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Review: Luuna, Vol. 1

Flipping through Luuna, one might easily conclude that Tokyopop had licensed yet another Disney franchise. All of the requisite elements are there: a trio of wisecracking animal sidekicks, a plucky princess on the verge of adulthood, and a handsome suitor, complete with granite jaw line and flowing hair. On closer inspection, however, Luuna proves darker, edgier, and more interesting than a typical Disney flick, eschewing sappy songs and just-believe-in-yourself speeches for pulse-pounding action—Pocohontas Gone Wild, as fellow GC4K reviewer Brigid Alverson might say.

Luuna, Vol. 1
Art by Nicolas Keramidas, Story by Didier Crisse
No rating
Tokyopop, 2009, ISBN: 978-1427814128
108 pp., $12.99

The story focuses on Luuna, a Paumanok princess. Like every member of her tribe, Luuna must complete a vision quest as part of an elaborate coming-of-age ritual. The goal: to be united with her totem, an animal spirit that reflects her inner self. Ignoring the warning of several forest creatures, Luuna embarks on her quest on a night “belonging” to Unkui, a malevolent spirit. Before Hohopah, the Sacred Heart of the Forest, can reveal Luuna’s totem to her, Unkui attempts to steal Luuna’s soul. Hohopah intervenes, striking a bargain with Unkui. Luuna will have two totems: a white wolf symbolizing her good nature (a gift from Hohopah), and a black wolf symbolizing her inner darkness (a gift from Unkui). Realizing that she cannot return to her people in this conflicted state, Luuna begins searching for Kayumari, a woodland spirit with the power to free her from Unkui’s spell. Hot on her heels are Unkui’s henchmen, who hope to persuade—or, perhaps more accurately, provoke—her into destroying her fellow Paumanok and killing Kayumari.

As one might infer from the plot, Luuna traffics in familiar, if benign, Native American stereotypes. Creators Nicolas Keramidas and Didier Crisse depict the Paumanok as living in mystic harmony with nature, addressing their fellow animals as “brother” and “sister” and conversing freely with them. The dialogue tacks back and forth between modern colloquialisms and formal, vaguely ritualistic speech. (If you’ve seen a Western, you know what I’m talking about; the Indian characters use metaphors and avoid contractions, e.g. Luuna declaring, “It is the hour of the beast,” instead of stating, “Now I’m turning into the black wolf.”) And the Paumanok’s dress and rituals—not to mention their cosmology—are cobbled together from a hodgepodge of Plains, Southwestern, and Woodland tribal practices. For the most part, however, Keramidas and Crisse have managed to avoid the pitfalls associated with these noble, two-dimensional stereotypes by creating a cast of vivid, interesting characters and demonstrating knowledge of real American Indian lore.

Hoodoo the owl warns Luuna not to embark on her vision quest. From the original French edition.

The book’s most distinctive element is its artwork. Artist Crisse favors a cinematic approach to storytelling, employing dramatic camera angles, extreme close-ups, and wordless sequences to immerse us in the action and show us Luuna’s anguish at being separated from her family. His masterful storyboarding is complimented by Bruno Garcia’s lush and varied palette, which evokes a range of moods through the manipulation of light and color saturation. Nowhere is that more evident than Luuna’s transformation into her totemic self. Garcia creates a stark contrast between the nocturnal scenes—which employ a cold palette of blue, grey, and black—and the diurnal ones—which employ a soft, warm palette of yellow and gold. The colors vividly evoke Luuna’s emotional states, suggesting both the hard, angry, vengeful woman that emerges during the full moon and the more vulnerable, gentle girl who greets the sunrise.

Though the clean, angular character designs are reminiscent of Avatar: The Last Airbender and Pocohontas, parents should keep in mind that Luuna is not suitable for young readers. Volume one includes several scenes of non-sexual nudity, as well as some intense, violent action sequences. Those scenes aren’t graphic—especially when contrasted with material found in many superhero comics or seinen manga—but they do result in the death of several characters, including one of Luuna’s animal allies. Parents may also find Luuna’s curvaceous appearance a little too provocative for younger readers. (I didn’t find her distractingly bodacious, though I did think it was a little creepy that her animal sidekicks were trying to sneak a peek at her while she bathed.) Luuna is better suited for teen fantasy fans who’ve seen Pocohontas and Princess Mononoke and are looking for a similar mixture of adventure, comedy, folklore, and intensely emotional drama. Highly recommended for ages thirteen and up.

French edition images © 2002 Soleil Productions; cover art © 2009 Tokyopop.

Katherine Dacey About Katherine Dacey

Katherine Dacey has been reviewing comics since 2006. From 2007 to 2008, she was the Senior Manga Editor at PopCultureShock, a site covering all aspects of the entertainment industry from comics to video games. In 2009, she launched The Manga Critic, where she focuses primarily on Japanese comics and novels in translation. Katherine lives and works in the Greater Boston area, and is a musicologist by training.

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