MANGA SHAKESPEARE! Series Review

Shakespeare Reimagined

A few excursions to the Globe have taught me that it’s a good idea to be acquainted with the plot of a Shakespeare play before seeing it performed – I mean, imagine being one of that handful of people that always leave half way through, presumably  because they can’t follow what’s happening!

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This is where the Manga Shakespeare series comes in. A useful cheat sheet, bridging the gap between text and performance, his most famous works, abridged and reimagined, in Japanese comic book form. Admittedly not for purists, the series is nonetheless a new and fresh take on the works of our most celebrated playwright.

Each edition opens with a full colour character list and has a convenient plot summary at the back for reference.  At around two-hundred pages, they are a quick read and, as such, there can surely be no faster or more cost effective way to blag some Shakespeare expertise.

I finished The Tempest in a couple of short sessions on the train, The whimsical imagery of which lends itself well to the graphic novel format. As You like it was likewise a quick and delightful read and I am currently in the middle of Othello – the artwork of which is my favourite thus far.

My only reservations at this point are that the stories do occasionally feel a little chopped. The texts obviously have to be cut for the format, but it seems clumsy in places – similar to when a movie has been obviously edited for length.

Manga and Shakespeare…

I’m no expert on Manga, but the illustrations are fantastic and really give a sense of action. The characters are expressive and everything has the illusion of movement. Most of the background settings have been re-envisioned (Manga Macbeth is set in a post-apocalyptic Japan, for example) to make them more appropriate to the style. The three editions I own are illustrated by three different artists and each have their own nuances and build their own atmosphere.

oth_bw_01Setting any snobbery aside, as all Shakespeare productions are, after all, interpretations, the series works really well. Despite being heavily cut, the words and images form a cohesive story.  My only quibble is that, aside from a few colour pages in the intro (which look incredible), everything is in black and white, as is the tradition with Japanese comics. It seems a shame as the opening pages look so good, the following monochrome ones seem a bit drab.

All in all, Manga Shakespeare editions are fun and easy to read, providing an accessible way to approach The Bard’s work. Highly recommended, but only as a starting point – Nothing can beat seeing the plays as they were intended: in performance.

✭✭✭✭⭐︎