Wednesday, May 21, 2008

Travel the World: Manga Shakespeare

Manga Shakespeare: Romeo & Juliet. Originally published in UK. Illustrated by Sonia Leong.

I'll be honest with you from the start, I have zero experience with Manga. The drawing factor for me wasn't the Manga--it was the Shakespeare. I like anything (and everything) that makes Shakespeare accessible for readers. That essentially translates into me liking Manga Shakespeare: Romeo and Juliet. I'm not sure how typical or untypical Manga Shakespeare compares to other Manga out there--as far as text or graphics or design goes. So I'm just gonna leave it for others to decide.

Open up Manga Shakespeare and what do you find? "Present day Tokyo. Two teenagers, Romeo and Juliet, fall in love. But their rival Yakuza families are at war." That makes it appear--at first glance--like they've changed Shakespeare, doesn't it? That the text is going to be really off base. But while the illustrations follow that story, the text is about as true to the bard as you can get. It does take some getting used to (for me and maybe only me) to realize that the text and the illustrations aren't really in sync with one another. The graphics show people emailing and texting and using cell phones and what not, but the text is true to the original. (That doesn't mean it's line for line, word for word, unabridged and unadapted, but it's close enough that dare I say it--you could probably maybe get away with reading this instead. As long as you don't give yourself away by saying it's set in Tokyo and that it was Romeo's lack of signal on his cell phone that led to the tragic deaths of two young lovers. (His cell phone was "no signal" and he missed the message that Juliet was faking her death.)

At first, I thought that I would have a hard time following the story. It's not that I'm UNfamiliar with the original. I've read it at least three times. It's just that with graphic novels, I don't always recognize who everyone is supposed to be. Small details--color and length of hair, shapes of eyes, small fashion details that distinguish characters from one another--can be hard to pick up if you're graphically challenged. Call me a newbie. But surprisingly enough, I soon had it down. Part of me wishes that it had all been in color. But I don't know the rules of Manga--if it's mainly black and white or if it's mainly color, or if just depends. That's why I'm not going to try to sound like I know what I'm talking about here.

The only other slight issue I had with the book is the fact that for a few pages, the characters shrunk. I don't know if that's the best description. I think the best word would be everyone and everything became squatty. They became instead of tall and lean and normal, they became short and fat and stocky and odd. I don't know if this is typical or not. It could be. But it was just weird for me.

I did think the format worked well. It definitely made Shakespeare more reader-friendly. The good stuff was kept sacred, and you'll probably recognize most of the quotes. That is if you're familiar with the play or with the movies that stayed true to the play or if you've watched Shakespeare in Love repeatedly. (Not that I'm judging!)

You can read more about the series here.


Wilt thou be gone? it is not yet near day:
It was the nightingale, and not the lark,
That pierced the fearful hollow of thine ear;
Nightly she sings on yon pomegranate-tree:
Believe me, love, it was the nightingale.


It was the lark, the herald of the morn,
No nightingale: look, love, what envious streaks
Do lace the severing clouds in yonder east:
Night's candles are burnt out, and jocund day
Stands tiptoe on the misty mountain tops.
I must be gone and live, or stay and die.


Yon light is not day-light, I know it, I:
It is some meteor that the sun exhales,
To be to thee this night a torch-bearer,
And light thee on thy way to Mantua:
Therefore stay yet; thou need'st not to be gone.


Let me be ta'en, let me be put to death;
I am content, so thou wilt have it so.
I'll say yon grey is not the morning's eye,
'Tis but the pale reflex of Cynthia's brow;
Nor that is not the lark, whose notes do beat
The vaulty heaven so high above our heads:
I have more care to stay than will to go:
Come, death, and welcome! Juliet wills it so.
How is't, my soul? let's talk; it is not day.


It is, it is: hie hence, be gone, away!
It is the lark that sings so out of tune,
Straining harsh discords and unpleasing sharps.
Some say the lark makes sweet division;
This doth not so, for she divideth us:
Some say the lark and loathed toad change eyes,
O, now I would they had changed voices too!
Since arm from arm that voice doth us affray,
Hunting thee hence with hunt's-up to the day,
O, now be gone; more light and light it grows.


