My thanks to #NetGalley and Kodansha Comics for a review copy of this one.
This is the first volume of the graphic novel/manga version of the eleventh-century Japanese classic, The Tale of Genji by noblewoman Murasaki Shibaku (believed to be the first novel ever written). It tells the story of Hiraku Genji the ‘shining prince’, son of the Emperor Kiritsubo, and a low-ranking lady at court who the Emperor falls deeply in love with. When his mother dies, Genji is sent to his grandmother, and later brought back after her death. In the meantime, the Emperor hears of a young lady, Princess Fujitsubo who resembles Genji’s deceased mother, and she soon becomes his wife. But Genji ends up falling in love with her. His forbidden love and his estranged relationship with his wife lead him to seek the woman of his dreams elsewhere, and he ends up falling in love with a series of different women. This first volume of the manga series takes us through part of the story, giving us the tale of Genji’s mother, his initial years as a child, and the stories of some of the women he falls in love with.
Before I write about the story itself, I have to mention the artwork which is really gorgeous. I especially loved the coloured pages at start of the book and at the beginning of each chapter. These are really delicate and beautiful (faces and costumes), and reminded me quite a bit of the very first anime/manga I ever saw on TV Fushigi Yugi/Curious Play.
Back to the actual story, this was I thought a great way for someone like me, who’s heard about Genji but never read it to get a glimpse of what the story is about, in a fairly simple way (The book is supposed to be quite confusing and complicated, so far as I know). The book also gives one an idea of what court life, especially that of nobles and royalty would have been like at that point—customs, etiquette, leisure activities (poetry, music, games), and even love. That said, though I don’t know if it is a story that would appeal to me as a story though I would may be have read it as a classic work. Genji is a complex character certainly, but I didn’t find him a very likeable one. But then again, if he wasn’t as ‘lost’ as he was (or at least not as unaware about what he was looking for), there would be no story. Also, even in the manga version, there were points at which I found myself a little bit confused as to some of the female characters (who was who and such). There is however a helpful character guide at the back (which I should probably have consulted then).
This version isn’t simply an adaptation of the original text into art, but the author has imagined her own Tale of Genji, creating her own dialogue, associating different flowers and foods with the different women, etc., as she explains at the end. I think the author has done a great job translating the story into this much simpler version, with her own interpretation of the characters and conversations, and the book certainly succeeds in giving first time readers like me a broad idea of this classic. This was a good read, though not a great one for me as despite the lovely artwork which I enjoyed very much, and the author’s efforts that I certainly admired and appreciated, the story wasn’t something that really drew me in. (However, I would like to know where Genji ends up, so will probably continue with the manga version.) 3.5 stars.
This manga version was first published in the 1980s, and was published in English on 26 February 2019 in digital form.