Manga-ka: Chie Shinohara
Publisher: Viz Media
Rating: Older Teen (16+)
Release Date: April 2009
Synopsis: “Charged with treason, Nakia is interrogated by the Hittite council of ministers. Nakia denies her guilt and, despite being confined, uses her magic to free her henchman Urhi, who is then suspected of launching a campaign of murderous retaliation against Kail and Yuri. Nakia, however, seems to have made one mistake that could undo all her schemes–overlooking the devastating effect all the intrigue and treachery has had on Juda, her son and intended heir to the Hittite throne!”
Red River is a series that manages to mix political intrigue with shoujo romance. The characters all strike a nice balance between being idealistic reformers and shrewd politicians. As in any good shoujo manga, the relationships between the characters are always at the forefront of the action. The series is at its best when it pits the strong bonds between the cast against what’s best for the Hittite Empire, making the characters choose between helping their friends or helping the country. Luckily, that is exactly what volume 25 of Red River does.
In this volume we find out more about the villains’ motivations. There have been pieces of information dropped throughout the series as to what compels them, but only in this volume do we get enough to put the puzzle together. Nakia is determined to see her son, Juda, on the throne, and has spent the series doing everything she can to make that happen. Helping her has been Urhi, her long time advisor. While the series has done a pretty good job of showing what makes Nakia tick, Urhi’s motivation has always been a bit more mysterious. There have been hints, but in this volume the manga-ka confronts them head-on and pulls a surprise reveal at the last moment.
It’s those twists that keep me coming back for more. Chie Shinohara has mastered “the big reveal.” She knows how to layout panels and dialogue so that it racks up the most suspense. Building suspense is one thing, but what’s even more impressive is that her reveals always live up to the build-up.
Another point in the series’ favour is that it’s not afraid to kill off characters. Even in books that focus on political intrigue (as this volume does) rather than battle the characters are still in danger. Sure, Yuri and Kail are safe, but everyone else could possibly lose their lives. By demonstrating this, the manga shows that it’s not just the country at stake, there’s danger on a personal level as well.
The characters’ plans wouldn’t be effective if the characters themselves weren’t interesting. Luckily, they are. A character who gets a chance to shine in this volume is Juda, Kail’s younger half-brother. Despite having Nakia for a mother, Juda is actually a sweet boy who just wants to help Kail. Being at the centre of their dispute has had an adverse affect on Juda, making him take drastic measures.
With the focus on the bad guys, there is a little less for the good guys to do. One complaint I have with this volume is how Yuri finds out a crucial piece of information. Yuri is one of my favourite shoujo heroines ever, and watching her grow from a skittish school-girl to a military strategist has been the highlight of the series. So I was disappointed when, instead of uncovering something on her own, she learns something from simple gossip. It’s a minor thing, but I just expected Yuri to be craftier than that. Luckily there are other parts in the book where she’s able to outsmart her opponents.
One other thing I don’t like about this volume (and the whole series) is the use of Nakia’s magic. Whenever Nakia or anyone else uses magic it feels cheap. Instead of coming up with a valid reason for a character to do something, the manga-ka can just have them under Nakia’s magical control. It doesn’t happen too often, but I wish the magical element would just disappear from the series all together. I know that without magic there’s no basis for the series (Yuri got pulled back in time because of a spell by Nakia) but I enjoy the political aspect of the series more than the fantastical.
Red River is an epic historical-romance that has an old, timeless feel to it. It has the same vibe that older movies like “The Ten Commandants” and “Cleopatra” have, taking a view of history that is sweeping and exciting (but probably not the most historically accurate). The art itself is very reminiscent of early eighties shoujo, though not nearly so flowery. If that sounds appealing to you, then you owe it to yourself to give Red River a chance.