REVIEW: Manga Classics – Romeo and Juliet (2018, 2020)

An adaptation of the 1597 Classic by Stacy King, Crystal S. Chan, and Julien Choy

Romeo and Juliet: Manga Classics

NOTE: I received a free preliminary, and likely unedited copy of this book from Netgalley for the purposes of providing an honest, unbiased review of the material. Thank you to all involved.

This is the second book by Manga Classics that the gracious folks over at that company were nice enough to let me peruse, with the first Being The Count of Monte Cristo. I won’t bore everyone re-treading the same pre-amble as with that review, but I will summarize that I very much enjoyed that edition, and love the idea behind the whole initiative – an attempt to get kids and younger adults to get into classic literature without throwing huge 800 page tomes their way. I felt the respect for the source material was, perhaps, one of the best things about that book – as it avoided the many pitfalls others have fallen into making “manga versions” of things when they were not, in fact, a part of the Japanese manga (comic book) scene.

Romeo and Juliet is the classic tragedy of western literature. Created by William Shakespeare, it is tale of two very young lovers from Verona, Italy who defy the wishes of their feuding families, get married then, and tragically, end their own lives in the name of love. It is their deaths that ultimately help the rival families of the Capulet’s and Montague’s find reconciliation. Manga
Classics brings an incredible new reading experience with this adaptation of Shakespeare’s most popular and frequently performed plays: Romeo and Juliet.

Manga Classics product page
Romeo and Juliet | Ch01 Pg04

Going into this book, I was somewhat worried, as the Count of Monte Cristo is largely available in Modern English readily, whereas any adaptation of a Shakespeare play has a choice – keep the archaic, yet poetic language of the original play, or adapt it into modern language and perhaps lose some of the wordplay and witty dialogue. I was pleasantly surprised to see that the dialogue was largely left intact from the source material, albeit cleaned up a tad. While this could make it hard to read for some folks, this would make it a great source to help one’s understanding of the language in the actual book – I recall occasionally using a supplementary Cliff notes book in high school whenever doing a Shakespearean assignment (I was big on British Lit back then) – honestly this would have been way better.

The art style is clean, well done, and consistent with many shoujo comics of the near past without losing itself to modern clichés. I personally love the manga style from the middle to late 90’s, so I especially liked this one. I will say that, of the two, I preferred the Count of Monte Cristo a bit more, but that could be that I’ve read Romeo and Juliet so many times that it does not hold the same “oomph” as it once dead, whereas I’ve never fully read The Count. All-in-all, still a solid read and a great addition to anyone’s manga or classical literature library. As I said in my previous review – Schools and libraries should really look into getting a ton of these, you’d probably be surprised how popular they’d be.

REVIEW: Manga Classics – The Count of Monte Cristo (2017, 2020)

An adaptation of the 1884 Novel by by Stacy King , Nokman Poon, and Crystal S. Chan.

The Count of Monte Cristo
The cover

NOTE: I received a free preliminary, and likely unedited copy of this book from Netgalley for the purposes of providing an honest, unbiased review of the material. Thank you to all involved.

There’s always a tendency for companies to fall back on classical media and attempt to market it to youths in questionable ways: by making it modern, changing the setting, or re-writing it entirely. Sometimes this works great, I would say that the 1996 Baz Luhrmann adaptation of Romeo & Juliet was both very enjoyable and fairly true to the original story despite a modern setting, but you also run the risk of making films like 2006’s children’s film Romeo & Juliet: Sealed With A Kiss, wherein everyone was replaced by anthropomorphized seals and any sort of tension was removed entirely to be replaced with jokes. Today, we aren’t talking about films, but a company called Manga Classics that has waded heavily into an attempt to market classical literature to fans of Japanese Comic books or Manga and one of their books I just finished. The following is an excerpt from the Company’s website:

Intended for a young adult audience, Manga Classics™ are just as likely to be enjoyed in the reader’s free time as in the classroom.  The gripping and intense story and the lush artwork will place them easily alongside today’s bestselling popular manga, with strong and accurate adaptations that will please even the toughest teacher or librarian!  Manga Classics are also a wonderful way for adult readers to rediscover their favorite classics, or experience them for the first time!

https://www.mangaclassics.com/

Luckily, this endeavor seems to have been rather successful to me (at least), as I just finished an edition of Alexandre Dumas’ The Count of Monte Christo and thoroughly enjoyed it. I think this initiative is successful for many reasons, but chiefly it’s because it respects the material and avoids the failures of other companies that attempt to make a “manga version” of a property i.e. overly sexualized, overly cartoonish, constant slapstick humor, making things pseudo-Japanese (in a racist way, usually written by Non-Japanese) etc. It’s hard to express exactly why a lot of this misses the mark so bad, but things like “The Marvel Mangaverse” was a champion of this misguided approach for all those reasons. People always forget that Manga/anime is a medium, NOT a genre – any attempt to have it as such always blows up.

Count of Monte Cristo | Ch01 Pg22
Interior page

If you have never read the story or seen an adaptation of this story, it follows a young man named Edmond Dantès that seems to have it all, a promising new career, and beautiful fiance and wedding planned, and an ability to finally repay his friends and family for helping him in his success. Unfortunately, he has come into contact with men that want no more than to commit a total miscarriage of justice to falsely imprison Edmond out of jealousy. One man desires his job, one his wife, and one needs a fall man to protect his own family from treason allegations. After 14 years Dantès is able to escape, and becomes wealthy setting his plan in place – REVENGE.

This edition of The Count of Monte Christo is VERY accurate to the source material, it is cleaned up into modern language a bit, but for the most part, it hits every beat that Dumas intended. There are a few differences between the book and its source material, but the book has a handy section explaining these alterations and why they were made. I appreciated this addition quite a bit.

 The original book of The Count of Monte Christo is somewhere around 700 pages long, and takes an insane amount of time to read. This book, however can be kicked back in a few hours which is a great incentive to look into these- not only for young readers that may be intimidated by such a large book, but people with busy lives, or those that have trouble keeping attention in long books. To me, these are classic stories everyone should know about, and companies like this are doing a great job making this available.

As you can see, I absolutely loved this – the artwork is great, the adaptation is well-written, and the pacing keeps you on the edge of your seat. I will admit, despite being a reader, I ignore books like the source material due to the size most of the time. While, I already know this story and have read parts of the original, this was a great way for me to know what has been left out of various projects. I definitely plan to get more books by Manga Classics – so far this has been my biggest book surprise of 2021.