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Hoshin Engi, vols. 1-3 (Ryu Fujisaki)

The place is China, 3,000 years ago. Modes of existence are fluid: under the proper circumstances, animals and even inanimate objects can become intelligent beings - yokai. And some human beings and some yokai can achieve a level of enlightenment that allows them to aspire to the status of Sennin, masters of the way. Those who seek to become Sennin study under Sennin masters in the spirit world, and are known as doshi. Sennin and doshi, and even some lesser beings, can wield magical artifacts known as paope. Also populating the spirit world are intelligent servant-creatures called reiju, which can serve as magical steeds. Sennin can be either good or evil - or uncommitted ... .

Doshi Taikobo is young (for the Sennin world - he's 75) and rather feckless. Although his master, Genshi Tenson, believes that Taikobo has the potential to become incredibly powerful, he goofs off and won't apply himself diligently to his Sennin studies. When he's called on the carpet for his laziness, he claims that he's disturbed by the fact that King Chu, down in the human world, has fallen under the evil spell of his new wife Dakki, who is actually a yokai Sennin (apparently, she's a fox spirit). Cruel and greedy, Dakki (who seems to get her dialog from Marie Antoinette - "Let them eat sweets!" - and her wardrobe of accessorized cat suits from a bad 1960s sci-fi flick) uses her position to wreak havoc among the humans, and in fact, she's entirely wiped out Taikobo's original human tribe. Genshi Tenson uses Taikobo's supposed interest in Dakki's doings to get him to agree to an important mission: to seek out the 365 Sennin enumerated on the Hoshin list and banish them to an otherworldly prison. Dakki, of course, is one of the 365. As additional sweeteners, Taikobo is given a reiju for transportation and a paope as a weapon. The story line follows Taikobo as he pursues his mission, fighting some enemies, bamboozling others, seeking out and winning allies, and discovering the deeper truth of the Hoshin list and his master's plans.

On my first read-through, this series confused the hell out of me, and I really disliked it. I don't usually have a problem with new vocabulary, and the rather busy, dense drawing style is no worse than that of Samurai Deeper Kyo, so I'm not really sure what the problem was. However, I just re-read the three volumes this past week, and things were a lot smoother this time. It's never going to be a big favorite of mine - the characters seem to have no emotional depth, and the drawings are weirdly ugly (everyone has huge clown feet, for example - even sexy Dakki - and primitive, exaggerated facial expressions) - but I'm getting involved enough with the plot to wonder what's going to happen next.


Hoshin Engi, vols. 1-3 (review)

The powerful and wayward Shinkohyo is a pretty interesting character. He (she?) is a Sennin who's even more clownlike than the average Hoshin Engi cast member: he wears a pointy hat with a pompom on the tip and striped pantaloons, and he's armed with a paope that looks like an ice-cream cone sprouting three gold streamers. (He also has something around his neck that looks unnervingly like a short, fat feather boa.) Shinkohyo starts out as a trickster, seemingly out to make trouble just for his own amusement, but he turns out to have a rather more serious role. Hiko Ko, King Chu's military advisor, also seems to have possibilities (and possibly because he's one of the few characters with a semi-normal human appearance, he emotes more than most). Taikobo's possible allies, Raishinshi, Yozen, and Nataku ( ... yes, that Nataku, but interpreted a bit differently) have potential as characters in a gung-ho shounen sort of way, but they all run off to get more training, leaving Taikobo and his faithful reiju steed, Supushan, to carry the action.

At least all this craziness is presented with a sense of humor. Fujisaki constantly breaks the fourth wall, making little asides to the audience. In the frame where Taikobo's origins are revealed, for example, a handy little diagram explains the senninkotsu - the body type that allows a human to become a Sennin - and notes enthusiastically "You too can go Sennin!" The reiju Supushan not only looks like a child's cartoon of a hippo - but people constantly insult him by remarking on it. When Supushan shames Taikobo by being able to supply his own needs by grazing grass along the road, Taikobo imitates him - and predictably ends up with serious gastric issues. During one particularly heated combat, Supushan (who's doing the play-by-play) exclaims that Taikobo is toying with his opponent "by becoming a four-panel manga!" - and indeed, the page layout has changed, trapping the poor guy.

