Reviewby Rebecca Silverman,
Grimms Manga Tales
Little Red Riding Hood meets the wolf, Puss in Boots helps his master to find happiness, and twin brothers and their companion animals seek fame and fortune in this collection of re-told fairy tales both familiar and less so by mangaka Kei Ishiyama.
Fairy tale retellings have been in vogue for quite some time now, and that's actually very much in keeping with the nature of the beast – by definition, fairy tales are stories that exist in multiple cultures and are passed down through retelling; orally originally, and now through the mediums of film and print. Kei Ishiyama's Grimms Manga Tales is an interesting combination of strict retellings and imaginative reworkings of both well-known and less familiar tales from primarily The Brothers Grimm's Children's and Household Tales (the earlier 1811 version, for the most part), and if you're a fan of the genre, it's worth checking out.
Of the lesser-known folktales present in the book, “The Brothers” and “The Twelve Huntsmen,” the latter is the most interesting. It's also just a generally well-done short story – it follows a young prince who is called away from his fiancée by his dying father. Once he reaches home, his father elicits a death-bed promise that the prince will marry the lady dear old Dad has picked out for him; feeling trapped, the prince agrees and breaks off ties with Christine, his current fiancée. Rather than just sit around and take this, however, Christine cuts off her hair and disguises herself as a man before presenting herself as a candidate for one of the new king's huntsmen. While the original story has the princess also bringing along eleven other cross-dressed young women who look like her, Ishiyama's version simply makes the other hunters men who don't really matter to the resolution of the story, allowing the tale to spend more time on its romance plot without further complications. It works well, and not only is Christine the kind of heroine it's easy to get behind, the inclusion of this story also broadens the horizons of what most people are familiar with as far as the Grimms' collection. While that's also true of “The Brothers,” and Ishiyama does some similar trimming of the folkloric fat from her version of the tale, that one doesn't hold up quite as well.
Among the more familiar stories, the gender-swapped “Rapunzel” is an especially good one, partially because Ishiyama uses the earlier 1811 version before Wilhelm Grimm rewrote the piece with heavily Victorian morals. It also works surprisingly well with a male Rapunzel figure (perhaps better with the phallic tower imagery?), because at its heart, the story isn't really about a specific gender, but rather a child held captive by a parent to maintain their “purity.” Swapping Rapunzel's gender allows for the heroine's father to get involved as well, making the story about both of them more equally rather than just painting Rapunzel as a damsel in distress. Likewise Ishiyama's retelling of “Snow White” shifts the point of view to one of the dwarves, allowing us a different way of seeing the story and giving more insight into the potential feelings of the dwarves as Snow White's guardians.
For the most part, Ishiyama sticks fairly close to the versions recorded by Jacob and Wilhelm Grimm, apart from the gender switches in the aforementioned “Rapunzel” and in “The Frog Prince,” which interestingly enough still retains its “Iron Heinrich” subplot. This is most clearly seen in “The Singing, Springing Lark,” the German variant of the better-known French “Beauty and the Beast,” which follows the original tale very closely. That unfortunately makes the fact that the French name for the story of the miller's son and his cat stand out as a little odd; fortunately this is the only story with that issue. That said, a few of the retellings can feel a little awkward in their reworking of darker materials, although that isn't likely to be an issue for most readers; if you aren't familiar with contemporary criticism of “Little Red Riding Hood,” the romantic spin on it isn't likely to cause you any pause. The more sexual reworking of “Hansel and Gretel,” on the other hand, works well to uncover some of the creepier interpretations of the story. By casting the witch as a wealthy woman with an attraction to a handsome young teenage Hansel, Ishiyama looks into the seamier implications of her desire to “eat” Hansel in the original tale, and Gretel's saving of her brother takes on a different meaning.
The artwork varies between being supercute and beautiful. Adult characters in the more serious stories, such as Christine, have a willowy grace that works well, while children or lighter tales, such as “The Frog Prince,” take on much rounder appearances with slightly less detail. Backgrounds for both are heavily detailed and lush, bringing to mind illustrated collections of prose fairy tales. The downside is that Ishiyama uses a lot of tone and few, if any, gutters between her panels, meaning that the pages can get very crowded and be difficult to read at times.
If you're a fan of fairy tale collections, this is a nice one. Its retellings are unique enough to make it different from other similar books and the fact that it goes beyond the usual stories is an additional draw. Its art doesn't always make it easy to read, but this is still a good book that reminds us that fairy tales really are universal.
Overall : B
Story : B
Art : B-
+ Interesting retellings and choices of tales, beautiful art
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