Wednesday, January 25, 2012


The Furuya manga currently available in the U.S. don't do justice to his abilities as a writer. Genkaku Picasso is one of the worst works of Furuya I have read, while Lychee Light Club and No Longer Human are both adaptations of works written by others, unlike the majority of Furuya's works. Those who only know Furuya through these works may conclude that he's a poor writer when not adapting someone else, while even those familiar with masterpieces like The Music of Marie and "Book of the Moon" may think he's lost his touch. But in The Children's Crusade [Innosan Shounen Juujigun], one of Furuya's most recent works (the third and final volume has not even been published in Japan yet), which is an original story, his writing is as powerful as ever.

Genkaku Picasso was an attempt to create a shounen manga which avoided the cliches of shounen manga. The Children's Crusade, on the other hand, while not shounen, engages with shounen manga in a different way: it takes a familiar shounen scenario -- a group of teenage boys fights for justice armed with idealism, an indomitable spirit, and the power of friendship -- and shows it leading to disaster.

Based upon a real event, though one about which little is known, The Children's Crusade begins in a town in Northern France in 1212. Nicholas*, an impulsive and hotheaded twelve-year-old, longs more than anything to be a crusading knight like his father, but given his poverty and lack of social standing this seems impossible. To show his determination, he goes so far as to carve a large cross into his forehead with a knife. (He bears the scar prominently throughout the two volumes.) His friend Etienne is also twelve, but their personalities are complete opposites. Etienne is a gentle, devout, contemplative shepherd.

One day while tending his sheep, Etienne finds a letter and an unusual-looking trumpet. Then a vision of the crucified Jesus appears to him and tells him that he has been chosen and that the trumpet's sound will lead him to Jerusalem. When he returns to the town and publicly describes his experience, Nicholas acclaims him as a Savior, and declares that he will accompany Etienne to Jerusalem. Soon Etienne's pilgrimage has become a crusade to "liberate" Jerusalem from the Muslims, led by Nicholas, who declares that nobody over fourteen is allowed to participate, since previous crusades have failed because the faith of adults is too weak.

Spurred by a rumor that those who reach Jerusalem will have any wish granted, a diverse group of boys enrolls, including a puppeteer; an intellectually-minded, skeptical merchant's son; a leper; and one of the bandits who had attacked the village, whom the villagers had captured and are abusing as revenge. These latter two are allowed to come at the insistence of Etienne, who publicly embraces both of them. (To be sure, it's unrealistic that all these types would be found in the same small town, but it helps keep the secondary characters from blurring into each other, a common problem in stories with lots of characters of approximately the same age and sex.)

Soon after they set out, they meet Hugo, a member of the powerful Knights Templar. After he witnesses Etienne perform a miracle, he not only declares the Children's Crusade under the Templars' official protection, but accompanies it himself. From then on, in each town they pass through the Crusaders receive a rapturous reception, in good part due to Hugo's advance work. In each town Etienne miraculously heals the sick and injured. And in each town, they gain both generous donations and new recruits, some as young as eight, whose parents are eager to entrust them to the "miracle boy." Nicholas is living out his dream and practically worships Hugo, but Etienne grows concerned at the increasingly martial tone Nicholas's rhetoric has taken under Hugo's influence.

The crusaders have plenty of friendship and perseverance, the first two parts of Shounen Jump's famous formula. But this won't bring victory, the third part of the formula. Furuya raises the crusaders' and reader's hopes only to crush them. Legend has it that the historical Children's Crusaders were sold into slavery by the ship captains they trusted to carry them across the sea. I don't know how The Children's Crusade ends, but they, too, have their innocence and naivete betrayed. And the end of the second volume promises much worse to come.

One of The Children's Crusade's chief strong points is characterization. With Etienne, Furuya succeeds in one of the most difficult tasks for a writer: convincingly depicting a character who is good to the point of saintliness but not sanctimonious. Nicholas's characterization is also very well done. The other "apostles" receive less attention from Furuya, but he succeeds in giving almost all of them distinct personalities.

The characters' lively, expressive faces as drawn by Furuya contribute substantially to the characterizations. And the art in general is excellent, both in visual storytelling and page design, and is frequently cinematic in scope and detail. Furuya isn't particularly well known for his action scenes, but the ones here are dynamic.

In manga and anime, Christianity is generally treated very superficially (e.g. Evangelion and Hellsing). In contrast, Furuya gives a convincing depiction of a devout Christian in 13th-century France. And in general, even though Furuya takes substantial liberties with the few known facts about the historical Children's Crusade, his setting feels authentic. This makes it all the more disappointing when, in the last few chapters of volume two, Furuya introduces a frequent cliche in modern-day works set in the Middle Ages, the female heretic with modern attitudes. But so far, at least, this is a minor flaw.

