Manga Review: Wanted

I was originally thinking about doing a video game post today, but I decided to do a manga review. I haven’t done those since my review on Sailor Moon, Tokyopop vs. Kodansha. I went back to some of the numerous shojo manga I own and reread Wanted, a one volume short story by Matsuri Hino of Vampire Knight and MeruPuri fame.

Wanted is a pirate manga as Matsuri Hino describes the one volume story in her own author’s notes inside the book. She also mentions how she drew this short story manga at the same time as MeruPuri. This post contains some spoilers so I advise you to read at your own discretion.

The story begins with the main heroine Armeria as a young girl in Governor Lanceman’s estate on the Mediteranean sea. In narration she says how she lost both her parents and ended up joining a musical troupe that performs for the aristocrats in their estates in the area. The governor demands another song out of Armeria. Her charge is clearly concerned about her, trying to protest against the governor’s demands as Armeria’s throat is already exhausted from all the singing she does. Armeria reassures her charge that it’s fine and obliges the governor. Her song is cut short by Luce, Governor Lanceman’s young nephew, who intervenes and demands his uncle to stop torturing the girl. Luce then drags Armeria away from his uncle and the room full of guests. Armeria recalls how Luce is the only aristocrat she has met who is very kind to her. It’s also obvious in typical shojo manga fashion that she has a huge crush on him.

Luce takes Armeria to a field where armeria flowers grow. He tells her he wanted to show her the flower that is her namesake. He plucks one for her and gives it to her. The tender moment between the two kids is interrupted when a pirate and his gang closes in on them. The Pirate Skulls recognizes Luce as a member of the governor’s family and decides to take him as a hostage much to Armeria’s horror. The Pirate Skulls declares to the governor that he will keep Luce hostage until he gives back “the wealth he stole from the poor.” The cannons fire and the mansion is burning. The governor escapes the chaos as everyone else on the grounds scatter. Armeria wants to get Luce back, but is being held back by her mistress. Armeria tells of how that night she caught a glimpse of death’s tattoo, a hooded skeleton gripping a scythe on the chest of Pirate Skulls. It is also the night she vows to look for Luce and save him.

Flash forward to eight years later and Armeria, now going by the name Arto, has boarded the pirate ship of Skulls disguised as a boy. It takes her some time to locate the ship and she finally succeeds. On board, she comes face to face with Pirate Captain Skulls, recognizing the same tattoo from that night Luce gets taken away. She is taken aback by how young Skulls is and almost mistakes him for being Luce because the two have the same hair color. Skulls is at first upset that his crew took on another man on the ship, but decides to keep Arto on board as long as he pulls his weight around the ship.

That night after a day of hard labor, Arto is thinking about how to approach Skulls about Luce. Her mind drifts off and she begins to sing a lovely tune. One of the crew members, mistaking her beautiful singing voice to be a siren, accidentally shoots Arto in the arm and she falls overboard. Skulls dives in to save her and pulls her back on the ship. The crew members, checking to see how severe Arto’s wound is, open up his shirt to reveal breasts. The crew is stunned to find that a woman has snuck onto their ship. With Arto’s cover blown, she has no choice but to reveal to Skulls and his crew that she is looking for Luce, a boy they kidnapped and took on their ship eight years ago. Skulls harshly and bluntly tells her that Luce is dead and he killed himself. Arto refuses to believe Skulls, but can’t question him further as she is sent off to see Doc their ship’s medical physician.

Once her wound is treated, Skulls comes to collect Arto and brings her to his room. He tells her that she will be sleeping with him, but she is against it. Skulls throws her on the bed and barks at her to make a choice: either stay in his company alone or be shared by the rest of the crew. Being the stubborn girl she is, Arto insists Luce is not dead. Skulls proclaims that Arto does not remember what Luce looks like as he proceeds to undress her. She struggles against Skulls and calls out Luce’s name. The name stops Skulls from having his way with Arto and backs off. He lets her sleep on his bed while he takes the floor. This confuses Arto, but Skulls explains that he stopped what he was doing not because he is protecting her but because she looks too much like a scrawny lad that he can’t do it.

A few incidents and a siege on the pirate ship by a marquis who takes Arto as his hostage on the brink of a very dangerous situation, reveals the true identity of Skulls aka Luce who yells out Arto’s real name. Arto is shocked that Skulls knew her real name when she hasn’t told it to anyone on the ship. She finally puts two and two together that the boy she has been searching for all this time was right in front of her. It also shows that Skulls knew who she really was for quite some time now. In later pages, Doc explains to Arto that Luce decided to take up piracy as a way of helping those less fortunate from the corrupt and conniving aristocrats like his uncle. Doc also reveals that he is the original Skulls and shows Arto the same tattoo Luce now wears himself. Doc retired from the business and became the kind doctor she now knows on the ship.

The rest of the volume has short little adventure chapters from run ins with the Navy to a journey into a cave to look for a legendary Devil’s Score composed by a renown composer. Each chapter reveals Armeria’s and Skulls’ conflicting feelings for each other. Armeria is trying to accept the new Luce as not quite the boy she remembered and Skulls is trying to get past his vision of her as the young songstress he protected from his uncle all those years ago. A lot of it are glimpses into how the couple view each other, but Matsuri Hino seems to make one thing clear about Armeria and Skulls––they do care for each other deeply. Skulls may act as the tough, womanizing pirate he is now but inside he still is Luce. Now that Armeria is back in his life, he can’t bring himself to let her go.

Considering just how short this manga is I kind of feel as if Matsuri Hino may have been able to flesh out the story of Armeria and her Pirate Captain Skulls into two more additional volumes at least if she had the chance or maybe if continuing the story is something she still wanted to do. In the brief little profile descriptions she included on all the main crew members, particularly Doc, she did say she would have wanted to draw the scene where Doc passes over the Skulls torch to Luce. This is what the manga is sorely lacking, the back story of Luce during his time on the pirate ship and how he became Skulls. What was the original Skulls like? Did Luce have to convince Doc that he could carry on the Skulls name? I really would have liked to have seen that.

When reading the manga, it feels very much like a Pirates of the Caribbean type of story. It’s exciting to see what kind of trouble or adventures Skulls and his gang get into. It’s also cute to see in some of the panels how the usually rough and rowdy crew get all gushy when they witness their usually tough as nails captain get soft on Arto. They even tease him about it.

While the manga is an enjoyable read, it does fall flat in some areas. The shortness of this volume doesn’t give Armeria and Skulls much depth as characters. At times I feel the two of them are stuck in their two-dimensional shojo stereotypes. Skulls is the handsome bad boy with a heart of gold underneath. Armeria is the damsel in distress who despite her best intentions and her desire to be the tough girl who can take care of herself ends up needing her butt saved by her love interest all the time. Whether Matsuri Hino intended on continuing their story or just leaving the volume as it is, the manga left me wanting more. The last chapter of Wanted ties itself up into a neat standalone story, but there is potential to go beyond the standalone adventure chapters and make something bigger and better than what is currently given to the manga reader now. The couple’s story leaves the rest up to the imagination.

If you want to read a high seas adventure filled with danger, romance, and some humor then you may want to pick this up. It’s a short but enjoyable ride type of manga. If you are looking for something with more substance then you won’t find it in this manga. The development of the characters and a main story is very minimal or completely absent.

Reviewer Rating: 8/10

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