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Wednesday, April 11, 2012

Manga Review: Soulless GN 1

Soulless: The Manga volume one
Author: Gail Carriger
Artist: Rem
Yen Press

Major spoiler warning: Review contains spoilers for the Soulless manga adaptation and some spoilers for the original Parasol Protectorate series. Read with caution!

Alexia Tarabotti is laboring under a great many social tribulations. First, she has no soul. Second, she's a spinster whose father is both Italian and dead. Third, she was rudely attacked by a vampire, breaking all standards of social etiquette. Where to go from there? From bad to worse apparently, for Alexia accidentally kills the vampire -- and then the appalling Lord Maccon (loud, messy, gorgeous, and werewolf) is sent by Queen Victoria to investigate. With unexpected vampires appearing and expected vampires disappearing, everyone seems to believe Alexia responsible. Can she figure out what is actually happening to London's high society? Or will her soulless ability to negate supernatural powers prove useful or just plain embarrassing? Finally, who is the real enemy, and do they have treacle tart? (Source: Goodreads)

I have never been particularly enamored of manga that is a straight adaptation of another work, whether it be an anime or an English-language novel (I give passes to those which adapt visual novels and light novels, those are entirely different beasts). Imagine my surprise when this latest adaptation of a book – Gail Carriger’s Soulless, the first in the Parasol Protectorate series – is not only incredibly entertaining but extremely high quality in translating word to image and telling Carriger’s story in manga format.

Read the rest of my review after the jump!

First things first, y’all: the art. Rem does a really superb job of turning Gail Carriger’s characters into a cast of great looking manga folks – and some of them really do benefit from the treatment. Consider Lord Akeldama, everyone’s favorite flamboyantly gay vampire. Rem gives him all the gorgeous outfits, sparkles, and outrageous body movements that make him Akeldama, and it works. He’s like a pretty Victorian gay version of Tamaki from Ouran Host Club (which makes Biffy his Haruhi?) and he looks fantastic.

Rem also does a great job of portraying the world of Soulless, from the Victorian setting to the steampunk elements, not to mention all the intricate outfits. There’s something about her artwork that is like a mix-up of Kohta Hirano (Hellsing), Kosuke Fujishima (Ah! My Goddess), and Kaoru Mori (Emma), and I love it. I can’t wait to see how she draws Carriger’s other characters, especially her Scotland clan of fierce werewolves. And Madame Lefoux! Ooh, I can’t wait!

Those like me who have read the entire series already – or just the first book – will notice that not everything makes it into the graphic novel. The connection between Alexia and her father is lessened significantly, as is the presence of her other family. Floote is sadly absent for most of the book, which is a shame as he is Alexia’s loyal butler partner who becomes very important late in the series. Still, a lot of these things can be forgiven if you consider they’ve fit the contents of one whole book into a single graphic novel. It could have been done in two, but I guess they wanted to keep the story self-contained and not worry with cliffhangers between volumes.

Also, I find that with the translation from prose to manga, something is lost in translation that actually helps readers new to the story: a lot of the narration. Carriger and Rem, in deciding not to carry over a lot of the Victorian entrenched narration from Alexia’s point of view, allows the actual story to shine through more in the manga and doesn’t clutter up the page with Alexia’s thoughts. She speaks her mind well enough through the dialogue, after all!

Speaking of Alexia, I found her manga version absolutely superb. A little too blushy for my liking, and not as plump as I had pictured her, but she was just lovely – her and Lord Maccon, whose wolf form was very impressive. Also, I had to laugh at the brief moment of his Anubis form; who knew Maccon could look so snuggly and cute with a wolf’s head? And I can’t not mention how impeccable Lord Akeldama is in this series – he’s the perfect blend of flippant fashion queen and all-knowing info gatherer. And you can see in the brief moments they’re together his relationship with his drone Biffy start to develop into something much deeper. Ah, love!

In the end, I actually found myself enjoying the Soulless manga more than the original prose novel, which for me started off rocky but started improving by story’s end. The manga, in contrast, gets right into the action from the first chapter and doesn’t stop, keeping everything fresh in the reader’s mind and compelling them to keep reading until the very end. If Rem and Carriger’s dynamic duo work keeps up like this, I can only imagine what the other books in the Parasol Protectorate series will read like as manga. Oh Lord, think of all of Ivy’s hats Rem gets to draw!

For more information about the manga adaptation of Soulless as well as future volumes, you can check out the series page at the Yen Press site. As for more information about the original Parasol Protectorate book series along with other works by the author, you can visit Gail Carriger’s official homepage.