At some point during school, I’m sure many if not all of you were forced to read at least one of Shakespeare’s many plays, and I’m sure a lot of you struggled with how it was written and the many words he decided to make up for himself. I know I read quite a bit of Shakespeare during my time in school, and out of school actually. But what has stuck in my mind the most was the adaptations of his plays, whether it be the vast number of movies that took his plays to the big screen or the comics that translated his prose into another interesting visual format. In the realm of classic literature, adapting prose into comic format has been gaining popularity over time. The Bible, Shakespeare, Alexander Dumas, classic children’s literature, all the way up to modern popular prose have been given the comic treatment. Just recently, I reviewed the comic adaptation of Fangirl, a popular YA title by Rainbow Rowell. Now, Udon Entertainment has contacted me to review their Manga Classics line through a sponsorship. Luckily, they had one of my favorite Shakespeare titles, A Midsummer Night’s Dream, that takes us into the world of English folklore with mischievous faeries and classic Shakespeare antics.
A Midsummer Night’s Dream is a trip in and of itself as the characters are drawn into the antics and in-fighting of the faerie realm of English folklore. It’s a great example of a Shakespearean comedy with a host of misconceptions that force the characters into crazy situations, the contrast between love and reason often leading the characters into conflict, and the meddling of powers out of their control like the mischievous actions of Puck and the vengefulness of Oberon. Udon Entertainment has taken this classic comedy and given it new life through this manga adaptation, with art by Po Tse that really brings out the feelings and fantastical nature of the play.
Adapting classic literature and prose fiction into comic format has been a common practice for publishers for many a decade now. According to Publisher’s Weekly, it is often used by publishers who have diversified their imprints to include lists that include graphic novels. In adapting prose works, they hope to bring in both the existing fans of the prose author and attract new graphic novel fans to the original prose works, thus increasing the overall fan base and sales. For classic literature, or literature now in the Public Domain, the intentions are a little different. Classic literature is often adapted into comic form, not only because it’s in the public domain and easily reprinted, but in an effort to increase literacy by presenting often difficult prose in a more manageable form. They are often used as a gateway to getting comic fans or young readers into prose fiction and nonfiction. However, comic and graphic novel adaptations, I believe, can be works of art in their own right, standing on their own content for fans of the medium.
Udon Entertainment’s adaptation of A Midsummer Night’s Dream touches on all of these aspects. I think it serves well as both a gateway for young readers to get a better sense of Shakespeare in a new medium and a work of literature in its own right. Shakespeare can be difficult to read on it’s own, with whole classes that can be dedicated to deciphering his complicated prose. Adding a visual medium alongside his prose adds a layer of clarity to the play as it allows the reader to match expressions, visual representations of emotions, and actions to prose that may not be as easy to understand. You could make the argument that his prose could be translated into a more easy-to-understand version, but I honestly love the original, and I’m glad Udon decided to keep it as-is for this version. Hearing the cadence and rhyme through the prose creates another kind of feeling that works especially well with a story so deeply ingrained in English folklore. I think seeing these prose with a more easily decipherable medium will allow readers to gain a better appreciation of Shakespeare’s writing as a whole.
Po Tse did a great job with the visuals as well. I love the character designs they came up with and the way the action of the play is told through the panels and art. It is definitely created in a style with manga fans in mind, with the character designs, expressions, and effects used are more commonly seen in manga than in western comics. It makes sense though considering how popular manga has become among young readers, even more so in some cases than western comics in the United States. Po Tse and the story adapter, Crystal Chan, did a great job breaking down this complicated play into easy to digest panels that make the action a lot easier to understand. For me, coming back to Shakespeare after so many years of not reading it, this adaptation of one of my favorite of his plays was very fun to read. I love seeing how this crazy adventure through folklore, faeries, misunderstandings, and romance gets translated into so many different forms.
If you don’t have a lot of experience with A Midsummer Night’s Dream, but love manga like Ancient Magus Bride, I would suggest you check out one of the influences for that manga series. Romance and magic is a primary focus here, and readers of manga may find the misunderstandings between characters as a familiar plot device in many romance or comedy manga. We see a couple fleeing from an arranged marriage, meddling faeries casting spells to switch around a love triangle, and a vengeful king playing a prank on his queen by making her fall in love with a donkey-headed actor who was unknowingly brought into their quarrel. I have to admit the story can get very convoluted with a bunch of things happening at once, but I think once you get invested in the story, it will become much more easy to understand.
If you’re a combination Shakespeare and manga fan like me, I think you’ll find this adaptation very entertaining, if only to see these classic characters in a whole new way. If you’re a manga fan looking to dip your toes into some more classic franchises, consider giving this one a try if only to prevent you from getting put-off by the convoluted Shakespearean prose of the original plays.
If I’ve convinced you to pick this up, then I have a surprise for you! You can use coupon code SHOPBLOOM for $5 off a $25 purchase on the Udon Entertainment store. A portion of the sales will go back to this blog!
~~Thanks for Reading!~~
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