Much as I love composing in-depth reviews, the sheer number of new releases makes it impossible for even the most ambitious critic to give every interesting series the 800-word treatment. In an effort to stay abreast of current titles, therefore, I’ll be posting a regular column that offers more concise assessments of new and noteworthy books — manga tapas, if you will. This week, I look at two recent releases: Genghis Khan: To the Ends of the Earth and Sea (CMX), a done-in-one biography of the famous warrior; and volume one of Venus Capriccio (CMX), a romantic comedy about a tomboy and the piano prodigy who loves her.
BY NAKABA HIGURASHI AND SEIICHI MORIMURA • CMX • 178 pp. • RATING: TEEN PLUS (13+)
Cecile B. DeMille never made a movie about Genghis Khan, but if he had, it might have resembled To the Ends of the Earth and Sea, a beautiful but turgid biography of the great warrior. All of the requisite elements are there: sweeping vistas, epic battles, blood oaths, and feuding brothers. The only thing missing is camels.
To the Ends of the Earth follows Genghis Khan at two critical stages in his life: his early adolescence, when his father was grooming him to become the new head of the Borjigin clan (a powerful Monoglian tribe); and his mid-life, when he was systematically conquering the rest of Mongolia. In the first chapter of the story, we learn that Khan’s tribesmen questioned his parentage, suggesting that he was, in fact, the scion of a rival clan. We also see Khan’s fateful meeting with Jamuqua, the future leader of another powerful tribe, the Jadirat. These two scenes provide the subtext for later chapters, implying that Khan needed to conquer Mongolia to prove himself his father’s heir, and to settle an old score with Jamuqua, to whom he’d sworn a blood oath of allegiance as a child. Unfortunately, this effort to bring psychological nuance to Khan’s character falls flat; at 178 pages, the book isn’t long enough to accommodate quiet scenes of character development and epic battles without skimping on both. That leaves the dialogue with the primary responsibility of advancing the narrative, yielding passages that sound more like exposition than conversation: when was the last time you heard one of your siblings identify himself by birth order?