A romantic tragedy rich in history and dark fantasy, Angel's Coffin is something special, which should be no surprise to You Higuri fans.
Writer/Artist: You Higuri
Translation: Christine Schilling
Adaptation: Christine Schilling
What They Say
Seto is a former god imprisoned by a demon, bound to bring misery and misfortune to whomever releases him from his prison. Marie is the daughter of an aristocrat, hopelessly in love with one far above her station. When she unwittingly breaks the seal binding Seto, he agrees to help her win her love... but can love overcome the dark fate that awaits her?
GoComi’s usual solid release pattern continues, although as seems to be more and more common, it lacks color plates. Extras include two pages of author’s notes (always a treat from this author), as well as just one advertisement for You Higuri’s upcoming “Crown” series. The cover itself is a very striking, elegant illustration dominated by Seto in his distinctive jacket with the furred collar, raising a silver dirk in his hand. His face is rather unreadable, but going back after having read the volume, there’s a very subtle mix of sadness and demonic intent portrayed. The background is a good mix of softer, paler colors combined with the dark red of the stained-glass roses and the black window frame.
The back cover looks very lackluster in comparison, featuring a simple pink and black gradient for a background and another picture of Seto, wearing a far eviler expression on his face than he does on the front cover. The summary is in plain white font, and looks very lackluster set against the equally boring background. This is also where GoComi chooses to advertise Angel’s Coffin’s association with Cantarella, although the “from the creator of Cantarella” is rather small and scrunched down next to the logo. Also of some note is the spine, which also sports a monochrome stained-glass background. Although stained glass doesn’t have anything to do with the story, it’s still a pleasing effect.
You Higuri’s style is, simply put, lovely. Unlike some other artists who have a heavy focus on BL or yaoi series, her female characters do not look lazy or ugly, although they are certainly not the large-eyed shoujo heroines found in most series. Men, on the other hand, are attractively drawn with strong jaws and broad shoulders; all characters are given detailed period costumes. The attention to historical accuracy is obvious, especially when it comes to the architecture. Higuri notes that she went to Austria and Mayerling for research, and the result is detailed, realistic renderings of actual architectural structures. If there is anything to complain about, it is that there is not enough of these backgrounds, but that has more to do with the fact that you want to see them more often. Combining that with the period clothing leaves no doubt as to when and where the story is taking place.
The translation for this volume seems to have had some extra care put into it; everything reads smoothly, and there is a decided, yet subtle variation between different characters’ modes of speech. More SFX are replaced than in most other GoComi titles, although ones that are particularly large or hard to replace have been left as-is, with English subtitles. Higuri’s SFX are less intrusive here than in other more comedic titles, which could also result in them being easier to remove on the whole. Japanese honorifics have been replaced with their English equivalents. GoComi is also not afraid of placing text closer to the page edge, unlike some publishers that find it necessary to crunch it as far away from the edge as possible.
Once a worshipped god, Seto had been imprisoned in a book for the last hundred years, until the demon Baphomet promised to set him free. There is only one condition: he must bring misery upon the first human that he sees. This human happens to be the young Marie Alexandrin, the daughter of a lesser aristocrat who is head-over-heels in love with the Crown Prince Rudolph. Seto is easily able to win Marie’s trust by granting her wish to speak with the prince. Adopting the persona of Miguel II, Duke of Braganza, Seto pretends to court Marie so that he may enable her romance with the prince without arousing her family’s suspicions. However, as he encourages Marie’s romance with the married prince, which Seto knows will cause her ruin, he finds himself falling for the innocent teenager.
Marie and Rudolph become closer while court gossip swirls about the both of them, and Rudolph’s less-than-savory side becomes even more apparent. Seto cannot stop himself from trying to stop the events that he has put in motion, gaining her family’s permission to marry her. Although this would ensure that Marie remained unhappy, his love for her means he can’t stand to have her hate him. He desperately attempts to win her over on his own, even while accepting that doing so may spell his own doom at Baphomet’s hands.
Reading You Higuri’s author’s notes fills my history geek self with joy, mostly because her own love of the subject is readily apparent. And that’s just what Angel’s Coffin is: history mixed with dark fantasy. She notes in this book that, if the chance were to arise, she would “like to make another historical fiction manga;” Cantarella would follow the next year. And, looking at the two series, it’s easy to see Angel’s Coffin as a precursor to Cantarella, or something that could best be summed up as “Cantarella-lite.” The historical setting alone gives a sense of inevitable tragedy to the manga; Higuri takes it one step further (and grants the same experience to those who don’t know the historical events) by opening the volume on the morning of the suicide and flashing back to the events leading up to it. The only obvious historical hiccup is that the book in which Seto is supposedly imprisoned, “Der Juudenstadt” (“The Jewish State”) by Theodor Herzl wasn’t published until seven years after the events take place.
This foreshadowing makes the one-volume length of the series appropriate; anything much longer than that would have just drug out the inevitable, although it would have been nice to get some further emphasis on the characters and their inner thoughts. Marie, although the catalyst for the entire set-up, is never developed beyond a simple love-struck teenager, but we are also not forced to sit through volumes of her sometimes vapid behavior, either. Instead, she remains an at least somewhat endearing character, although her willingness to follow Rudolph becomes a little grating at the end. Her youth is the main cause of this, which makes the ending only more tragic; one imagines that she would have grown out of this eventually. Seeing her through Seto’s eyes helps, as he is thoroughly charmed by the cheerful girl from very early on. Seto is perhaps easier to root for, as his feelings for Marie don‘t manifest in the same annoying way her crush on the prince does; his struggle to reconcile his feelings for Marie and the fate that awaits him because of them is also far less drawn-out than expected. Although he gives some overused reasons for why immortals are so drawn to humans at the end of the book, his character development is not nearly as cheap as this might imply. Seto’s words and actions concerning Marie are far more touching and offer real insight into his emotions, and make his eventual punishment
Angel’s Coffin is easily the best one-volume series I’ve seen released in the US. It’s a must-buy for fans of Higuri’s Cantarella, and a fantastic introduction to her work for those who aren’t quite ready to dedicate the time and money to a series that’s already ten volumes long. It’s hard to be unbiased, as I like my romantic tragedies short, poignant, preferably historical, and filled with dramatic irony. Angel’s Coffin fits that criteria exactly and also has excellent execution, so I can’t do anything other than recommend it.