Reviewby Casey Brienza, Jun 15th 2009
After Rakan's encounter with the lookalike Ayame Prince and his lackey, he decides to accompany Chigusa and the others back to their bleak desert world, where there is no sunlight and all of the plants seem to have disappeared. When they do arrive, the new companions find themselves on the outskirts of nowhere and sitting ducks for any lawless bandits who might take and interest in them. And sure enough, a ragtag group of men do take an interest; their ringleader Kazuhi orders them to capture the strangers. Soon, though, Rakan learns that these people are like Tohji, numbered children unwanted by their clans and consigned to near certain death by the Ayame Prince. Will he be able to win them and their distrustful boss over…or will they be the ones to do him in?
The cover of the fourth volume of Shiho Sugiura's bishounen fantasy adventure, Silver Diamond, features the pretty but ruthless Prince and his blindfolded lackey Kingen Kinrei. Of course, they are both platinum blonds—with all of the coded exoticness and “wrongness” that this shade of lovely locks implies in Japanese popular culture. Too bad, though, that these bad guys do not actually have much in the way of an appearance in this volume. There is nothing, after all, quite like a truly villainous villain who happens to look like a frail but exquisitely beautiful young man to spice up a manga aiming to please the fangirl contingent.
Instead, the plot in this volume focuses upon Rakan's first fumbling adventures through the blighted alternate world that Chigusa and the others hail from. Most of the volume recounts their initial encounter with a horde of unwanted numbered children and their brooding boss living on the periphery. Needless to say, their sorry treatment at the hands of the Ayame Prince is a noble cause waiting to happen, and Rakan is young and irritatingly idealistic enough to want to make these people his. Silver Diamond has not quite reached the “Let my people go!” level of Biblical camp, but it is quickly becoming competitive with the messianic tendencies of such Japanese-Arabian dystopian fantasies as Yumi Tamura's Basara. In fact, you might even call this manga Basara-lite. It has all the right hot button calling cards—brutal landscape, oppressed populace, young person turned foretold liberator, etc.—if not the affective intensity.
But returning for a moment to the issue of Japanese-Arabian dystopian fantasies. They are, to put it mildly, popular. It's hard to know exactly where the obsession came from, but Japanese manga, like Western bodice rippers, have a thing for One Thousand and One Nights-esque (or do I mean Lawrence of Arabia?) Middle Eastern fantasy settings. The Middle East becomes the locale of choice for romance, exotic characters, and sexy, billowing outfits—the Japanese brand of Orientalism. What makes the effect so bizarre, however, is how often Arabian chic is mixed up with traditional Japanese culture. Silver Diamond, for example, uses characters with from this alternate desert world who speak Japanese and have Japanese-like names. Basara, similarly, despite looking half the time like it is set in mythical Persia, is actually a far-future Japan. It's hard to credit why so many mangaka make this particular creative choice, other than to render the work more accessible to their native audience, but it happens a bit too often for the comfort of some Western readers.
In any case, there really is not much to recommend this particular volume when it comes to character development. We get to see Rakan being Super-Generous and Thoughtful, providing pre-prepared food to his companions after they end up on the rear end of nowhere. Meanwhile, Chigusa continues to make clumsy, suggestive overtures to Rakan—and gets precisely nowhere with them (besides garnering the contempt of the other men, that is). And the Pac-Man gone all snake-shaped named Koh does not appear save for the briefest of cameos, more's the pity.
It's likewise hard to say that there is much in the way of improvement with respect to Sugiura's artwork. Although originally copyrighted in Japan in 2004, she draws in a style that was current in the late 1980s to early 1990s…and does not ever seem to have gotten past it. For fans of such shoujo mangaka as Natsumi Itsuki (Yakumo Tatsu, Jyu Oh Sei) this will rate as a good thing. For those who prefer the latest styles, it will not be. Happily, she brings a good number of fangirl-pleasing bishounen sporting interesting costumes into the mix here, so most readers will probably not lament overmuch the dearth of female characters thus far into the series.
Tokyopop's translation of the manga continues to be readable and entertaining in volume four, though volume four is also decidedly less pleasing solely as an object. The paper quality, now standard for this publisher's titles, is thinner than was common a couple of years ago, and full color inserts have already been abandoned in favor of four pages of unnecessary—and monumentally unattractive—pieces of submitted fanart. In fact, it's really hard to justify Silver Diamond at all on the basis of this particular installment…so it's a good thing that this epic series as a whole is considerably stronger than the sum of some of its less inspiring parts.
Overall : B
Story : B
Art : B+
+ A fantasy world that intrigues while simultaneously pushing all the right fujoshi buttons.
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