You Higuri – June – 2009 – 2 volumes
I’m not sure what took me so long to read this volume, I was completely taken by the first. The second was a little harder to get into at first since I let so much time elapse, but then I remembered what was so great. The ethereal atmosphere, the sense of danger surrounding Ludwig, his completely romantic nature contrasted with the dirty politics played around him, his strong desire to live only in a world of beauty and opulence as in a fairy tale, and his strange, strong bond with the head of the stables Hornig. It’s absolutely beautiful, the art is amazing, the story is well-told, and the characters are just… immortal, I suppose. It really is spectacular and romantic and everything a shoujo manga should be.
I still say its interesting that it was published as a June manga. While Ludwig is gay, and part of the plot is that Hornig is one of the few things that keeps him sane and connected to reality and part of his haphazard fantastic personality is bedding other men, the story has a great deal of tact regarding the latter, and we only see a handful of panels in flagrante and nothing graphic. The romance isn’t really the most important part of the story, and it’s negligible that he prefers men. But I suppose it doesn’t work as a DokiDoki title either, and the general DMP line seems like its more for shounen, so maybe June was just the best fit.
I need to take back part of what I said, since romance is a major part of the story. But unusually, it’s not romance between characters, but rather the romance surrounding Ludwig himself. His romance with Hornig is bittersweet and well-developed, but it’s Ludwig’s persona that makes this story worth telling. His relationships with others, even with Hornig, are secondary to what is happening to Ludwig in this volume.
One of my favorite devices was Ludwig’s drive to find a particular actor, only to realize that this person is a figment of his imagination. Ludwig calls this character “the embodiment of the age,” but it later comes to symbolize his developing madness. I thought that was one of the best devices I’ve ever seen, especially since Ludwig is never portrayed as particularly mad. People that dislike him mostly do it because he only cares for his opera and romantic fantasies and building beautiful castles. He does have a talent for ruling, but just prefers not to, and the wars and power struggles in Germany only make him sad.
The story is not without its weaknesses. A large caveat, and one that I can see bothering a lot of people, is that most of the dialogue is absorbed with developing the mystique surrounding Ludwig. There’s not really a plot, the story is mostly driven by his difficulties in expressing his feelings to Hornig and the random snatches of politics we get from time to time. I wouldn’t have it any other way, but I can see how some people might be bothered by the frequent and lengthy descriptions of Ludwig’s fantasy world.
It really is lovely, but probably not for everyone. I would encourage fans of over-the-top dramatic romance to pick it up. It’s a real treat, and it’s made me a permanent fan of You Higuri. I’m surprised it’s such an early work of hers. She didn’t write Cantarella, but I’m looking forward to reading some of her other, later work now.
You Higuri – June – 2009 – 2 volumes
the English edition is an omnibus-size release, the original was 3 volumes long
I’m not entirely sure why I felt compelled to pick up another You Higuri series. Traditionally, I like to read everything by any author I pick up that has been published in English, but the love/hate relationship I have with Cantarella has scared me off of the likes of Seimaiden, Gorgeous Carat, and Crown. But Ludwig II just looked so romantic it was hard for me to turn down, even though it’s probably more like Cantarella than any of the other series translated into English.
Except… somehow, even though this came out a few years before Cantarella, this is everything I want in Cantarella and more. Usually I would expect the storytelling to be a little rougher in an earlier work, but Ludwig II is pretty much absolutely everything I look for when I read a silly historical romance comic. It’s Very Romantic. The main character indulges in fantasies at the apparent neglect of his kingdom. He’s insane, and insanely in love with someone who loves him back. It’s dramatic, sad, tragic, and full of good stories. I can’t get over how much I loved absolutely everything about this book.
The short prologue lets us know that this isn’t a happy story. A woman, Ludwig’s cousin, tells us how he does not fit in with the rest of society, that she and he were the only two that truly understood each other, and that he is, in fact, dead.
And the story moves on from there, taking its time and skirting and swirling topics and plots around in a way that very much makes it read like the fairy tales and heroic legends that Ludwig loves so much. No time is wasted in establishing the main relationship (he is a manservant at the palace, and they are very devoted to one another), but their relationship, while important, is usually only an accompaniment to whatever is going on. Political troubles that Ludwig is unwilling to confront move in and out of the story, as do treachery and betrayal among his counselors and those he trusts. Ludwig’s unwillingness to take a firm stand for or against Prussia is taken as a side affect of his dreamer attitude, but he does it in the best interest of his kingdom as well, since he believes staying low and unnoticed will help keep his subjects from having to engage in a war.
Because he is more interested in his stories, building castles, and his patron Wagner and his operas, a lot of people think he is crazy or unfit to be king. He is in control of his senses, and seems to be fully aware of what people think of him and just doesn’t care. He does lose himself occasionally, usually with horribly violent results.
Aside from poltical intrigue, there are also a few stories about things like Ludwig’s engagement to his younger cousin (the sister of the soul mate mentioned in the prologue) and surviving ill-planned attacks by his lover’s twin brother. The story of his engagement is as tender and emotional as it is heartbreaking, surprising in a “yaoi” manga, though I hesitate to apply that label to this series. Amazingly, Ludwig’s feelings towards others make themselves known to the reader without anything being said, which is part of why this title appealed to me so much. The characters themselves are also likable, or at least Ludwig and his lover were. And surprisingly, after the whole “soul mate” thing mentioned in the prologue, that path is not taken in the story. To marry one’s cousin doesn’t seem to be taboo (and probably wasn’t at the time, since a lot of European royalty was indeed a little incestuous), and the soul mate is the wife and mother in another kingdom. Her absence and loss isn’t really spoken of in the story or evaluated by the characters, but you can still tell that there is a lot between them.
There’s some nice bonus material in the back about Higuri and her editor taking a trip to Germany/Bavaria and learning about and visiting the places she was writing about. I was amused and terrified by the postcards she showed of the real Ludwig II, which I thought were a joke at first. I don’t think they are, though, I suspect they may actually exist, especially given Higuri’s hilarious comments about them.
As I said before, this is a magical story, and it seems to go out of its way to bend over backwards and suit my tastes. It has everything in it that I wanted out of Cantarella, and I couldn’t be more pleased with the romance, the characters, the seemingly accurate historical details, the way his madness and sanity are dealt with, and just about everything else about it. The second volume is definitely on my short list of books to read ASAP when it comes out at the end of the month, and I’m a little sad it took me so long to read this volume.