Queen of Ragtonia Volume 1 by Chika Shiomi
I think my expectations were too high for this middle-of-the road fantasy title from Chika Shiomi. I’ve previously enjoyed her series Night of the Beasts and Yurara, but the first volume of Queen of Ragtonia fails to deliver the satisfying reading experience that I’ve come to expect from Shiomi. Falna is a Princess aided by a male Liesan spirit. Her left eye and the use of her legs were taken from her by demons. Cardus is an incredibly tall man with impressive musculature. His right eye was stolen from him by demons. He has the special demon-fighting sword called the Igliese that Falna’s been searching for. Together, they fight the Necromancer who controls the demons terrorizing the humans.
Queen of Ragtonia is based on a doujinshi (fan work) by Shiomi and she reworked it for regular publication. The non-professional origins of Queen of Ragtonia show in the way the stock fantasy plot elements are randomly thrown at the reader with not much in the way of explanation. Liesans are demon fighters, but what are they exactly? Demons drain energy from withered human body parts and the humans afflicted are known as Ragtonia? Where did the mystical Igliese sword come from? It seems that Falna can use the power of the sword to give the demons peace instead of destroying them.
There were a few things I liked about Queen of Ragtonia. Shiomi’s art is attractive. I liked the bantering relationship between Falna and the hulking Cardus. It was cute they way the new partners headed off to battle together with Falna perched on Cardus’s shoulder. After the first couple chapters, the manga actually surprised me when it revealed Cardus’s motivation for seeking out the Igliese sword. I’m going to give the second volume of this series a chance if it comes out, just because I have really enjoyed Shiomi’s work in the past and I like the dynamic between the main characters. If it doesn’t get much better than the first volume, I’ll likely drop the series. This manga was a bit on the thin side too, with less than 150 pages included. I guess I’ll have to wait a little longer to find a new fantasy series to get excited about.
MangaCast points out two josei titles that have been licensed by Aurora. I enjoy their book Walkin’ Butterfly, but I haven’t picked up many other titles from them that I see myself collecting. Nephilim was a hot mess (which might be ok for those who are into that kind of thing), and I’ve skimmed through some of their other titles like Make Love and Peace and Love for Dessert but I was a little underwhelmed. Aurora seems to be getting the most financial success from their yaoi line Deux, but I was really hoping for more josei when they started publishing here.
So I’m definitely going to check out these two titles (Queen of Ragtonia and Tengu-jin) since they are coming from the same publishing house in Japan that put out Suppli and Paradise Kiss. I like fantasy series and josei, so these sound like series I’ll enjoy. Queen of Ragtonia is by Chika Shiomi, and I’ve liked reading her previous series Night of the Beasts and Yurara. Usually publishers tend to lock up works by one author, so I find it amusing that Shiomi now has works out from 4 different publishers in the US – Canon (CMX), Night of the Beasts (GoComi), Yurara (Viz), and now Queen of Ragtonia from Aurora.
Nephilim Volume 1 by by Anna Hanamaki (amazon)
This series was an occasionally pretty yet incredibly incoherent mess. Guy is a talented assassin who shops for his clothing at Fabio’s Romance Cover Puffy Shirt Store. I don’t know why an assassin would run around in a shirt unbuttoned to his navel all the time, it doesn’t seem very sneaky. Perhaps Guy contracted some sort of fever and needs to feel the breeze on his chest in order to keep cool.
Guy meets Abel who is a Nephilim, a member of a secretive tribe of gender-bending people who are male by day and female by night. Their strange tribal customs extend to their attire, as they seem to roam around in the jungle barefoot while wearing a skimpy bathrobe. When Guy sees Abel in her female form, she vows to kill him.
Abel embarks on one of the least effective campaigns for revenge I’ve encountered in manga. She trails after Guy as he pursues his mission to rescue the kidnapped mistress of a king. Abel will occasionally brandish a knife and try to slice Guy up, but he easily disarms her. When she isn’t making feeble threats on his life, she’s defending him from danger because she wants to be the one to kill him. Do they end up falling in love despite their adversarial relationship? Are there horrible complications in the form of Abel’s Nephilimese curse? Yes!
