Manhua-ka: Chao Peng, Weidong Chen
Publisher: Yen Press
Rating: Teen (13+)
Release Date: March 2009
Synopsis: “Time and again, A You finds himself chasing a mysterious rabbit through his dreams. But before he can reach out and grab it…his mother is shaking him awake for another day of work. A You’s not exactly thrilled with his job at the factory, so when a persistent streak of bad luck leaves him unemployed, it seems like a great opportunity to start over. The trouble is, A You doesn’t have anything to move on to. With no goals or aspirations, A You roams the city searching for direction. Deep in thought on one of his strolls, A You suddenly rouses himself only to discover he’s lost in the woods. He catches sight of a rabbit, and in desperation follows it through the forest. But this scene seems familiar…Is it a dream? Or could there truly be An Ideal World within the darkness?”
Chinese comics have been imported to the English comics market since the 80’s, but those were primarily Hong Kong action comics. Now, we’re beginning to see a larger variety, including some titles from mainland China, such as this title – Yen Press’s release of An Ideal World. A mixture of European, Hong Kong and manga aesthetics, An Ideal World offers a change in pace from normal asian comics fare, with vivid colours and a self-contained, single volume story.
Protagonist A You [a pun that works well for the English edition] has grown tired of his luckless life – plagued with constant accidents, and generally unable to find happiness in his job, homelife, or in his encounters with ordinary society. Whether it’s a cantankerous policeman, or a horrific traffic accident involving a bunny, things don’t go A You’s way. A You’s personality clashes with the normal go-getter manga protagonist, a young adult trying to cope with the slightly less then bright future he has attained. Like many young people, his dreams reflect a need to escape into fantasy, yet it becomes obvious that he needs to come to terms with reality. Otherwise, he might lose his job, and possibly his friends, as one can only take so much whinging from a sap like A You.
After a depressing string of events, A You encounters a sage with an uncanny resemblance to a certain short green jedi knight , and find himself flung into another world. The caricatured style of the earlier chapters breaks way for more fantastical surroundings, including a bunny suited circus girl and an anthropomorphic Zebra industrialist. Slowly, A You learns that while this world seems fantastic, it’s not far from his own town, as many of the overly happy townsfolk have seemingly unimportant jobs like cleaning the streets. The aforementioned Zebra then gives A You a lesson in economics, and charity. These scenes are particularly striking, continuing the dense, detail oriented panel work of the earlier chapters. A change of pace from the more negative preceding chapters, the style of art doesn’t change much, but reflects the diverse skills of the creative team, with immersive backgrounds, slick action and perspective, and a slightly whimsical touch reminiscent of Ghibli.
Another element I found intriguing was how the story differed from te usual manga and comics fare with its mild instructional elements. The story offers great morals for readers, reflecting the traditional values of Chinese society. Characters find happiness in any job, in working as a team, and in family life, finding the fantastic in their daily routine. These are morals that could apply to any societies, with the message of making the most of your life , even if it’s an unglamorous one, coming for the forefront and adding universal appeal.
This is a sharp contrast from similar fare from Japan, as A You grows up in the span of a volume, rather than constantly striving for increasingly unrealistic goals like the average Shonen Jump lead. While using many fantastical elements, this is a work that grounds itself in realism. This is reflected in the cute final panel, continuing the emphasis on traditional values in the pleasant tone that informs much of this work.
This is also a work complimented by strong production values. The colour work in An Ideal World is fairly solid, with bright colours in a watercolour style of colouring, opting for a more natural look then most computer colouring jobs. Colour is also used to the stories advantage, as A You’s skin colour changes to a brighter, cherry yellow when he enters the fantasy realm. Normally more neutral toned, he retains this colour throughout the graphic novel, symbolizing his change in personality and world view. Occasional shifts to grey help emphasize some panels, taking advantage of the palette offered in doing a full colour work, making it an element of the story rather then a mere selling point. The paper used is a bit better than usual manga, sturdy crisp white suited to colour printing in place of the usual newsprint manga fans are accustomed to.
Decent extras include profiles of the creators, design files, and a cover art gallery from the French edition, which were released in 5 paperbacks, probably in the thinner style of B.D .releases traditional for colour comics in France. I suspect that Yen might have been working from files of this edition, given the use of what looks to be hand drawn roman lettered sound effects that are occasional subtitled with a more obvious English edition in computer fonts.
While nothing in the content is particularly offensive, the plot is more so one that would be appreciated by older teen readers rather than younger children, so I would recommend it primarily to teens and young adults. This work has gotten me interested in what other Chinese titles Yen has to offer, and makes for a good sample of these offerings.