BEST BETS: "Jessica Jones," "Big Trouble/Escape from New York" & More October 2016 Highlights
This week, I thought I’d take another look at sci-fi/fantasy, this time with three very lengthy and much older series, all three originally aimed at a female demographic. It may seem like I’m neglecting fantasy series aimed at a male demographic here, and perhaps I am. But Berserk is a story for another day, and probably shouldn’t be consorting with the likes of the below series.
Please Save My Earth – Saki Hiwatari (21 volumes)
An epic sci-fi/fantasy story that starts out as yet another tale of teens with psychic powers/abilities, but quickly turns into a lengthy and detailed flashback about a small group of aliens that found themselves stranded on the moon. That they are not from Earth is mostly incidental, the main theme being the social pressures in the group and the fact that all their “souls” were reincarnated on Earth in the bodies of (mostly) teenagers. The story is told in both the past and present, and as new characters are introduced that remember their past lives, they begin to question how much bearing their past lives should have on the present. One of the absolute best things it does is relate the past from two points of view that completely flip the reader’s perspective of the characters. It’s ultimately a love story, as many things are, but there’s some psychic battles and Earth destruction in the present thrown in for good measure. It has an excellent and very intense, if somewhat out-of-place, ending sequence, and did I mention that the aliens in the past were actually very tiny and were wiped out by a plague? Or that the author’s version of past lives was apparently so convincing that she started putting a fiction disclaimer at the beginning of every volume so people would stop sending her letters about how they actually were the characters? Please Save My Earth is fantastic, and it’s hard to put down once the story gets going. It is out-of-print and suffers from internet price inflation on certain volumes, so you might want to pick up the series in a cheaper lot on eBay.
Basara – Yumi Tamura (27 volumes)
A type of fantasy epic that is rare in English translation, Basara begins with a prophecy about a boy named Tatara saving the people from the evil Red King. But early on, Tatara is killed, so his sister Sarasa impersonates him and uses the power of the prophecy to gain allies. What follows is a series of stories about Sarasa wooing every powerful army in the land in order to rebel and overthrow the king. The stories in and of themselves are very good, and involve jungle kingdoms, pirates, thieves, weapons experts, and just about anything else one might find in a fantasy series. They escape from massive underground prisons, survive numerous and varied battles, use ships, horses, guns, magic, swords, and wits. It also has a number of strong female characters aside from Sarasa herself, though they don’t really stick around once introduced. Much like Please Save My Earth, Basara is also a love story, but one with a black twist a little more than halfway through. It’s no secret where it’s going, and waiting for that to blow up in their faces is also one of the pleasures of reading it. Another is Yumi Tamura’s fantastic artwork. Her artwork is unusual and unique, and she uses a lot of soft, curvy lines and huge faces, but with detail in all the backgrounds, clothing, weapons, ships, and everything else. Basara is a rollicking ride, and very much worth it if you are a fan of this type of series. Unfortunately, it’s another that is long out-of-print, and it also has volumes that are difficult to find cheaply secondhand. But patience and series lots pay off again if you’re interested enough to seek it out.
Red River – Chie Shinohara (28 volumes)
A different twist on the fantasy/historical theme, Red River tells the story of 15-year-old Yuri, who is pulled 3,000 years into the past to the Hittite Empire in Anatolia. A witch wishes to use her as a sacrifice that would leave her son the heir to the throne of the Hittite empire. Lots of historical details enter the story, including the rulers, the neighboring empires and politics involved, and even the gods and goddesses worshipped at the time (later, Yuri is believed to be Ishtar). Much like A Bride’s Story, it’s inherently interesting for touching on a part of history one rarely sees in fiction. In fact, it touches on the same area as A Bride’s Story, just much further in the past. Red River isn’t nearly as popular as Please Save My Earth or Basara, despite its novelty, as it lacks the eccentricities and swashbuckling adventure of the other two. But it is good in its own quiet way, and because it is a lesser-known series, most of the volumes are still available new, and the used ones haven’t yet undergone ridiculous price creep.
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