The Fall 2018 Manga Guide
What's It About?A young girl in love with the arts, Arte wants to change her fate as a young noblewoman and become a painter to earn her independence. After being rejected from 18 studios, Arte cuts her hair off in a fit of rage and claims she gives up being a woman.
In the crowd is Leo, a painter who's forced to take her on as an apprentice. Giving her a ridiculous task that not even the most seasoned artist can complete, Arte must now work her way into an apprenticeship.
Only 56 pages long, Arte by Kei Ohkubo is the first volume in the manga published by digital publisher Media Do. Available for $6.99, readers are guaranteed a high quality first issue that is available to purchase through Amazon and Comixology. Currently, Arte is not available in physical copy, meaning it only available digitally!
Is It Worth Reading?
Although the first volume of Arte is more like the first issue (in comic book terms), making its price feel a little steep, the story is well worth it. Appearing to be loosely based on the Renaissance painter Artemisia Gentileschi, the first woman admitted to the prestigious Accademia di Arte e Disengno in Florence, the story introduces Arte herself as a young woman trying to break free from the social expectations that she must marry or become a nun, because no woman could possibly be happy single and working. When Arte's mother, in a bid to make her daughter do as she wants, burns all of Arte's work in a bonfire, Arte picks herself up and heads into Firenze (Florence) in order to prove that she can do it.
Of course, that means convincing the men of the art world, which is more daunting than her mother, and I admit that Gentileschi's story did make me worry that Kei Okubo would hew a little too close to some of the sexual violence young Artemisia experienced. Fortunately that does not seem to be the case, and instead Arte takes power from her anger and gets herself into the studio of a young man named Leo, where she manages to prove herself against his expectations. In only fifty-six pages, Okubo gives us a complete story of a girl's determination to rise above what people expect of her and begin to live up to what she expects of herself, and that's some good reading material.
It helps that Okubo's art is beautiful. It's most similar to Kaoru Mori's work in its level of detail and historical accuracy, with great care having been taken with Arte's dress, the city of Firenze itself, and even the fact that everything looks vaguely dirty once Arte leaves the family manor. That does make the translation a bit of an issue; anachronistic “okay” (and in one case just “k”) and other similar language stands out as jarring, as does the use of the word “Sisyphean” in conjunction with the modern slang. It doesn't need to be Shakespearean, but erring on the side of formal with some consistency would help set the Renaissance mood.
Be that as it may, Arte is off to a good start, and I'm excited to read more. Seeing how her relationship with Leo develops alongside her art during a time when women weren't much more than ornaments is going to be an exciting ride.
The first chapter of Arte flounders initially with the narration doing an unnecessary info dump—did you know that women once couldn't hold trades and had to get married?—and its more tropey elements. Arte is a spunky young heroine who eschews what society and her mother expects from her, a girl who'll cut her hair to “become a boy” for the chance to train as a professional artist when the whole town tells her no. Leo is the grizzled mentor who finds the spunky heroine thrust into his lap and reluctantly sees some value in this spoiled rich girl when she reveals that her motivations are more similar to his own than he initially thought. Nonetheless, these two characters are appealing enough that these overdone elements can be overlooked just for the chance to watch them interact. Arte is earnest and naïve but willing to put in the hard work to achieve her goals. Leo is bitter but finds his heart melting in the face of Arte's sincerity. With the town against Arte's apprenticeship and marriage offers waiting in the wings, Arte sets the stage for a story full of drama and conflict in the chapters to come.
Ohkubo's art appropriately is one of the strengths of this manga about art. The character designs suit their dispositions at a glance—Arte seems wide-eyed and cheery while Leo's hooded eyes convey his grumpiness. The historical backgrounds, done in meticulous detail, provide the manga with a sense of realism, and the period fashion practically jumps off the page.
The opening installment of Arte hints at a story with potential. In a few short pages, it manages to establish likeable characters, even if the plot points are predictable. By chapter's end, readers should find themselves swept up in this story and eager to read more.
Arte is not a kind of story I'm very fond of, mostly because this is a premise that can often ignore or cheapen the complex, institutionally-ingrained ways in which historical misogyny actually manifested. The first few pages corroborated my view, boiling down centuries of stifling aristocratic patriarchy to a conflict between Arte and her mother over how she needs to abandon her artistic ambitions in order to get married. This is territory mined by Disney and so many others. Whenever I see it, I can't help but be frustrated at how it traffics in so much easy reductionism; a aren't-things-so-much-better-now mentality that blinds us to the ways in which these trends persist into the current day.
But Arte surprised me. After this scene, Arte actually begins to interrogate Arte's own privilege, while also giving her the utmost credence in her hatred of the anti-woman status quo. The part that really me on the manga was in the moment where Arte describes her motivation in wanting to be a painter. It's not just some childhood fascination, it's rage. Rage at a system that prevents her from realizing her dreams, rage at a system which doesn't give her the means of expression she deserves. The system which turns her from the door of every apprenticeship she applies to. And then there's the one who finally does allow her the apprenticeship, a man from a background of extreme poverty, without even the minor privileges Arte has. How this man sees a commonality in Arte's struggle against gender roles speaks to genuine intersectionality, something I wasn't expecting at all. It's stuff like this that makes Arte a lot more socially insightful than one would expect.
Ridiculously on the nose name of the main character aside, Arte digs into the dirty, uncomfortable details of its own premise in a shockingly authentic way. But the first volume is just too short; only about sixty pages, so when the narrative actually begins to hit its stride, the last page has already arrived. As such, I have some reservations in recommending Arte, as I also have fears that the manga's social conscience will disappear once the story becomes Arte just trying to hone her craft. But if you like stories about women struggling against unilateral social oppression with really weighty, detailed artwork, then there is a lot of good stuff in Arte. I just wish there was more.
Arte, a young girl of a noble family in 16th century Italy is very passionate about art. Wanting to change her hobby to her profession after her father's passing, Arte's mother refuses to let her pursue her dreams because it looks undesirable to her future husband. Attempting to prove her mother wrong, Arte goes out to find a painter who will take her as an apprentice. After having the door slammed in her face 18 times, Arte meets Leo, a painter who puts her up to a ridiculous task that will take her all day. If she can do it, Arte's life will be changed forever. If she doesn't complete her task, she must go back to her mother with her tail tucked between her legs.
For a volume that's only 56 pages, Arte is an enjoyable read about a woman reaching for her dreams when dreams like this could rarely ever be reached. Clearly, this is all fiction, but it's nice to dream that this could actually happen. Arte's first volume is more of a chapter 1 more than a volume 1, but Arte and Leo's personalities are easily shown within the chapter. Readers cannot help but root for Arte because her determination is infectious. When we hear Leo's proposition, readers want to shout in anger. I was pretty wrapped up in everybody's emotions.
Though the plot is slightly corny, Kei Ohkubo's art is lovely to look at. The facial expressions and the detailing in clothing and art is beautiful, and I think I spent more time trying to looking at the art of the manga than reading the text!
All in all, Arte is more about the aesthetic than the story itself, but with such charming characters, the story is easily pulled along and readers will enjoy Arte whether they're a fan of art or not.
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