animefringe august 2003 / reviews

Ceres: Celestial Legend Vol.4: Chidori
Format: left-right manga
Production: Viz, LLC / Yu Watase
Comments: Exquisite artwork, seamless storytelling, characters guaranteed to invoke empathy, and more.
Animefringe Reviews:
Ceres: Celestial Legend Vol.4: Chidori

If you're checking out this month's Animefringe because you're looking for something new to read, then I'd suggest you run to the closest bookstore that carries Ceres: Celestial Legend (known as Ayashi no Ceres in Japan) and nab all four volumes. Just promise you'll come back and read the rest of our magazine soon.

Since you've read this far, I assume you've either a) purchased Ceres and read it, or b) aren't quite convinced to get it just yet.

Please allow me to convince you.

Ceres is shojo manga, but before all of you explosion-happy bloodthirsty shonen readers shun this series (while simultaneously throwing up to exhibit your disdain for girly shojo comics), I can assure you that it's not like most other shojo out there.

For readers unversed in these genre distinctions, shonen manga (in a tiny nutshell) tends to feature adventure stories with tons of action, exaggerated visuals, and incredibly powerful protagonists that you simply love to follow as they travel the world kicking butt. Shonen Jump, the manga periodical that publishes Dragon Ball Z, Yu-Gi-Oh, and One Piece is full of shonen manga, as the title would suggest.

Shojo manga, on the other hand, usually focuses more on relationships between characters and a dramatic storyline rather than flashing lights and random fan service to keep readers glued to the page. There's usually at least one scene where a character cries, and if the manga-ka (author) has done his or her job properly, and if you're human, then chances are there's usually at least one scene that makes you cry, as well.

While Ceres is more shojo than anything else, it has so many elements of shonen comics that it should appeal to fans of both genres. In this volume, Yu Watase explains her diversity a bit when she intimates - somewhat jokingly - "I firmly I believe I was a guy in my previous life."

Whatever the reason, the action that takes place in Ceres is every bit as impressive as the complex character-driven drama we're treated to with every new volume.

Ceres is a modern-day fantasy that centers on a legend that can be found around the world. While it varies from place to place, essentially, the folktale says that long ago, a celestial maiden visited the earth. A mortal man stumbled upon the being while she was bathing and stole her robes so that she could not return to heaven. Trapped on earth, she eventually married the man and bore him children as a normal woman. The tale varies at certain points around the globe. In some tellings, she found out that her husband was the one responsible for her binding to the earth, and she vows revenge upon him. In others, the maiden finds her robes and abandons her family to return to the skies.

Aya Mikage, the main protagonist of this tale, is a direct descendant of the celestial maiden. Her genetic makeup is almost exactly the same as Ceres, the heavenly maiden that a man of Aya's bloodline once trapped on earth. Every few generations or so, a female member of the Mikage family will exhibit traits of the celestial blood flowing through her veins. These traits surface around the girl's sixteenth birthday. If the similarity is great enough, then the personality of Ceres emerges and attempts to wipe out the Mikage clan, taking out her promised revenge upon them.

To ensure the safety of the family, any girl that displays the potential to allow Ceres to surface is killed. The story begins with the attempted - and failed - murder of Aya as her celestial bloodline awakens at her birthday party. Suddenly, her world is turned upside down as her family turns against her and she is forced to deal with the alternate personality of Ceres lurking beneath her skin.

Of course, no respectable shojo series would be worth reading without numerous plot threads running at the same time, so you can be sure that there are love rectangles (not just triangles, mind you) and emotional ups and downs like you've never encountered before.

I don't want to ruin anything, but just to whet your appetite, Aya also has a twin brother, Aki. He's also showing behavior similar to one of his ancestors. Aki and Aya were best friends as well as twins before their sixteenth birthday, but now it appears as if Aki is the reincarnation of the founder of the Mikage line - Ceres's husband, captor, and sworn enemy. A new character that may also be descended from a celestial being is introduced in this volume as well, and the story keeps getting more and more interesting as events are unfurled. I simply can't wait for the next volume.

Yu Watase's artistic skill is unfailingly stunning. Whether she's illustrating people or background elements, the artwork is completely worthy of presenting the excellent story she's written. There's some fan service to be found here, but all of it is tasteful and consistent with the tone of the work. I wholeheartedly suggest that fans of her work pick up the Ceres and Fushigi Yugi art books that are both domestically available.

As if all of this wasn't good enough, now Viz has decreased the time between volumes (four are published a year as opposed to two) as well as the price. Ceres is now available at $9.95 instead of $15.95 and it's still presented in the same nice, large format it started in. If only it were unflipped!

Ceres is one of the best combinations of comedy, romance, fantasy, drama, action, and science fiction I've ever had the pleasure of reading. It's unpredictable and yet incredibly believable, with realistic characters you can't help but empathize with. In the end, I really don't think of Ceres as shojo. For me, it's far too grand to fit within a single genre. Ceres is in a category of its own.