Fairy Navigator Runa Vol. 1 (Del Rey)

Michiyo Kikuta once again follows all the formulas, but in the case of this magical girl series, that’s enough.




186 pgs. B&W; $10.99

(W: Miyoko Ikeda, Michiyo Kikuta; A: Michiyo Kikuta)

When last we checked in with Michiyo Kikuta around these parts, it was for Mamotte! Lollipop, her 2002 debut series (released in English by Del Rey in 2007) about a young girl who accidentally eats a magical pearl and finds herself dragged by two cute boy wizards into the middle of their Magic Exam. I wasn’t particularly kind to Mamotte! Lollipop—while I did say it was “not a horrible comic,” I also called it “a simple, by-the-numbers story for girls only” that “revels in nearly every conceivable cliché of the [shojo] genre.”
Her latest series, Fairy Navigator Runa, is yet another simple, by-the-numbers story. It also revels in nearly every conceivable cliché of the shojo genre. But it is better. So, so much better.

The heroine this time out is Runa Rindō, a fourth-grader at the Children of the Stars School, an orphanarium-of-sorts where the parents she never met dumped her with nothing to remember them by but a mysterious pendant. But Runa gets by thanks to the love of her “sisters,” particularly Sae, a tomboy who has only recently become cold and scolding. But that’s the least of her worries once Kamachi arrives, an evil cat who can transform his arms into swords that he uses to try to hack our heroine to bits. Mokke and Senari (two fairies who can change themselves into an owl and cat, respectively) come to the rescue, but not before Kamachi absconds with Sae. Mokke and Senari think they can rescue her, but only if they can awaken the power they believe resides in the “Legendary Child” Runa: the power of a fairy navigator, one who can banish rogue fairies back to the Fairy World.

Sound a little formulaic? You bet! But this time out, Kikuta handles everything with a much surer hand. She’s helped by having source material to build off of, in this case the original Fairy Navigator Runa novel series by Miyoko Ikeda. With the characters already established for her, Kikuta has a framework to build off of, preventing the cast from becoming the interchangeable faceless blobs that populated Mamotte! The characters are fun and fully-realized from the get-go, and the joy in watching them interact can pull you through some of the more formulaic, been-there-done-that machinations of the plot.
Kikuta’s art is much more solid this time around as well. Gone are the oddly squished faces and anatomical screw-ups that marred Mamotte!, replaced by a fairly standard shojo style full of big doe eyes, wispy hair, and the occasional chibi animal. Her work won’t exactly blow you away, but it’s eye-pleasing and imminently readable, and screentone is skillfully applied to add extra depth.
I don’t mean to oversell it: Fairy Navigator Runa is still very much a magical girl manga. If you have yet to find the appeal in that genre, this isn’t the book to change your mind, but for the genre, it’s a very solid work with good fundamentals and a cast of appealing characters that are fun to spend time with. In some ways, it almost reads as a shojo take on Rumiko Takahashi’s InuYasha, and we can only hope it can wring that much drama out of its fairy battles as it ups the stakes in future volumes. Fairy Navigator Runa is a fairly obscure choice for Del Rey (as of this writing, it has neither a Wikipedia page nor an entry in Anime News Network’s extensive anime/manga encyclopedia), but I hope it’s able to find an audience. There are plenty of formulaic magical girl stories out there, but this is one of the good ones. | Jason Green

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