Reviewby Casey Brienza, Dec 28th 2008
The long forgotten deity Seto has been imprisoned within the pages of a book by the demon Baphomet, and the human who frees him will be cursed with a lifetime of misfortune at Seto's own hands. The human in question turns out to be Marie Alexandrin, a petty baroness who happens to be hopelessly infatuated with the hunky (and already hitched) Austrian Crown Prince Rudolf. Unfortunately for Marie, doom for her means getting involved with Rudolf, and Seto, who has taken a liking to the headstrong yet beautiful young girl, is desperate to do everything he can to keep them apart. Even though Marie has begged him to help her get her prince. It's Seto versus Destiny (with a capital “D”)—who will emerge victorious?
Just in case you haven't already figured it out for yourself, here's the lowdown on You Higuri: She adores pretty boys in nineteenth century European settings. Witness such recent productions as Gorgeous Carat. Now from Go! Comi comes Angel's Coffin, a compact, standalone single volume loosely based upon the true story of a doomed love affair in which Higuri selfishly indulges in all of her embarrassing creative excesses while treating her loyal readers to few of her creative strengths.
Although originally released by a different Japanese publisher, Angel's Coffin takes place in the same universe as Ludwig II, a three-volume series about (wait for it) the life and times of the mad Bavarian King Ludwig II. Prince Rudolf, the love interest in question and prince of Bavaria's neighboring nation of Austria, is Ludwig II's cousin on his mother's side. Unfortunately for completists, Ludwig II is not available in English. Fortunately for Angel Coffin readers, it does not matter. The earlier trilogy gets only a brief, glancing mention.
Higuri's earlier exploration—and exploitation—of German history is significant mostly because it was easy for her to transfer her earlier research into this new endeavor. The ease with which she glides in and out of the politicking of the times, embroidering the main plot of the story with her expertise, reveals her considerable comfort with, from a Japanese perspective at least, some awfully obscure subject matter. It's not any mangaka who would make the struggle between absolutist and constitutional monarchy a plot point to parallel the familial struggle between Rudolf and his father. (Though Japanese people do seem to have a particular fetish for German military history which probably dates back to the mid-twentieth century, it does not usually go back quite this far.) In any case, her deft mingling of a supernatural storyline with historical fact is a popular and savvy narrative tactic that could have gone far toward enriching an otherwise prosaic genre piece.
However, this genre piece is so darn generic that one wonders why she bothered. Let's just say that the history is like homemade icing on top of an industrially-produced Twinkie. What we really have here is a story about a dark god who is in love with a dumb girl who'd rather have the other guy—who proves to be worse news for her than even a dark god. Yawn. The whole clumsy female airhead plagued by superpowered, supernatural, sinister hunk who inexplicably falls head over heels for her airheadedness has, needless to say, been done before…and not the least example of this tried and true formula is Seimaden, by You Higuri herself! The only consolation is that Higuri makes Marie suitably ridiculous; the jeers at her tears are the only much-welcome comic relief in an otherwise gloom and doom story.
Which, as those of you who already know the story of Rudolf and his mistress, does not end happily. But the manga itself is so brief that one has trouble mustering any sympathetic feelings for the either the dead or those left alive. Even the bonus side story told from the point of view of Rudolf's devoted manservant does little to mitigate the inevitable conclusion that Rudolf is a jerk who should not have allowed Marie to accompany him into death, no matter how lonely he supposedly was. After all, he did not love her like she loved him. Yeah, like I said: a jerk. The tale concludes with Seto and Baphomet heading off to parts unknown together, forecasting doom and gloom for humanity's future. It may be that you will see this pair again in some future manga series.
As always, the primary draw to Higuri's manga—here as elsewhere—is her artwork. Her character and costume designs are exquisite, and there is eye candy in abundance, even when the story is so lame it makes you want to look the other way. Although her lovely layouts are shoujo-style asymmetrical and impressionistic, as befits a mangaka of her distinguished pedigree, they are easy to follow. In fact, you may be better off just skimming the pictures and ignoring the text. This manga definitely does not improve any upon closer inspection, and an in-depth reading is may just leave you eager to inter Angel's Coffin a good six feet under.
Overall : B-
Story : C
Art : A-
+ A richly described historical setting and plenty of pretty pictures to keep the eye distracted.
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