7人のシェイクスピア (7-nin no Shakespeare)
7人のシェイクスピア NON SANZ DROICT (7-nin no Shakespeare Non Sanz Droict)
Seinen – Drama, historical
4 Volumes (ongoing)
Long ago, a man with little education rose up and became the most famous writer of all time. But how did William Shakespeare achieve success? Guts, determination, and, most importantly, allies with their own incredible gifts. All the world may be a stage, but for Shakespeare, there’s not doubt that the play’s the thing!
Seven Shakespeare technically has two series in Japan. The original series and the immediate follow-up NON SANZ DROICT. In English, the original six volumes are in a two-in-one format, and the sequel starts in the fourth volume of Seven Shakespeares.
Shakespeare’s works have been performed, referenced, and parodied for hundreds of years, but the man himself is subject to a lot of debate. In fact, depending on how you ask, there are one or two stretches of time where we know very little about what he was doing. The biggest mystery is him leaving his hometown to suddenly becoming a rising playwright seven years later. Considering the title references the number seven, I assumed this was a partially fictionalized, partially historically accurate version of this gap. To write a manga like this is not as simple as, say, how Kaze Hikaru ties in to the real-world events despite starring a cross-dressing warrior who falls in love with her captain. Records are just too thin.
There’s no doubt author Sakuishi weaves in some popular or well-known theories about old Willy into Seven Shakespeares. Maybe he made Shakespeare a Catholic because based upon his research, it’s what he believes is most likely, or maybe he went that route just to make a more interesting manga. Had Seven Shakespeare just been a simple imagined biography would have made this review pretty straightforward. However, it’s not a straight researched version, and so it’s not just a simple question of liking Shakespeare or not.
In fact, Shakespeare himself doesn’t really shine until toward the third volume, and it isn’t until the fourth volume that we get to, in my opinion, the most fascinating part of Shakespeare’s history: his arrival in London. The first opening volumes instead put heavy emphasis on Li, a Chinese immigrant who survived an attempted murder by her village. Beautiful, smart, and with a tragic past, Li could fit right up there with the Disney Princesses or Mary Sues of the world, but this isn’t the main problem some people will have with the opening of Seven Shakespeares.
It’s not even the fact that Li has an incredible talent for poetry. Some of her poems and phrases are works that we in the real world know as Shakespearean Sonnets. The problem is Li has a very strong sixth sense — perhaps to the point she’s a mystic. No, you don’t see her casting spells (although you can see her surrounded by candles like in the image above), but her hunches are way too strong to just be a good guesser. We’ll probably never know all the details of Shakespeare’s life, but I’m pretty sure he wasn’t hanging around with a young lady who could recommend a diagnosis and a cure to someone whose house she’s just passing by. Her powers aren’t explained, so she could just see auras or be the incarnation of an actual goddess. Either way, I wonder why Sakuishi just didn’t go full fantasy and make Li a fairy or something that blessed Shakespeare and his friends. Because her abilities take away much of the realism, the biographical nature that Seven Shakespeares could have had.
It also doesn’t help that her backstory is covered before Shakespeare’s is. I enjoyed the series much more when the story shifted more to him. However, as a warning, the manga is quite jumpy. The manga opens with Queen Elizabeth applauding a performance of the Lord Chamberlain’s Men before covering Li’s life, mostly the events just before being sacrificed by her village. Then the story has her meeting Shakespeare (known as Lance Carter), his best friend and fellow apprentice Worth, and their caretaker Mil. “Lance” believes meeting Li is providence, and he insists on taking her in despite Worth’s objections. Mil takes charge of her education, and the Chinese girl masters English in remarkably short order. Shakespeare is trying to become a playwright, but he eventually decides to set course for London. It’s then that Shakespeare’s life until that point, highlighting events from boyhood to adulthood. It is then that we get to, finally, life in London and the title’s meaning comes into clear view.
It’s this last section (the Non Sanz Droict chapters) that I enjoyed the most. But the other arcs had their highlights: the relationships between the original four main characters. During Shakespeare’s flashback chapters, we see how the other three formed such a strong bond, but Li becomes a welcome figure in their inner circle. Shakespeare himself is quite the determined lad. He’s the dreamer and the artist while Worth is the pragmatic businessman. The two have a relationship not unlike the main male leads in manga like Tanaka is Always Listless or My Love Story!!, although it could end up as something more. They’ve been together since childhood, and I always love such strong relationships. It’s later we learn about Mil, but so far, it’s “Lance” and Worth who steal the show.
The group continues to expand, but the additional members don’t seem to be getting as deep of character arcs. Hopefully this means less volume-length flashbacks, but I do not want to see the new characters be relegated to the B team.
Also, it’s interesting that there are more notes about Shakespeare’s life and Elizabethan England starting in the fourth volume. I was surprised there weren’t more author’s or expert’s notes in the series. I guess the editors or staff at his new magazine wanted to provide a little more insight.
As you might have guessed, the series has a more realistic style. The look on the covers is an exact replica of the style inside. SD faces are used in moderation.
Although this isn’t a considerably large crew of characters (which you might expect with all the flashbacks and life stories), Sakuishi does an amazing job of making everyone distinct. Scars, different nose sizes, a range of body builds — There are a few scenes of graphic violence, and most of the sexual situations are shown as shadows. Despite the rough life back in the late 1500s, the manga is pretty bright, not dark and dreary. Aside from the previously mentioned time jumps, the manga is a visual treat.
Early Modern English (and Middle English) is used sparingly. The manga isn’t using thous and thees on a regular basis, so don’t worry if you’re not an Elizabethan speech expert. The dialogue is modern standard English without slang. The Shakespearean sonnets appear to be recreated faithfully, although there’s no warning when it shifts from a Li-unique poem to a real-life Shakespearean one.
I think Seven Shakespeares is a manga where it gets better the longer it goes on. I think the next volume or so will determine whether it’s just okay or good. Of course, if you’re a Prime member, there’s little reason not to read this if you have a passing interest in the series.
Sakuishi’s Beck is also available from Kodansha x ComiXology.