Red String Vol. 1 (Dark Horse)

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rsheaderWhen your parents spring an arranged marriage on you, what's a high school girl to do?

 

 

192 pgs. B&W; $9.95

(W / A: Gina Biggs)

 

The cover to Red String Vol. 1 by Gina Biggs. Click thumbnail for a larger image.My, how time flies: it's been almost nine years since the Sailor Moon manga made its first appearance on American shores, drawing female readers to comics in droves and shattering preconceived notions that "girls wouldn't read comic books." Now, nearly a decade later, the young girl readers drawn into comics by Sailor Moon and the avalanche of shojo manga that followed in its wake have become the young women creators of today. Gina Biggs, a webcomics artist who lists Sailor Moon creator Naoko Takeuchi and shojo giant Yuu Watase (Fushigi Yuugi, Absolute Boyfriend) among her influences, is a member of the community of American female creators who employ shojo-styled art to tell their own stories in the burgeoning webcomics field. Unlike many of her contemporaries, however, Biggs has also made the jump into print with Red String Vol. 1, a collection of the first seven chapters of Biggs' ongoing romance webcomic recently released by Dark Horse.

 

Red String's star is Miharu Ogawa, a girl who, despite her blond hair, is a pretty stereotypical Japanese high school-er who's never had a boyfriend and never been kissed. She's optimistic about her romantic future until her parents drop a bombshell on her: she's getting married. Turns out the ‘rents have arranged a marriage between Miharu and the son of a family friend, and she doesn't get much say in the matter. Heartbroken, Miharu runs from her home and (literally) runs into a dreamy college boy who listens to her sob story and offers to be her boyfriend for the night. He shows her the night of her life, and Miharu is instantly head over heels in love. Imagine her shock when she discovers the boy she met is actually her new fiancé!

 

An interior page from Red String Vol. 1 by Gina Biggs. Click thumbnail for a larger image.Tales of star-crossed lovers are par for the course when it comes to shojo romance, so Biggs doesn't waste much time on setup, setting all of her players in place in just the first five pages. From there, the book is a briskly paced melodrama, zipping through encounters with new suitors, problems at school, and even a little competition from Miharu's cousin Karen in short order. Red String, despite its formulaic elements, remains an engrossing read because of this brisk pace and its well-developed female cast. Miharu and her friends and rivals are a diverse group with their own distinct and easily identifiable personalities, and their interactions (especially between Miharu and her two best friends) are much of the series draw. The male characters don't quite fare as well, not because they're unlikable but mostly because they're blank slate stereotypes, with only main love interest Kazuo getting enough screentime to develop much personality at this early stage.

 

All that being said, the book is still far from perfect. Due to its brisk pace, the storytelling can sometimes be a bit sloppy. Probably the most notable example is Kazuo's name: when the character is first introduced, his identity as her fiancé is supposed to be a mystery (for a few pages, anyway-this is not a major spoiler) and so his name is not mentioned, yet when his identity is revealed his name inexplicably is not (Biggs instead drops it in via a casual conversation 74 pages into the story). Though Biggs' art is clean, easy to read, and generally attractive, it's also very easy to nitpick especially in terms of anatomy (characters occasionally have oddly short arms, disjointed necks, and shifting facial features), and the choice of a mullet for dreamy tough guy Eiji is one particularly odd stylistic choice. As the book goes on, Biggs' footing gets surer and surer, however, and the compelling drama masks many of Red String's minor shortcomings.

 

An interior page from Red String Vol. 1 by Gina Biggs. Click thumbnail for a larger image.Biggs has a solid handle on the shorthand Japanese artists employ, and the book maintains the storytelling tone of an actual Japanese comic far better than many other manga-styled American comics. Biggs' biggest mistake, however, may be in choosing her story's setting to reflect its styling and placing the action in Japan. The Japanese-ness of the story feels like window dressing, and doesn't seem to speak to the author's personal experiences so much as the comics she enjoys reading. One of the book's early chapters finds Miharu's friend Reika dealing with her completely undeserved reputation as the school slut, and it's one of the most powerful, most realistic parts of the book. One can't help but feel that if Biggs had used the opportunity to tell more stories with this type of universal appeal within the context of this tale of arranged marriage instead of applying so much faux-Japanese sheen to the story, the book would have been better for it.

 

In spite of its shortcomings, Red String remains a highly enjoyable read. Its arranged marriage premise allows for plenty of enthralling romantic entanglements, and the likable cast and pleasant art make the book well-suited for any comics fan looking for a romantic little story about tender age in bloom.

 

The first 22 chapters of Red String are available to read at Gina Biggs' website at http://redstring.strawberrycomics.com/.

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