Today we’re going to explore the mystical realm of doujins. It’s a lot to absorb but stick with me! Being an anime fan for a vast majority of my life, I have experienced many things. I’ve seen really awful shock comics like Mai-chan’s Everyday Life. Silently observed ship (relationship) wars over characters so fierce they might have burned a hole in the internet itself. And, of course, I have seen really soul-wrenchingly bad translations and usages of Japanese. Not everyone wishes to take the language and that’s cool but for the love of god, if you don’t know what it means, don’t use it. And, above all else, don’t try to translate things.
One of the worst cases of this is that people say over and over again that the meaning of ‘manga’ [漫画] is “whimsical pictures” and I HATE it. It’s just wrong. When putting it that way it’s lying about the art form and, in some ways, restricting it. Literally interpreting the kanji it means “cartoon picture” (trust me, these pictures aren’t always whimsical) but what about manga’s hipster buddy, doujinshi? Doujinshi [同人誌] translates to “same person documents” which sounds like a jumbled mash of nothingness but in actuality, explains the essence of the doujin rather well.
The easiest comparison is to fan fiction: fan fiction is to novel as doujin is to manga… or any form of media, actually. They are fan comics of varying skill level exploring different aspects of the canon story. They could be used for that, but most of the time it’s just an excuse for characters to get it on (just like fan fiction). There are internet doujins, of course, but most of them are sold in print, in bulk, and in store like Mandarake in Nakano, Japan. All of the work is done completely by the artist or the circle/サークル (group of artists) and it can be an extremely profitable venture if one becomes popular enough.
Now, to answer what some of you are thinking, yes, this practice is essentially illegal in Japan. However, there is a silent agreement of sorts between the circles and the companies: the circles can produce their comics and the companies won’t sue them because it’s an extremely effective way to promote the series, despite the fact that they would have a case against the circle. However, it’s completely different outside of the country—if you’re planning on making one in America, for example, expect a ‘cease and desist’ letter (if you try and sell it, anyway).
Given that no one person makes the same quality comics in doujinshi, I will be rating these stories on a more linear scale than perhaps my other manga reviews. There will be three main categories: art quality, storyline, and how well the characters are kept in character. I will also not be translating the comics as that would take up waaaaaay too much space. If you end up being interested in the story, then send me a message and I’ll see what I can do.
Before we hop into the story, I need to explain the universe this comic is taking place in (yes, you can groan now). This comic takes place in the game verse of Tales of the Abyss, a rather complicated game (JRPG for the PS2 and soon enough, 3DS) that I would highly recommend you play not only because it’s really good but also because this summary isn’t going to do it justice. I will not spoil much because the plot really doesn’t have much to do with the important moments in the game.
This world is separated into two kingdoms—Malkuth and Kimlasca—which are on the verge of war. The duke of Kimlasca’s son, Luke, is a total jackass who only wants to practice swordplay and hang out with his best buddy, Guy (yes, that’s his name). One
day during sword practice, Luke and his master are attacked by a mysterious woman however the magic in Luke’s body and the magic in the woman (Tear) resonate and transport them somewhere unfamiliar, somewhere in Malkuth. Throughout Luke’s journey back to Kimlasca, we run into the snarky colonel of the Malkuth army (Jade), the little boy-pope of the world (Ion), his caretaker who is obsessed with marrying a rich guy (Anise), and the princess of Kimlasca herself (Natalia). Luckily, for this comic, this is all you need to know about the main plot to understand. So, let’s get to the story finally.
This story is from the comic The Blue Prince and the Red Princess which is a collaboration between Hybrid*Panda and Cabbalemon. From the cover we can see the both of them: the princess is pink/red and the prince in blue. But, The Blue Emperor and the Red Colonel would be closer to the characters. Yes, the character in the pink is the aforementioned Colonel Jade Curtiss looking about 100% less snarky than usual, although I will admit he can pull off that dress well. The guy in blue? Well, that’s the emperor of Malkuth, Peony IX. This is, I would say, the most popular pairing in this fandom and not without good reason! These two characters have been friends since childhood and their dialogue in the game is hilarious as both seem to get a kick out of making the other’s life a little more difficult. The potential for romance is there, but how did the authors pull it off?
The story is titled Beauty and the Beast—I’m going to assume you can see where this little tale is going—in which we start out with a ‘beastly’ Jade gazing out across the stormy land when suddenly a very angry Peony busts into his chamber, interrupts the narration, and states that the story would go much better if Jade was the ‘Beauty’
instead. Jade seems to have complied because in the next panel Peony is the beast and… Jade busts in with a whip saying how the evil beast must be tamed (much to Peony’s dismay). The story never gets serious even after this: the magical rose ends up being their long-tortured quasi-friend, Dist, Jade keeps beating up on Peony, and eventually Dist brings out an army of robots and tries to take out Jade (who ends up being protected by Peony). They become more serious as Peony slips into a dramatic death and Jade takes the plunge known as “true love’s kiss”. However, instead of Peony turning into a non-beast (he’s still human), Jade joins him in being a beast. Of course, he’s none to happy about this turn of events and takes out his frustrations on the Emperor who really doesn’t seem to mind.
Okay, so, the story really isn’t all that original and the one plot twist at the end wasn’t really too amazing but it would have been worse if it had the Disney ending, I think. Honestly, the persona of the beast fits them both much better than actual royalty so it was fun to see them play around with that. As for keeping the characters in character
I’d give them a “meh”. I couldn’t call them out of character by any measure but their playfulness is more in words than in actions. Jade already has the power to zap Peony whenever he wants but he doesn’t because he respects him. Although I appreciate that their relationship wasn’t portrayed as the whimpering uke and the jerk-off seme, there was simply too much slapstick and it felt as though the authors couldn’t come up with enough witty dialogue to carry the story. Also, Peony didn’t have any rappigs around, that basically puts him in OOC-land right there (I kid, I kid).
There are two stories in The Blue Prince and the Red Princess and they both have a very distinct art style however I cannot attribute either to anyone specific because they didn’t label the artist for either story. The art is good, however. There are areas where you can definitely tell that this person is not a professional but it doesn’t detract from anything. They like to use shadowing— perhaps a bit too often—and it goes a little bit against the tone. Also backgrounds are non-existent. I know they are a pain in the ass to draw, but it really adds something when time is taken to add little details like that.
Overall, I can’t say that I would recommend this story but I wouldn’t decry it either. It’s very meh and it’s easy to find another doujin that can excel where this one failed.