I cannot begin to emphasize how amazing this series is, and how much your collection and experience will be enhanced by the addition of Ran and the Gray World.
- This volume is a standout in its own right!
- Contains rich, creative fantasy
- EXCELLENT art and storytelling
- Characters and setting are magical!
- Theme of isolation and growing up is very real and relatable
- Style employs both striking detailed work that stands out among traditional manga styles
- Cartoonish elements bring out much laughter and joy
- Plot throws you right into Ran's uniquely magical world & employs an immersive surrounding from the very beginning
Ran and the Gray World, Volume 1 (Ran to Haiiro no Sekai) by Aki Irie (North American Distribution by Viz Media)
As we come to the conclusion of my series on new titles in manga, I wanted to take the opportunity to celebrate a newly-acquired title by Viz Media. Ran and the Gray World by Aki Irie is a series that I had the opportunity to view in its original Japanese several years ago, and I instantly fell in love. I have waited years for this series to be published, and as of this article’s publication, it is the only one of Irie-Sensei’s works to have been published in English. The magic and beauty contained in these pages emulates the aesthetic style of Studio Ghibli while showcasing the breathtaking and utterly unique style Irie-Sensi uses to bring Ran’s world to life.
Living in Haimachi, nine-year old Ran Uruma lives a life at the intersection of magic and the mundane. Her father, Zen, is a powerful sorcerer and tengu (bird yokai) who leads the flock of tengu in their home village; her mother, Shizuka, is a stunning beauty and one of the most powerful sorceress in the magical world; and her brother, Jin, is a shapeshifter who fluctuates between man and wolf. However, Ran is often left behind in the name of important magical duties and obligations, leaving her an outcast among her human classmates and wishing for the idyllic family unit. More than anything, Ran dreams of becoming as great and beautiful a sorceress as her mother; Ran’s own wild magic, channeled through a pair of sneakers, allows her to age up into a beautiful young woman and to conduct all kinds of mischief behind Jin’s back. However, her magic (and the physical change she undergoes) gets her into more trouble than anyone can handle. One day, when practicing her flying, she falls onto the penthouse balcony of wealthy playboy, Otaro, and the course of her life’s journey is forever altered.
I intentionally chose this volume to be the last of my series because this volume is such a standout in its own right; to give it less than my full attention would be an absolute disservice to the rich fantasy contained inside of it. From the very moment I saw this series, I was enthralled by both the art and the storytelling, each unlike anything I had ever seen. Unlike many other series, the style employs both striking detailed work that stands out among traditional manga styles and the silliness of comedic panels where more cartoonish elements bring out laughter and joy. While fantasy and magic have been staples of manga (particularly shojo manga), the plot throws you right into Ran’s uniquely magical world and employs an immersive surrounding from the very beginning. From yokai to giant magic mallets to enchanted threads and, of course, the most magical pair of sneakers around, this is a story that utilizes next-level creativity beyond anything I’ve encountered as of late.
While the characters and part of the setting are magical, the thing I love about this storyline is the very real theme of growing up and isolation. I identified a lot with Ran – bullied and bothered by her peers, accident-prone and free-spirited, longing to grow up so that she is not left behind. Although Otaro sees an adult woman and longs for something more, Ran looks for new friends and platonic relationships as an escape from her “bossy” brother and the loneliness she feels. I absolutely adore how free and almost celestial Ran is when utilizing her magic, and the comedic element that surrounds her when among the mundane world, but between the fantastic world building and the captivating skill of storytelling employed by Irie-Sensei, there is such depth to this story that is refreshing to see, especially with Western literature almost over-saturated by the constant theme of realism that often sacrifices quality of story for (often unsuccessful) relatability with the reader.
One of the most interesting things to find out during this review when I learned about Viz’s Signature Series, which, according to their website, is focused on “Bringing classic and cutting-edge graphic novels to an audience of discerning readers hungry for sophisticated stories and superlative art.” The inclusion of Ran and the Gray World in this series made me incredibly happy, as it is a recognition of the ambitious and beautiful artistic and storytelling standard of Irie-Sensei. In addition, I believe that the Signature series is an incredibly helpful way of conveying to the more experienced manga reader (or collector) just how different and special this title is. I cannot begin to emphasize how amazing this series is, and how much your collection and experience will be enhanced by the addition of Ran and the Gray World.