The following article has been written by Katan, a dear friend of us who is probably the greatest Kaori Yuki fan we know of. She also helped us edit our first book, “Just a Little taste of Journey“. Here is her lovely tumblr and her blog. This is the link to the original article.
I’d like to believe everybody has sources of inspiration. Not necessarily leading to creativity; just those little triggers of thoughts and emotions to go with your morning coffee, a boring ride in the bus and your gradual fall into sleep. Some have few, others have many, some search hard to track them down and others just bump into them. Some lucky ones realize at first touch that what they have found had magically been calling them.
Needless to say what my missing piece of the puzzle was. Because when I first read Angel Sanctuary, it felt like the first time I truly knew art.
It begins with the…
Chapter One: Art
Kaori Yuki’s art is otherwordly. You open her manga to find faces so beautiful that realism has lost all meaning. It is not just the angels whose celestial nature calls for a fitting appearance. It is also a student, isolated and mocked by everyone, whose expression channels all emotions swirling within him, rendering the reader unable to take his eyes off him.
And when the story opens the curtains to the deepest part of its world, the reader’s eyes perceive the depth, and usually the majestic nature of the space where the characters move and breathe. The “stage” of each scene is designed and depicted in great detail, forcing the “viewer” to stop at many pages in order to observe the full extent of the picture and let it sink in. This is one of the factors that has led to the –incomprehensible to me really- complaints for “overloaded” art. In my opinion, it is rather amazing how places of great height and surface are captured in black-and-white comic strips, and never fail to convey their beauty despite their confinement in tiny squares of paper. Kaori Yuki offers powerful snapshots of the world in her head like nobody else; Jibril’s garden, Etemenanki, Hell, the residence of Hargreaves, the world of Fairies, let yourself carried away in their view and you will feel a bit of the awe of stepping your foot into them.
People are going to argue about her earlier works and their evident aesthetic flaws. Clearly, Erii from her debut work looks nothing like Fairy Cube’s Rin… but as artists grow and evolve, so does their work and personally, I think “observing” the course of that evolution is one of a true fan’s biggest delights.
The best way to instill an impression on the progress on both her art and stories is to observe Cain, the main character of the Cain Saga. You’d hardly recognize the Earl of the first Cain Series as the “Godchild” of the sequel:
Reading through the entire series you watch the gothic art (that I still adore) ascend from simplicity to perfection, along with Cain himself growing out of his past into maturity. As chapters go by, the plot thickens, the characters’ psychology comes to surface and their finally revealed complexity coincides with the stunning visual outcome of a now fully blossomed talent.
However, the most important factors have always been there from the beginning. Soul. Identity. Feelings. Her stories have always been speaking to you, even through less refined characters. Cain may have grown up, but he has always been Cain.
Chapter Two: Story
It is common knowledge among people familiar with Kaori Yuki’s name that her stories are not everyone’s cup of tea. Elements needed for their proper appreciation are a certain attraction to darkness, a genuinely open mind, an eagerness to abolish the boundaries of your world and try to stick to another during your reading hours. There will be incest, abuse, unhealthy obsession and a generous dose of cruelty. Yet, you will also see true love, unbreakable bonds, hope and unbelievable inner strength. If you’re the type to get carried away by fiction, there will probably be moments when you’ll find yourself hurting with inexplicable warmth in your chest, and tears may roll down the crack of your smile. Life’s full of emotional conflict. And so are her manga.
In the more technical aspect of the plot, despite recurring themes like forbidden relationships, dark pasts, destruction, possessiveness, the ever-present mystery is so deftly weaved that you never know what to expect. Even if a plot twist was vaguely foreseen by the hardcore fans, the next one lurking in the next pages won’t be. And when suddenly all the answers (or not?) are handed down, the reader begins to recollect in his mind all the minor details that the mangaka, like every skilled storyteller, has planted all over the story. But what Kaori Yuki is truly a master at is building up tension through minor details in such a profound and overwhelming way that when the plot reaches its climax, the reader experiences his own emotional outburst along with the characters. It had probably never occurred to Cain’s readers before that the tying of shoe laces could ever be an act of such a dramatic impact and a symbol of abandonment.
