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Wednesday, September 4, 2013

Manga Review: Rohan at the Louvre

Rohan at the Louvre
Author: Hirohiko Araki
NBM Publishing
128 pages
Rohan, a young manga-ka, meets a beautiful mysterious young woman with a dramatic story. Seeing him draw, she tells him of a cursed 200 year old painting using the blackest ink ever known from a 1000 year old tree the painter had brought down without approval from the Emperor who had him executed for doing so. The painting meanwhile had been saved from destruction by a curator of the Louvre. Rohan forgets this story as he becomes famous but ten years later, visiting Paris, he takes the occasion to try and locate the painting. (Source: NBM)
Have you ever read a graphic novel that, as you reached the end, you sat back and was overwhelmed by the sheer quality of it? Hirohiko Araki's Rohan at the Louvre qualifies as one of those graphic novels for me. It is a visually stunning love letter to the most famous art museum in the world, the Louvre, as well as the manga medium in general. If this is just a sample of what Hirohiko Araki can do, it boggles my mind that more of his work isn't available in English. Or shall we be doomed to be limited to Jojo's Bizarre Adventures and this?

Rohan, the main character of Rohan at the Louvre, is not a new character of Araki or exclusive to this book. He is a character from Jojo's Bizarre Adventures, more specifically the Diamond is Unbreakable arc. Happily for people like me who aren't big readers of Jojo's, you don't need to know his back story to enjoy his adventures through Japan and France. It's a stand-alone book and a good teaser of Araki's style.
Rohan is a manga-ka with a peculiar talent: he can literally read people like books, looking upon the characters of their soul and seeing their past. It's a talent that, along with his manga skills, has made him quite the well known artist - although as we see, he wasn't always the hot-shot manga-ka he is when he goes to Paris. It's a strange ability that is beautifully drawn to life by Araki; one of my favorite scenes is when we see Rohan use this ability for the first time, and the person he's reading blooms into open pages, covered in the writing of his life. It's an early reminder that this isn't any normal story; Rohan's tale is just as bizarre as those in the books of Jojo's.
We also, at the start of Rohan's tale, meet Nanase Fujikura. She is truly mysterious and beautiful, and she is the newest tenant at Rohan's grandmother's secluded inn during the summer. Rohan and Nanase meet during interesting times: Rohan is just starting out as a manga-ka, working on his debut manga, while Nanase is dealing with her crumbling marriage beyond her control. Nanase, much like Rohan's special talent, is a factor in this manga that seem meaningless at first but end up being amazingly important at story's end. Remember Nanase; she is not nothing.
The main story itself is fascinating and beyond definition. Is it a ghost story? A horror story? A mystery? Or perhaps a surprise love story wrapped up in tears? Rohan is on the hunt for a legendary painting with the blackest ink known to exist, and his hunt ends in something out of a Silent Hill video game, as the painting isn't so much scenery as a mirror of the human soul that looks upon it, magnifying the darkness until it looks much like the dark, ink black shadows on the canvas.
The art in Rohan at the Louvre is, to put it mildly, striking. It's a full color manga, and Araki's use of color is amazing. He uses color to set the mood, to create emotions on character's faces, and to make some kick ass costumes too. I would cosplay as Rohan in his artist gear if I had the cajones to wear that shade of lipstick and his earrings. And his hair - oh, that hair! It's simply fabulous! Even his usage of no color is impressive; he has moments of greyscale in order to emphasize character's shock or emotional turmoil, and it works perfectly within this story.
Also, I find it fascinating (shut it with the 'fascinating', Spock!) that during the manga, both Rohan and Nanase are sexualized in the way we see them. For Nanase, it is much for blatant; her first meeting with Rohan, she is in the middle of getting undressed, clad only in panties and a bra halfway towards being on the floor. Later, when Rohan draws her as she is putting laundry out to dry outside, we see it again in the way she is drawn, the way our attention is drawn to her breasts and the sweat dripping across her skin. After this point, the sexualization is basically nil, but these are our first images of Nanase and they linger with us.
Compare Nanase's form to Rohan's throughout the manga. Once he becomes a professional manga-ka, it's like he is taking part of the casual sexiness that Nanase previously embodied. Look at the first two-page splash of art when Rohan has come to Paris. He's looking casually out at the Louvre with one arm slung behind his head, the other pulling up his blue pullover to reveal his unbuttoned shirt, his belly button peaking out. His stance is curved in an oddly sexual fashion, emphasizing the angles and curves and muscles of his body. Rohan continues this kind of posing throughout the manga, even as he enters the bowels of the Louvre to find the legendary painting.
Could this be relevant to the overall story? Possibly not? Is it interesting? I think so! Araki has put so many layers within one story, I can't help but pick through them all and find as many tasty morsels as possible. And it's only 128 pages long!

Listen: Rohan at the Louvre is only of those books you have to read to believe. It's a brilliant story about sorrow and memories, stories and grief, fate and curses. If you come in with an open mind and aren't afraid to love something so outrageous and, well, bizarre, then you will enjoy Hirohiko Araki's journey into the darker side of art. NBM Publishing has released a handsome, high quality hardcover volume of manga that deserves to be on any manga reader's bookshelves.
You can read more information about Rohan and the Louvre book series at the NBM Homepage.