Recently I picked up two fantasy titles from Aurora, a publisher who specializes in shojo titles. Both are from authors that I’ve read and enjoyed before, but both titles still surprised me with how interesting, unique, and well-done they were. Since Aurora is a smaller publisher that I think probably flies under the radar of many libraries, I thought I’d review both titles to get the word out about them.
Queen of Ragtonia, vol. 1
Age Rating: 13+
Aurora Publishing, March 2009, ISBN: 978-1934496572
160 pages, $10.95
When the Necromancer attacked the country, killing the king and much of the royal family, everything in the land was thrown into chaos. Demons began attacking ordinary people, stealing parts of their bodies and turning them into Ragtonia. Together a young woman named Falna and a young man named Cardus, both Ragtonia themselves, must seek out a strange sword with the power to defeat the demons and overthrow the Necromancer.
Shiomi is known for her "girl-power" manga, which often have paranormal overtones. Yurara and its sequel Rasetsu (both published by VIZ), Night of the Beasts (published by Go Comi), and Canon (published by CMX) all feature young women who are strong, even when faced with dangerous and mysterious foes, though none of the girls are superheroes. They know their limits as well and don’t shy away from asking for help when they need it. All of the titles also feature at least one very good looking young man who is there to assist (most of the time) and to fall in love with the heroine (all of the time). But what is great about Shiomi’s stories is that they are just as popular with boys. It is actually one of my older teen boys who first got the library to purchase a Shiomi title and he has gotten other boys hooked on her combination of action, humor, and fantasy.
Queen of Ragtonia is Shiomi’s first true fantasy, though. Her author’s note at the end shows how she updated the art, but kept the story from its original form as a doujinshi (fan comic) written before she was a published author/artist. The story doesn’t read as dated, though. The characters have sharp wits, interesting back-stories, and individual personalities. What I found especially interesting is that, technically, both are disabled. Falna does not get back the use of her legs in this volume, but that does not slow her down at all. Cardus is equally handicaped in the loss of his eye, but his over-sized body causes issues for him as well, both good and bad. The other characters that Falna and Cardus meet along the way are a mix of good and bad, never just one thing, especially the demons that they fight.
This title is rated 13+, but does have some language, slight nudity, and fantasy violence, though nothing over the top. The opening picture of Chapter 1 is rather unfortunately laid out, giving it an overly sexualized feel that is not present in the story itself. Teens looking for fantasy with a strong girl and a good dose of romance will be attracted to this series, especially with its eye-catching cover. Fans of Shiomi’s work will be pleased to have another title of hers to enjoy.
Tengu-Jin, vol. 1
Age Rating: 13+
Aurora Publishing, February 2009, ISBN: 978-1934496541
168 pages, $10.95
Twin brothers Mozuku and Shinonome live in the future, after a cataclysm has split Japan into two parts. What most people don’t know is that the ancient gods of old have come back, having decided that humanity has made a mess of things and that it should be wiped out to allow the gods to take back over the earth. But ties between Mozuku and Shinonome’s previous lives–as a young noble man named Mozuku and a tengu (demon) called Tondonbou–will have a direct effect on how this future conflict will play out.
I first came across Yumeka’s quiet and beautiful style of art and storytelling when I read her two boys’ love titles, The Day I Became a Butterfly and Same-Cell Organism (both from June). She has a soft, gentle way of writing that perfectly fits her art. She favors thin lines highlighted by light shading. Her young men are femininely pretty, often with long hair and older-than-their-years eyes. Her stories are never graphic, but they are sweet and rather melancholy. That touch of sadness is never too much, though, and it pulls you into the story and keeps you from being able to leave until you’ve read the whole tale.
Shinonome and Mozuku’s story is no different. The boys are a fascinating pair and the idea that they have been reincarnated together is an interesting take on the idea of twins. When the story switches to the previous Mozuku’s meeting with Tondonbou, the change is not as jarring as it could have been in the hands of a lesser creator. Yumeka smooths the way and makes us easily understand that the past has had a huge effect on the future, so therefore we must study that past in order to see where the future is headed.
The 13+ rating is perfectly appropriate here. There is a little bit of language and some fighting, but nothing sexual, though there is a sweet–and purposeful–brotherly kiss on the cheek. Not every teen will love Tengu-Jin. It’s rather quiet, so those who like over-the-top, obvious stories will not enjoy it as much. But those teens who like folklore and who are willing to let the story wash over them will love this tale and will be eager for the next volume.
This review is based on complimentary copies supplied by the publisher. All images copyright © Aurora Publishing.