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Review: Cinderella

Among manga fans, Dark Horse has a reputation for publishing some of the edgiest comics on the market: think GANTZ, MPD Psycho, and Old Boy. But Dark Horse also licenses Japanese books for young readers, the kind of stories that feature frolicking polar bears and fairy princesses. Their latest offering is an East-meets-West take on Cinderella, with a text drawn from Hans Christian Andersen and illustrations drawn by animator and manga-ka POP.

Illustrated by POP, Adapted by Michiyo Hayano, Translated by Camilla Nieh
Ages 4-6
November 2010, Dark Horse, ISBN: 978-1595822697
32 pp., $16.99

Though Cinderella comes in an attractive wrapper, the contents are flavorless. Part of the problem lies with Michiyo Hayano’s decision to follow the Andersen version of the story, rather than one of less famous, but more colorful, regional variations. It also lacks the strong moral dimension of Andersen’s version. Hayano portrays the stepsisters as more peevish than wicked, peppering Cinderella with mean-spirited comments — the sort of thing a teenage girl might say to her younger sister out of spite — that barely rise to the level of cruelty; with so little at stake, it’s no wonder that Cinderella forgives them so readily at the end of the book.

The other problem is the artwork. The images are rendered with consummate skill, but lack any warmth or personality. In many of the nighttime scenes, for example, the stars have been enhanced in Photoshop to create the kind of twinkling effect that would be impossible to achieve with paint, ink, or watercolor alone. The character designs, too, have a kind of bland perfection about them, with all traces of the original linework erased on a computer. Even the color scheme seems calculated to be as inoffensive as possible: all of the characters and scenery are rendered in Easter pastels, with nary a dark or vibrant color to be seen.

I’m guessing — perhaps wrongly — that Dark Horse hoped that adult manga readers might buy these for their daughters and nieces as a way of introducing them to manga. With so few kid-friendly titles available in translation, it’s a laudable goal. But when the children’s section of Borders is overflowing with so many funny, clever, and elegant versions of this popular tale, it’s hard to rationalize spending $16.99 on such a bland Cinderella.

Review copy provided by Dark Horse.

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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