Little Ran Uruma can’t find her sneakers. Given the chaotic state of her bedroom, that’s not so much of a surprise – but why has big brother Jin hidden them? These are no ordinary sneakers – and the instant Ran finds them and puts them on, she transforms into an adult. For this is no ordinary household; their mother, Lady Shizuka is the Grand Sorceress whose work is so important she can only visit her family from time to time. And Ran wants to be like her mother – and more specifically, she wants to learn how to fly. With the help of the magical sneakers, she sets out – landing herself (and poor Jin who has to try to find her) in no end of trouble.
When Ran transforms, she becomes – outwardly – a gorgeous young woman. But inwardly, she’s still a little girl, which leads to many misunderstandings, not least when she crash lands in the penthouse roof garden of rich and bored playboy Otaro Mikado. Intrigued by the beautiful young woman who has literally dropped into his life, he sets her to work painting a mural in his guest room – and her spontaneous, lively approach captivates him to the extent that he’s soon joining in. Of course, he has no idea that she’s really a little girl, in spite of her rather naive style of painting – and he’s smitten. Although he’s somewhat bemused to notice that she’s glowing. Where is this all going to end?
Ran and the Gray World is the first of Aki Irie’s manga to be translated into English – and it’s surprising that it’s taken ten long years to reach us because it’s an amazingly inspiring piece of graphic storytelling. VIZ Signature have produced a handsome edition in large format that showcases the intricacies of the mangaka’s art. Ran’s irresistible energy sweeps the narrative and the reader along in a madcap, breathtaking series of images, using different-sized panels to maximum effect. And not just for Ran: the sequence in Chapter 3 ‘Jin Goes to Battle’ where brother Jin’s shapeshifting abilities are revealed as he sets out to track her down is wonderfully and fluidly drawn. But Aki Irie doesn’t just excel at conveying dynamic movement (you almost feel as if you’ve been watching an animation as you turn the pages) she’s also a skilled graphic artist when it comes to conveying characters through their body language and facial reactions. And the little details that go to make up Ran’s world are lovingly detailed (especially the weirdness that ensues when Lady Shizuka drops in on her family). And even though we haven’t seen much of the bigger picture (such as why Lady Shizuka has to live apart from her family and, it seems, work constantly to maintain some kind of cosmic balance) the characters are so vividly portrayed that whether its Ran’s taunting classmates at school or Lady Shizuka’s heavenly handmaidens, they are all distinctive and memorable.
The translation and adaptation into English have been smoothly handled by Emi Louie-Nishikawa for VIZ and the volume is rated Older Teen for 16+; the reasons for this rating are given as ‘brief nudity and suggestive themes’ (it was originally published in a seinen magazine).
Ran and the Gray World gets off to a terrifically energetic and exuberant start, with a likable (unquenchable) young heroine, an imaginative treatment of its fantasy elements and some exceptional artwork. I can’t wait to see where it goes in the ensuing six volumes (the series is complete)!
Find out more about this series at VIZ Media’s site here