Desert Isle Keeper
Sense and Sensibility - Manga Classics
Janeites, relax. Your beloved author’s works continue to be in great hands with the talented folks at Udon Entertainment. I couldn’t put this book down, which was really awkward considering that I was reading an advance pdf on my laptop and I had to schlep the whole computer around the house while I read it.
I won’t do a detailed plot summary because this is a classic. Essentially, level-headed sister Elinor falls in love with mild-mannered Edward but can’t have him, dramatic and sentimental Marianne falls in love with dashing Willoughby but can’t have him, and both sisters end up happy, although Marianne not in the way she expects. This adaptation brings the setting, the characters, and much of Austen’s original text to vivid life. I highly recommend it.
The characters are given widely differing appearances, which make them easy to differentiate. Fashion in the Udon mangas has gotten more and more period-detailed over the years, and I love that. In fact, they’ve released a coloring book of their Austen mangas. Marianne’s gowns have romantic puffed sleeves, gentle prints, and lace trim while Elinor favors simple lines and plain fabrics. Both sisters’ wardrobes are repeated throughout the text, a nice touch to underscore their poverty. Fussy characters like Mrs. Jennings and Robert Ferrars wear bold prints.
Hair is used to differentiate characters, so it’s not historically accurate, but I don’t object because it reads clearly. I do wish Colonel Brandon didn’t look quite so gaunt and in need of a shave. The super-skinny hero is a manga visual convention from teen girls stories, or shojo. They use it in every Manga Classics I’ve read, and I wish they’d shake it up. I would have liked a slightly less beautiful Elinor, and a slightly less boy-band looking Edward. Another issue is that the minor unpleasant supporting characters have “wicked” faces – sharp, with angry eyes – from the moment of their first introduction, which is lazy visual characterization.
In non-character art, the houses, churches, gardens, and other settings are gorgeously drawn with just the right amount of detail: lavish when featured, and enough to establish place (wealth, weather, etc) when serving as a background. In one evocative touch, Lucy Steele discloses her secret engagement to Elinor’s love Edward on a bench in a garden, and the tree looms sinisterly over and around them, branches grasping in a look reminiscent of a horror film.
I’ve noticed an increase in original text and dialogue in each round of Manga Classics releases. This one not only uses dialogue, but uses “voice-over” style boxes to include Austen’s original narration, intermixed with adapted text or text invented for the manga. For the first time in my Manga Classics reading, I didn’t see a single anachronistic line of dialogue or misuse of title. The highest praise I can give the writing is to tell you that my favorite line in the book turned out to be a seamless mix of Austen and clever writing original to the manga:
Marianne Dashwood was born to an extraordinary fate. She was born to discover the falsehoods of her own opinions, and to overcome her objections to flannel waistcoats, along with her disbelief in second attachments.
Half of that is Austen, and half isn’t. It reads perfectly. Well done, Stacy King.
My biggest complaint is the amount of crying in this book. Sometimes it’s a tearful breakdown, other times an escaped trickle, or tragic drops glimmering on a lower eyelid. This is appropriate for the “sensible” (i.e emotional) Marianne, but nearly every character cries, and it starts to feel melodramatic. Because I’m a dork, I actually searched a Sense and Sensibility e-text for “tears” and found just fifteen uses in the whole book (“cried,” if you’re curious, is never used for tears, and all three “wepts” are Marianne). Twelve of the fifteen uses in this book are Marianne. Two are Elinor and Mrs. Dashwood after learning that Marianne isn’t dead, which is an extenuating circumstance. The last one is Elinor’s breakdown learning that her beloved hasn’t married another woman. It’s the climactic moment for her character. When Emma Thompson bursts into sobs in the movie, you both laugh and cheer for Elinor, and you realize the intensity of her feelings – thinking she had lost Edward couldn’t break her reserve, but the happiness of realizing she can have him was overwhelming. When manga Elinor brims with tears every few chapters (admittedly mostly in private, but sometimes in a corner of a party as well), it undermines both the overall characterization of the “sense” sister and the drama of that wonderful, joyous moment for her character.
And don’t get me started on the manga having Colonel Brandon cry in public. Colonel Brandon does NOT cry in public. He does not stagger off behind the draperies to finish weeping and compose himself. He does not. This is Colonel Brandon.
I do realize, though, that I loved the tight, restrained portrayals of Elinor and Brandon by Emma Thompson and Alan Rickman so much that nothing may ever top them me. I can understand that it’s hard to do visually what those brilliant actors did with voice and movement.
To adapt a story with so many characters, settings, and secrets is an immense challenge. Manga Classics ended up with a work that is not only coherent, but entertaining and immersive. I really enjoyed it and I know Austen fans will, too.