Reviewby Bamboo Dong,
Among all the genres of manga available, one that is enjoying rising popularity in Japan is that based on history. Chronicling the tales of legendary samurais, ninjas, and ordinary citizens, these books allow readers to learn about their country's history while being entertaining at the same time. However, the vast majority of these titles talk about Asian history, leaving European history and the pasts of other continents relatively untouched. This trend was broken by a man named Yoshikazu Yasuhiko. Known for his manga titles like Arion and Venus Senki, Yasuhiko has also made his mark by creating two titles, one based on the life and times of Jesus Christ, named Jesus, and one centering on the legend of Joan d'Arc, named Jeanne. Translated by the online comic corporation ComicsOne as Joan, the three-volume series is available in graphic novel format. With the panels in their intact right to left format, complete with the dust jacket, the books are sure to please fans who want their manga as “authentic” as possible.
Although the title of the manga is Joan, the story is actually about a girl named Emily who lived during the Hundred Years War and the influence that Joan had on her life. Raised by her adoptive father as a boy, “Emil” idolizes Joan and the deeds that she did for France, having in her childhood once caught a glimpse of Joan. When Emil's surrogate father is called to lead an army to fight in the war to defend King Charles against his son, the dauphin Louis, Emil persuades him to allow her to go in his place. Along the way, she encounters a vision of Joan, who asks her to trust in God and protect Charles no matter what happens. As Emil battles against the Dauphin's armies and the prejudices that are hurled against her, she learns the importance of trust and faith.
What's impressive about Joan is the research that was done to write it. While some of the facts may be a little fudged, such as the battle statistics and character relationships, it still gives a rather accurate portrayal of the Hundred Years War. For the readers who gets confused, there are even appendices with historical summaries, references on who the characters are and what their role in the war is, and maps with troop movements. Any question readers could ever need answered in order to understand the plot of the manga can be found somewhere within the book.
While the story may be interesting from a historical perspective, the main downside rests in the fact that it is incredibly dry. Even though the series is only three volumes long, the scenes seem to drag on forever, and with the name-dropping and long-winded speeches, readers need to pick through panels and panels of text to gather any modicum of excitement that will drive the story forward. The pacing gets better as the story progresses, but even with the short length, it still finds the space to take long, rambling tangents and hideously boring monologues that seem to serve no other purpose than to make the story read like a college text.
Of course, the one thing that must be commended is the beautiful artwork. Done all in full-color watercolors, the backgrounds are richly colored and detailed, and the clothing is carefully drawn in with attention to textures and lighting. In fact, it's this last characteristic that Joan excels at. The lighting effects in the manga are stunning, with the flashbacks and apparitions clearly portrayed with the eerie lights. However, there are things that don't deserve as high of praise, and among these are the character facial expressions. The problem isn't that the characters have no facial emotions—it's that they all look exactly the same. Just from the pictures alone, it's impossible to tell the difference between Sad Emil, Angry Emil, Anxious Emil, Surprised Emil, Happy Emil, and every type of [Blank] Emil that could be used.
In all, Joan is an interesting read if you need something to do when you're drastically bored, but it certainly isn't one of the most exhilarating ways to spend your time. The story moves by slowly and painfully, and while some of the artwork can take your breath away, it gets tedious after awhile watching Emil with her mouth open and her eyes wide in her Classic Emil Pose. It's certainly nice to see historical manga based on European events—especially those set in the days of Joan d'Arc, but if it's the Hundred Years War you want to learn about, there's a wide variety of history books that could give you a much more exciting alternative.
Overall : C+
Story : B-
Art : B-
+ Beautiful watercolors and portrayal of lighting
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