It seems to be the year of the reboot—Powerpuff Girls, Digimon, and Ghostbusters all made triumphant (and less than triumphant) returns to geek culture this year, so it seems only expected that other geeky media from our childhoods would follow suit. Even given all this, though, I never expected CLAMP to announce that Cardcaptor Sakura, their successful manga/anime which ended in 2000, would have a new story. Not just an epilogue-y oneshot: an actual new story, set a year after the end of the original series. The series started in June as part of a monthly manga anthology, and now that it finally has three chapters, it’s time to take a look.
When I was in elementary school, one of my favorite after-school cartoons was the anime Cardcaptors. It was probably responsible for every trope that I love today—this series had wingfic, magical cats, and even the odd dragon or two. When I grew up, though, I learned that Cardcaptors was in fact just a really poorly dubbed and mangled version of its original Japanese series, Cardcaptor Sakura. And so, because I was feeling nostalgic, I set out to rewatch the original series as it was meant to be watched.
Magical girl anime and manga have been around for what seems like forever and have meshed with several other genres outside of their shoujo roots. Recently—for seemingly no reason—I was reminded of Magic Knight Rayearth, a magical girl series that combines the transformations and magic we all know and love with the sort of impending doom one might get from a Final Fantasy game, with a dose of giant robot anime on the side. The three protagonists—Hikaru, Umi, and Fuu—journey to a land called Cephiro to become the Magic Knights to save its Pillar (aka: Princess/Priestess) and learn how to harness their magic and mechas along the way, but the functionality of Cephiro’s magic is more explored through the series’s side characters (which makes sense, since the three heroes are from Earth and not Cephiro). While for the most part the magic is your typical elemental/summoning fare and the series utilizes several genre and character tropes, Rayearth does manage to surpass the limitations of some of these tropes. In the case of the character Presea, an older woman in a series focused on younger women, I found this to be especially true. Through both her character and her personal magics, Presea manages to become her own person rather than a character defined by her presumed role in patriarchal tropes.
Anime isn’t usually hailed as a feminist-friendly art form unless speaking about a very specific example. With images of illogical breasts floating around the internet at alarming speeds and subtypes like harem anime being some of the most popular and readily accessed genres, the apprehension is easy to understand. As a fan of anime, especially as someone who happens to like some of those Escher girl-esque harem shows, ignoring these things has become impossible. However, pointing out such obvious examples of poorly written or drawn representation does little to actually further the conversation outside of “wow, yeah, that’s bad.” Of course, there’s a time for these conversations with more obvious examples, but it’s perhaps more important to look at underlying elements in these narratives.
With two of my favorite anime/manga series, Trigun and X/1999, something always sat wrong with me in the way the series gave their male leads incentives to further the story’s plot. Namely, by killing off a female character. These deaths begin the series-long lament of the male protagonist over how they could have/should have saved her and all the fun times that come along with such thoughts. But the more I thought about it, the more the two deaths began to seem less similar, although they functionally serve the same purpose in terms of the male protagonist outside of plot progression—they give the protagonists some goddess-like martyr to aspire to.
Trigger warning for gore under the cut.
Legend of Chun Hyang is based on a Korean folktale, and is about the young Chun Hyang, a woman living in an oppressive society. The land of Koriyo has around three hundred towns and is ruled by the Chun-An government. In order to govern these towns, the Chun-An appointed three hundred and twenty-one Yang Ban—ruling nobles. Unfortunately, some of these Yang Ban are corrupt and have enslaved the towns they are meant to watch over, leveling harsh taxes and laws on the citizens. Furthermore, they punish anyone who disobeys with death.
Chun Hyang lives in one of these abused towns, fortunately for her fellow townsfolk. She’s spirited, beautiful, and good-natured. Pretty much, she’s every typical feminine trait in order for us to like her. Oh, and she’s a badass martial artist who rises up against the oppression her people face.
In the original legend, Chun Hyang is a commoner who fell in love with a nobleman. However, when she and her beloved were separated by “fate”, as it were, other suitors asked for her hand in marriage. She refused their advances and was thrown in jail because of it. This has made her a symbol of chastity, and even this day, she is honored for it. If there’s more to the original legend outside a young woman being punished for refusing a man and honored for her endurance in the face of all that, the manga doesn’t really say.
From what I can tell, the manga takes a lot of artistic license with this story. Here, Chun Hyang is more or less an active fighter against the evil Yang Ban ruling her town. It’s actually quite nice to see a female protagonist who isn’t a complete damsel in distress. She still meets her lover from the original legend, and the two fall in love, but she is no longer a victim of circumstances.
