July 6, 2009
Ah, manhua. Not very much is published in English, and I only actually have one other example of it (Real/Fake Princess, published by DrMaster). Real/Fake Princess is a multi-volume work that bears a resemblance to manga, but this story is a short, large-format book in full color with incredibly detailed art interspersed with full-page illustrations, something more akin to the norm for manhua.
Another important thing to keep in mind about this is that it is a retelling of a 14th century musical play. The story, admittedly, bears no resemblance to modern love stories. The best comparison I can think to make would be to something like an adaptation of an Arthurian legend, or maybe… I don’t know, the Franklin’s Tale from the Canterbury Tales. It’s a fable and a relatively unadorned and plainly-told love story, in its way, but it also has its archaic passion, and there is beauty in its sacrifices. Were I to read the Franklin’s Tale in comic book form, it would not be to enjoy the story, but to enjoy the illustrations, or rather to see how the chosen illustrations could enhance the story. Not to say that the story can’t be enjoyed in both History of the West Wing or the Franklin’s Tale, they are just older stories that might fall on deaf ears. Or something like that.
The History of the West Wing is the story of Chen Yuqing and PianPian. Chen Yuqing is a wandering noble’s son who finds himself staying in the same temple that cloisters the beautiful PianPian. They meet in secret several times and fall in love. Unfortunately, PianPian is already engaged and Chen Yuqing doesn’t have a leg to stand on since he hasn’t taken his civil service exams in order to take up his nobility position. There are some exciting scenes, including PianPian’s loutish fiancee and his shrewish sister as well as a scene where the temple is sieged.
Mostly, though, it’s about the beauty of the illustration conveying the emotions between Chen Yuqing and PianPian. The illustrations are gorgeous digital paintings that capture costume, scenery, and shyness quite well. The color, especially, is quite good. The amount of detail that goes into every panel is not to be believed, and the story art is supplemented by several full-page illustrations of the characters and couple, something that delighted me. The story is a simple one, but the illustrations really do bring it to life.
This is certainly a beautiful book, and I truly appreciate all the work that went into bringing it out in the US. I fear that it might not have much of an audience since the typical shoujo manga reader will probably look for a more involved story, but hopefully it can find at least a bit of a niche among comic fans. It’s certainly worth looking at, that’s for sure.
This was a review copy provided by Yen Press.