Title: Qwan vol 1 (Ongoing series)
UK Distributor: Tokyopop
Author: Aki Shimizu
Suggested Retail Price (SRP): £6.99
Number of Pages: 192
Reviewed: 23th May 2006
Reviewer: Rich (Webmaster)
Despite the animosity that exists between the two countries,
Japanese manga authors often look to the history and mythology of their
neighbour China for inspiration. Chinese spells, Chinese demons, Chinese
warriors… Everything from Ranma ½ to Battle Vixens has featured
them, and now there’s Qwan.
Qwan is set during the last days of the mighty Han dynasty, the
government is crumbling and demons roam the land, feasting on the unwary.
In the midst of all this a sceptical traveller called Chikei ends up with more
than he bargained for when he eats shrine offerings left to appease the mountain
Gods, and the local villagers leave him to be the prey of the resident demon.
However, just when things seem bleak a mysterious young man – the titular Qwan –
defeats and eats the marauding demon, saving his life in the process. It
turns out that Qwan can only survive by eating demons and Chikei – sensing easy
money – takes the powerful stranger to the local city to work as a demon hunter.
However, it soon turns out that it won’t be an easy life for the pair, nefarious
plans are afoot within the upper echelons of the Han, where the eunuchs (yes,
really) are wresting power from the ruling dynasty. Not that this
interests Qwan, he just wants to find out who – and what – he is, and he
discovers that the answer may lie within an legendary scroll known as the
Essential Arts of Peace. But he is not the only one that wants it, Daki, a
mysterious insect controlling demon girl whom Qwan seems unable to eat, her
scheming and extremely dangerous father and sections of the government are also
seeking the scroll, with this kind of opposition does Qwan have any chance of
getting his hands on it?
Qwan vol 1 is probably one of the best manga novels I have read in a long
while. It has pretty much everything, action, intrigue, comedy, horror,
fantasy and more all wrapped up in a historical Chinese setting. The
characters are great, especially Qwan and the mysterious insect girl he meets.
The strangely empty and instinctive Qwan is not a typical manga hero and the
story is cleverly told more from Chikei's perspective, the shift in focus makes
you look at Qwan from the outside and there is still a lot to be discovered
about what he is there to do. The story is intriguing, with the political
manoeuvring which at first seems a little peripheral really starting to be drawn
into Qwan’s quest by the end of the novel, providing not only a historical
subtext but extra drama and mystery too.
What really grabs you when you read this though is the art. I am becoming
a big fan of the work of Aki Shimizu, and Qwan vol 1 perfectly shows why.
Her art style is highly detailed but completely clear, even during the frenetic
action scenes you can see everything that is going on. Her character
designs are distinctive and stylish too, and she has a knack for conveying
comedy, action and horror with equal skill. As her previous work
Suikoden III (also available from Tokyopop) testifies, Shimizu is
really at home with fantasy stories and she constructs this one well, combining
historical fact and supernatural shenanigans together superbly. At the
moment things are only just getting going and there are far more questions than
answers, but this does not detract from it at all. Instead it really draws
you in, leaving you really wanted to read volume 2 to see where the story is
There is plenty of action and drama packed in and unlike many manga series it
starts at a decent pace, both managing to build a complex plot without getting
confusing and including plenty of fights without sacrificing the narrative flow.
Shimizu's art is stunning but her story matches it for quality, bringing the
depth and life to her characters that they truly deserve and really starting to
build a lot of subplots that bode well for future volumes. It must be said
that there is a level of cliché, as you might expect from a fantasy manga, with
some standard situations and monsters but it never becomes boring or repetitive.
Qwan vol 1 is the best fantasy manga I have read since 3x3 Eyes, a
distinctive, intriguing and action packed title with great visuals and a lot
more depth than you might expect. This book is one that definitely
deserves your attention.
As well as the usual adverts for other Tokyopop titles,
volume 2 preview and right to left reading guide, there are also a selection of
'manga spotlights', 'showcases' and 'editors picks'. These are really just
more adverts, but have a little write up explaining the plot or genre of the
series featured. There are also a couple of bonus images hiding between
some of the chapters too.