Frau Faust, Vol. 1

By Kore Yamazaki. Released in Japan by Kodansha, serialization ongoing in the magazine Itan. Released in North America by Kodansha Comics. Translated by Stephen Paul.

There is a scene towards the start of this manga where the title character is quizzing her protege about the history of their land that he had read. He parrots what he learned perfectly, but she quickly corrects his facts, saying that the actual reality wasn’t what was in the history books. This is something every kid growing up is going to come across sooner or later – certainly my generation learned a very whitewashed history in elementary school – and is always well worth pointing out. Don’t always take facts that you’re given at face value. The manga itself is another example, as it takes place seemingly in a world where the classic story of Faust is well known. But into this story comes our heroine, Johanna Faust, who most certainly is not the antihero we expected. And as we get further into the story, we find that a lot of other Faustian bargains may also be more than they seem.

The narrative of this story is not unfamiliar to manga readers, or indeed any reader of classic stories. Frau Faust comes to a small town on a mission, and happens to run into a boy, Marion, who’s being chased for stealing a book. After helping him escape, he explains that it was in fact his family’s book – their stuff was sold off, and he was trying to get it back. Needing a pasty – sorry, partner in order to achieve what she wants, she decides to become his tutor for a few days, and quickly blows his mind with both what she can teach and the way that she teaches it. Of course, she does have an ulterior motive in mind – she needs a pure-hearted boy like him to invite her into the local church, there to meet the demon Mephistopheles. Or at least a part of him. And their relationship seems to be somewhat more complicated than you’d expect.

As mentioned on the front cover, this is by the author of The Ancient Magus’ Bride, another series I greatly enjoy. This is a bit less introspective, but just as concerned with the nitty gritty of magic and the supernatural. And as you would expect with this author, the artwork is evocative and attractive, giving Faust and her co-stars excellent expressions. As for Faust herself, I was sort of expecting her to be a sly woman who turned out to be a big softie at heart, but I wasn’t expecting it to happen quite so fast, and the second and third chapters had moments of real sweetness in them. Be warned, like a lot of first volumes of shoujo and josei series (this is the latter – Itan is a supernatural/fantasy-oriented josei magazine), there is an unrelated short story at the end. But it’s good, dealing with a young girl whose family has divorced, whose mother drinks a lot, and who isn’t quite as mature as she wants to be, and her encounter with a museum of oddities. The mood fits well with the rest of Frau Faust.

I’ve been looking forward to this series since the moment I heard it was licensed, and it did not disappoint. Definitely any fans of fantasy should pick it up, but even if that’s not your thing give it a try. This makes you want to read the next volume right away.

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