Reviewby Casey Brienza, Oct 25th 2009
GN 1-3 (Complete Series)
On the planet of Astria in the Andromeda Galaxy, glad tidings reign. Cosmoralia's Prince Ithaca is about to be married to Ayodoya's Princess Lilia, and he is to be crowned King Astralta III to boot. Unfortunately, sinister machines from another world that seem intent upon eradicating all life soon appear on Astria, interrupting the happy couple's honeymoon. When the King and his ministers get assimilated by the machines, Lilia, along with her newborn son Prince Jimsa, are forced to flee the capital. Unbeknownst to the natives of Astria, exiles from the planet of Murat, the source of the enemy, have been selectively breeding the royal lines. Prince Jimsa is the fruit of their endeavors, and he is destined to lead their resistance. But can the machines ever truly be stopped?
Long, long ago in a galaxy far, far away… Whoops. Wrong trilogy. Or not. Andromeda Stories does in fact take place long, long ago (at the beginnings of life on Earth) in a galaxy far, far away (the Andromeda galaxy). This is the second work to be published in under the name of the illustrious Keiko Takemiya (To Terra), famous female pioneering literate manga creation circa the 1970s in an otherwise male-dominated Japanese manga industry. Published only a few years after the Star Wars Trilogy, its adventure of galactic proportions was originally marketed both as straight shounen and later as manga suitable for both boys and girls. It was not, however, written by Takemiya herself, and this fact is of not inconsiderable significance.
In actuality, credit for the story goes to Ryu Mitsuse, a popular science fiction author. U.S. publisher Vertical takes some pains to underplay his role in the development of this series. Clearly not a good sign. And sure enough, the lugubrious narrative seems distinctively uncomfortable in its sequential art skin. The first volume begins looking more like a picture book than a succession of panels, though thankfully the story from then on is content to show as opposed to tell. Too bad the telling leaves so much to be desired.
The story does best when making sweeping, grandiose gestures toward Astria's geopolitical climate. The planet and its culture come vibrantly alive like nothing else in the series. As such, the strongest volume is the first, which depicts a marriage between Ithaca and Lilia that is of both convenience and genuine affection. The eventual birth of twin siblings assumes mythological proportions, especially when they are immediately separated by a superstitious midwife. In contrast, the science behind the machines' interplanetary takeover felt underexplored and arbitrary at best, and the Murat genetics was flat-out wrong. The incestuous relationships woven half-heartedly throughout Jimsa's family also smell just a mite too strongly of an unhealthy Japanese obsession with racial purity.
Even less believable than the science, however, were the characters. None of them strike more than a single note, and even the protagonist Jimsa is more the arrogant princeling than the self-abnegating hero of the people. Oceans of untapped potential lay in the character of the Murat doctor/scientist who, it is eventually revealed, was the one responsible for creating in the machines now threatening the sentient universe in first place. Readers realize all too well that he has now dedicated his life to destroying what he once built, even if it means his own life, yet very little of his internal struggle is ever sketched out. As it stands by the end of the final volume, he has barely made it out of the ranks of disposable villain and obstructionist. All in all, the lack of character development is a terrible waste of creative opportunity and talent. Takemiya, like all of the shoujo manga greats, is a master of nuanced human relationships. Yet none of it is on display here because Andromeda Stories was not her story.
At least her contribution, the artwork, is exquisite. Granted, the style is recognizably old school, and anyone obsessed with the latest trends in manga would be well-advised to look elsewhere. But there should be no question of Takemiya's mastery of both panel-by-panel layouts and series-sized world building. Thanks to her, the world of the manga is culturally coherent and wondrous; everything from costumes to machinery to architecture, in this case with mostly Middle Eastern Orientalist flair, are finely described and carefully considered. Occasional illustrations are actually breathtaking, especially the ones related to the all too alien machine world.
Do not be deceived by the creamy, acid-free paper, generous trim size, and relatively economical price tag of $11.95 each. The overall quality of the Vertical editions is profoundly disappointing. All of the pages in all three volumes are fuzzy and pixilated, little better than a pirated fan scanlation, and none of the numerous original color illustrations associated with the series have been reproduced. Not even on the covers! Instead, the trilogy serves up unnecessary—and unattractive—cover designs by the inexplicably overrated Chip Kidd, who adds nothing whatsoever to the books save for his own star power in fanboy and indie circles. Unfortunately for Vertical, even that star power is of limited cachet when selling works by mangaka like Takemiya, famous first and foremost for her shounen ai epic Kaze to Ki no Uta. The audience for one does not overlap sufficiently with the audience for the other in Western contexts.
In conclusion, the paratextual issues associated with the Vertical editions, when combined with the series' own textual flaws, are certain to doom Andromeda Stories permanently to the dark, nether regions of backlist vacuum. A must-read only if you are interested in a relatively obscure piece of the history of Japanese manga.
Overall : B
Story : B-
Art : A
+ Exquisite artwork by one of the true manga masters. Ambitious and appealing SF world-building.
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