Shion: Blade of the Minstrel

Yu Kinutani – Viz – 1990 – 1 volume

Here’s the second book in the Viz Spectrum line that looks to have included three books.  I’ve already covered Hotel Harbour View by the wonderful Jiro Taniguchi, and I’ve got one more I’ll get to a little later in the week.  These all share a notable unusual format in common.  All are around 80 pages, magazine sized, and have clear vinyl jackets with ridged lines patterned into them.  Shion also has foil printing on the cover, and I think all three have ornate endpapers and vellum title pages.  They are very nice, and Shion is my favorite of the three.

This has more to do with the intricate artwork and the lyrical storytelling than the plot or characters.  I was really blown away by the artwork, which is as intricate and detailed as Kentaro Miura, and looks great at the larger size.  His backgrounds and character designs all look great, though he lacks some of the polish of Miura when it comes to monsters and some other details.  The main character is a traveling minstrel out to slay evil monsters, so there is an almost poetic narration that goes along with his stories that works very well in translation.  The first story in the volume is more an illustrated story than it is a comic, there is very little dialogue and most of the panels are just narrated actions, but it works great.  The second is a more traditional comic, and is the longer of the two.

It’s unusual.  It strikes me as very, very American.  The art and action is very static, and the pictures that go along with narration is very common in American comics (especially old ones) and almost nonexistent in Japanese manga.  The art is also more American-looking than Japanese (even though I compared it to Kentaro Miura, but I’d say the same thing of him).  Of course, I’m completely ignorant of all European comics that aren’t related to 2000 AD, and the artist lists Moebius as one of his influences.  Perhaps it’s very European.  The story has an old European folklore flavor, though it is slightly less surreal than what I understand the work of Moebius to be.  I wish… I wish there were Moebius reprints in English so I could just know.

The story is okay.  I tend to like these sorts of old-fashioned stories that model themselves off old legends and folktales.  The gist is that Shion is hunting demons.  In the first story, we are led through a tale of childhood revenge against a demon that possessed his father and ate his eye as a boy.  The second story is about Shion happening across twin sorcerers who control men with orbs in their heads, and he gets advice from an old God and a talking… shaggy goat thing that tell him how to defeat the sorcerers before they can capture him and hand him over to whatever greater evil he is hunting.  They are simple stories, but well executed, and I was very satisfied.

There’s also an essay in the back that draws parallels between Shion and older legends.  It’s informative, but I liked the essay in the back of Hotel Harbour View a bit better.  I always appreciate when a little extra work goes into informing a volume of manga, though.

Awesome stuff.  Track it down if you can.


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