Reviewby Rebecca Silverman,
Phantom Thief Jeanne
Maron Kusakabe, a sixteen-year-old high school student, lives a secret life as the mysterious Phantom Thief Jeanne. Because she is the reincarnation of Joan of Arc, Maron, with the help of minor angel Finn Fish, is able to transform into Jeanne in order to seal the demons placed in beautiful works of art. But it's not an easy life – not only is Maron's best friend Miyako determined to capture Jeanne, but there's also a new Phantom Thief in town, a boy calling himself Sinbad. Add to that Maron's bitter family life, and we've got all the makings of a major magical girl story starting right here.
Phantom Thief Jeanne, the first long series famed shoujo mangaka Arina Tanemura ever wrote, has returned to the English language in a new edition. Previously published by CMX as Kamikaze Kaito Jeanne, Viz has now retranslated and republished the series in slightly longer volumes – this first book contains six chapters, where the original run had four per volume. Apart from the obvious title change, there are some other translations that differ from the CMX version, plus this new edition comes with a color page and Tanemura's commentary on it and leaves out her often rambling freetalks, as well as the four-panel comics that were at the back of the CMX edition. The color pages alone might make this worth a double dip for series fans, but for those of you who like a good magical girl story and never got a chance to read this one, this is an excellent opportunity to do so.
The story focuses on Maron Kusakabe, a sixteen-year-old high school student who lives by herself. Her parents, finding themselves in marital difficulties, abandoned her to go live (separately) abroad, and thus Maron's cheery exterior hides some very real pain beneath the surface. Luckily she has Finn Fish, a tiny minor angel who helps her to seal the demons that the demon lord has placed in beautiful works of art in order to steal human hearts from God. Maron, Finn says, is the reincarnation of Joan of Arc (Jeanne d'Arc), and therefore it is her duty to help protect the pure hearts that are God's source of power. Maron, desperate for a place to belong and someone to love her, is thrilled to help, and performs her duties with relish. Where she differs from, for example, Sailor Moon is that she uses her everyday skills as a way to enhance her magical girl powers. In her regular life, Maron is a rhythmic gymnast, and we see her practicing frequently and using both her acrobatic skills and her props (ribbon, clubs, rope) to help her capture demons. Also unlike many magical girls, Maron's transformation into Jeanne is a complete one – her hair grows and changes colors, her figure looks a little fuller, and her eye colr changes as well. This helps to make the subplot about her best friend Miyako, the daughter of a police detective, trying to capture Jeanne. We saw a similar plot device in Megumi Tachikawa's Saint Tail, but it works better here, since Saint Tail was essentially just Meimi in a costume. It also allows for readers to discover the identity of Jeanne's rival, magical boy Kaito Sinbad, before Maron does in a fairly believable way.
One of the greatest strengths of Phantom Thief Jeanne is the emotional core. Maron isn't just a random girl with powers, she's deeply wounded relies on those powers to feel worthwhile. Her parents may not have needed her, but God and Finn do, so Sinbad feels like a very real threat to her. Her trepidation about allowing new people into her life also rings true. When a new boy named Chiaki moves in next door and immediately starts hitting on her, Maron is reluctant to trust him, because as far as she's concerned, only Miyako has proven that she'll stick around...and she'd still like nothing more than to put Maron's alter-ego in jail. Chiaki's got his own issues, naturally, and while he tries, he more often than not ends up upsetting Maron, with the end of the volume being a major example. Basically there are two stories tied together here – Maron's personal journey and her life as a magical girl. While this isn't unusual, Tanemura intertwines the two more than we often see, which gives the series some heft.
Fans of Tanemura's art will see that this is clearly less polished than, for example, Sakura Hime: The Legend of Princess Sakura. In some ways this art is easier to read than Tanemura's later series, and while she still has a fondness for screen tones, they are applied mostly to clothing rather than all over the backgrounds. Chiaki suffers the most from her relative artistic inexperience, looking very bug-like at times, and some positions are physically impossible. All of Jeanne's movements look dynamic and graceful, however, and Maron's ever-changing hairstyles are pretty delightful.
Phantom Thief Jeanne is a series worth reading, and this first volume, expanded to include part of the original second, is a good introduction. While this isn't the strongest in the series as a whole, it still introduces us to a likeable and sympathetic heroine and works well both within and without the conventions of the magical girl genre. If you like Arina Tanemura or magical girls and you've not yet read this one, take advantage of Viz's re-release and join Jeanne as she recovers deceptive beauties.
Overall : B+
Story : A-
Art : B+
+ Nice use of the genre, Maron's personal and magical lives relate interestingly. Fluid art, and Finn taking a bath in a teacup is adorable. Nice new translation and color image.
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