Digital Review: Orange Crows Volume 1

Orange Crows Volume 1
By: James Perry II and Ryo Kawakami
Publisher: Tokyopop
Age Rating: 13+
Genre: Fantasy
Price: $10.99
Rating: ★★★★☆

Five years ago, a young witch named Cierra broke the one unforgivable law of the witch society: attempting to create her own magic. Her unlawful tampering burned down a research room and injured the Mayor’s daughter, Cierra’s best friend. As punishment, she was exiled to the Wilderness, a barren wasteland crawling with witch-devouring Fairies and the bloodthirsty Forsaken…After surviving for five ruthless years, her exile has now ended, and she has been ushered back to civilization, only to discover that the world around her has changed greatly. Will Cierra be able to adjust back to a society that abandoned her? And if her freakish new ability that links her to the terrifying Fairies is discovered, she may not be let off with mere exile this time…

Orange Crows is a new OEL manga from Tokyopop.  I really knew nothing about it, and the cover didn’t intrigue me in anyway, but with a link to read the whole volume for free coming in my email, I decided to check it out.

I actually liked it.  The story and characters are well written and nicely developed.  We first meet Cienna in exile.  She lives alone in a deserted opera house with her cursed hat Grim.  She is bandaged all over, most notably over her face, covering one eye.  She is haunted by her past, which returns very suddenly in the form of the Orange Crows, a special team of witchs and warlocks sent to bring her back from her exile.  The team is led by Natalie, Cienna’s best friend, who she thought had died in the explosion that caused her exile.

The focus of the this first volume is on Cienna and Natalie.  A flashback explains how they met and how and why Cienna was exiled.  Cienna was Natalie’s first real friend.  And even though Cienna started being friends to use Natalie’s influence, she actually found her to be a good friend.  She lost sight of that at the end, causing her exile.  This haunts her throughout the volume.  She wants to apologize to Natalie.  She wants to be friends again, but it isn’t until the end that we see Natalie really wants that too.

Even though the rest of the Orange Crows aren’t given a lot of time, the writer still does a good job of establishing them with small scenes that make them more than just supporting characters.  There’s Jack with his chain smoking and vendetta against the “One-Eyed Demon” for killing his brother, Spartacus and his eternal bad luck, and Yorki  and her bratty attitude.  There’s nothing annoying or overly sterotypical about them, not even Yorki.  It was refreshing.

What really intrigued me about the story and will get me returning for the second volume is the mystery around Cienna and her covered eye.  When she is reinstated to Witch society, the healers offer to lighten her scar on her face, but she refuses, saying it was her sin to bare.  We first get an inkling that there’s something strange about her eye in the first “meeting” with Jack and Spartacus.  But, when Cienna joins the Orange Crows on an escort mission to another district over the Wilderness, she uses it to save the ship, and in the process exposes that “sin”.  The volume ends without giving an explanation, “forcing” the readers to come back.  The mystery is well seeded and executed.

The art is well done.  The use of screen tone is toned down, and the artist uses a variety of it, giving a very distinctive feeling to the scenes.  While there are some comedic moments, the artist never resorts to chibis, which would really kill the overall serious tone of the story.  The only thing I don’t like, and this is a personal preference only, is the big, curvy pointed shoes people are so determined to give witches.  but I do like the scarf.

All in all, Orange Crows is a title I would definitely invest some time and money into.  The strong characters and intriguing mystery set up in this first volume do make me want to come back and find out more.  Hopefully the momentum is kept up for the next volume.

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