1. Kuzein-ke Saidai no Show (The Biggest Show of the Kuzein Family)
2-4. Seifuku wa Nugenai #1~3 (Can't Take Off My Uniform)
5. Brigit no Bansan (Brigit's Supper)
6-8. Seifuku wa Nugenai #4~6
9. Shizuru Cinema (Shizuru Film)
10. Kasou Senryaku Kagami-uchi (Lower Class Tactic: Mirror Strike)
11-12. Seifuku wa Nugenai #7~8
13. Seishun Janjaka Jaka Jaka
There's one thing that's always puzzled me about anime and manga, and that's the distinct lack of variety when it comes to choosing a setting for a story. Over the years there have been a number of places used as a platform upon which a given anime or manga stands, however these always seem to be repeated, especially if the tale proves to be popular (one look at the number of stories featuring some kind of school should highlight this). The problem with repeatedly using the same settings though, is that this automatically places a limitation on what can and can't be done. Many
may not see it that way, but was there ever a highschool sci fi show where the hero was an adult?
See what I mean?
Imagine my surprise then, to find a one-shot manga set in a place and time that both mediums have largely ignored, and even though it has been used as a reference and inspiration, to my knowledge there isn't actually any other story set in that time or place outside of Western media.
So where is it set? Why, the Old West of course.
Emerald is a rare find these days, especially given the glut of shoujo one-shots that are around. Written by Samura Hiroaki, the author of manga such as Bradherley's Coach, Ohikkoshi, and the famous Blade of the Immortal, the manga first appeared in Kodansha's "Afternoon" magazine in 2001. The story is quite literally about "heroes", or at least those who have a seemingly heroic name.
In terms of plot and content, Emerald is surprisingly original as a Western, and definitely unique as a manga. There's a brutality in the story that, given the time period, is both understandable and reasonably accurate, and with that comes lots of shooting, double and triple crosses, and a hint of both revenge and salvation. While the story seems pretty straightforward, there's a number of things that lie under the surface that the reader can infer for themselves, and while this may seem unfamiliar to those who want a reason for absolutely everything, it's actually nice to read something by a mangaka who trusts in the intelligence of the reader.
The art style is unusual in that it has a very definite "Western" feel to it. The characters, settings, buildings and clothes, are all highly reflective of the time period, and while the manga may not be as detailed as some would like, there's a certain authenticity to this story because of the way it looks.
As for the characters, well, don't expect anything in the way of development - this is a one-shot after all. That said, the characters are all truly individual, and really feel like they belong in the Old West. The characterisations are pretty good overall, with none of them feeling lacklustre or underused, especially the enigmatic Rosalie.
I will be completely honest. I've read this manga five times now, and each time was as enjoyable as the last. That doesn't mean that it's a masterpiece though, as there are definite flaws in the story. However, given the fact that both anime and manga have always lacked a true Western (i.e. a story about the Old West set in the Old West), it's only natural that most of us who grew up on John Wayne and Clint Eastwood movies would treat Emerald as an oasis in a desert of high schools.
But the question isn't whether I will enjoy it (as that should be pretty clear by now), but will you? Emerald has a lot to recommend it, not the least of which is a story that truly feels like a proper western, and characters that, while being mere glimpses of the time and place, really feel like they belong.
Hopefully we'll see more anime and/or manga based Westerns in the future. Until then, Emerald can whet your appetite.