Author: Sun Jiayu
Manhua-ka: Guo Guo
Publisher: Yen Press
Rating: Teen (13+)
Release Date: June 2009
Synopsis: “Lavishly illustrated in full color and based on the classic Chinese play Xixiang Ji by Wang Shifu, The History of the West Wing tells of the illicit romance between the daughter of a Chinese government official and the roaming scholar who seeks to win her hand. But before he can turn his attentions to his ladylove, the young man must win the heart of her mother! When it seems even heroic deeds in the face of murderous bandits will not please the strict matriarch, the young man goes off to become a civil servant. Will he return in time to marry his true love?”
Love at first sight, and with only deeper to fall, History of the West Wing is a fantastical visual treat that follows the quick-to-bloom love of two fated souls for whom potential suitors, invading ingrates and provincial exams hold no chance of separation. A gift for both the heart and the eyes, this is a quaint one-shot release worth taking notice of.
Stepping back from just how much I fell in love with the visuals of this book, the story itself is a sweet, albeit slightly lacking, romance story about a young traveling scholar who falls in love with the daughter of a government official. Through his cunning, intelligence and impeccable level-headedness and patience, he takes on the tasks required of him to win her hand and pave the road for their happily ever after.
The plot plays itself out in a very linear fashion, and short of experiences with Chinese stories of this vein throwing me for a loop in the past, I had no doubt in my mind how things would work out for the blissful new couple. Admittedly the lack of substantial conflict makes the narrative a little lax, and while it leaves the book reading a little one-dimensional, it works wonders in creating a very fairytale-like feeling. I was also completely charmed by Chen Yuqing, truth be told, from his attractive design to impeccable wisdom. He’s a romanticized character and I fell for him hair, quill and luster. Honestly at times he felt too near perfect, which actually left me a bit suspicious of him for a moment.
Without question the book’s greatest and most immediately evident highlight is the artwork. History of the West Wing is hands down one of the most beautiful things I’ve read on a visual level in a long while. The book is in full-colour, each panel a painted image that brilliantly showcases the artist’s work as a costume designer. Her eye for detail and style makes every page worth a stop-and-stare and the chapter covers just beg to be framed and hung on the wall. Each of the leading characters are just as stunning as the clothes that adorn them as well. My only complaint about the artwork is that occasionally some mannerisms look stiff as some of the natural feel of their movements seems lacking. Don’t get me wrong, I say it’s a pretty excusable trade-off in comparison to just how positively gorgeous they all are and it was only something that came up on rare occasion throughout.
On top of Gou Gou’s splendid artistic flair, I’d be hard pressed to find anything that Yen Press could’ve done better with their treatment of the book as well. It’s a cut-size larger than standard manga releases, to the complete benefit of the artwork, and along with maintaining the full colours of the original, they also left in place all the bonus illustrations at the back that serve as a sweet epilogue to the story.
My only considerable protest about the book is that it’s too short, though not for lack of fairly satisfying story. Truthfully a longer book could’ve worn out the shallow plot, but simply put, I was sad to see it end. At least an easily read story bolstered by the fantastic artwork ensures that History of the West Wing has lots of reread value, value that I intend to appreciate again and again.