Each volume thus far has addenda giving, at a minimum, translations of the terminology. In fact, each successive volume of these three has more extras than the previous one: in volume 3, there are character capsules and a sort of Sennin org chart, as well as an extra episode in which Taikobo has an adventure in the Sennin world. It would be fun if this trend continued ... .

Finally, it's hard to really dislike a manga in which a stone biwa can evolve into an attractive young lady who's somehow the younger sister of a fox spirit.


( 9 comments — Leave a comment )
Jan. 21st, 2008 04:48 am (UTC)
The art, I think, is just drawn in the style that was popular at the time. I watched the anime first(the manga had been licensed then, but wasn't out here, yet) and it simplifies and condenses the story a lot, which I think is why it was easy for me to grab on to and understand things right off the bat with the manga(and I looked into the original story of Dakki because of a wuxia based on the story just before reading it, without even noting the connection at first.)

Ko Hiko was my favorite character in the anime(like Yukimura, he's the normal guy among gods, and, in the anime, the one with the angsty tragic story.) But if the manga characters end up being like their anime counterparts in the long run, I think you'll like them all.
Jan. 28th, 2008 07:30 pm (UTC)

Didn't comment back on this because I was hoping we'd get more of a group discussion going ... .

So do you think this Dakki and Qwan's Dakki are connected? I thought it was odd, two characters having such similar names, and Hoshin Engi also has Nataku in it.

I think what bothers me about it is that it's almost more like a legend than like modern story-telling, except for the crazy drawings and the author's asides. There's no hint of the characters' internal processes. At times Taikobo makes a decision to do something that will hurt him very much, either physcially or tactically, and there's no indication at all of how his mind is working. That makes it hard for me to feel an emotional connection.

Edited at 2008-01-28 07:30 pm (UTC)
Jan. 28th, 2008 07:57 pm (UTC)
I've been wondering that about the Dakki's, too. Qwan is also based on chinese mythology, but I think it's more spawned of various bits of mythology, as opposed to being based on one central legend(Hoshin Engi is based on one of China's most famous novels, I think.) I do vaguely recall seeing another Dakki when I was looking into the fox demon Dakki, though. I only focused on the fox demon Dakki at the time because that was what I was looking for...Qwan's Dakki could be based on a different Dakki(I do remember that one version of the fox demon Dakki also had her having been a nice, sweet girl with a True Love before the fox demon possessed her.)

The series really does have more of an "epic legend" feel to it than a "personal story" feel. The impression I get of Taikobo is that, despite how he often acts, he really does understand the importance of the job over his own life. I also get the feeling that he always has a pretty good idea of how much risk he's really taking, and how likely he is to die or lose(and a lot of things seem to be him seeming stupid and careless when he's really just trying to find out what he's up against without clueing them in to what they're up against)...he's just really, really good at the slacker act.

It is odd that there weren't more people commenting here, though...
Jan. 30th, 2008 01:58 am (UTC)

sanada's kind of tied up at the moment, or I think we'd have her ... it's one of her faves. (Did you see the cosplay she did of it last year?)

Jan. 30th, 2008 02:01 am (UTC)
I don't think I've seen her cosplay, but I think she's chimed in on every one of my posts on the book(well, maybe not the first...I don't think we'd friended each other, then...)

She has been commenting in my Slayers posts, though.
Jan. 30th, 2008 02:08 am (UTC)

I'm glad ... she needs a distraction at the moment.

Check out the pix after the first one on this page - she's playing Shinkohyo, of course.

Jan. 30th, 2008 02:10 am (UTC)
Of course she is. The question is...did she force some poor soul into the cat costume?

BTW, I think that in one of my posts on the manga, she went into Taikobo's character a bit...it might address some of your concerns about that, now that I think about it.
Jan. 30th, 2008 02:17 am (UTC)

Nope, she didn't! It's actually very clever - her own legs are Kokutenko's front two legs, her "legs" are fakes (stuffed), and the back two legs of the critter are reinforced enough that she was able to sit on it like a stool! It didn't look as good that way, though, so every time someone came by with a camera, she stood up. Here's a post from her LJ where she shows Kokutenko in progress.

Jan. 30th, 2008 02:21 am (UTC)
That is pretty impressive...
( 9 comments — Leave a comment )


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