DRAWN & QUARTERED
Heroes trapped in parallel worlds
A favorite theme in manga is the time travel/interdimensional angle: A girl experiences a strange phenomenon that pushes her through time or space, and she ends up in a strange land where she plays a key role in whatever situation is happening at the time.
For each time it's been used in the world of Japanese comics and animation, it's been the root of some very compelling stories.
The manga "Red River," by Chie Shinohara and published in America by Viz, follows 15-year-old Yuri Suzuki, for whom life is starting to go well: She has just passed the test to get into her first choice of high schools, the boy she's had a crush on for some time gives her her first kiss and she feels like she can take on anything that comes her way.
But something strange starts happening: Water becomes agitated when Yuri is near it, including puddles on the street, her own bath and even glasses of drinking water. Before long a pair of hands bursts forth and tries to draw her in.
Yuri manages to escape the first few times the hands appear. The third time, however, she's not so fortunate. She manages to kick free of the hands, but not before she's pulled into a far different era. When she emerges, she's in an ancient town built of stone -- the city of Hattusa, the capital of the Hittite empire in the 14th century B.C., in current-day Turkey.
She soon finds she's caught up in a plot by the queen of the empire, Nakia, to put her son on the throne by killing the boy's five older half brothers -- and she needs Yuri's blood to do it. But the teen is saved by the third prince, Kail, one of Nakia's most hated enemies.
Thus begin plots and counterplots as the queen constantly schemes to get Yuri back, and Prince Kail must protect her until such time as he can send her home.
The terror behind the mysterious hands is a throwback to Shinohara's many other works, not yet translated, that focus on supernatural horror. But "Red River" quickly becomes a romance as Kail and Yuri discover each other's strengths and work together to foil Nakia's plans.
Yuri hates the city at first and is desperate to go home, but her resilience and strong sense of duty and justice soon show. Despite the danger she's in, the girl remains headstrong, often carrying out her own plans that she thinks will best help Kail. Those sometimes rash plans usually put her in harm's way, but they end up highlighting more of Yuri's qualities. She refuses to be a burden, learning skills such as swordfighting so she can take better care of herself in this era of war.
Although the synopsis of Volume 1 gushes about masses of handsome boys, which the story sometimes delivers, "Red River" is much more. It is a drama-filled and almost historically accurate tale, with plenty of action, intrigue and comedy. Yuri's compassion, cunning and strength of character make her an endearing heroine and charm all who meet her, from peasants to aristocrats, children to adults, and even animals. She might not have stunningly good looks, but her inner beauty and goodness radiate through and inspire others' undying loyalty.
If any teen girl were to have a fictional character as a role model, Yuri would be the perfect one.
JUST AS compelling is the manga series "From Far Away," by Kyoko Hikawa, also published by Viz. High school student Noriko has been dreaming lately of a strange land that she senses is in a different dimension. A friend speculates, just for fun, that it could be a parallel world.
As Noriko and her friends are having this conversation, the teenager sees a ball that a child has lost and runs to pick it up. The ball bumps into a paper bag lying suspiciously on the sidewalk -- and immediately sets off an explosion.
Rather than being blown to bits, Noriko is thrown into darkness. Her last views of her friends fade, and she lands in a bed of golden moss.
The girl's entrance into this foreign land immediately sends every nation's fortunetellers into a tizzy, who all exclaim that "the Awakening" has appeared, and forces are immediately dispatched to capture her. There's also the more immediate danger of enormous, sluglike monsters whose maws are ready to chomp her.
She's saved from the first monster by a tall, long-haired man named Izark, who effortlessly grabs her, leaps away from the creature, turns and, with one slice, chops off the slug's head.
What Noriko doesn't realize is that she is destined to awaken the Sky Demon, which is feared for its rumored destructive powers, and so the Awakening is prophesied to plunge the world into chaos. Izark knows of these foretellings, but Noriko's innocence -- and the fact that she's just an ordinary girl -- takes him aback. Rather than killing her outright as he had planned to do, he stays his hand and instead ends up protecting her.
It's obvious early on that Izark is the fated Sky Demon, a fact difficult to hide once he starts to manifest his demon nature and others realize his abilities are inhuman.
Noriko's whining about her own helplessness nearly gets tiring in the first book, but she's more tolerable once she starts learning this world's foreign tongue. Her independence and confidence grow along with her language skills, and her natural kindness touches others in simple but deep ways.
This kindness especially affects Izark, who was ostracized by his fellow villagers as a child because of what he was fated to be. Others whom he and Noriko aid along the way add to his morale and dilemma: These new friends know him as a person and appreciate his strength and willingness to help, but Izark must also work to protect these allies from the forces seeking him and Noriko.
As a romance story, "From Far Away" naturally focuses on two people, and Noriko's courage in braving this unknown world is admirable. But the true hero is Izark as we come to understand the hardships he's been through, the turmoil he faces and the destiny he's so desperate to change.
He must fight against his nature to avoid harming those he cares about, and we cheer him on in his struggle for identity. Izark also must deal with the consequences of Noriko's unquestioning acceptance and love for him despite knowing what he is, which unwittingly become both his salvation and his downfall.
Love is a wonderful, frightening force, and "From Far Away" is a captivating take on its power.