Thursday, August 02, 2007

Hollow Fields, v. 1

Story and Art by Madeleine Rosca
Published by Seven Seas

Slugline: What if Harry Potter was a girl, attended a school for mad scientists, and had no idea how use a wand/screwdriver..?

Lucy Snow manages to get a little bit lost on her way to a new boarding school and ends up at a different school instead, one that offers free room and board, and expects the very best of its students. Or else. Because after she has signed on the dotted line, she discovers that the school is intended to train the next generation of mad scientists, with classes like graverobbing and how to build killer robots -- things that Lucy has no experience or skill in. But she better not have the lowest grades at the end of the week, because that is when the student with them is sent to detention. And no student has been seen after they have been sent to detention. Considering the nature of school, no one is thinking that is because the kids in detention are having so much fun that they have completely forgotten to come back to their dorm room or the dining hall. Lucy stumbled across some secrets, some of which help her along and set up things for the next volume, provided she survives the first detention selection at the end of her first horrible week. But that experience gives her a goal to focus on.

This is one Seven Seas' successes, and they have already gone back to press within a month of its release. It's also the only book that was created by someone outside of Asia to win a major international contest for manga in Japan. The title revels in finding an expectation and then breaking it. The fellow outcast she meets on the first day? Gone in less than ten pages rather turning into the Ron to Lucy's Harry. Her Hermione, on the other hand, definitely has his own agenda, and despite being the child of dentist, she has no idea how to be a mad scientist, she has no inherent skills or prophesied abilities, but she is willing to work long and hard at it in order to become better. Not only just to survive, but to have a goal greater than that, a goal that the rest of the students, perhaps due to their expectations, have apparently never have thought of.

The art is the mad scientist clockwork design, and all of the teachers of the school, the Engineers, show both their strangeness but at the same time their approachability in their design. Miss Notch goes from kindly doorkeeper to ferocious jailer without any radical transformation sequence but instead through just demeanor -- which is a harder trick than one would think. There are a few points where I thought it just didn't quite close the gap or hit just the right note, but because the story was willing to ignore what it was supposed to do and with an art style that is impeccably matched with the material, this book is still worth a look.

Hollow Fields, vol. 2 is also available from Right Stuf, Intl., an online retailer specializing in anime and manga.

- Ferdinand

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