Friday, December 4, 2009

Two Flowers for the Dragon, vol. 2

The story: Shakuya is heiress to the Dragon Clan and has the ability to turn into a dragon herself. Each arm is tattooed with a flower: one representing her original fiance, Lucien, who recently returned to the desert oasis, and the other representing Kuwan, who replaced Lucien as Shakuya's fiance when the former disappeared. Now, Shakuya has been kidnapped by a snake charmer with ulterior motives. Will Kuwan and Lucien be able to save her?

Reaction: I liked watching the dynamic in the Lucien-Shakuya-Kuwan triangle and the evolution of Shakuya's relationships with both men. But, I found myself a little creeped out by Kuwan's affection when his first meeting with Shakuya was shown in a flashback; she's 11 years old, while Kuwan's 21. What is it with Nari Kusakawa and older man-younger girl couples? While I'm not nearly as uncomfortable about it now (especially since Kuwan is such a cool customer), it was odd.

Deep thoughts: In this volume, a snake charmer has enchanted Shakuya's dragon form. Interestingly, snake charming is a process whereby snakes become hypnotized simply by hearing music. These types of performances started in India, then spread across the Indian subcontinent to Southeast Asia, then westward towards the Middle East and north Africa. While it was very popular at one point, it has fallen out of favor since a 1972 Indian law banning ownership of serpents and is much rarer.

Artwork: There's been a steady improvement in Kusakawa's artwork since I first encountered The Palette of 12 Secret Colors. Her characters no longer look awkward in proportion or limb length, and paneling is more well developed. But what I love most about the art are the Chinese and Arabian influences, from costumes to settings. It's adds a touch of exotic mystique to this desert oasis tale and illustrates how much more attention Kusakawa pays to the little details.

The verdict: Highly recommended. There's more to this story than a simply love triangle -- there's Shakuya's parents' sudden and unexplained divorce, and some shady characters preying on the young heiress. While it would be easy to let this simply devolve into a romance story, Kusakawa takes care to keep readers entertained in other ways -- and she does it well. Two Flowers for the Dragon is available in the U.S. from CMX.

Review copy provided by CMX.

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