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Manga Shakespeare: The Merchant of Venice

A comic review article by: Eric Jones
Without a doubt, The Merchant of Venice is one of Shakespeare's best-known plays. Even if you haven't read it, you've surely heard the often-quoted line that it's infamous for, “The pound of flesh which I demand of him is mine, and I will have it.”

Now I'm not going to go into a great deal of detail about the story here; after all, this is a book review, not a study guide! Suffice it to say that this book lives up to every testemonial on its rear cover, because this is possibly one of the best adaptations of the Bard's works ever. It’s even better than the infamous 1996 film adaptation of Romeo & Juliet starring Leonardo DiCaprio and Claire Danes.

With a few small and minor tweaks, Richard Appignanesi and Faye Yong have turned The Merchant of Venice into an epic fantasy tale with a very elven flair. Yes, elves. You can't escape the sea of pointy ears when you look at the cover, so if you're put off by elves you'll, unfortunately, be missing out on a lot.

The cover is a richly painted piece that could easily be a movie poster, and the beautifully illustrated way in which they introduce us to the setting and dramatis personæ (latin for “persons or characters of the drama”) in the first nine pages could easily belong on any art gallery walls.

There are many different manga works to which you could compare this book. However, despite any similarities to other pieces, this manga Merchant of Venice easily stands on its own.

The moments of action are marked with sharp lines and the sense of urgency that one would expect from a frenzied DragonBall Z fight scene; the easier and slightly more light and jovial moments are marked with chibi-ized depictions of the characters. Portia's complaints and pining upon how her situation has essentially shackled her heart and destiny is very poignantly shown in one of the most almost-erotic scenes that I've seen in a non-hentai manga.

Shylock is usually surrounded by a miasma that accentuates his status as “the evil character” in the book, and every individual gets the same quality treatment--which is one more reason why you really have to respect the work that Appignanesi and Yong have put into this project.

All in all, I can't say anything other than I love it. The only reason I didn't give this magical, marvelous masterpiece five bullets is that nothing is perfect. However, this time I came very darn close to overlooking that.

Manga Shakespeare: The Merchant of Venice belongs on the shelf of not only every manga lover, but lovers of fine literature everywhere. I'll even go a step farther to recommend that Reading and English Literature teachers use this book as a tool in the classroom to educate students on the finer points of Shakespeare, as its manga status will have the added pop-culture appeal that most study aids could use to help pique the interests of most people nowadays.

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