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Summer Reading Challenge: Utahime

There is a kingdom where peace is maintained by two forces: the male king and his male heirs and the female songstresses and their female descendants. The king runs the kingdom and the songstresses nightly sing their song of protection. But the balance has been thrown off in one small region of the kingdom. Against all odds the next songstress born…is male.

Utahime: The Songstress
Age Rating: 16+
Digital Manga, March 2009, ISBN 978-1-56970-044-0
Number of pages, $12.95

Aki’s one-volume manga is moody and pretty at the same time. It’s not a story that is going to end with all of the characters living happily ever after, but that’s okay and readers will like it for its pathos. The main character, Kain, is a gloomy young man, quick to anger, whose outlook on life was shaped by a childhood of being the only one who was there to protect his mother and twin sister. The little family was trapped in their songstress tower together, bound by the royal degree that wouldn’t let songstresses abandon their posts. So he’s never known a world where he can trust others and even those who seem to be trustworthy, such as his village’s young chief, Thomas, are looked upon as dangerous by Kain. Thomas, for his part, loves Kain’s family and wants to do right by them, but is bound by his duty to his village. Unlike Kain, Thomas, and Kain’s sister Maria, the rest of the characters aren’t as well thought out. There are a number of convenient characters, whose existence is there more to move the story towards its slightly more hopeful if still melancholy end, rather than because they are flesh-and-blood people.

Aki’s art is very pretty, even if it doesn’t move much away from the typical shojo style. The characters are young looking and have large expressive eyes, but they are distinct enough from each other to be identifiable and they are attractive enough to catch the eye of shojo readers. Clothing and setting seems to be a mix of sword-and-sorcery fantasy design, but more subtle, fitting for a subtler story. Touches of humor are deftly inserted into the tale and serve to keep it from being depressing and to help flesh out the main characters.

Even with the rather pat nature of some characters and the almost rushed feeling of the resolution, Utahime is still a touching story. Manga fans who are looking for something a little different, more thoughtful, will enjoy this quiet tale. It is followed by a shorter, darker tale about a young assassin whose reluctance about his new job may be his undoing. Rather than being an action story, Aki turns this into an examination of the nature of evil. Combined with the title story, this makes for a collection that examines the relationship aspects of shojo literature, rather than just the romance. A nice addition to a larger manga collection or a good choice if you don’t have the budget for a longer series.

This review is based on a complimentary copy supplied by the publisher. All images copyright © Digital Manga Publishing.

Snow Wildsmith About Snow Wildsmith

Snow Wildsmith is a writer and former teen librarian. She has served on several committees for the American Library Association/Young Adult Library Services Association, including the 2010 Michael L. Printz Award Committee. She reviews graphic novels for Booklist, ICv2's Guide, No Flying No Tights, and Good Comics for Kids and also writes booktalks and creates recommended reading lists for Ebsco's NoveList database. Currently she is working on her first books, a nonfiction series for teens.

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