Princess Ai: Ultimate Edition Vol. #01 - Mania.com



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Info:

  • Art Rating: A-
  • Packaging Rating: A
  • Text/Translatin Rating: A
  • Age Rating: 13 & Up
  • Released By: TOKYOPOP
  • MSRP: 19.99
  • Pages: 589
  • ISBN: 978-1-4278-0728-1
  • Size: B6
  • Orientation: Right to Left
  • Series: Princess Ai: Ultimate Edition

Princess Ai: Ultimate Edition Vol. #01

By Gary Thompson     November 27, 2007
Release Date: October 09, 2007


Princess Ai: Ultimate Edition Vol.#01
© TOKYOPOP


Creative Talent
Writer/Artist:Created by: Courtney Love & D.J. Milky / Illustrated by: Misaho KUJIRADOU / Written by: Misaho KUJIRADOU & D.J. Milky
Translated by:Kimiko FUJIKAWA & Yuki N. Johnson
Adapted by:

What They Say
Relive the amazing journey of Ai-Land's most outrageous princess - collected here as one complete volume! A Diva torn from Chaos...a Savior doomed to Love... Ai finds herself lost on the cold, hard streets of Tokyo, where she must piece together clues about who she is, why she's on Earth, and the secret of the Heart-Shaped Box she carries. As the story unfolds, the burgeoning music star struggles against conspirators and her own conflicted emotions...all as she searches for a way to bring peace to her troubled homeland.

The Review
Packaging:
This edition really tries to live up to the classification of “Ultimate Edition” as it includes almost everything in print about Princess Ai. There are quite a number of extras here, starting off with a color gallery that has the covers of all three of the individual volumes as well as the first few pages in color; there is also an epilogue manga at the end, along with a couple of gag comics, and a few Azumanga Daioh-style strips. After that there is a postscript, afterward, collection of the lyrics of the eight songs that Ai sings, a behind the scenes making-of feature from the second volume called “Ai-volution of a Manga,”another called “From the Bookstore to the Toy Store,” about the creation of Ai dolls, a photo round-up of the 2005 Princess Ai Cosplay Contest and other cosplayers, and yet another color image gallery with a paper doll cut-out. The only thing that I can find that seems to have been left out is the cover image for the first volume in Japan. Everything else seems to be covered.

The cover is a gorgeous and elaborate image (the one used for the second volume in Japan) of Ai surrounded by beads, butterflies, and flowers that epitomizes the pomp of the series quite well. The book itself is quite large, as it is basically all three of the individual volumes stitched together; so it's just like reading one really thick manga. One thing of interest is that there are inconsistencies in the way the different manga are differentiated. The first volume starts with color reproductions of the covers from all three manga, the second has the image used for the cover of the second volume in black-and-white, and the third volume has nothing.

All-in-all, this is a very well packaged book that feels good in your hands, doesn't feel like it's going to fall apart, despite its thickness, and provides all the extras that a fan could want, barring any information on the upcoming "Princess Ai ~Ai-land Chronicles~” anime, that is.

Art:
Misaho KUJIRADOU's art is gorgeous, plan and simple. I'm not going to say that this is the most beautiful art you have ever, or will ever see, but it really is a treat. Keep in mind that this a modern manga, and shoujo at that, so it has certain conventions by which it abides: there are seldom any backgrounds, except to give you a vague understanding of setting, and most everything is done in a simplified fashion unless needed otherwise. Obviously, there is nothing wrong with that, but when KUJIRADOU goes all-out, the product is nothing less than stunning: the detail and expression that she puts into her work is fantastic. Even in her pared down vignettes, everything is natural and very expressive. Characters are naturally the main concern here, and she acutely aware of the emotions of each at any point in time, as well as the proper conveyance for all of them. The result is something that is not only beautiful, but utilitarian, which is something that is essential to the quality of a manga, but is overlooked more often than it should be.

Also, since this is gothic-lolita, the fashion is just as important as the story in certain regards, and KUJIRADOU doesn't disappoint; her costumes for Ai are imaginative and immaculately detailed with all of the frills and lace that epitomize the style. I would think this to be mandatory reading for anyone who is a fan of this fashion, because this book really is a vehicle for gothic-lolita fan service.

