Thursday, September 10, 2009

Genghis Khan: to the Ends of the Earth and Sea

The story: Temujin is born into a family of nomadic tribesman, wandering the steppes of Central Asia. When he meets another young boy while hunting in the forest, he and Jamuqa decide to become blood brothers. What they never anticipated was that Temujin would grow to become Genghis Khan, fighting Jamuqa until the bitter end in order to unite all of Mongolia under his leadership. As Genghis Khan's family grows, he sees echos of his own past in his eldest son, Jochi, whose heritage is constantly under question, even by his own brothers. As his tribe attempts to survive its depleted numbers, how will Temujin transform into Genghis Khan?

Reaction: This is a manga, based on a film, based on an original book. And it shows in the odd pacing, large and confusing cast of characters and opaque plot. While this is supposed to serve as a biography of the Mongolian leader, it only looks at two very specific points in time, revealing only a small piece of who he was. As the narration jumped back and forth through time, I had a hard time understanding what was going on and following the storyline. In the end, it served as a sobering tale of what one had to sacrifice and do in order to rule in those times.

Deep thoughts: I'm not sure how much of this manga is truly historically accurate, since I have no frame of reference for Mongolian tribesman. As far as language goes, I didn't read anything too egregious. But, writing a biography of an historic character strikes me as particularly difficult and requiring quite a bit of research. Unfortunately, since there were no written records in Genghis Khan's time, it's hard to know what his early life was like. While the manga illustrated Temujin's birth, I didn't fully understand the omens being pointed out. It wasn't until I read more about Genghis Khan that I realized that it was a blood clot in baby Temujin's fist that signified his future greatness. It was small things like this that made this manga seem almost esoteric at times.

Artwork: Considering its source material, it should come as no surprise that this manga has a fairly cinematic layout. The panels follow a camera's viewpoint, starting a wide shot and moving closer in a subsequent panel, or vice versa. There are also a few flashbacks that are indicated via filling the space surrounding panels with black; it works well as a visual cue. The cast of characters is fairly vast, due to the tribal nature of Temujin's family, with many of similar appearance. But, it was the additional art at the end of the book that served as a nice surprise—there are early character sketches, a nice "thank you" page by an assistant and the afterword by Nakaba Higurashi.

The verdict: Meh. Maybe it was the historical nature of this manga, or the source material used, but I really couldn't get into this story. While I'm sure the film is truly beautiful, especially with the ability to show, in color, the expansive vistas of Central Asia, this manga was not. It seemed derivative at best and failed to capture the true greatness of Genghis Khan, especially since it examined a very specific time in his life. Genghis Khan: to the Ends of the Earth and Sea is available in the U.S. from CMX.

Review copy provided by CMX.

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