Manga-ka: Chika Shiomi
Publisher: Aurora Publishing
Rating: Teen (13+)
Release Date: August 2009
Synopsis: “When sorcerers suddenly appear and attack the country Pharsia, fatal damages are wrought upon the land. Faced with all the sufferings of her relatives and soldiers before her, the princess Falna has no choice but to escape. While on the brink of death, a voice calls out to her, “If you have the courage to take my hand, I will lend you my power. You must wake up!” With strong determination in her heart, Falna embarks on a journey that will change the destinies of many.”
The works of Chika Shiomi have been licensed by numerous publishers, including VIZ, CMX and Go Comi. Queen of Ragtonia, a fantasy fiction series, is Aurora Publishing taking on yet another work from her catalogue. Forgoing the usual real world or high school settings in most of her manga, we are presented with a more traditional fantasy novel tale, as a valiant yet cursed young girl seeks to banish demons from her land with the help of the giant Cardus who shares her fate.
Ragtonia has been cursed by an invasion of Necromancers from a demonic realm. They have killed thousands in their realm, turned some into demons, and left others cursed to a half-life by taking possession of their body parts, resulting in the heroine Falna’s paralyzed legs, and the lose of sight in one of Cardus’s eyes. Shiomi portrays this quest in a series of self-contained chapters, as the duo seeks out the Necromancers while encountering other victims and demons caused by their presence.
Falna is an interesting heroine, whose status as a fabled Liesian gives her the courage that failed her when her family was attacked by the Necromancers. Seeking to attain justice by herself, and possessing a manly demeanour due to her choice to become a Liesian, she is a more stoic shojo heroine, her disability providing a unique twist on the usual fantasy heroine. After her horse is injured, a run-in with the wandering, over-sized warrior Cardus leads him to offer himself to transport her, placing her on his shoulder for their journey. The dainty, armored lady sitting atop the hulking giant makes for a cute visual, but Shiomi works it into the story naturally without making it too gimmicky.
The two become friends and their respective pasts are related to readers through flashbacks, yet neither reveals their reasons for seeking the Necromancers to one another outside of regaining the use of their body parts. Each seeking out the Igliese sword, they find that joining forces suits them best – Falna’s powers allowing the magic of the Igliese to flow while Cardus’s more able body allows for better combat abilities. Shiomi gives us little of the usual cutesy romance aspects of shojo manga outside of Cardus shyly looking away while Falna changes, and presents a strong character bond despite the secrets each keeps from the other.
Queen of Ragtonia provides a fair amount of action as the two take on insectoid style demons, and later on encounter demons with more human personalities, painting an even bleaker portrait of the results of the Necromancers actions which doom their allies as much as their victims. The fate of those associated with the Necromancers after death is fairly bleak as well, and the actions of Falna and Cardus provide a redemptive element, changing the fates of the demons they encounter.
Another element that adds a bit more interest to manga fans is the fact that Ragtonia originated as a dojinshi series. Many fans know of dojinshi as fan parodies of popular professional works, but it also operates as a medium for original works from amateur artists. Shiomi got her start writing original dojinshi for general audiences, her own stories and characters self-published and sold at original dojin conventions. She presents comparisons of some pages between the original story and the professional edition of Ragtonia, and also runs through the published dojin issues, and the timeline of her life associated with them, including some time spent as an Office Lady, and drawing ski comics. This helps to frame the series as a more personal work, especially when she relates how she managed to rediscover the original ending years after publishing the last dojin issue. The accompanying shorts relating to her dog Baron, including one from the time she had published the Ragtonia dojins, solidify the personal touch.
A fairly recent work, the redrawn version of Ragtonia is from the hand of an experienced artist, with soft yet detailed character designs and occasionally lush backgrounds. Shiomi apparently reworked both the story and art of the series from her dojin originals, though the samples we see show that she has maintained much of the original flavour. The art has a slightly shonen-manga feel, something noteable given her comments of initially submitting to boys magazines in her dojin-art commentary.
In terms of presentation, Aurora uses decent paper with a sturdy binding, apparently printed in Japan. The art is crisp, and the lettering used includes lower and upper case letters unlike most comics. Sound effects are subtitled with complimentary fonts that are varied but simple enough so as not to distract from the story.
This book was originally offered as a Borders exclusive in the States, and was later released to a mass market audience through normal distributors. I hope that Aurora will eventually publish the second volume, as some of their imprints have continued to publish manga, despite the recession. I’d recommend it to fans of fantasy manga like RG Veda, the Archlord manwha or the classic Lodoss Wars, as well as fans of general fantasy novels. The series serves as lighter fare in that genre alongside more darker representatives in manga such as Berserk and Guin Saga, and makes for an excellent change of pace from much of the Otaku-centric output the North American market gets. Even if we only get volume one it’s still worth checking out if you’re a fan of this kind of material.