When I recently solicited opinions about which of several shoujo fantasies I should read, respondents were clearly in favor of From Far Away and left enticing comments about its charms as well as their abiding love for it. Because of its length (fourteen volumes), I’ve decided to tackle it in chunks. Here’s the first installment; others will follow soon!
This is the story of Noriko Tachiki, an ordinary schoolgirl who is suddenly transported to another world. The residents there believe in the legend of The Awakening, a being who will come to awaken and control the Sky Demon, a powerful monster sought after by the various countries in the world. Izark Kia Tarj, a traveling warrior whose parents struck up a bargain to raise him until he becomes the Sky Demon, goes to the area where The Awakening is due to appear, intent on killing it, but when he finds it to be an innocent girl with absolutely no knowledge of her significance, he ends up helping her elude monsters as well as those who would wish to capture her. She accompanies him on his travels, and on the way they help the downtrodden with their problems, be they bands of thieves, monsters, or corrupt government officials. As Noriko and Izark spend more time together, the connection between them deepens, but too much togetherness also accelerates Izark’s transformation.
Stories where schoolgirls are mysteriously conveyed to other lands aren’t exactly rare in the land of manga. I bet you can think of several without even trying. What sets From Far Away apart is two things: likable characters and storytelling skill.
Noriko may think she’s an ordinary girl, but compared to other shoujo heroines in her position, she’s a marvel. She can get shaken and upset, true, but she manages to do so without ever being whiny. In fact, shedding tears causes her shame, and she tries hard to be brave and useful. One of the best examples of her maturity comes when Izark seeks to leave her with a trusted friend, Gaya. Even though she feels insecure without him around, Noriko does not throw a hissy fit. Instead, she thanks him properly for all that he has done for her and only once he has gone does she break down. Izark is interesting, too. He’s got a complex about being regarded as a monster by his own family, and Noriko’s worry and care over him affects him greatly. (If you just thought of Kyo and Tohru from Fruits Basket, I assure you you’re not alone.) Eventually, he finds himself becoming attached to her and it’s really wonderful when he begins to initiate the post-danger relief hugs that Noriko had been trying to restrain, believing that he didn’t like it when she did that. Usually badass heroes with this much angst aren’t known for being demonstrative.
The supporting cast is pretty great, too. I love that this is not one of those series where all of the good guys are attractive. As Izark and Noriko travel and help people, they begin to amass a band of allies, among whom are a few bishounen but also some different character types. Barago, a guy Izark was forced to fight in an arena, is big and burly with a receding hairline and I was really happy when he ended up tagging along. Gaya is not pretty and has a rather matronly figure, but is nonetheless acknowledged as a skilled warrior in her own right. She’s also kind-hearted, and watching her girlishly dash about after Izark in a chapter detailing their first meeting somehow begins to make her seem more feminine. A perfect happy ending would have Barago and Gaya get together.
As far as storytelling goes, there are a number of things that make From Far Away unique. Foremost is the fact that Noriko is not instantly able to understand Izark’s language when she first meets him. Early volumes, therefore, rely a good deal on non-verbal storytelling, which is something I always love a great deal. It’s not until the third volume, after making a concerted effort to learn the language, that she is really able to make herself understood and able to pick up the gist of what’s being said around her (like the fact that she may be this Awakening thing everyone’s talking about.) Secondly, though the story essentially progresses in an episodic manner, each scenario is used to achieve important character moments. The more Izark uses his powers, for example, the more danger he faces of transforming into a monster. Things come to a head at the end of the fifth volume and if you’re going to read this in chunks like I’m doing, I advise you to try to get that far before pausing. It’s definitely worth it.
The only real complaint I could make about the storytelling is that sometimes, when a few things are going on at once, it’s possible to become a little lost in terms of chronology. As an unrelated complaint, the VIZ edition sometimes translates the sound effects in silly ways. “Shazam” is a particular favorite.
With so many countries out to obtain the Awakening, as well as the sense of foreboding concerning Noriko’s potential to turn Izark into a destructive beast, it seems likely the plot will become even more dark and complex as it goes along. Right now, Noriko is easy to like and sympathize with, but I suspect I shall like the story even more when she’s experiencing some genuine anguish. While I do earnestly wish for a happy ending for all, a little pain along the way will only make it that much better.
Thanks, again, to all who recommended this series to me! Reviews of the remaining volumes are forthcoming!