Chapter Three: The Characters
Characters, in my opinion, are the very beginning and the end of any story. As mentioned above, most of Kaori Yuki’s characters (basically, all except very few… sorry Sandy) are of exceptional beauty and for some of them that creates the impression of “plastic” perfection. In addition to that comes their usually “dramatic” speech, and the combination of those elements along with a fantasy setting puts them in a place seemingly too far away for the reader to “empathize.
Yet, the flaws are bound to arise for each and every of them, sometimes to complete their image, other times to overturn it. The inorganic angel may know and has the power to define the fate of everyone around him, yet understands nothing about his own existence. The same person who shoulders the fate of the world and brought his loved one back from the dead made a grave mistake that led to a tragic personal loss. Suddenly you come to realize that this “fantasy” you’re reading about is full of human traits. The setting may be unreal but the feelings springing from it couldn’t have been closer to reality, and bits of yours are lying in at least some of the numerous characters. You may have not been confined in the garden of Eden, but you must have felt solitude.
Furthermore, the distinction between good and evil is blurred to the extent that you can’t tell them apart. The examples are ample. Angels are fighting over power and politics, while the devil himself has cared for his people. A tyrant wants to purify the world because he has only known the ugly side of it. The doctor who cruelly takes lives in the present had once respected life at his own cost. One has faked loyalty for so long that it became his truth. There’s hardly black and white when it comes to fully-developed characters, only different shades of gray. If there’s one thing repeatedly emphasized in Yuki-sensei’s works, is that even the greatest villain falls prey to his demons, sometimes more apt and “material” than his traumas.
The characters, especially in Angel Sanctuary, are… countless. Yet they’re all developed as much as time and space allowed their creator. And they’re wonderful. Kaori Yuki has proved that a complete character doesn’t take a great number of pages to reveal himself, by bringing out the full scale of Kaine, one of the most twisted and complicated personalities, in merely two chapters.
Many are those who criticize Kaori Yuki’s characters as overdramatic. But do keep in mind: they live in their “universe”, not yours. And their world itself is full of a tragedy you hope to only see in fiction. And seriously… take a good hard look at the time, place, and the overall setting of their story. Can you really picture Cain saying “Dad, this time I’m gonna shoot your ass” or words such as “Sorry, bro, there was a misunderstanding” coming out of Alexiel’s mouth?
Finally, I’d like to address more specifically the matter of the “main” character in Kaori Yuki’s manga. I’ve always been one to be attracted to side characters with little screen time, and this is no different for the manga of my most beloved creator. However, I could not help but note that one of her strongest points is the creation of extremely powerful and, most of all, appropriate main characters for each story. Let’s take a look at four different types of main characters.
Despite him not being even among my top 5 of Angel Sanctuary favorites, Setsuna is probably the most incredible main character I’ve ever encountered, showing a very intense and interesting character development.
He is presented as a teenage boy lost in the little selfish world of his romance, who cries and sulks a lot about his personal drama in the beginning of his story. As his true identity and role are revealed, he naturally progresses from denial to acceptance and becomes stronger with each page, gradually evolving into a true hero. Yet, in his course he keeps all of his human emotions intact, he learns from his mistakes but his flaws never magically disappear. Setsuna never becomes a faceless symbol, and even though he acknowledges his role as the Messiah, he refuses to speak and treat others as such, his words still coming from his personal experiences and his human heart.
Setsuna is one of the most realistic characters that could possibly exist in a fictional story, talking to you in words you understand and not from the higher place of a hero. To me he is a symbol of strength and hope, one that teaches you that when you want something you have to turn the world upside down to get it, and that crying is allowed only a while before you rise back on your feet.