I would rank the first two volumes of The Children's Crusade below The Music of Marie and "Book of the Moon," simply because it lacks the soaring imagination of those two works. But it's still an outstanding series.

Like The Music of Marie, the volumes of The Children's Crusade are not numbered, but labelled by the kanji for up, middle and down. Each of the first two volumes is 288 pages long and is published by Ohta Press. Their ISBNs are 978-4-7783-2086-3 and 978-4-7783-2105-5, and they cost 1200 yen each. Their amazon.co.jp pages are here and here.

The Furuya Manga Moveable Feast Archives, along with links to other reviews of Furuya, can be found here.

*The Japanese is "Nikora"; I'm guessing at the romanization.

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Wednesday, January 11, 2012


When Patricia S. Bowne offered me a review copy of A Lovesome Thing, the sequel to Advice from Pigeons, I accepted readily. I'd enjoyed the earlier book and expected to enjoy the second. Just as important, since I'd already reviewed the first book, I assumed that writing a review of A Lovesome Thing would be easy. That proved not to be the case. In part, that's because things usually turn out to be harder to write than I expect. But mainly, it's because A Lovesome Thing turned out to be quite different from Advice from Pigeons in several ways. Most importantly, it's much darker.

Although most of A Lovesome Thing's main characters are academics, it's not really an academic novel in the way that Advice from Pigeons was; the academics appear primarily in their public service role. And most of the main characters of Advice from Pigeons are absent from A Lovesome Thing, the only exception being postmodern feminist demonologist Teddy Whin, who is again a major character here. The other academic protagonists were secondary characters in the earlier book. One of them is Bill Navanax, the angry alchemist from Advice from Pigeons, who is actually happy at the start of the book, because Neil Torecki has become his lover and moved in with him. Neil, also a major character, is happy himself, except for a compulsion to paint pictures of Bill's ex-lover being burned at the stake, a compulsion he has kept hidden from Bill. Cham Ligalla the exorcist also returns, and is summoned to deal with a demon who possesses people and makes the nasty demon from Advice from Pigeons look like Mr. Rogers.

There's a new major character as well, Father Rameau, a priest of the Church of the Sacred Flame, who unlike the others has no connection with the Royal Academy. Through him we learn about religion and the gods in Bowne's world, something that didn't appear in Advice from Pigeons. There are many gods, all of whom are in some sense manifestations of a single divine power, although believers worship only one god at a time. And the gods are tangible, at least occasionally, so that when a murdered woman is found in Father Rameau's church, it's natural for a policeman to ask Rameau "'when was the last time you saw this god?'"

There is actually not much humor in A Lovesome Thing, especially compared to Advice from Pigeons. This may be partly because we're more familiar with Bowne's world, so there are fewer opportunities for the incongruity-based humor that enlivened Advice from Pigeons. But mainly, A Lovesome Thing is a much darker book, as mentioned above. The demon mentioned above likes to make its victims torture themselves, tortures that are graphically described. Much of the action takes place in a truly hellish garden. And while in the earlier book Rho's basic problem was his mix of arrogance and insecurity, A Lovesome Thing explores much darker regions of the human heart.

A Lovesome Thing is well-written, and the characters are complex -- more so than in Advice from Pigeons -- and well-drawn. Conversely, the plot in A Lovesome Thing is weaker than in Advice from Pigeons. Father Rameau's story in particular feels undeveloped and doesn't add much besides an opportunity to convey information about religion in the world of Osyth. The plot in A Lovesome Thing is also harder to follow, and the fact that there are multiple copies of several characters doesn't help things.

A Lovesome Thing's main problem, though, is that after the grimness of most of the book, its happy ending is unconvincing. After Cham has finished expelling a possessing demon from its victim, who was forced by the demon to mutilate himself horribly and is now dying, "She heard the enchanter's voice again, lying to [the victim]. Bad things happened, the voice said, but what mattered was how you faced them. Whether you had been brave and kind. And if you were brave and kind, it said, everything turned out for the best and everyone you loved would be safe." (135)

The book's ending appears to show that the enchanter's "silly lie" (135) is true after all. But looking at the book as a whole, Cham's original judgment seems more accurate.

Despite these reservations, I would recommend the book to those who want to know more about the world of Osyth, or the characters. But don't expect a fun read like Advice from Pigeons.

Advice from Pigeons is available as an ebook from Double Dragon Publishing and Amazon.

[Disclaimer: I received a free e-copy of the book from the author.]

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