More light and light; more dark and dark our woes!

Now on to the story itself. Call me contrary, but Romeo & Juliet just doesn't do it for me. I don't see Romeo & Juliet as this marvelously romantic couple. I think Romeo is as silly as silly can be. I can't judge Juliet's heart as easily. But Romeo? How can I trust a guy who can be head-over-heels madly, deeply, truly in love with a girl one minute, to the point of depression and distraction and good old-fashioned moodiness, and then at the drop of a hat, in just one glance fall madly, truly, deeply, head-over-heels in love with another girl having completely forgotten his former love and heart's desire. Romantic? I think not. Add in the fact that these young lovers--at least Juliet is, I'm not sure of Romeo's exact age--are way too young to even think about making life-time commitments. (She's either 13 or 14.) The fact that this was considered marriageable is a bit stomach-turning to me. When you think about it, their bodies, their minds, their souls are just beginning to develop. They're still growing and changing. True love? Probably not.... Textbook case of stupidity of both teens and adults? Definitely! It's hard to find a character that isn't stupid in Romeo & Juliet. The parents of each child? Stupid! The friends of both families with their I-must-fight-for-the-fun-of-it attitude? Stupid! The fact that people were being killed just for the thrill of it? for the sake of some stupid family feud? Beyond stupid.

So the text is beautiful. I won't deny that. But the motivation that leads to this tragedy is just plain old-fashioned stupidity only romanticized and idolized to last forever and ever and ever.

© Becky Laney of Becky's Book Reviews


Kylee 12:38 PM  

The "squatty" thing is fairly typical with certain series, certain manga authors from what I've seen. My oldest likes mangas, but I need to be careful. She's 14 and some mangas are actually meant for adults only.

She's also addicted to code. She wants to write video games and live in Tokyo! When I was her age I was thinking about boys and sneaking cigarettes....

Becky 12:41 PM  

Thanks for your insight, Kylee :) This book, in a way, is a tad out of my comfort zone. But it's always good to expand and grow in my opinion.

Sarah Miller 2:40 PM  

I can't say it appeals to me, but it's an interesting concept nonetheless.

Anonymous,  2:45 PM  

That's a really interesting review Becky. As the parent of a boy who is an incredibly reluctant reader, got hold of this

and his friends are borrowing it!!

Becky 2:54 PM  

Corrine, how great! I say whatever it takes to get them reading is fine by me! It's interesting to see Shakespeare (and a few other classics) get the graphic novel/ comic book treatment. I can't speak for all of them obviously, but I think they can be done very well and definitely serve a need.

Sarah, I can't say that this one book has made me a Manga fan by any stretch. I'm just not accustomed to it. But it was cool to see how they adapted the text. I just had to smirk when Romeo had "no signal" and thus missed the message that Juliet was only fooling around she's dead. It was a commercial waiting to happen! That and the fact that he zoomed in on a motorcycle! :)

Jeane 8:15 PM  

Wow. I never ever thought I'd see Shakespeare as manga. Don't think I'll open it. Never considered Romeo and Juliet to be silly either, but you have a very good point and I've rethought it now.

Becky 9:19 PM  

Jeane, I guess I did sound a bit condescending about Romeo & Juliet. When I read it as a teen, I probably thought it was the oh-so-magical forever-and-ever kind of love. But the more times I read it, the more I see how childish both the teens and the parents were.

But for the record, if any of my readers are big big big fans of the play, I'm not saying you're silly for liking it :) I'm just more of a Much Ado About Nothing or Twelfth Night kind of girl.

Walrus 7:00 AM  

Hello, just to say - great post.

and the same publisher ( are publishing Much Ado About Nothing and Twelfth Night next year, so look out...

They have also published manga settings of Macbeth, Julius Caesar, The Tempest, A Midsummer Night's Dream, Othello, As You Like It, Richard III.

They are also publishing The Merchant of Venice, Henry VIII (yes 8th, not 5th) and Taming of the Shrew!

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