After thoroughly enjoying another Aurora release, Walkin’ Butterfly, this book was a disappointment. While it wasn’t absolutely horrible, the predictable plot combined with characters I don’t really want to read about ensures I won’t be buying further volumes of this series. The author note stated that Hanamaki invented the characters for this story in middle school, and it does read like a book written by an adolescent who was mainlining romance novels. Perhaps the story and characters should have been put back in the oven to bake another 10 years.
Walkin’ Butterfly Volume 2 by Chihiro Tamaki (amazon)
There aren’t that many josei series being published, so having previously enjoyed the first volume of Walkin Butterfly, I was happy to find that the second volume was just as good. Michiko signs on with the talent agency run by “old bat” Tago, and faces a series of obstacles; learning how to walk in high heels, passing out flyers, and being sent to a temple in the mountains where she endures a training regime that wouldn’t be out of place in a martial arts film. She starts auditioning for jobs as a model, but quickly learns that she has a long road ahead of her if she wants to catch up to the fashion designed Miharu.
In the first volume Miharu is enigmatic. He’s presented as an embodiment of the high fashion world and the focus of Miharu’s ambitions to change herself. The second volume provided more of a glimpse into his world. Although he’s successful, he’s dealing with stressful business issues from setting up his own fashion line and he faces the choice of continuing on his own or signing on as a designer to a larger label. Miharu’s family doesn’t approve of his unmanly career in fashion, and his accomplishments are overlooked. We learn that Miharu was awakened to the transformative power of clothes when he was dressing up as Superman with a cape when he was a little boy.
Michiko unwittingly has an effect on Miharu, but it doesn’t help her any when she tries out for his show. Part of the reason why I like Walkin’ Butterfly is that usually in manga a character will pursue a goal with single minded tenacity, but Michiko goes through a more realistic cycle of doubting herself, questioning if she can make it in the fashion industry, and then going back with renewed determination. The supporting characters in Walkin’ Butterfly remain interesting as well. In addition to learning more about Miharu, Michiko finds out about Toda’s past as a model and the cute truck driver Nishikino pops up to be supportive.
Walkin’ Butterfly by Chihiro Tamaki
Walkin’ Butterfly is one of the first books from Aurora Publishing. As someone who’s wished for more josei manga to read, I figured I had to check it out.
Michiko has cripplingly low self esteem because she’s freakishly tall. Her main hobbies are working on motorcycles and occasionally indulging in a little bit of juvenile delinquency. She has a crush on her friend and main source of support, a truck driver named Nishikino, but he sees her as a little sister. One day when she’s delivering pizzas for yet another dead-end job she’s mistaken for a model in the backstage area of a fashion show. Before she can correct the mistake she’s decked out in glamorous clothing and make-up. She’s shocked that women as tall as her have a job like this, and assumes that it is simple to put on clothes and walk down a runway.
The fashion designer Mihara glances at her and knows immediately that she doesn’t belong because a real model would be nervous before a big show. He tells her that she’s just “an ordinary amazon” and he feels sorry for his clothes seeing them on her. Michiko takes this as a challenge and lunges for the catwalk, determined to prove him wrong. But she freezes up when everyone stares at her, ruining the fashion show. She runs away feeling humiliated.
Michiko is determined to change her life, and she fixates on the fashion show and designer Mihara as a way to prove to herself that she’s worth something. Knowing next to nothing about the fashion industry, she’s determined to be in another of Mihara’s shows.
I enjoyed the art in Walkin’ Butterfly, which reminded me of a bit of a mash-up between Yayoi Ogawa and Erica Sakurazawa. The volume is printed on higher quality paper stock than most manga, and includes an extensive interview with the author, but I wish that it included some translation notes. There’s some scenes involving drug use and nudity that would probably put Walkin’ Butterfly in an adult collection in most public libraries. I’m curious to see how Michiko will handle becoming a model, and I wonder if she’ll find out more about the enigmatic fashion designer she’s determined to prove wrong.