agreeing with the choices Sarah does make, based on her character.
So basically: Return to Labyrinth is a fun continuation of a movie I never expected to see a sequel to. I wouldn’t say it’s the best thing I’ve ever read, but if you’re a fan of the movie, I’d suggest picking up this series and giving it a try. (Your mileage may vary, of course.)