Before I read this, I breezed through the synopsis and thought that this manga was actually about Joan of Arc. However, it isn't a straight retelling of her story. The main character is Emil, a girl named Emily who was raised as a boy to hide her from her father's family, who wanted to kill her. Since she was a child, Emil has seen visions of Joan of Arc. When she is sent by her foster father to go and support the king in his battle, she becomes able to communicate with Joan's spirit. From that time, Emil's story parallels Joan's, as Emil struggles to ... complete Joan's work and unite France under the king.
This manga has a really interesting premise, and the historical details are handled well. It's also in full color, so quite unusual, and the art is done much more closely to a "Western" style of comic book than typical manga art. The politics are discussed in detail, and military strategies are addressed.
Emil is an interesting character. She was raised as a boy, and for the first part of the manga she tries to maintain a male role. Unfortunately, later in the manga, she spends a lot of time getting pushed around by the men who surround her and worrying about being raped. Although Emil does continue to fight, and fight well, I wish she hadn't fallen into so many feminine stereotypes.
I liked how the supporting characters were realistically portrayed (especially considering this is a manga). They often resemble historical portraits, so there aren't any bishounen here. The historical people have clearly been well researched. Some of the situations may seem a little fanciful, but they all have historical basis.
If you like history, especially its warfare and politics, you will probably enjoy this manga.
Jun 6, 2016
Ah, Golden Days. When I first finished this series, I thought of it as quite good, but I simply could not get it out of my head. I continued to ponder over the questions about life and death that this manga brought up, until I eventually raised my score to a 10. I don't give 10's lightly.
The plot of Golden Days seems, on its surface, a bit silly. There are plenty of ludicrous media out there that use time travel as a gag device, to pull a character into amusing or exciting circumstances without dealing with the implications of such a plot device. Golden Days ... doesn't do that. When Souma Mitsuya, a Japanese teenager from the mid 1990s is sent back in time to the year his great-grandfather was also sixteen—1921—he reacts realistically. Mitsuya happens to look exactly like his grandfather, Yoshimitsu, and Mitsuya is mistaken for the missing Yoshimitsu and taken to live in his place. Yoshimitsu is actually a nobleman in Japan's now-abolished aristocracy, and he and his sister Yuriko have been taken care of by the aristocratic Kasuga family since the death of their parents. The Kasuga family also has two children, who have been raised alongside the Soumas—Jin, also sixteen, and Aiko, twelve.
Mitsuya doesn't know why he is in the past, but has a final message from his grandfather: “If I could turn back time, I would certainly run to save him... Jin!” But save him from what?
Mitsuya falls into Yoshimitsu's place uncomfortably at first. He goes through withdrawals for modern food and technology, and doesn't understand many archaic Japanese cultural practices. But Jin, who was very close to Yoshimitsu (and had unrequited feelings for him), guides Mitsuya through some of his troubles adjusting. Jin begins to wonder how he can have feelings for both Yoshimitsu and Mitsuya...
There are innumerable wonderful subplots going on simultaneously. Kei, Mitsuya's older cousin and Yoshimitsu's other grandson, has also been sent back in time. He finds work at a coffeehouse and begins to fall in love with a waitress there, all while wondering if it is okay for him to seize happiness in this time period, or if he will change history. Yuriko, Yoshimitsu's sister, tries to avoid an arranged marriage so she can reconnect with her childhood sweetheart, Kunimi Hayato. Aiko encounters discrimination because she is half-Japanese (she and Jin have an Italian mother) and tries to befriend the son of her governess.
Ultimately, the slice-of-life tone escalates to a mystery, as Jin and Mitsuya learn about the reasons Yoshimitsu ran away from home, and reaches a tightly plotted climax that changes everything.
Golden Days defies being neatly labeled. Please don't be scared off by the Shounen Ai tag—this manga is more like a shoujo with a boy's love subplot than a true shounen ai. You will really miss out of you pass by it just for that reason, and you might even like it. It is quite different from most other shounen ai/boy's love stories, and not at all steamy or sexy. Just cute and sweet, but never "fluff".
The characters are wonderful, they all felt so real and in their world. Mitsuya looks pretty, but he's also kind of scrappy and doesn't hesitate to throw a punch if it's needed. Jin hides his troubles with his charming behavior. Not only that, but for a series that starts out feeling like a slice-of-life, it is actually tightly packed with very little that might be called “filler.” It's full of symbolism and foreshadowing, which won't all be apparent until you read it a second time. The first volume mirrors the last so well, it's clear that the mangaka planned the entire story from the start. And the ending doesn't hold back either. The characters face realistic and inevitable fates.
Yes, as a love story, Golden Days is quite sad, but it is also a beautiful coming-of-age story about understanding life and coming to terms with death. I hope you'll enjoy it too.
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May 1, 2016
Juuni Kokuki is one of my favorite series--not just among manga and light novels, but among fiction in general. If you are coming here fresh from watching the anime, you'll find the novels even more enjoyable. Here I will be reviewing the entire series, not just the first novel.
Unfortunately, Juuni Kokuki is not a complete series. But according to recent tweets on the author’s twitter account, Ono Fuyumi is working on another novel, which is exciting as the last one in the series, released in 2001, ended with a cliffhanger of sorts. Don’t let it’s incomplete status deter you from reading it, though–Juuni Kokuki ... is a truly excellent series. In some ways, it reminds me of the Narnia series, as it is a kind of spiritual fantasy, but instead of promoting a Christian worldview it explains the Buddhist/Daoist worldview of Chinese religions. Unlike Narnia, the characters have to undergo intense personal trials to reach their goals, and the novels ask the question, ‘What is the meaning of human suffering?’. Youko, the main character for much of the series, is one of the most dynamic characters I have ever read, and it is amazing to watch her transform from a self-centered schoolgirl into a powerful leader who listens to others.
The first novel, Sea of Shadow, follows Youko Nakajima, a Japanese schoolgirl, as she enters the fantastical world of the Twelve Kingdoms. Unfamiliar with the world and entirely alone after she is abandoned by Keiki, the one who brought her to the world, Youko must fight to survive from the many creatures chasing her, as well as attempt to find her way home. Along the way, Youko discovers her true destiny and grows into an admirable character.
I don’t want to spoil too much, so I won’t go into depth about the later novels about Youko. My favorite parts of the series are the novels about Taiki, the kirin of Tai. Taiki isn’t human, and Ono makes it clear that he isn’t, yet she still draws the reader into identifying with him as a character. Sea of Shadow is a good choice for beginning the series, but it is also possible to begin with Demon Child, the first novel published in the series, or Sea of Wind, which explains how Taiki came to the Twelve Kingdoms. Don't feel constrained to keep to the order used in the anime when you begin the series.
Demon Child was originally written as a stand alone horror novel, but was later worked into the series. It is told from the point of view of Hirose, a student teacher who has returned to his alma mater to teach before he graduates. On his first day teaching, Hirose notices that one of the students, Kaname Takasato, is different from the others. The other students believe he is cursed, and never speak to him. As Hirose begins to learn more about Takasato, and becomes closer to him, the strange occurrences around Takasato began to strike more fiercely and rapidly towards those connected to him. As Hirose tries to understand Takasato, he begins to identify with him as someone who feels he does not belong in this world.
Both Youko’s and Taiki’s arcs coincide in the most recent novel, The Shore at Twilight, The Sky at Daybreak, which explains what happens after the end of Demon Child.
If you have any interest in Asian fantasy, ‘another world’ fantasy, or just fantasy with personal growth, you’ll enjoy Juuni Kokuki.
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