RATING: Teen (13+)
NUMBER OF VOLUMES: 1
SCORE: 7 (Good)
RECOMMENDED FOR FANS OF: CLAMP (mangaka of xxxHolic, Magic Knights Rayearth, Card Captor Sakura, The One I Love, The Legend of Chun Hyang, etc.), supernatural, romance, tragedy
Shirahime-Syo translated into English means “Snow Goddess Tales”, but curiously, the title Snow Goddess (actually a yuki-onna, a spirit from Japanese folklore) only appears in one of the four stories presented in this beautiful short story collection from CLAMP. She is only referenced in the other three winter-based stories by characters who tell of a legend, claiming that the falling snow is the tears of the Snow Princess. Still, the stories are all linked together by their tragic endings, which the Snow Princess comments on in the framing story when she reveals that the snow is not caused by her tears, but by the despair of humans.
The first of the main short stories is called “On Wolf Mountain” and is probably my favorite. In it, a young woman named Fubuki plans revenge for her father’s death at the hands of the savage animal who killed him. He is described as “a wolf the color of night” with “eyes the color of blood”. Her mother is against Fubuki leaving, fearing she will suffer the same end as her father, but Fubuki is adamant about killing the wolf and sets off on her own. While searching for the wolf in the mountains, she comes across a pack of wild dogs, who attack her. Fubuki is certain she is going to die, but she is saved at the last minute by the black wolf she has been looking for.
I liked Fubuki the best out of all the female characters in the story, and though I’m not really a dog lover, I enjoyed the relationship that brewed between her and the wolf, who she named Inuki, as they depended on each other to get through the harsh winter. Those who are attached to their pets, especially dogs, are certain to find the ending particularly heart-breaking.
The second story, called “The Ice Flower” is the shortest and most tragic of the tales. Based on similar stories from around the world, it is about a pair of young lovers who are to be separated when the man decides to set out on a journey. The girl Kaya promises to wait by the lake where they say their goodbyes for as long as it takes for his promised return. Thirty years later, the man finally comes back to the village. Though he knows it is unlikely that Kaya would have really waited for him after so many years, he has to know for certain. He is unprepared for the sight that awaits him at the lake, however. Readers may roll their eyes at the depths Kaya goes to to keep her promise to her lover, but it is romantic in a very tragic way.
“Hiyoku no Tori”, the last tale, is also about separated lovers. A young man decides to become a soldier in order to impress the disapproving father of Yukino, the woman he loves. However, after a battle, he is separated from his troops and becomes lost in a snow-covered area far from civilization. While wandering around, trying to find his way home, he sees a pair of beautiful herons. The sight of them reminds him of how he can’t be with Yukino, and in a jealous rage, he kills one of the birds with his bow and arrow. A few days later, he comes across the heron’s headless carcass again, telling him that all he’s been doing is walking in circles. The man is certain he is going to die without seeing his beloved Yukino again, but then a beautiful woman carrying a skull in her arms appears before him and points him in the direction of his hometown. It’s a somewhat similar story to “On Wolf Mountain”, but I don’t want to ruin the rest of the story, so I won’t say anything more about it.
I enjoyed all the stories, but I think the real beauty of the collection is the artwork. It’s still unmistakably CLAMP, but the style is closer to traditional Japanese artwork, appropriate for a collection of stories based on folklore. I don’t think many would disagree with me when I say that Shirahime-Syo features some of CLAMP’s best art. Unfortunately, I can’t seem to find who was the lead artist for this anthology, but I assume it is probably Mokona, who is the team’s main artist.
For fans of CLAMP’s beautiful artwork, I’d highly recommend picking up a copy of Shirahime-Syo if you can find one. (I picked mine up secondhand, since I believe it is now out of print.) For everyone else… I don’t know. The short stories are solid and the artwork fantastic, but the volume is on the thin side and not as entertaining as some of their other series. Reading Shirahime-Syo feels akin to being assigned a piece of classic literature in English class: the story may be well-written and the plot somewhat interesting, but ultimately you’d rather be reading Harry Potter. (Granted, I actually really loved most of the books I read in school, but I was the minority in my AP English classes.) Still, if you like more literary-minded manga inspired by folklore, this anthology might be worth a glance.
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