Manga of the Month: Isabella Bird in Wonderland

Isabella Bird in Wonderland (ふしぎの国のバード) by Taiga Sassa

Adventuress and writer Isabella Bird arrived in 1870s-era Japan with a grand plan to travel all through the country recording her experience with the culture and people along the way. But Japan was extensively closed to foreigners; few if any were let past the major cities and left to explore the greater country.

Isabella’s fame as a traveler, the help of a friend, and a little extra time spent in Edo gained her access to a rare, unrestricted passport. With her indispensable interpreter Ito in tow, Isabella set off to see the country and make her way north to meet the Ainu people.

During the Meiji-restoration Japan was in a place of great transition. New political rule and a move to new technological advances were soon to change the face of the country and make certain ways of life by-gone. Isabella’s culture shock was played for laughs, but she was deeply interested in the ways of this foreign world and respected it. She was full of humor, wit, kindness, and curiosity.

Taiga Sassa’s art is lush with minute details bring the period to life, and it was inevitable that I would pour over each crafted item, piece of clothing, or architectural component just as Isabella did. Sassa’s precise line work extends to the characters and their expressions as well whether conveying something subtle with their eyes or an over-top reaction. A beautiful manga that feels in line with the work of Kaoru Mori.

Isabella and her travels are real! This manga is based on her actual writings. Having not read Isabella Bird’s travel diary Unbeaten Tracks in Japan, I don’t know how closely this manga sticks to its source material. A rare bilingual edition of the first volume of this manga came out in Japan (which is how I read it).

~kate

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