Wednesday, May 1, 2013

Manga Review: Golondrina volume 1

est em became well-known known for her BL manga. She seems to have an affinity for stories set around the world, particularly Spain, so it follows that the series she has running in Ikki (the offbeat seinen magazine that ran Nakamura Ching's Gunjo and Onozucca Kahori's Aido), starring a lesbian lead, takes place in Seville. When I first heard about Golondrina, I wasn't sure how much I would like it since its protagonist aims to become a matador and bullfighting disgusts me, but I found it compelling and want to see what happens next.

Chica (a nickname, not her real name) decides to commit suicide after her girlfriend Maria dumps her in a horrible way. Maria breaks the news that she's pregnant, not even acknowledging how much she's hurting Chica by bringing it up it as if she were confiding in a friend. Chica was abandoned by her parents, so what Maria did, wretched as it is, isn't the only thing causing her major pain- it's the straw that broke the camel's back.

Chica can't bring herself to take a blade to her wrist in the bathroom, with her roommate Seche asking if she's okay outside it, so she decides to run into traffic. The car she runs in front of misses her, and its driver, an old man named Antonio, asks what the hell she's doing. When she tells him she's trying to die, he talks her out of at least using that method ("You'd make innocent people into murderers.") and drives her to his home. She wakes up there the next morning.

Antonio turns out to be a matador coach. When Chica learns that he considered making her into a matador until he realized she's female from changing her out of her rain-drenched clothes, she insists that he take her on as a pupil. Because pro bullfighting deaths still get publicity, Chica wants to die in the bullring, counting on Maria seeing the coverage of it.

Seche finds Chica and Antonio outside Seville's bullfighting stadium, worried sick over Chica. Naturally, he worries even more when he finds out what Chica wants to do and why.

Seche does some research on Antonio and finds out that the last matador Antonio coached, a star of bullfighting whose death rocked the country ten years ago when Chica was five, died because Antonio sent him back into the ring after a bull badly injured him.

We see that the matador, Francisco, begged to be allowed to finish the fight, and Antonio let him do so because he believes in "following the will of the matador." Even though Antonio says he doesn't regret letting Francisco make his fatal decision, he is clearly still haunted by it. Chica finds out the truth about Francisco, but would have been fine with Antonio being her coach regardless. (Antonio's professed feelings about what happened with Francisco aren't the only glaring example of self-deception in this volume. When Chica dated Maria, Maria scoffed at women who date men for being "fake" to impress them while imposing her own style onto Chica, who did/wore whatever she could to make Maria love her.)

Seche decides to become Chica's matador assistant so he can keep an eye on Antonio because he still doesn't trust him.

After months of training, Antonio takes Chica to a bull ranch, where she meets Vicente, the son of a famous matador who expects to be a bullfighting star himself. He doesn't endear himself much to Chica by assuming Seche is Antonio's new trainee instead of her. Chica faces off against her first bull, a smaller one than normal... and fails.

Like I said, this is a compelling series so far. Not only is its art top-notch, it's very well-written. I want to see how Chica and Antonio resolve their issues. (And crikey, I really want to give poor Chica a hug.) Chica herself is a spirited protagonist- as in her response to Antonio when he accuses her of being unable to stomach the sight of blood. (She sticks her hand down her pants, shows Antonio her bloody fingertips and is like, "I'm more than used to seeing blood, idiot.")

Like many a fictional trainee and coach, Chica and Antonio fall into the "hotheaded greenhorn/hard-assed instructor" dynamic, but are fleshed out beyond that enough to feel like people you might know.

Seche is realistic also- and I felt for him when Chica said she was sure he would threw her away at some point, even though they're like siblings. His approach to how Chica should resolve her issues (telling her she's selfish and should just forget Maria), while well-meaning, really misses the mark, but I got the impression that we aren't meant to see Chica's issues as something she can just snap out of through sheer strength of will- she isn't "weak", just in a lot of pain without seeing an end to it. (Fyi, Gar Gar Stegosaurus' Day wrote an excellent review of Sand Chronicles volume 1, better explaining the importance of suicidal feelings not being portrayed as a symptom of weakness.) If my impression is off the mark (I'm open to critique), or turns out to be, I am willing to revise it, of course.

In short, this series is worth reading for its characters, with est em's eye-popping artwork as icing on the cake. Golondrina certainly won't be everyone's cup of tea, but I'm looking forward to volume 2.

Story: Surprisingly excellent.
Art: A
Overall: A-

"Golondrina" is Spanish for "swallow", as in the bird. I'm not sure what its significance as this series' title is. I suppose est em may have just thought it rolls off the tongue nicely, but I like to think she put at least a little more thought into it than that.

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