March 2012, Other
Yen Press, $12.99, 224 pages, Amazon ASIN 031618201X Part of a series
Not that I’m trying to render myself useless here, but in some ways a review like this has very little predictive value. What, exactly, can I tell you about the manga version of a hit steampunk series? It depends, right? It depends whether you like manga, or have been exposed to it. It depends whether you liked the originals. It depends whether you’ve even read the originals. Me, I thought the manga was okay. But I like the books way better.
Gail Carriger’s The Parasol Protectorate is often named at or near the top of steampunk lists, and deservedly so. Its blend of silliness, world-building, heroine spunk, and cracking characters make for a jolly good ride, and I can’t wait for the next series about Alexia Tarrabotti’s daughter Prudence. In Ms. Carriger’s alternate Victorian world, the amount of one’s soul determines how closely affiliated to supernatural beings you are. But Alexia is a preternatural, a being with no soul, and hence can turn supernatural beings into normal humans with the touch of her hand.
At the beginning of Souless: The Manga, Alexia attends an evening ball but ends up killing a vampire with no manners. Enter Lord Conall Maccon, of the Bureau of Unnatural Registry and alpha of the Scottish Woolsey werewolf clan. He and Alexia have been dancing around each other for months, but investigation into the dead vampire leads to all sorts of complications, shenanigans, and secret societies.
There’s loads more, but Soulless: The Manga only skims the surface of Ms. Carriger’s alternate history. Considering the world building is, in this reviewer’s humble opinion, the best thing about the series, I can’t help feeling something got lost in translation. It has nothing to do with limitations of the visual format; there’s a reason for the saying “A picture is worth a thousand words," and graphic novels have introduced us to some fantastic new worlds.
Here, the manga suffers from two main faults, its brevity and the plethora of close-ups. The latter is due partially to character development and advancing the romance – but it’s also due to, in my opinion, an undue interest in the contours and (probably unrealistic) exposure of Alexia’s jugs. The steampunk possibilities are endless – this was an opportunity for the illustrator, REM, to allow imagination to fly – but when I scan my visual memory of the manga, the first thing that pops up is cleavage. I can’t help feeling a sense of could-have-been.
That being said, there is still stuff to like. Although I think someone new to the series might get confused, I thought the plot was adequately condensed. REM conserved the original series’ sense of ridiculousness and farce, and there are comical moments that translate visually particularly well. I will note that Lord Maccon and Alexia do not look the way I pictured them (Alexia’s nose isn’t as big as it should be), but I think this can be attributed to conventions of the manga genre rather than a deliberate misinterpretation of the original source.
The manga is a fast read, and doesn’t require much thought. If the source hadn’t been so strong, I would have written it off completely. As it is, I think it’s an okay way to pass the time – but really, you could spend your time much better.
-- Jean Wan
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