Anthologies serve a variety of purposes. They provide established artists an outlet for experimenting with new genres and subjects; they introduce readers to seminal creators with a representative sample of work; and they offer a window into an early phase of a manga-ka’s development, as he or she made the transition from short, self-contained works to long-form dramas. Himeyuka & Rozione’s Story serves all three purposes, collecting four shojo stories by prolific and versatile writer Sumomo Yumeka, best known here in the US for The Day I Became A Butterfly and Same Cell Organism. (N.B. “Sumomo Yumeka” is a pen name, as is “Mizu Sahara,” the pseudonym under which she published Voices of a Distant Star and the ongoing seinen drama My Girl.)
If the stories in Himeyuka & Rozione aren’t groundbreaking — one focuses on a yakuza princess falling in love with a commoner, another on an inept witch trying to increase her magical mojo in the human world — they are full of nicely observed moments and subtle but effective twists. In “The Princess of Kikouya in District 1,” for example, a feisty young woman tries to delay a marriage intended to consolidate two crime families’ power, only to discover that the qualities she admires in her regular-guy paramour are, in fact, the result of his long involvement with the mob, while in “My Very Own Shalala,” a young witch tries to trick a brusque young man into crying (his tears will enhance her magical power), only to discover that he’s perfectly capable of expressing genuine sadness. The best story of the bunch, “Himeyuka & Rozione,” takes another common shojo trope — the emancipated teen trying to make it on her own — and turns it into a thoughtful parable about the value of maintaining your ties to the past, even as you move into the world of adult responsibility.
The anthology’s only misfire is “Robot.” The oldest entry of the bunch, it’s a disjointed, confusing sci-fi story about an android who is doomed to watch a clone of his creator grow up, die, and be reborn again and again. Though the story has a lovely, wistful tone, the author’s own assessment of the work as “nothing but a bunch of loose ends” seems spot-on; even the wordy prologue, which is meant to explain the post-apocalyptic scenario and the purpose of the human cloning project, obfuscates more than it clarifies. The visual flow, like the script, is similarly disorienting, with choppy panel-to-panel transitions and odd lacunae between sequences.
As imaginative as Yumeka’s plots can be, what’s most striking about Himeyuka & Rozione is her beautiful, expressive illustrations. Her character designs achieve the right balance between naturalism and stylization, with distinctive faces capable of registering common emotional states — anxiety, remorse, relief, determination — without cartoonish exaggeration. In fact, her characters’ faces often reveal more about them than their words do; in the title story, for example, Yumeka uses Himeyuka’s facial expressions and body language to suggest the discrepancy between what Himeyuka says about her desire for independence and how she actually feels about her new-found freedom. More interesting still is that Yumeka shies away from using common shorthands for depicting her characters’ feelings (e.g. a bed of flowers to indicate romantic longing), making their emotional responses seem specific to the situation, rather than generic representations of love, sadness, or anger.
For readers familiar with Yumeka’s yaoi titles, curious about her artistic development, or just discovering her manga for the first time, this nicely edited collection provides a fine introduction to Yumeka’s work as a shojo manga-ka, demonstrating her range as both an artist and a storyteller. Recommended.
Review copy provided by Yen Press. Himeyuka & Rozione’s Story will be released on July 31, 2010.
HIMEYUKA & ROZIONE’S STORY • BY SUMOMO YUMEKA • YEN PRESS • 196 pp. • RATING: TEEN (13+)