The Star Online | 29 March 2011 | Ezel



USUALLY I do not have high expectations for adaptations – they are often bland and colourless, and fail to capture the charm and spirit of the original story. I have not read The Saga of Darren Shan, on which this manga is based, so I can’t say how well the manga compares to the source material. Nevertheless, the manga was a surprisingly good read that exceeded my (somewhat low, admittedly) expectations.

Some background information: Saga of Darren Shan is a 12-novel series aimed at young adults by the eponymous Irish writer Darren Shan. The books have achieved great success worldwide; it was translated into 30 different languages and the movie Cirque du Freak: The Vampire’s Assistant, which premieres in Malaysia this Thursday, is based on the first three books of the series.

The protagonist Darren Shan, a boy who’s totally fascinated by spiders, visits a travelling freak show called the Cirque du Freak with his best friend Steve Leonard. It is there that they are introduced to the enigmatic Crepsley and his spider Madam Octa.

Somehow, Steve recognises that Crepsley is a vampire and sneaks off to confront him and demand that he be turned into a vampire. However, Crepsley rejects him on account of him being “too evil”.

At the same time, Darren becomes more obsessed about Madam Octa and returns to the Cirque du Freak to steal her. Somehow, Madam Octa ends up biting Steve and in a bid to save his best friend, Darren strikes a deal with Crepsley that will change his life forever – he is to become Crepsley’s half-vampire assistant.

The story is interesting and well thought out. I particularly liked how the relationships between characters are portrayed, especially that between Darren, Steve and Crepsley. Although some parts of the original tale are cut, it is done without a glitch as I did not notice any gaps in the story flow.

Another part of the story I liked is Cirque du Freak, which I felt was a great setting for the tale. Volume 1 is definitely a good start that lays a solid foundation for the future.

The one thing that struck me most about this manga is its memorable character designs; I was deeply impressed by how well the looks of the Cirque du Freak members match their personalities. Clearly, the artist has put a lot of thought into the character designs.

The work of Takahiro Arai – the winner of the competition specially held in Japan to choose the artist for the manga adaptation – is not perfect, though. Sometimes his art can appear strange and inconsistent; the perspective and anatomy are noticeably distorted in some panels. But other than that, the art and panelling portray the mood of the story well.

As Darren Shan (the author, not the character) was the final judge of the competition which Arai eventually won, naturally the execution and tone of the manga fitted nicely with the story.

Give The Saga of Darren Shan (recently re-released under Yen Press) a try – you may just be pleasantly surprised.

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