Thursday, July 2, 2015

Red River

I want to start off my recommendations with an entry from my Help!  I’ve been transported to another time/place series.  It’s a panel that I did at Otakuthon once which went pretty well despite a lot of people not knowing what I was talking about.  So just a quick overview to begin with.

During the 90’s shoujo manga came out with quite a few series about girls who were magically transported to either a different time or to a totally different world and subsequently had to save it from evil overlords or take part in a prophesy.  By the late 2000’s, though the genre was dead and I don’t know any recent series that follow such a plot (feel free to correct me if I’m wrong, I always love to know more manga series in this genre).  It seems to have been influenced by the changing role of women in Japanese society and the entrance of women into the workforce in a much greater number than before.  With this in mind I will start with the first of my review recommendations which is from this particular genre.

Red River by Shinohara Chie

Red River, also known as Anatolia Story, is a shoujo manga about a young 15 year old girl who gets sucked into the past by an evil queen who wants to use her as a sacrifice to secure the thrown for her, the queen’s, son.  The series follows Yuri as she directly and indirectly influences the politics of the kingdom and falls in love with a prince.  That’s a purposefully vague description because I’m trying to avoid spoilers.  That said it sounds pretty generic: regular young girl from future goes to the past and becomes way more important than she should, everyone falls in love with her and the evil people get what is coming to them. Honestly, if this is all that this series was then I’d have given up by the first few volumes but I stuck through all 28 of them and even re-read it twice.  It’s that good.  Let me explain why and I hope that I don’t give away too much.

The Setting

First off, the setting for Red River is the Middle East during ancient times, specifically the Hittite Empire at the height of its power.  It’s a time and place that isn’t very well known in literature and the Hitties aren’t really well knows to anyone except those studying them.  I read about ancient history and hadn’t heard of them till I read the manga.  Shinohara Chie also did a lot of research on the lives of the Hittites, the history of the time and the people who lived there.  Red River is full of real characters and real settings, even the main character is most likely based on a real Hittite queen.  It’s beautiful to look at all the backdrops of the different cultures that Yuri encounters and see just how much research was put into them.

The Heroine

Yuri is one of my favourite shoujo girls EVER!  She’s really normal, a 15 year old girl that you could meet at any high school who tries to make the best of any situation.  That isn’t to say that she manages to be the best at everything, or overcome all the obstacles in her path.  Not at all, she often can’t do anything about her situation but instead of crying and complaining about how she wishes that her prince would save her, or thinking that he won’t because she isn’t special enough, she just makes the best of it.  

For reasons of politics she often ends up in sieges or abducted or just in the wrong place at the wrong time and yes, she cries sometimes.  But then she does what I think most of us would do in the situation, she calms down and makes the best of it.  She doesn’t try to run away when she knows it won’t work but she does try to make it easier to rescue her.  She knows that her prince will try to rescue her when he can but also knows that it may take weeks or even months and so she tries to make the wait easier for herself by doing something useful, either by helping her people or hindering the enemy.  She also grows as a person, both in age and in character.  We follow her transformation from a teenager into an adult.  With all that she still remains human.  When a particularly bad tragedy befalls her she doesn’t bounce back quickly, it takes her quite a bit of time to return to normal.  She also doesn’t try to deny her surroundings, she accepts responsibility for her actions and also for her influence on people. Which brings me to my next point:

The Secondary Characters

A lot of these were real people and some of their actions are, of course, already known but Shinohara Chie manages to make even the tiny characters into people whose story you would want to know.  These are people just like the main characters and you can see their feelings and ideas shine through.  Many of them are influenced by Yuri and in turn they influence her.  They aren’t all in love with her, some dislike her but still respect her, others see her as an obstacle, and they act like real humans and not just as furniture or plot points.

The Plot

The Story is fantastic.  It’s so many things from a love story to a political thriller to a historical fantasy because there is a small element of magic present.  Shinohara Chie doesn’t shy away from many realities of the time such as famine, war, disease, prostitution, rape, childbirth and miscarriage, anything really.  She shows all this but also shows the beauty of the time, that people still felt joy, that they lived and loved just like we do.  The story moves along very well and balances between showing the love between Yuri and Kail (the main male lead) and all the politics of the time.  Death is ever present but isn’t random (though this must be helped at least a bit by actual historical facts).  The plot is engaging and fun but I’ll be honest, I was pulled along by the strength of the main character more than anything else.

The Bad Stuff

After all the gushing you may be wondering if there is anything bad about this series, well, here it is.  There are a few moments that I think could have been done better.  For example Yuri gains knowledge of the Hittite language one her first day by Kail kissing her and pretty much making her fluent by magic!   Magical language acquisition is a pet peeve of mine.  Also, Yuri has phenomenal luck.  Both in bad and good ways.  She will often be in the right/wrong place at the right time for things to happen.  I understand that this moves the plot forward but there are only so many times that she could get kidnapped, at some point it really has to end. 

Even with that, though, I love this series.  If you like shoujo then you should check it out.  If you’ve read it as well do you agree with my comments or did you find it to be the opposite?  Tell me your thoughts in the comments below.  If there are any series that you’d like me to review then mention them in the comments as well and happy reading!

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