A young scholar sleeping in a temple courtyard encounters the beautiful daughter of a government official. It’s not quite love at first sight, but both parties are intrigued; before long, a clandestine second meeting is arranged. So begins The History of the West Wing, a manhua adaptation of a classic Chinese play (Xixiang Ji by Wang Shifu).Every so often I will come across a volume of sequential art and wonder, “How on earth did this get licensed?” I don’t always ask this question because the work itself is unworthy of such attention; I am just a realist about the fact that the most marketable works get licensed quickly, while niche works tend to languish in licensing limbo. Yet every so often, a lower-profile work will sneak through the system and end up on US shelves. The History of the West Wing is one of these works. There is a little in this manhua that will appeal to the Naruto and Vampire Knight fans that drive a lot of the graphic novel market. It’s a standalone volume based on a classic Chinese play that is not particularly well-known on these shores. There are no wuxia touches, nor are there vampires or shinigami: just a small love story unwinding along fairly predictable lines.
As a published work, it is impressive to look. The slim volume’s interior is printed in full color, explaining the higher-than-usual price point. The sweetness and pastels of Guo Guo’s art aren’t precisely to my personal taste, but her work is undeniably pretty. The attention to detail in the period costumes is particularly nice.
Unfortunately, the story is less compelling. I suspect it inherits its flaws from its source material; the flatness of the characterization is very reminiscent of the style of similar traditional tales. And as reader, I am probably too accustomed to the storytelling methods of shojo manga, where there is generally an intense focus on the inner lives of the characters; the lack of such character development here is very frustrating.
The History of the West Wing will probably appeal most to readers with an interest in the art or the source text; others may not find the rather superficial story to be worth the $12.99 retail price.
Review copy provided by Yen Press.
Review originally published at MangaLife.com