Garden Dreams Vol. #01 -

Manga Review

Mania Grade: C-

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  • Art Rating: B
  • Packaging Rating: A-
  • Text/Translatin Rating: A-
  • Age Rating: 13+
  • Released By: Digital Manga Publishing
  • MSRP: 12.95
  • Pages: 176
  • ISBN: 9781569707630
  • Size: A5
  • Orientation: Right to Left

Garden Dreams Vol. #01

Garden Dreams Vol. #01 Manga Review

By Thomas Zoth     September 13, 2010
Release Date: October 24, 2007

Garden Dreams
© Digital Manga Publishing
Generic baron seeks generic companion for longing glances, strolls in garden. Those interested should inquire at vaguely European palace.
Creative Staff
Writer/Artist: Fumi Yoshinaga
Translation: Sachiko Sato
Adaptation: Daryl Kuxhouse
What They Say
In a castle in a far-off western land, there once lived a baron with empty eyes, whose melancholy ways belied a love of beauty and song. One day, he was visited by Farhad and his brother, Saud - two traveling bards from the east, who could sing of their homeland in such a way that it stirred things inside the baron he hadn't felt in ages. A wondrous garden surrounded the baron's home - a place of quiet splendor that seemed to remind him of his painful, untended memories. Could it be the songs of Farhad and his brother brought dreams of a happier tomorrow? Or would they bring more loss than the baron might possibly bear? Fumi Yoshinaga, celebrated creator of Flower of Life and Solfege, presents a dramatic tale sure to pull the strings of emotion as it warms the heart.
The Review!
As disappointing as I find this title, I am impressed with DMP's presentation of Garden Dreams. It's a nice larger A5 size with a slipcover, a rarity in US manga. The slipcover can be removed, and the cover and background art are printed in purple tones on the volume itself. The cover image is very striking, with the lonely baron staring down into a single rose. Paper is of a nice thickness and a delight to touch. Translation is solid, using a proper form of English that cuts out modern slang but doesn't veer to far into faux-Shakespearian dialogue that is a hassle to read. Sound effects are left in the original Japanese with a translation beside them. Chapter titles are also left in Japanese, with the translation written beside them, a nice touch that's helpful to students of Japanese. The volume concludes with ads for other DMP titles, many of which are also works by Fumi Yoshinaga.
Yoshinaga draws Garden Dreams in her signature style, with long, flowing lines and emotive faces. Backgrounds in Garden Dreams appear to be less detailed than in some of her other works, such as Ooku. I've always felt her faces are a little too similar between characters, but she's able to draw out a great range of emotion in that basic face. Overall, it works out to her advantage in quiet scenes where characters' faces reveal what has been hidden. Shading is done with blocks of dark grey, giving the art a stark, high contrast look, underscoring the drama (or melodrama) of the title. A high-class production all around, and one I'd love to see with more manga titles.
            Short stories are very difficult to write. Without much space to develop characters or plot, you have to leave the reader with a powerful, indelible image. One way to do this is to create a sense of a specific time and place, like in the works of Naoya Shiga or Yasunari Kawabata. Nature is an incredibly popular topic in Japanese literature because of how evocative references to the specific seasons can be. Though very little development may take place, you're left with the feeling of having shared in a moment with the characters. Another way to do this is to strike the reader with a very powerful image or idea. The works of Ryunosuke Akutagawa, Junichiro Tanizaki, or Edgar Allan Poe work this way, leaving the reader with a feeling of horror, shock, or bewilderment. Ironically, because manga is such a visual medium, I feel it has a very hard time succeeding with shorter works. When a single pane can take up a sixth to a half of a page, space is at a premium. While I feel some short stories have been successful, with works like Hiroki Endo's Tanpenshu or Hiroaki Samura's Ohikkoshi, many shorter stories feel abbreviated and rushed, as though they could have used more development. This is the problem I had with Garden Dreams.
            Because the plot is the point of Garden Dreams, I will reveal only a little before describing why I feel it doesn't work on a structural level. A lonely baron lives in a castle in the West with his young daughter. Two visiting troubadours from the East come to visit him, and sing songs of their home, and their dislocation during a recent war. When the four people meet, memories are stirred up, and secrets are uncovered. The discovery of these secrets, and what they mean for these people, is what Garden Dreams is about. Because of its length and location, in a fantasy version of Europe, it's essentially a melodramatic fairy tale. However, because it is a fairy tale, and uses the tropes of a fairy tale, it doesn't succeed in creating a unique feeling of a place and time. The tropes are far too generic to leave a truly lasting impression. So, to compensate, Yoshinaga reveals a shocking secret to the reader, in order to leave a memorable image. And then she reveals another. And then another. And another.
            Were Garden Dreams a longer manga series, it could have been devastating. The surprises could be spread out, and strike when least expected. The length would have allowed for richer character development as well, which would have made the twists more meaningful. Alternately, were Garden Dreams a series of shorter, unrelated stories, I feel it also would have been more successful. Each short would be considered on its own merits, and after a heartbreaking end, a new tale, with new, unique characters could be introduced. With its length at one volume, sadly, the shocks that come at regular intervals become predictable, and almost comical. What could have been high tragedy becomes shock melodrama. The baron has had a very hard life indeed.
In Conclusion:
To paraphrase Roger Ebert, I am as certain there is an audience for this manga as I am sure that I am not it. Fans of romance and melodrama will absolutely love this title, and fans of Yoshinaga's other works are encouraged to check it out as well. Garden Dreams had potential to be a much more striking work, but was ultimately limited by its length and story structure. Yoshinaga is an incredibly talented and prolific mangaka, however, so it should be relatively easy for new fans or the curious to find a better introduction to her body of work.



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