PopLurker would like to thank Viz Media for providing us with a review copy of Ran and the Gray World Volume One by Aki Irie.
The artwork in this book has made me lose my freakin’ mind.
Ran and the Gray World has this whimsical Rumiko Takehashi quality to it (albeit tighter drawings) that I didn’t know I missed until I cracked open this manga. The aesthetic is seriously stunning. The book was published in Japan by Aki Irie in 2009, which honestly make sense to me why I’m so attracted to the style.
I feel like there was this enormous shift in the Japanese manga/anime art style somewhere around 2011. It’s also fact that around that same era, Japanese citizens expressed their fatigue with fantastical stories. That’s when the Slice of Life boom exploded, as well as the trend of ‘Cute Girls Doing Cute Things’ really took off. Thus, Ran and the Gray World has the sensibilities of really that ‘end of classic anime and manga’ vibe, even though the story is only about ten years old.
From the back of the book:
Ran Urama can’t wait to grow up and become a sorceress like her mother, so with the help of a magical pair of sneakers, she transforms into an adult and sets off! Her father and older brother Jin try to keep her home safe, but Ran is determined to advance her powers and have adventures of her own!
Even though Ran looks like an adult during her transformation, she doesn’t really know what the perils of the outside world holds. When she meets rich playboy Otaro Mikado, does she gain a friend or a foe?
We have a lot of familiar elements here, but they’ve come late enough that their familiarity is refreshing and not rehashed. For example, we have elements of Ranma 1/2 and Futaba-Kun Change happening here although they’re for an older reader and use sexuality and the idea of boys turning into sexy girls to propel their comedy.
We also have tinges of Creamy Mami and Fancy Lala, which are magical girl stories about a little girl, hungry to grow up, uses a magical item to turn into a teenager. Part of the tension, I’ll say, in those stories is that we have a little girl who clearly isn’t ready to be a woman, so her body is more mature than her heart and brain.
Anti-sexual agency propaganda? That’s fodder for another article.
What’s happening in Ran is unique because of the whole magical family hook. Ran’s mom is a delightfully spacey and sexy sorceress (on the real, she’s a total babe). Her older brother Jin shape shifts into a wolf. And Dad is…well…Dad.
The story feels broken into two parts, in spite of only being a few chapters long. The first 1-3 is about Ran, her relationship with her family, her relationship with her class mates and teachers (she’s teased and deemed the weird kid), and the teachers are concerned because she comes to school bruised. Funny enough, Ran is bruised because she’s trying to learn how to fly to whatever sorceress world her mom lives in, but keeps falling out of the sky.
In the second half of the book, Teenage girl type Ran falls into Otaro’s yard and he quickly becomes enamored. There’s a very sweet scene where he tells her to paint a mural and then he’ll let her go home (he’s not a creep), but it’s clear that within their ‘friendship’ or whatever it is, Ran is in over her head. But at around ten years old in her kid form, she’s reached that age where she might start developing those first kiss and relationship curiosities, even if fully understanding or sexual maturity is several years away.
Ran and the Gray World is excellent, and Viz did a fantastic job with the cover and layout design. I’m seriously excited for volume two; this is a series that will find its place on my shelf.
I give Ran and the Gray World Vol. One by Aki Irie 5/5 stars.
Loryn is wearing her big-kid sneakers on Twitter.