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Ontology on the gone!

The Journal of the Lincoln Heights Literary Society
Miscellanea and Ephemeron

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02/25/2006 Archived Entry: "Princess Ninja Scroll Tenka Muso"

Princess Ninja Scroll Tenka Muso, Volume 1 and Volume 2
by Akane Sasaki
Digital Manga Publishing

Review by Tom Good

Imagine a tale of the American wild West where Wyatt Earp is a little girl, Wild Bill Hickok is a talking iguana, Billy the Kid is a sasquatch, and the Dalton Gang is made up of androids. This story is just as weird as that, but set in Japan instead of America. The publisher describes these books as "inspired by the true life events of one Hattori Hanzo, recognized as Japan's greatest ninja and accomplished samurai." That may be its inspiration, but that description omits any hint of how wacky this version is.

If names like Hattori Hanzo, Yagyu Jubei, and Oda Nobunaga do not mean anything to you, then you will probably be confused by the story. On the other hand, if those names do mean something to you, then you will still be surprised, because here the famous eyepatch-wearing ninja Yagyu Jubei -- who also figures into Jubei-chan -- is a talking bird (with an eyepatch!) perched on the shoulder of Hattori Hanzo, who is a little girl. Together they meet ogres, gun-slinging cowboys, and robots, and even hack into the computer system of their enemy. I suppose that in Japan these stories have already been told so many times that authors may feel compelled to put some new crazy spin on them.

While you may or may not take to the story, I do recommend these books for the art, which is very interesting. Akane Sasaki's characters do not inhabit a realistic three-dimensional space. Instead, they are shown in an imaginary space where the same character can appear in the same panel more than once, shown at different angles or zoom levels. Sometimes a full-body picture of a character appears superimposed on a close-up of the same character, as if the panel were a camera that had quickly zoomed out.

In one memorable composition, a girl is shown kneeling with her back to the viewer, facing a man, but right behind him is a large close-up of the girl's face. Clearly this cannot be a literal depiction of what is actually occuring, but it presents a dreamlike image that conveys the mood of the story.

Sasaki often positions small characters like Jubeh and Hanzo in the foreground while taller characters appear in the background, making their size on the page just the opposite of their real heights. And some panels start with a scene tilted diagonally relative to the page, then add another character in a layer above it with a vertical orientation. All of these techniques give Tenka Muso a dynamic, playful look that makes it a feast for the eyes. Read this for the art, just don't expect it to be a history lesson.

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