Though some authors get it right on their very first try – say, Ralph Ellison or Harper Lee – most take a few books to develop their voice and storytelling chops. Chika Shiomi is no exception to this rule, as Queen of Ragtonia, an early series, demonstrates.
The plot is standard-issue fantasy. Falna, a feisty young princess, is on a quest to save her kingdom from the Necromancer, an evil sorcerer who assassinated her family and unleashed a demon horde into the Pharsian countryside. She has her work cut out for her, however, as the Necromancer stole her left eye and her legs. With the help of a muscle-bound warrior named Cadmus and a magical sword called The Igliese, Falna sets out to reclaim her missing body parts and her once-beautiful homeland.
Though the art is polished, the creaky plot mechanics and tone-deaf script are hallmarks of an amateur work. There’s almost no tension in the story, as every potentially difficult situation is neatly resolved by the sudden arrival of a new character or convenient discovery of a new weapon. Nothing is revealed in an organic fashion; characters frequently resort to explaining terms and phenomena to one another as if they were studying for a history exam, not holding a casual conversation. Worse still, many of these explanations don’t make much sense and do little to advance the story.
If the main attraction is a disappointment, the omake are not. Volume one includes a delightful comic about Shiomi’s Golden retriever, a dog so rambunctious he makes Marley look like a model citizen, and a brief essay describing Queen of Ragtonia’s genesis. Ragtonia, we learn, was a doujinshi that she updated for publication by preserving the story and layout while re-drawing the characters in a more contemporary style. Her essay includes several side-by-side comparisons of the original and revised pages that reveal just how closely she adhered to her first draft.
Therein lies the problem: Ragtonia would have been better served by a new script, not new artwork. The old character designs, which bear a strong resemblance to those found in Canon and Night of the Beasts, are a little dated but still attractive. The script, however, doesn’t reflect Shiomi’s current skill level, as it lacks wit, urgency, and, frankly, logic. Hardcore Shiomi fans may find Ragtonia interesting from an academic point of view — how has Shiomi evolved as an artist and storyteller? — but newcomers will find little here to engage their interest, save some pretty pictures.
QUEEN OF RAGTONIA, VOL. 1 • BY CHIKA SHIOMI • AURORA PUBLISHING • 154 pp. • RATING: TEEN (13+)
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