In contrast to Setsuna’s bold honesty, Cain keeps on a façade of maturity throughout his story. He is a boy who was forced into adulthood from a very young age and into a position of nobility and power that is not only surrounded by hypocrisy but also with dangers for his life. In the face of Cain we see a witty noble of admirable intelligence, capable of strategy, plunged in solitude and lack of trust. Unlike Setsuna who is surrounded by friends and openly accepts and appreciates their help, Cain only trusts a single person, his butler Riff, with whom he forms the only solid bond in his life.
At first sight, Cain is a person far more “distant” from the reader than Setsuna, thus his appearance and artbook illustrations present him more “ghostly” and inhuman(despite him actually being a human and not an angel!). Yet, in his relationship with Riff, this image is shattered and the suppressed child rises to surface, often taking the reader aback with the surge of emotion hiding behind his cold mask.
Cain’s character development could be considered, in an aspect, reverse to Setsuna’s, as his human emotions are more and more obviously unfurled, while his exceptional abilities as the manga’s “hero” keep the story going.
And here’s an example of a main character who is “the story” himself. Ludwig Kakumei is mainly a dark comedy manga, and its prince is exactly that; a hilariously macabre hero.
Since this is a story you’d read to have fun to your heart’s content, there’s no need for dark pasts and emphasis on character development. Lui is presented as a superficial womanizer with weird hobbies, taking pleasure into harassing his only true follower and the sweetest servant in the fictional realm, Wilhelm.
As the stories go on and your lungs and muscles are being destroyed by excessive laughter, you can’t help but notice that the funnily cruel prince has, discreetly or not, helped the “good ending” of every princess he’s failed to make his wife. The man who claims to assess women only by the size of their boobs, has ended up boosting their confidence and taking them out of their personal misery. Not to mention him finding true love without fully realizing it in the face of the sleeping beauty.
And last but not least, tiny bits of his care for Will arise, amidst buckets of harassment of course, in many parts of the story, till his more clear “enlightenment” on his servant’s role in his life in the last volume.
It seems that even in a good comedy, character development is inevitable. Lui’s consists of both himself and us learning that he is not as shallow as we initially thought.
The leader of the Grand Guignol Orchestra, in my eyes at least, doesn’t undergo any great change as a personality throughout his story. He appears bright, positive, funny and heartwarming and he truly is all that, and stays so. And yet, the reader is constantly warned by the other characters surrounding him of hidden cruelty and darkness that seem highly unlikely for him.
As you read further down GGO’s chapters, you begin to figure out that Lucille is exactly the “man” you thought him to be and it is the other characters that need to develop in order to truly see him as such. Meeting Lucille has been a turning point for all characters; in each chapter you get to see how each of them used to be before and the changes that encounter sets in motion within them. Changing their view on Lucille equals understanding a part of themselves, their needs and their feelings, the “darkness” of him, in fact, reflecting their own unresolved issues.
What do all of these characters have in common?
While being drastically different people, with entirely different courses and backgrounds, they brighten the world around them, making the people they encounter better and stronger, while embracing change themselves. (1)
For me, Kaori Yuki’s manga leave a taste of sweetness and iron. They bring you face to face with inevitable truths, like the fact that everybody’s carrying wounds from his past that are continuously “eating” his present. That loss is a part of life you’ll eventually have to deal with. That sometimes you only see past your true friend’s helping hand when it’s too late. But on the other hand, in her manga there is always hope (even way too deeply to find it), and most of all, there’s a solid and incredible faith in sheer willpower and human strength.
Kurai: Yourself being happy or someone important to you being happy…which one would you choose?
Setsuna: Isn’t it obvious? Everyone being happy. That’s what I’d choose. (Angel Sanctuary vol. 9 )
1. Ok, maybe things never really get all that bright for side characters in Cain, but they at least are resolved!