March Story Vol. 1 (VIZ Media)

This bloody new manga series offers an interesting spin on some well-trod fantasy conventions.

 

192 pgs., B&W; $12.99
(W: Hyung Min Kim; A: Kyung Il Yang)
 
March Story, a new manga series set in 18th century Europe from Hyung Min Kim and Kyung Il Yang, offers an interesting spin on some well-trod fantasy conventions. The androgynous hero March is a member of the Ciste Vihad, an organization which tracks down objects harboring Ills, evil spirits who can steal the hearts of those who touch the objects. Once possessed, the humans sprout horns and are capable of senseless, bloody, self-destructive deeds: however, as long as they haven’t actually harmed anyone, the horns remain white and the Ill can be exorcised, returning the possessed to their former selves.
 
The first volume of March Story includes four self-contained episodes. In the first we meet Pircollet, a young circus performer who wants to be a trapeze artist but is expected to be a clown because that was her father’s profession. The fact that she’s clumsy, generally terrible at clowning and also hates it doesn’t figure into the equation. Attracted by a beautiful earring which mysteriously appears on her dressing table, she puts it on and the next thing you know she’s flying from the trapeze, without a partner and without a net. Fortunately March is there and is able to exorcise the Ill with the aid of a magic, self-assembling thorn prison whose portrayal is sure to please the S&M crowd.
 
The second story is set in a city where everyone wears Carnival-style masks all the time because if they don’t Orche the Masked dances them up into the sky before dropping them to their death. No surprise that Orche is possessed by an Ill which was harboring in a beautiful mask, nor that he was tempted in the first place by jealousy that his friend Zen was a better mask-maker than himself. The third story introduces Rodin’s antique shop as well as another gender-bending character, Jake the Fortune Teller, who looks like a pantomime Dame crossed with a Mardi Gras float figure. The fourth is the most gruesome of the lot, involving an Elizabeth Bathory type of character who likes to bathe in the blood of young maidens.
 
The moral of the series is the danger of giving in to one’s desires, or to put it another way the need to maintain self-control in the face of temptation. The Ill inhabit precious objects like art and jewelry which people naturally desire and those same people, once they touch the object and become infected, find themselves unable to resist whatever is their innermost desire. Interestingly, after first contact you have to choose to give in to the Ill as, like the proverbial good and bad angels perching on opposite shoulders, they engage in debates with your conscience. The whole premise, in the first story in particular, raises an interesting psychological issue which may point to cultural differences between the U.S. and Korea or Japan. We (Americans) tend to emphasize the importance of finding an adult path which allows you to use your talents and abilities in a constructive manner. Certainly discipline and compromise are necessary to achieve almost anything worthwhile, but the message of March Story seems to be something quite different: you should strive to fulfill whatever role you are assigned in life, whether it is right for you or not. I realize I may be over thinking this and I certainly don’t want to appear to be making blanket statements about national cultures, but it seemed interesting enough to be worth pointing out.
 
The creators of this series are Korean but the story and art are firmly within mainstream Japanese manga style. That’s not a criticism, just a warning to not expect to see something different. The good characters are actually a bit treacly and March looks plain goofy half the time, but when it comes to the horror scenes Kyung Il Yang really shows what he’s capable of. Blood and guts and thorns and severed body parts are everywhere, threatening to burst the frame and providing a visual analogue for the experience of being possessed. The establishing frames for the different locations are also great, and have enough detail to suggest real cities (Venice) or movie sets (Castle Dracula), making this series a real treat for lovers of the gothic style.
 
March Story is rated M for explicit content, mainly for some graphic horror elements and female nudity. | Sarah Boslaugh

 

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