It had to happen : Soleil, which has yet to shy from
a licensed product for its leading brand (t-shirts, badges or caps are already available on the official store), has recently released the first volume of its “Lanfeust manga”, with a healthy dose of superlatives and exclamation marks :
“With hybrid and super-dynamic story and graphics, Lanfeust Quest synthesize quintessential fantasy and merges bande dessinée, comics and manga. Featuring stunning art by Ludollulabi (World of Warcraft, Lilian Cortez), Lanfeust Quest transports the myth created by Arleston and Tarquin far away beyond frontiers ! A new retelling of a bande dessinée bestseller, full of revelations on Lanfeust and his universe !”
Super-dynamic, quintessential fantasy, stunning, rich — hold it, I’m won over already. Irony notwithstanding, Lanfeust Quest ends up being particularly interesting. Not in the contents, which follows with few varations the first half of L’ivoire du Magohamoth (first volume of Lanfeust de Troy, the original series), with a younger and lighter tone. No, it’s in the form that this new incarnation of Lanfeust is exceptionnal, in the way it definitely embodies a myth — but a myth in the sense of Roland Barthes, the myth of manga.
Of course, the idea of “manga” is first and foremost expressed through a very specific and identifiable style : bicolor pointy hair, huge swords, exotic clothes — this book exploits a codified graphic universe, which in reality has more to do with the videogames in the Final Fantasy series than with Dragon Ball. All this is orchestrated within a “super-dynamic” page layout and a seriously watered-down narration, that manages to strech across 180 pages the plot of the first 26 pages of the original version.
But beyond those aspects that could be justified by the desire for recreation, it is in the form of the finished product that one can best find the most fundamental elements of the myth of manga. Indeed, Lanfeust Quest is a small volume printed in the right-to-left Japanese format, broken into 16-page chapters (with a full-page opening illustration and an inside panel reused as a conclusion), with a few color pages at the beginning of the book introducing the main characters with their names in Japanese characters. Nothing surprising there, if this were not a 100 % pure French production, from the license to the artist, who in spite of an exotic-sounding pen name turns out to be a homely Ludovic Mouillère.
In fact, all the choices in form that are displayed in this volume are all linked to structural constraints that are specific to the Japanese publication system : chapters correspond to the episodic installments in magazines ; conclusion pages are artificially added in, to “fill” in an otherwise empty page, as all introduction pages are on the left ; the color pages at the beginning of the book correspond to the rare occasion when a series is put forward in a magazine, and benefits from the few color pages at the beginning of the magazine. as for the right-to-left reading direction, as well as the names using kanji or katakana, they are naturally dictated by the Japanese language.
It becomes then obvious that the objective here is not to produce an original recreation, but more to conform to a certain acceptation of what a manga is, in the hope to have this book perceived as such and benefit from the trend (and its commercial success) widely aknowledged in the media over the past years. And this, even if this means making a lot of effort to produce what is, in the end, only the work of a counterfeiter — orchestrating this book as if it was the translation of a fictional Japanese series. This is exactly what describes Roland Barthes when he writes : “Motivation is necessary to the very duplicity of myth : myth plays on the analogy between meaning and form, there is no myth without motivated form.” (Mythologies, p.125)
It should be noted that this approach, remarkable here in its brazen absolutism, is nothing new : the major publishers have already tried and made their own another myth, that of the “author-driven graphic novel” (7 x 9 inches format, high number of pages, flap covers and a penchant for black & white art), too glad to be able to easily slip into a symbol-heavy form their industrial approach.
And of course, it works — with an efficiency that borders on self-conviction : lauding the “Spirou manga” or raging against the Angoulême selection deemed too focused on small publishers (thus forgetting all the nods to Delcourt‘s Shampooing collection). Again, as Roland Barthes writes : “We now understand why, in the eyes of the myth-consumer, the intention, the adhomination of the concept can remain manifest without however appearing to have an interest in the matter : what causes mythical speech to be uttered is perfectly explicit, but it is immediately frozen into something natural ; it is not read as a motive, but as a reason.” (Mythologies, p.128) Judging a book by its cover, in a sense.
But apart from this blatant display of the myth of manga, nothing can save the utmost worthlessness of this nth exploitation of Lanfeust — to the point of being tempted to paraphrase the description provided by Soleil : “With uninspired story and caricatural and codified graphics, Lanfeust Quest synthesize the quintessential marketing product and merges opportunism, preconceived notions and manga.” And instead of a recreation, definitely more of a repetition…
- Note from the translator : reader my friend, reader my love, learn that Lanfeust has been one of the best-selling series in France over the past year, numbering at least three spin-off series and a magazine to its name. The series mixes sword and sorcery with lowbrow humor and teenage romance and flirting.
- In Mythologies : “What must be firmly established at the start is that myth is a system of communication, that it is a message. This allows one to perceive that myth cannot possibly be an object, a concept, or an idea ; it is a mode of signification, a form.” (p.107) The page numbers refer to the 1991 edition published by The Noonday Press.
- The videogame filliation is further referenced in the title, as Lanfeust Quest is reminiscent of the Japanese Dragon Quest (known as Dragon Warrior in the US), an emblematic roleplaying game series which benefited from a character design by Toriyama Akira.
- One will also note the shape of the speech balloons used throughout Lanfeust Quest, as they are consistent with the ones used in a Japanese narrative. Even if that implies the usual contorsions to have a (horizontal) French test fit in a space designed for a (vertical) Japanese text … a Japanese text that, again, never existed in the first place.