Yu Jin, Events Director:
Compared to many others in AUNSW, I’m outdated. Clinging like a miser to my old favourites, I rarely venture out into the light to dip my toes in anything new – even with my beloved One Piece I’m about a hundred chapters behind.
Despite this I’ve managed to collect a few gems here and there, and although they’re old and worn, and perhaps only shine for me, I hope you’ll take a look at a couple of my favourite trinkets.
To me, Kanata Kara is a manga which puts to shame the rest of the fantasy shoujo genre. Even within tropes, there are some who just do it right.
Kanata Kara follows a popular 90s trend of ordinary Japanese schoolgirls suddenly being spirited away to strange fantasy worlds (in which they somehow end up playing key roles in saving said world, e.g. Inu Yasha, Red River), but please don’t just dismiss it for cliched nonsense; give it a go.
Not only does Kanata Kara manage to interweave a rich, multicultural world of complex political conflicts with traditional fantasy elements and landscapes reminiscent of Mononoke Hime, it contains what is possibly my favourite romance progression of all time.
The female protagonist Noriko is a formidable figure of prophecy known as the Awakening, who has the ability to unlock the apocalyptic power of the Sky Demon – but she’s also just a schoolgirl lost in an unknown world, ignorant of the language and her own role in its future. Found and saved by Izark, a young man of unknown history, she makes the choice to follow him – and begin the process of unravelling his (predictably) dark secrets.
The growing relationship between Noriko and Izark is gradual, subtle, and sentimental – I appreciate how it is founded not on physical attraction or the usual ‘ikemen charm’, but on shared hardships and empathy. Izark rescues Noriko several times throughout their journey – but Noriko also works hard to help and ultimately save him and many others, despite her lack of faith in her own abilities.
Kanata Kara is also significant to me for its array of female characters who refuse to fade into the backdrop. Both villains and heroes include key female figures – some beautiful, some rather the opposite, who have their own unique skills, motives and hopes. Gaya, a middle-aged master swordswoman from a disbanded tribe of fighters. Zena, her twin, a seer who helps smuggle hunted political figures to safety. Tazasheena, a prophetess of extravagant taste and hidden yearnings who is one of the main antagonists of the series. Geena, a blind seer child who worries about how much to reveal of her frightening visions.
Finally, Kanata Kara leaves you with some significant feels: no matter who you are or what you’ve done, you can always walk toward the light.
Go read it.
If you’ve ever read Petshop of Horrors (incidentally another of my old favourites), Kanyou Shoujo will appear to wander along some similar themes. Both series have somewhat episodic chapters, focusing on the customers of a bizarre shop of unusual products, and the consequences of their misjudged actions.
In the case of Kanyou Shoujo, the story revolves around Plant Dolls – animated dolls which choose their own owners and are maintained by thrice daily waterings of milk and weekly administrations of cookies. When each charmed customer takes home his or her delicately beautiful doll, the doll starts echoing aspects of the owner’s personality in unexpected and sometimes disastrous ways.
Allegorical, dark and poignant, Kanyou Shoujo appeals with its fairy-tale elements and the moral questions it poses – is a doll a mere ornament, or a living creature which can experience its own loneliness and happiness? What are the consequences of overindulgence? Waning interest? Disappointed expectations?
Although the series is ostensibly about quirky little dolls, it invariably shows a portrait of humanity’s own dark (and light) traits.
Something worth mentioning is that this was originally published in a magazine called 眠れぬ夜の奇妙な話 (Nemurenu Yoru no Kimyou na Hanashi – Strange Stories for Sleepless Nights). I think this is quite fitting. Lingering, eerie, haunting – the best kind of bedtime story.