Reviewby Casey Brienza, May 29th 2008
Vision of the Other Side
The spunky yet naïve young Tang Dynasty princess Nan-Fan has been betrothed to Prince Nurhun of the barbaric Kingdom of Li. Nan-Fan, however, dreads this political match and, after indulging in one last day of shopping (and shoplifting!) at the market, escapes the palace in disguise with a band of traveling entertainers. The headstrong Nurhun, for his part, has decided that he isn't the least bit interested in pampered Tang princesses—he'd much rather marry the “dancer” he met in town! As the first volume draws to a close, Nurhun has captured Nan-Fan and rides off with his now twice-over unwilling bride-to-be. Neither one, of course, is cognizant of the other's true identity.
I read manga for entertainment, not for educational purposes. I do not assume that they will teach me about another culture. Yet, in the back of my mind, I could not help but hope against hope that I might glean some insight into some aspect of contemporary Taiwan from Yu-Chin Lin's Vision of the Other Side, the first ever Taiwanese girls' comic to be licensed and translated for American release.
Alas, no such luck was to be had. The story doesn't even take place in present-day Taiwan; rather, it is set in an alternate universe most closely resembling China of a millennium ago—certainly a popular manga destination…but one that doesn't have much directly to do with the title's country of origin. And, save for what might be construed as a brief nod to mainland Chinese mythologizing of its multi-ethnic unity on the second page (which some Taiwanese purportedly buy, while others don't), there is nothing at all to distinguish this manhua from its countless Japanese shoujo counterparts. When you get right down to it, it's just another star-crossed romance between two young people who hate each other for most of the series until they don't anymore and the story ends.
The artwork, chock-full of fine-lined depictions of gorgeous, flowing tresses and exotic, billowing garments, betrays a light, graceful hand—this is what Fushigi Yugi would look like were it drawn by Satomi Ikezawa (Othello, Guru Guru Pon-chan). Pages are laid out in what has, in the past couple of decades, become the standard, asymmetrical shoujo style. The visual pacing, likewise, has the expected languid, dreamy quality that focuses primarily upon the characters' emotions and interactions. And of course, the heroine has the biggest, most liquid eyes, and the hero the widest, most often augmented shoulders (in this case with a pair of props that look vaguely like antlers).
None of the characters deviate in any fashion from the unexpected, either. We have the well-meaning but foolish Nan-Fan, the placid yet beloved elder brother type (who is actually the princess's elder brother here), the youthfully brash male sidekick, the passive female friend, the dominant and resourceful elder sister type. Impetuous Nurhun in particular seems lifted almost whole cloth from princely analogues found in epic shoujo fantasies like Basara and Red River. Fortunately, thanks to the broad-stroke characterizations and well-considered character designs, all of the members of this large cast of characters are instantly distinguishable from each other. And in manga, this is not always the case, even with a set of one-dimensional personalities.
So, I suppose we ought to give the creator her props. Lin has mastered the conventions of the shoujo genre and made their appropriation look natural and effortless. Her artwork is easy on the eyes, and her uncomplicated, linear narrative is easy on the brain. Many aspiring manga artists cannot claim the same and, indeed, never even manage to clear these low bars. I hope that subsequent volumes of Vision of the Other Side aspire to higher levels of complexity; she picked a turbulent period in Chinese history, so there's plenty of room in-between all that eye candy and romantic angst for a bit of good political drama.
The English edition is a standard DramaQueen release, boasting high production values and paper quality coupled with a dustjacket and full-color pinup insert. The translation is generally smooth and unobtrusive, though I noticed a couple of typos. Sound effects have been translated and replaced; this, combined with the right-to-left orientation, makes the work even more difficult to formally distinguish from similar Japanese-origin offerings. DQ's edition provides a helpful pronunciation guide for the characters' names and historical contexts. Due to either editorial or printing error, some of the book's text is too close to the binding to be fully read. A postcard with “Corrections” for five pages has been included with the volume.
Overall : C+
Story : C-
Art : B+
+ Pretty art, exotic locales, potential for romance. This shoujo fantasy pushes all the requisite buttons.
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