Hollow Fields Vol. #01 - Mania.com

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  • Art Rating: B+
  • Packaging Rating: A
  • Text/Translatin Rating: A-
  • Age Rating: All
  • Released By: Seven Seas Entertainment
  • MSRP: 9.99
  • Pages: 192
  • ISBN: 1-9331-6424-7
  • Size: B6
  • Orientation: Right to Left
  • Series: Hollow Fields

Hollow Fields Vol. #01

By Ben Leary     August 29, 2007
Release Date: July 31, 2007

Hollow Fields Vol.#01
© Seven Seas Entertainment

Creative Talent
Writer/Artist:Madeleine Rosca
Translated by:
Adapted by:

What They Say
Little Lucy Snow was meant to be enjoying her first day at the nice elementary school in town; however, a macabre twist of fate sees her enrolled instead at Miss Weaver's Academy for the Scientifically Gifted and Ethically Unfettered - also known as Hollow Fields. Located on the outskirts of Nullsville and run by the insidious Engineers, the grim boarding school dedicates itself to raising the next generation of mad scientists and evil geniuses!

Classes include Live Taxidermy, Cross-Species Body-Part Transplantation, and Killer Robot Construction, and for her own survival Lucy has to master them quickly - the student with the lowest grades at the end of each school week is sent to the old windmill for detention - and so far, no child has ever returned!

The Review
There's quite an interesting story behind this little series. The short version is that it was a runner-up for Japan's International Manga Award--the only work from a western country to receive that distinction. The artist is a depressingly young ex-librarian from Tasmania; this is her first published work.

And one doozy of a debut it is, too. Even this first volume, a good bit of which is devoted to setup, has plenty to like. I will begin with our protagonist. Lucy Snow is a cute but not too cute schoolgirl with a stuffed dinosaur named Dino and a hair ribbon that I initially mistook for giant rabbit ears. She seems the sort of girl who makes friends easily among normal people. Unfortunately for her, she finds herself in a situation where no normal people exist. Due to a combination of mischance and naivete she finds herself enrolled in Hollow Fields; or, to use its proper name, Miss Weaver's Academy for the Scientifically Gifted and Ethically Unfettered. In short, the training ground for the mad scientists of tomorrow. Most of the book consists of Lucy trying to adjust to her bizarre and unsettling surroundings as she goes through her first week of classes. There's a light touch all the way through, to the book's credit: even the more macabre aspects of the story tend to be played for laughs. At the back of the book Lemony Snicket is noted as an influence. I can certainly see that, but the author it most reminds me of is Roald Dahl. There's the same sense of limitless invention, especially comic invention; and the obnoxious characters and cruel circumstances that crop up are typically exaggerated to the point where they become laughable rather than oppressive. Also, the story moves along a good clip with no excess baggage.

Lucy spends a lot of panels reacting in bewilderment and horror at the insanity that surrounds her, but it's handled with enough variety and skill to keep Lucy from becoming a one-note character. Luckily for herself and the reader, Lucy proves to be very adaptable. Not only does she adjust to the "academic" routine, she even begins to formulate a way to fight back against the tyranny of the headmistress. Even so Lucy has her work cut out for her. But along with a few unexpected allies, she just might find a way to turn the tables.

It's curious that exaggerations can be truer to the actual feel of things than plain facts. I of course have never seen a school as creepy as Hollow Fields. But somehow this school conveys the emotions of going to a new (normal) school better than a realisticly presented school could. The main impression, i.e. "This is a big scary place where no one likes me," comes through much more vividly, and even accurately, when reimagined in terms of a mad scientist's castle. One reason for this is that we remember our first day of school (or any other situation of the same sort) knowing what happened afterwards--while forgetting that we did not know what was going to happen at the time, and that what became familiar to us by subsequent daily repitition was not at all familiar back then. But recast the whole situation into something unfamiliar and frightening, and those mostly forgotten emotions can return. One result is instant sympathy with the protagonist. Another is that the fear and uncertainty can take on visible form and be that much more potent because of it. It gives you a kind of emotional backdrop for the story to play out against. That is one of the great abilities of fantasy. It is well used here.

The book is also blessed with attractive visuals; ghoulish, cute or playful according to the scene, with the different moods never clashing. Everything is cleanly organized as well. There was only one instance where the layout fooled me and got me reading panels in the wrong order, but that was a simple dialogue scene and there was no harm done. All in all it's a very smooth read in terms of both text and layout, and good fun to look at as well.

And I'm happy to say that Hollow Fields has been given the presentation the content deserves. This is the first manga from Seven Seas that I've read, and I must say I'm impressed. The general print quality is better than average for a ten-dollar volume--a standout being some really nice shadow effects preserved in the more expressionistic backgrounds. At the end there's a fantastic design gallery with notes from the author on a lot of different aspects of the art and conceptualization process. (It's a very generous selection, too: about 20 pages of pictures and text with practically no wasted space.) I'm always fascinated to hear an artist's reasons for why things were done a certain way, and how they came to be as they are, so I ate this up. The folks at Seven Seas deserve praise for an all around excellent package.

At the end of the day, Hollow Fields is a good, clean, fun, and inventive read. I can't wait for more. Unfortunately, I'll have to. The second volume won't be out until next year. Considering this one ends on a note of anticipation, that's something that could hold the series back a bit. Finding something just as good to read in the meantime won't be easy.


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