The GeeksverseLeaving Proof 104 | Katsuya Terada’s The Monkey King, Vol. 2 trade paperback reviewed

Leaving Proof 104 | Katsuya Terada’s The Monkey King, Vol. 2 trade paperback reviewed
Published on Sunday, April 15, 2012 by

It took seven years of waiting but the second installment of Dark Horse’s English reprint of Katsuya Terada‘s 1995 manga adaptation of Journey to the West is finally here. Is it worth the wait? Read on to find out!

Key Review Points

Pros:

  • Subversive and irreverent take on the classic source material.
  • Excellent painted art by famed illustrator and character designer Katsuya Terada.
  • Highly-detailed glossary sheds light on Terada’s use of kanji motifs in his art.

Cons:

  • Certain sequences might be slightly inscrutable for readers unfamiliar with the previous volume in the series or the basics of the source text.
Publication Details

  • Publisher: Dark Horse Manga (a division of Dark Horse Comics)
  • Publication Date: April 2012
  • Story & Art by: Katsuya Terada (adapted from the novel Journey to the West by Wu Cheng’en)
  • Lettering by: Steve Dutro
  • Translation by: Toshifumi Yoshida
  • Format: 160 page full-colour trade paperback; reprints Katsuya Terada’s Saiyukiden Daien’oh (“Uncanny Journey to the West: The Great Monkey King”), originally published in Japanese by Shueisha Inc. in 1995. This book is translated into English but oriented in right-to-left reading format to maintain the artwork’s visual orientation as originally drawn and published in Japan.
  • List Price: $16.99 (digital review copy provided free-of-charge by the publisher)
  • Additional details: The book carries an 18+ age advisory.
Full Review

The 16th century Chinese novel Journey to the West, largely attributed to Ming Dynasty writer Wu Cheng’en, is a fictionalized and fantastical account of the monk Xuanzang‘s 19-year pilgrimage to India as recorded by his disciple Buanji in the historic text Great Tang Records on the Western Regions. While rooted in Mahayana Buddhist thought, the novel is actually a syncretic work that incorporates concepts and archetypes from Confucianism, Taoism, and Shenism traditions. An emphasis on adventure and an allegorical quality that promotes easy recontextualization has helped the novel remain remarkably popular over the four centuries since it was first published, inspiring numerous adaptations in film, print, animation, and even video games.

Katsuya Terada’s graphic reinterpretation of the novel, originally published in Japan in 1995, is a particularly irreverent and darkly humourous one, with Xuanzang and the Monkey King re-imagined as a sexy nun and a lewd brute, respectively. Some of the book’s leather bondage-inspired character designs (think Soulcalibur‘s Voldo or McFarlane Toys’ Twisted Fairy Tales) and its sex-and-violence excess now look slightly dated and even somewhat quaint, although that’s hardly a fault worth mentioning: the aesthetic philosophy underlying the novel’s reworking is decidedly—even unfortunately—of its time, but the elevated technical skill and craftsmanship applied to its creation are timeless nonetheless.

I’m not particularly fond of painted comics art because of its tendency to come out flat and muddy in print or on-screen, but in this case, Terada’s strong lines, solid visual storytelling, and masterful control of colour gradients successfully dispel that concern. His rendering style is more reminiscent of that employed by Moebius than compatriot Yoshitaka Amano‘s and the clarity, depth, and detail of the art are not mitigated in the least.

A comprehensive glossary detailing the meaning behind the various kanji motifs that Terada employs in his art adds a lot of value to the trade paperback, although an explicative afterword similar to the one that accompanied the series’ first volume would have been quite welcome. The book isn’t really wanting in accessibility, but certain portions might be slightly inscrutable for readers unfamiliar with the previous installment in the series or the basic narrative elements of the source text.

All in all, Katsuya Terada’s The Monkey King, Vol. 2 is a beautifully rendered and unique take on Journey to the West, informed by a sense of humour that is cheeky, bizarre, and subversive. I only hope we don’t have to wait another seven years for the third volume’s release.

Katsuya Terada’s “The Monkey King, Vol. 2″ trade paperback is on sale now

Interior Page Previews (Click on images to view in larger size; pages oriented in right-to-left reading format)
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