Unfortunately, I can’t say that I’m all that interested in the story. The manga is only one volume long, so it’s a short read, but the art gets to me. It’s really not good, and there were some panels that I had to stare at for a while before I figured out what was happening due to bad perspectives and lines. What first threw me off it, though, was the storytelling in general. In the very first few pages, a Yang Ban’s son is about to force a common woman to go home with him so he can rape her. After Chun Hyang arrives to beat up his guards and succeeds in saving the woman, the art annoyingly changes to a chibi-fied version of her and the son. She laments not having a better challenge, and the son has a “cute” angry face because he can no longer rape a woman. It was a bit of a WTF moment.
The story’s not that bad, but it could be better. The art is where it suffers most. Read it if you want to. It does feature a fairly interesting—if clichéd—female protagonist, but she is active, and that’s something. If you decide to skip it, it probably won’t be a big loss.
Keeping with LadyBacula’s theme of talking about the series that got one into anime and manga, I feel it’s only right to bring up this series. I found Magic Knight Rayearth during my “buy something randomly and hope I like it” phase early on in my career (I have a lot of these, for better or worse) and luckily I enjoyed it quite a lot. Although the art style lends itself to the shojou genre and despite having both school girls and snippets of romance, this series manages to keep itself firmly planted in the “magic girl” genre, focusing more on the adventure rather than the romance. And by this point, I think it’s safe to say that CLAMP is skilled at making stories that contrast with the art style; even X/1999’s art is rather cute, especially for an apocalyptic manga. That’s for another review, though.
It’s fair to say that this series is broken into two distinct parts (not counting whatever the anime series did). The first part focuses almost exclusively on the three girls, and not without good reason. Hikaru, Fuu, and Umi are three girls from three different schools who are all on a field trip to Tokyo Tower when a blinding light transports them to the land of Cephiro. From there on, the girls have to essentially play through a real-life RPG, with a princess to save—the princess of Cephiro, Emeraude, has been seemingly trapped away by the evil priest, Zagato—weapon upgrades, a token mascot, the works. In other words, my dream come true. However, after getting some sweet mechas, cool magic, and reaching the princess the girls realize that the situation was not what they were lead to believe. After a heartbreaking final battle, the girls are thrown back into their own world (where not even a moment has passed since they were transported) with the possible destruction of an entire country on their hands and a lifetime of pain in their hearts.
After ‘settling back in’—I use the term loosely because none of the girls truly return to their previous selves, and who would?—the second part focuses on the return to Cephiro and the attempted reconstruction of the country. After the last battle, Cephiro has lost their pillar—the one person that protects everyone and everything in Cephiro at the sacrifice of their own desires and life (they don’t die, they just can’t live for themselves)—and that has left the country in total disarray and it is literally falling apart. Because of this, the countries of Fahren, Chizeta, and Autozam have decided to invade to become Cephiro’s pillar for their own reasons. Fahren wants to make Cephiro their personal playground. Chizeta wants a subordinate. Autozam just wants to make the country fade into nothing. So, once more Hikaru, Umi, and Fuu must don their mechas and protect Cephiro.
What I like most about this series is how unique the girls are and that the three main characters are strong females. Fuu is exceedingly proper and intelligent. Umi is hot-headded and emotional. Hikaru is almost overly-caring in some places and always optimistic. They have their arguments, but still can remain friends and kick ass. They have weak moments, they have strong moments. They’re human. They’re characters that a young girl reading the series can look up to.
At only six volumes, the series isn’t too much of an investment money or time wise, but I would recommend reading this well-loved series.
Hey followers and browsers! Coming up in the next couple of days is AnimeUSA: a really big anime convention in Arlington, Virginia. Coming up on Thursday, in fact. This is going to be not only my first massive convention, but also my first one out of state. As you can probably guess, I’m super excited! And, if you know me, you can probably also guess that I’m scrambling around trying to get my cosplay together before I leave which usually consists of me running around my house, flailing my arms crying “I don’t know how to do this” until it magically comes together somehow. You would think I would eventually learn…
Because of my amazing time management skills, I don’t have as much time as I would like to devote to this week’s Manga Mondays. As such, we will be looking at a smaller piece that stays true to my shoujo roots. Full of love and zip-a-tone, we will be looking at “The One I Love” [私の好きな人] by manga’s royalty themselves, CLAMP.