Le Chevalier d'Eon Vol. 1 (Del Rey)

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deonheaderThe reign of Louis XV proves an effective backdrop for this supernaturally-charged thriller about a young French knight obsessed with (and possessed by) the memory of his murdered sister.

 

198 pgs. B&W; $10.95

(W: Tou Ubukata; A: Kiriko Yumeji)

Crossdressing and gender bending has been a part of Japanese pop culture since the days when Kabuki theatre was king...er...queen. On the manga scene, titles like Rumiko Takahashi's Ranma ½, Hisaya Nakajo's Hana-Kimi, and Bisco Hatori's Ouran High School Host Club would be nothing without the wealth of comic opportunity that goes along with gender-bending.

But for D'Eon de Beaumont, a feckless member of the 18th century French secret police, donning women's clothing is serious supernatural business. D'Eon has been ordered to investigate the serial murder of a number of young women, all horrifically drained of their blood, which has been used to write the ominous word "PSALMS" all over the murder scenes. In order to avenge the women's deaths, D'Eon dons the clothing of his murdered sister, Lia, thus allowing her spirit to take control of his body. D'Eon/Lia is a consummate fencer -- with weapons and words -- and her skills allow D'Eon to defeat a number of maniacal murderer/poets. As the story unfolds, clues to the mysterious, supernatural nature of the "PSALMS" are revealed, and D'Eon, along with his page, Robin, finds himself in over his pretty blonde head.

The French Revolution is a fresh, surprising setting for a manga, and writer Tou Ubukata has done a fair amount of research in his quest to create a world that combines history and fantasy. Le Chevalier D'Eon is loosely based on the myths surrounding Charles-Geneviève-Louis-Auguste-André-Timothée Éon de Beaumont, a real-life crossdressing French spy. Every page of this manga oozes with originality, from Ubukata's eerie prose to Kiriko Yumeji's dark, messy pencils. Reminiscent of Egon Schiele's nudes, Yumeji's murder victims will bring nausea to your throat, infusing the whole book with a palpable sense of horror. The book fuses art and text in a manner all-too-rarely seen in modern manga -- messages in French are scrawled on people's bodies and on walls, breaking out of the neat confines of text bubbles and narration boxes.

In one slim volume, Ubukata and Yumeji have laid the foundation for an entire fictional universe, where words and the act of writing have deadly consequences. It will be interesting to learn more about D'Eon's connection to Lia in future volumes, not to mention the fate of the mysterious force that compels random characters to become blood-draining, poem-scribbling murderers. Get in on the ground floor of this one. | J. Bowers

 

Click here to read an 11-page preview of Le Chevalier d'Eon Vol. 1, courtesy of Del Rey Manga. To learn more about the Le Chevalier d'Eon animated series (also created by writer Tou Ubukata, available now on bilingual DVD from ADV Films), visit the official site.

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