The Eroicaverse: El Halcon
February 3, 2012
This is the fourth in a series of articles discussing From Eroica With Love and its spinoffs. For the index, go here.
Continuing on with the theme of pirate manga, the next From Eroica With Love spinoff chronologically is El Halcon – The Hawk. It ran in Seventeen magazine from October 1977-February 1978, and once again focuses on Tyrian Persimmon and his naval exploits in the late 16th century. It is a prequel to Seven Seas, Seven Skies, and it attempts to make a more sympathetic character of the cold and calculating character in the earlier work. Flashbacks to an unhappy childhood are interspersed through a story that begins with his first officer assignment and continues as Tyrian gains more power through the English Navy, hoping to one day defect to Spain. Does it succeed in making him a sympathetic character? It’s hard to like Tyrian, but his life story is dramatic, swashbuckling, and lavishly illustrated, so it makes for a great read.
The first forty pages make it clear what kind of man Tyrian is. Fresh from the Royal Academy, he steps aboard his first assigned ship, ascertains that there are mutinous circumstances afoot, targets the captain’s weakness, then sets everything off. What appears to be a bad situation for him (the mutineers succeed, but since mutiny is a hanging offense, they can’t return to England unless they kill all the officers and anyone who would tell a different story) is quickly turned around with some careful planning and saying the right thing at the right time. He is willing to stick his neck out for the crew so that they will not be tried for mutiny, provided they swear allegiance to him. Within the day, Tyrian has become the captain of a ship with a crew loyal for life.
And thus the whole story goes. Tyrian does nothing in his life without weighing the pros and cons. He knows the correct course of action to take before a situation occurs, he’s quick with snap decisions, and he cuts a heroic figure that other men look up to. A cool and distant exterior hides his inner thoughts, where he constantly mulls over the hypocracy of society. And he does nothing that is not in aid of his goal of joining the Spanish Navy as a hero spy that betrayed England.
He’s a bit of a conundrum. He’s hard to like since he values others so little and is serving nothing but a selfish goal. He doesn’t even seem to care much for members of his own family, immediate or extended. And he certainly doesn’t care about England, the country he grew up in and is currently serving to protect. But it is hard not to admire his single-mindedness, and the way he so effectively goes after what he wants. His action scenes and decision-making are, honestly, also what makes this manga so great. And as well as he plans everything, not everything always goes right for Tyrian. There are a few tragedies peppered throughout, though Tyrian usually reacts with calculated stoicism. He may or may not be keelhauled at one point, and he may or may not have jumped into the water himself to take it.
Most of the story segments begin with Tyrian hinting vaguely at what he wants, and then something extraordinary happens, like the ship comes under attack or the crew has to weather a storm, and we get to watch as Tyrian reacts to the situation and somehow turns it to his advantage. How would he use a noblewoman? What happens when he comes face-to-face with his childhood idol, Gerard Peru? There’s a certain appeal to watching Tyrian do things like cross swords with men and women alike, or chopping down a ship mast in the middle of a raging storm while shirtless.
And, again, the full-blown 70s art makes this absolutely fantastic. I don’t think I emphasized this enough last time, but Aoike is really great at drawing unusual settings and scenery. It’s true in From Eroica With Love, as well, where it’s clear she’s done a lot of research on the countries that the characters visit, so we’re actually seeing many different parts of Greece, Italy, Egypt, or wherever, and not just generic interiors with an easy landmark to denote the area. The inside and outside of the ships come to life as the characters climb the rigging and wander around on deck and in the cabins. The exteriors of the ships are fantastic. And a lot of research also went into the character’s clothing, which all looks very 16th century. The towns, when we see them, are also detailed. And the sparkly, flower-strewn 70s shoujo character designs make everything that much better. Tyrian is a very pretty man, and there are no shortage of illustrations of him striking heroic poses on the extravagantly illustrated ships in his period clothing. The whole thing’s just fantastic.
Other parts of the story focus on Tyrian’s childhood. He’s got a complicated family situation, as he suspects his half-Spanish mother was having an affair with Gerard Peru, also half-Spanish, as Tyrian looks nothing like his English father. His father takes his anger about this out on Tyrian, frequently beating and abusing the boy when he misbehaves or acts defiantly. The two nearly kill each other in one scene, before Tyrian decides to leave home. Later, his mother marries Persimmon, a man who openly keeps dozens of lovers under the same roof with his wife. There are many sad flashbacks to Tyrian’s unhappy childhood, but rather than lamenting his fate, he uses his bad experiences as inspiration for achieving his goals. His ambitions are, it turns out, to be an even better man than Gerard Peru. And perhaps the greatest tragedy of the story is what happens when the two meet again when Tyrian becomes an adult.
While I prefer the action and romanticism in Seven Seas, Seven Skies, which is more of a revenge tale with pirates, it’s hard not to acknowledge El Halcon as the better work. Tyrian makes for a very interesting, if not likable, main character, and the history and romanticism inherent in a period story like this are dripping off every page. And the duality of Tyrian’s skill as captain versus his selfish goals, how good he is at his job of serving England versus his desire to betray the country for Spain, gives the story a lot of tension as well. It’s fantastic, and I really hope to see this in English some day.
There are only two different editions of this work in Japanese. The most readily available is the Akita bunko edition, which is one thick, but very tiny volume. There’s also a two-volume Princess Comics tankoubon edition. Mysteriously, I can’t seem to find a Seventeen edition of this series. There’s also at least one special edition volume, the short story Tempest, included with Princess Gold around the time this story was adapted into a Takarazuka performance. Oh yes, that exists. It is fabulous.