Posted by: coolerbecky | June 28, 2009

Oriental Fantasy

12kIf you’re a big fan of anime and have been keeping your finger on the pulse, you’ll probably have heard of the beautiful anime Junni Kokki, or Twelve Kingdoms. Unlike most anime, Twelve Kingdoms did not start as a manga, but rather was based on a series of fantasy novels by Fuyumi Ono, a prolific Japanese horror and fantasy writer. While the anime was wonderful – well animated and creatively directed, it was also partially incomplete, leaving a number of storylines unresolved.

However, watchers of Twelve Kingdoms will be glad to find their questions answered soon as Tokyopop, distributor, translator and publisher of many manga, has released translated versions of three of the Twelve Kingdoms light novels.

12KingdomsSea of Shadow is the first of the three released novels and follows the story of Yoko Nakajima, an ordinary girl afraid of standing out from the crowd.

Yoko is kidnapped by a mysterious golden-haired young man named Keiki and his collection of strange beasts and mythical creatures. Yoko finds herself forcibly transported from her high school in Japan to the mystical world of the Twelve Kingdoms, but her travels are violently interrupted as she reaches the shores of the Kingdom of Kou. She is soon seperated from Keiki and left to fend for herself in an alien world ruled by immortal kings and magical beasts, plagued by demons and blessed by gods.

As she travels throughout the Twelve Kingdoms, Yoko also journeys to find her own abandoned identity. At the same time, Yoko must battle against the demons that continually attack her and discover the truth behind Keiki and his motives for transporting her to the Twelve Kingdoms.

Sea of Shadow is an incredibly fascinating tale that breaks the normal conventions of fantasy, not just because of its oriental background, but also because of the very alienness of the world of the Twelve Kingdoms. All normal physical rules do not apply to this world – babies grow inside fruits on magical trees and rain is caused by punctures in a magical floating sea in the sky. The story also has an expert weaving of interesting concepts such as the Divine Right of government and the relationship between a king and his or her country.

sujimotoasanoThe novels differ from the anime in a number of areas. Firstly, characters like Asano and Sujimoto are conspicously absent as both characters were created by the directors of the Twelve Kingdoms anime to give the story a bit more screen value. Secondly, Yoko spends no time with a travelling troupe. Finally, a lot more emphasis is given to Yoko’s behaviour in both the world of the Twelve Kingdoms and her life back in Japan.

The translation is a little clunky. Where Japanese romanji could have come in handy, Tokyopop has decided to replace such transliterations with complex compund words, disturbing what could otherwise be a smooth rhythm of words. A particularly jarring example of this is the term “shitsudo” – an illness suffered by mythical beasts, translated as “the losing of the way”. The text is also commonly broken up by Chinese characters to emphasize the importance of names and writing in the world of the Twelve Kingdoms. While the Chinese characters would have meaning to Chinese or Japanese readers, the meanings would be lost to a Western audience unschooled in foreign languages.

While the translation of the novel could have been much better, these distractions from the rhythm of the text do not quite detract from the overall excellent quality of Fuyumi Ono’s fairy tale.

For more information about the Tokyopop translation of Twelve Kingdoms, you can visit Tokyopop’s Pop Fiction section at They also carry a number of other light novel titles like Scrapped Princess and Trinity Blood.

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