Books: Guin Saga Vol. 2 [Manga] (Hajime Sawada)

By Serdar Yegulalp on 2009-01-10 18:30:33 No comments

Sometimes it’s hard to remain a skeptic when all the evidence is splayed out right in front of you. The fanboy in me screams to accept the Guin Saga manga as nothing short of The Real Deal—a name-taking and ass-kicking comic adaptation of what has quickly become my favorite fantasy series. The art’s detailed and powerful, the action hits fast and furious, and the whole thing is over way too soon (always a good sign for me). So how come I still feel a little, I dunno … hesitant?

Chalk it up, I guess, to something you could call Geek Nerves. Within every fanboy lies a germ of terror that the things they most look forward to will be mangled horribly. The second-stage version of this paranoia is even worse: they’ll be mangled horribly but only in a way they find egregious, so they won’t even get to share the pain with their fellow fans (or anyone else). Or the work in question gets within 98% of its goal, only to take the remaining 2% and augur headfirst into a wall with it.

I had a soupçon of such terror nibbling at the back of my mind after reading the first volume of the Guin Saga manga. I could nitpick—Guin’s face was about as expressive as a bas-relief, for one; and what was a breathless rush in prose wasn’t always as breathtaking in images, oddly enough—but the more I read it and re-read it, the more I felt they were on the right track. And now that volume 2 has landed in my lap, it comes perilously close to obliterating just about every objection I had. Surely they can’t be getting it this right—but come on, since when is it the function of a fan to wait forever for the other shoe to drop?

© Kaoru Kurimoto/Hajime Sawada/JIVE Ltd.
Guin unleashes the full range of his emotions—and fury.

Volumes 1 and 2 cover roughly four-fifths of the first novel, with the bulk of the goings-on this time around being Action. The capital A is quite intentional: more limbs, heads and dead bodies fly around in this one volume than in most of Gantz. For those familiar with the book, this is “the fall of Stafolos Keep”, where an army of the Sem come boiling out of the wasteland just beyond the River Kes and slaughter everything that moves or swings a weapon. It’s a face-melter of a battle, as they say in online gaming circles, although most of the sense of how Guin fights gets front-loaded into the start of the story.

As you can imagine, that first section’s a continuation of where the last manga volume ended. There, Guin was pitted against a slavering great ape in a gladiatorial battle, courtesy of Count Vanon, the despotic leader of Stafolos Keep. This fight’s shown in all of its furious details, from the way Guin uses a potsherd to get the upper hand to the twist climax where Guin almost takes Vanon hostage but is stopped when he sees … something … behind the Count’s mask.

The way this last part is handled in both the novel and in the comic serves as a perfect example of the concessions that have been made to translate something from prose to pictures. In both cases, we’re given initial hints as to what Guin sees, but it’s not spelled out in detail, just insinuated. The manga does this by giving us a closeup of Guin’s stupefied expression—a powerful way to do it, although his full-blown explanation of what he saw appears to have been saved for a later volume. By the way, this incident alone would have gone a long way towards demolishing my standing criticism of Guin’s expressionlessness (especially compared to Guin’s other manga incarnation). But it’s not the only time Guin’s face is shown being suffused with real, palpable emotion: in this volume he rages, he winces, he comes within inches of weeping, and it all works. Maybe artist Hajime Sawada was just saving his strength for when it really mattered most.

I mentioned how the manga not only follows the original storyline religiously but bops back and forth through the saga’s timeline to insert material that doesn’t actually appear in the novel until much later (or is only hinted at). Hearing that the twins Rinda and Remus escaped capture through the use of what amounts to a magical teleportation device is one thing; seeing it depicted is another entirely. These additions are not as distracting as they might have been—for one, fans of the novel might welcome the fact that they’re brought in to give the whole thing a little textural variety. A lockstep incident-for-incident rendering of the book would have been boring, but too much freedom with the timeline would probably have had fans screaming “Spoiler!”

© Kaoru Kurimoto/Hajime Sawada/JIVE Ltd.
The near-incestuous relationship between Rinda and Remus gets
depicted a bit more vividly (even if it's still relatively innocuous).

Something else that surfaces a good deal more vividly in this installment—again, if only because we see it in front of us and don’t just read it—is how Rinda and Remus have, for lack of any better way to put it, a closeness that borders on the incestuous. The two of them have never known a life where the other wasn’t constantly there, and they’re going to have to very quickly get used to not having the other around … although, fortunately, they now have Guin to help them do that. They cling close to each other whenever they can, and there’s even a flashback shot of them sharing the same bed—the sort of thing that makes you wonder what kind of a life these two would have had were it not for the disaster that’s now tempering both of their spirits.

And now the bad news—the other shoe that I was muttering about, as it were. After this, there’s only one more volume in print before we all have to wait for Sawada to go back to the drafting table. How long can you hold your breath?

Tags: Guin Saga Japan Kaoru Kurimoto manga review untranslated

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This page contains a single post by Serdar Yegulalp, in the category Books, published on 2009-01-10 18:30:33.

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