Reviewby Rebecca Silverman,
GN 1 - Cinderella
Otogi Grimm is a direct descendant of Jacob and Wilhelm Grimm, the Brothers Grimm of folklore fame. After the death of his mother, he receives a note from his absentee father telling him to move to a specific house and enroll in a local school. Since he's at loose ends, Otogi agrees. The house is concealing secrets, however, and before he knows it, Otogi has found a special edition of Grimms' Fairy Tales and learned the truth: his ancestors bargained with the characters in the stories to get their tales, offering up their family line in return. For these characters aren't the ones we all know – they are Marchen Demons, bent on eating Otogi, and oh yes – Cinderella's a guy.
Fairy tales have been a hot pop culture commodity for a few years now, transcending their originals and showcasing many new retellings and interpretations. Manga has been no exception, from the “Little Red Riding Hood” themes in Skip Beat to this newest fairy tale mash-up to hit the English-language market, Ayumi Kanou's Dictatorial Grimoire. Kanou takes the well-known characters of German folkore (along with one French tale) and throws them into the pop culture blender: she gender-bends, turns them into hot demons, and adds some BL touches. While this doesn't necessarily work for the beginning of the book, by the end Dictatorial Grimoire has become more interesting, and if Kanou can get things under control and streamlined, this could be an interesting piece of fluff to follow. The story begins with fourteen-year-old Otogi Grimm transferring into a new school with harlequin-checked school uniforms. Because he is half-Japanese and this is manga, Otogi is blond, and that and his unusual name attracts the attention of his classmates. They send over Hatsushiba, the resident picked-on girl, and Otogi rebuffs her before simply leaving school for the day. Upon returning to the enormous Western mansion (naturally rumored to be haunted) that his absentee father has sent him to, Otogi hears a voice summoning him to the basement. When he goes down, he finds a locked book, which unleashes a monster bent on his ingestion. Otogi is saved from the beast by a handsome man who appears from the fireplace wearing glass slippers. Yes, this, dear readers, is Cinderella, the handsome demon dude.
As plots go, Dictatorial Grimoire's begins in a pretty clichéd fashion. Gorgeous demons (called “Marchen Demons” after the German word for “fairy tale”) with twisted personalities? Got it. Weird supernatural powers based on ancestry? Done. Pseudo-loser hero and vaguely helpless girl he sort of blunders into saving? Check. Really, the first few chapters, in which we meet Cinderella and the combined Bremen Town Musicians, don't have a whole lot going for them. Otogi goes between being a jerk and a loser, he makes a wacky new friend, and learns that fairy tale characters are going to try to kill him. And ha ha, all the girls from the tales are guys.
Luckily for Kanou, the story picks up about midway through the fourth chapter. This is where both Otogi and Hatsushiba start to firm up their characters, and the latter begins to show some real gumption. Kanou plays with some of the fairy tale conventions to better effect, and we begin to suspect – with the appearance of a very buff Red Riding Hood – that there may be more going on between the characters and the Grimm. Chapter five, which introduces a variant of Aarne-Thompson Tale Type 545B, Cat/Fox as Helper, is the best in the book. Kanou goes with the better-known French character Puss in Boots rather than the Grimms' “The Poor Miller's Apprentice and the Cat,” which definitely strikes an odd note. However, the way she uses this character is what really lets the story get interesting, and the end of the volume is easily the most interesting section of the entire book. (However, Seven Seas gets a shout-out for a very funny translation of what Otogi is listening to in English class!)
With its messy layouts and tortured efforts to get male characters into clothes that vaguely resemble the Disney princess versions of fairy tale costumes, along with a plot that really doesn't get good until the end, Dictatorial Grimoire is a tough book to enjoy. It has potential and the ending really does grab you if you can get there, but generally speaking, this book is kind of a mess. It will be worth checking out volume two to see if Kanou pulls things together, but right now you'd be better off watching “Once Upon a Time” to get your fairy tale mash-up fix.
Overall : C-
Story : C
Art : C-
+ Puss in Boots chapter does a good job of using the story and character in an interesting way, Hatsushiba becomes a much better character as things go on. Cinderella can be pretty funny.
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