Text/Translation:
Because of the nature of this book's conception, this is a tricky area. There are a couple of translators credited for this, so clearly there was some translation, but in what capacity I am uncertain. This is a Japanese-American collaboration, and it seems to have been written, more or less, simultaneously in both Japanese and English. Regardless of the actual mechanics of how this was done, it seems unlikely that the specifics of what, how, and why something was said was unknown to either party at any point in time. As a collaborative effort, as opposed to an after-the-fact translation, I find little reason to think that anything in this final product deviates from what was originally intended. That being said, the text is what it is.

The sound effects go largely untranslated, but there are a couple that have translations next to them. There are a couple of places where there are cultural notes as well, but there are very few of them, so they are noted in the left over space of the amply-sized dialog bubbles.

Content:
Princess Ai is the story of a young girl who wakes up in Tokyo with amnesia, but a strong sense that there is something that she needs to do. The only clue she has to go on to find out who she is is a small, heart-shaped box. Almost immediately she runs into a boy, Kent, who she feels strangely attracted to. Kent, out of the kindness of his heart, as well as a similar strange attraction to Ai, offers to let her stay at his place since she has no where to go. Ai follows Kent to the library where he works, and out of her strange compulsion, tries to find out who she is and where she came from. The only other thing that she knows is that she loves to sing, and she loves to sing hard rock, so she gets a job as a gentleman's club where they allow her to sing.

Over time, we learn the Ai is a princess from another land called “Ai-Land,” where there is some sort of strife going on that Ai escaped from. As a fugitive, she is being hunted by people form Ai-Land who are supposed to bring her back. But while these hunters are stalking her, she has become a runaway success with her singing and is being courted by the biggest talent agency in Japan so that she can become a huge star.

Basically, Princess Ai is a consolidation of nearly every shoujo ever conceived. This is not a bad thing, it's just that you don't even have to read half of the summary above to know what this story is and where it is going. Again, this is not a bad thing.

I want to flatly say, before moving on, that this is a good book and I enjoyed reading it quite a bit. The story is very fun and it is easy to get lost in the pages. Considering that this is only three volumes long (all re-packaged into one in this version, of course) there is a huge amount of entertainment for its very short length. This is exactly the kind of thing that you would want to read if you were in the mood for some light reading, and that, I think, is high praise.

But there are things to take into consideration here. Most prominently, or, at least, the part with the most consequence, is that the “Ai-Land” story and the “Entertainer” story don't really coincide all that well. It seems that if there were only one story thread, that they would have worked out a bit better, but juggling the two just meant that one of them got the short end of the stick. There are times where Ai vehemently protests that she has to do something to help Ai-Land, but then goes off to do something else. Certainly this is a point of conflict for the story, but it just makes Ai-Land seem like too much of an afterthought. This has a significant consequence because it directly affects the way that the story is concluded.

The final volume seems incongruous with the other two; the effort put into trying to resolve both story lines makes everything pretty convoluted. Aside from the characters being recognizable, it almost feels like a different story all together. Basically, it just feels like they didn't know how to get the story to end the way they wanted it to, so they kept the ending they needed and put in all of their ideas on how things got there. Then they loosely tied them together.

The actual last-page-here's-the-point ending is a good one, but it's hard to say that this ends well because there is too much junk and climax-by-committee that precedes it.

Comments
If you didn't already know, Princess Ai is a fantasy version of Courtney Love's autobiography. It is a pseudo roman-a-clef where the events in it are supposed to mirror her relationship with Kurt Cobain, her rise to fame, and her struggles with her record label. This puts a very specific bend into the way that the story can be read, obviously, which many people may find disagreeable because of their feelings toward Courtney Love and some of the possible implications that this story may make because of who it came from. Also, there are those out there who simply won't accept this as a manga because it was something that was done in a collaborative way with America, and the story is Courtney Love and D.J. Milky's, meaning that it isn't an “authentic Japanese manga.”

While it is true that this kind of teeters between an eastern and western sentiment, I am going to take the route of literary critics Wimsatt and Beardsley, as well as various New Critics, and say that none of that really matters. Because of this story's pedigree, it can carry carry a lot of baggage for some people, and I am not about to go down that road. Mostly because to do so would be unnecessary. This stands on its own merit, and on its own, this is a great shoujo story that really entertains.

As something to kick back and read, this book is really fun and I enjoy the hell out of it, except for the climax that goes in several directions at once. And now that it's in the form of a one-shot manga, this is a great way to sit back whittle away an afternoon.

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