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Review: The History of the West Wing

Reviewer: Lissa Pattillo

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.

Review written June 20, 2009 by Lissa Pattillo
Book provided by Yen Press for review purposes

About the Author:

Lissa Pattillo is the owner and editor of Residing in Halifax, Nova Scotia she takes great joy in collecting all manners of manga genres, regretting that there's never enough time in the day to review or share them all. Along with reviews, Lissa is responsible for all the news postings to the website and works full time as a web and graphic designer.

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4 Responses

  1. I dont think the plot was shallow, rather the manga didnt give it a chance to really take off. Several events take place that could have easily made a longer volume, or even two or three volumes, without it killing the story completely.

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  3. Great review, Lissa!

    One thing I learned from doing some research on West Wing is that the original play is incredibly long: according to Wikipedia, it's in 21 acts, which are usually performed over five days. Small wonder it feels a little rushed and one-dimensional! The comic book adaptation is awfully pretty, though, which makes me a lot more charitably disposed towards it.

    • Lissa says:

      I can certainly see in retrospect that the story is based on something originally much, much longer. The way everything is laid out feels much more like an attempt to fit in bits and pieces of a complete piece within space constraints, more so than it feels like something haphazardly pulled together from scratch.

      I think many readers and critiques have the same thoughts regarding the series also, the pretty-factor certainly does garner a much more charitable approach to critiquing the package as a whole. It's so gosh darn gorgeous I could stare at it all day, so forgiveness is given; hope it doesn't make me too manga-shallow though ;)

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