Manga Village

Utahime: The Songstress

June 22, 2009

For centuries, a far-off kingdom has been protected by the nightly singing of the Utahime.  This powerful voice is only passed down from one female songstress to another within the Utahime’s bloodline.  Then the impossible happens…a male songstress has been born.  What follows then is a bitter-sweet and tragic tale revolving around this reluctant Utahime.

By Aki
Publisher: Digital Manga Publishing
Genre: Fantasy/Drama
Age Rating: 16+
Price: $12.95

While the description goes on about the male songstress, this title is actually about three friends, Kain, Maria and Thomas.  Fate ties them together, but misunderstandings tear them apart.  It is only through the realization of the truth that they are brought back together, though not in time to prevent tragedy.  But regret can become hope if one tries.

Utahime begins in the present, where we meet Kain, the male songstress who has taken over for his sister, Maria, who died suddenly, and Thomas the village head who helps to keep Kain’s secret.  The power of the songstress is supposed to be passed down from mother to daughter, but with twins Kain and Maria, it somehow passed on to Kain.  The story then jumps back in time to when Thomas, Maria and Kain first met, with each chapter being told primarily from one of their perspectives, and slowly returns us to the present.  Each of them make decisions that ultimately affects the others, though not always in ways they intended.  They say the path to Hell is paved with good intentions, and in some ways that’s seen in this book.  Kain, Thomas, and Maria all do things that they think they should for the good of the others, but often ending up only making things worse.

I really enjoyed this volume, despite it’s bitter-sweetness.  I’ve never been much for tragic tales, but this one is different.  It didn’t go for melodrama to pull your heartstrings.  It simply tells a tale of motives, misunderstandings, unspoken feelings, and the regret that comes from all those things.  The characters are well written and developed that we come to know how they feel and understand them.  Several times in my head I was screaming at Kain to just accept the truth and go home!  I wanted to shake Maria into realizing that Thomas cares for her, not the Utahime she is thought to be.  That I could feel such connection in a single volume says a lot.

Of course it’s the characters that make this all work.  Kain is blunt and snarky, often very antagonistic toward Thomas.  Lectured by his mother to protect Maria and ignored by the villagers because he was a boy, it’s easy to see how he came to be so hostile.  Thomas, a friend to Kain despite his mistrust, is reliable and patient, taking Kain’s verbal abuse, knowing it’s not meant personally.  The two men ultimately play off each other very well, making for some humorous moments.  Maria, sweet and naive, is the tragic figure.  Betrayed by her mother, she still feels duty bound to act as the Utahime, an act that ultimate costs her her life.

The art is nice, but there nothing special about it.  The men are bishonen and the girls are cute.  But being so character driven, you don’t really want to be distracted by the art.  It’s there to support the story and does it perfectly.  There is a bonus story at the end that takes place in the same world, Darika, but somehow doesn’t fit with the main story.  I would like to see more of this world though.

Utahime is an excellent read.  The well written story and strong characters will have your heartstrings tugged at, but not strangled.  The drama isn’t tinged with too much romance so boys can enjoy the unfolding story just as much as the girls.  I give a strong recommendation for this title.

Review copy provided by Publisher.

About the author

Lori Henderson is the writer and reviewer for the manga blog, Manga Xanadu. She also keeps a personal blog at Fangirl Xanadu, and a writing blog at Muse of Xanadu. She contributes to the Good Comics for Kids blog at School Library Journal. As the mother of two teen daughters, she needs all the escape she can get, which reading and writing about manga gives her.

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