This may sound paradoxical, but I have more fun writing about the hard sell than the easy sell. The easy sell, I almost fall asleep at the keyboard: Great series, but you know that, you’re probably buying it as I type this, zzz. The hard sell, I have to actually talk about the thing, instead of just remind people of what they probably already know.
So it goes with the Guin Saga Manga — the comic adaptation of one of the later books in the Guin Saga series, currently being released in paperback to what I hope will be a receptive and enthusiastic audience on this side of the Pacific. The manga, a three-volume cycle that covers a side story set much later in the Guin timeline than the novels we’re currently seeing, doesn’t require that you read any of Guin to understand what’s going on, but it does enhance the experience all the more. I still encouraged people to go out and snap up the first book sight unseen if they wanted a taste of something off the beaten path, and the second graphic novel keeps up the same level of exotic fascination.
A story like this might not lend itself to summing-up without seeming just plain odd, but here goes: Guin, the warrior-king with the head of a leopard and the body of a gladiator (I love using that description) faces doom in the form of a contingent of magic-users who threaten his kingdom, Cherionia, besotted by plagues and many other manner of disaster. With only a thief and a dancing girl as his companions for this struggle, he strides forth to do battle with the “Seven Magi” of the title. They have sorcery, deceit and blackmail on their side; he has his own reservoirs of courage, and maybe — just maybe — a few friends he can fall back on.
Volume 2 pits Guin against the rising powers of the magi, not only directed at him but at his own city and his own people. Guin’s enemies are smart enough to understand that the best way to get him to deliver himself to them undefended is to attack the things he cherishes the most and cannot rise to defend all at once. Further complications arise in the form of one of the magi, the Black Witch Thamia, who is more than willing to help Guin win so that she might have the leopard-headed king all for herself. Guin’s not quite such a pushover, though — even if his own queen refuses to touch him and Thamia presents herself as an enormously tempting object of desire, he’s determined to see this thing through his way, whatever the cost.
If you have read the Guin Saga novels (and why the heck haven’t you?!), a few major differences in style will stand out immediately. The novels are far more direct and pedal-to-the-floor in their storytelling, but the graphic novel takes a slightly more meandering, awestruck approach to the goings-on. The spectacle, the sheer oddity of it all, is more central than the actual goings-on. This isn’t a bad thing, though, because Kurimoto and Yanagisawa take the time to put some fascinatingly weird and wild stuff on the pages, and what else do we read manga for if not to have a good time and see something truly different?
A blanket recommendation for the Guin Saga Manga goes out to three types of people: those who are already Guin lovers; high-fantasy fans; and anyone looking for something nicely off the beaten path. There’s only one more volume for this particular story, so I’m hoping other Guin manga adaptations will follow suit in the future. We should be so lucky.