Ran To Haiiro no Sekai: Sarcasm tries manga
In a world where magic exists and the kinda...sorta….maybe unknowing world protected by a….secret Wizards? Kinda secret? Like vaguely? Doing a really bad job at being secret? Anyway, a young girl with powerful magic and dreams of being an adult can age 10 years by putting on a certain pair of shoes.
This manga really isn’t as creepy as it sounds. I’m not saying it’s never a little creepy but I promise it’s not what you are thinking. I find it difficult to describe this manga. It’s similar to Natsume Yuujinchou in that the appeal behind this show is somewhat intangible. Talking about individual elements is largely irrelevant in the face of qualities impossible to describe or quantify. Ran to Haiiro No Sekai is an emotional experience. It relies on FEELING a certain way and it can be difficult to describe exactly how the mundane mechanics of art and writing play into that. Luckily it isn’t perfect in the same way Natsume Yuujinchou is so there are something to bitch about at the very least. It could use some tonal consistency and a particular character is out of place and obnoxious. However, most of this blog should be devoted to describing everything that Ran to Haiiro did right that I am hard pressed properly convey what exactly that was. I once said in a review of Natsume Yuujinchou that “there are qualities that can neither be ignored, yet are difficult to properly express or quantify” and I am finding myself echoing that sentiment. I guess impactful is the best way to describe it. It is a manga that is beautifully melancholic and strangely nostalgic. It’s a world of strange magic and alien forces and yet every story feels very human and personal. It’s infinitely compelling for how immediately you become invested in the characters, and swiftly you find that you could read 10 chapters of them staring at a wall eating stale potato chips with unshakable rapture. This manga earns a level of devotion. It earns it with it’s characters. It earns it with it’s art. However, mostly it earns it by being so goddamn genuinely heartfelt.
I think I hit the nail on the head when I called this manga “heartfelt” because that is an apt description for every basically aspect of this manga. This manga is heartfelt. To use the characters as an example, you see the world through the eyes of two characters. Chiefly, the story is told via Ran, a 10 year old with unstable magic powers and the ability to age herself via putting on a pair of oversized shoes. The other character that gets some time in the perspective chair is her protective older brother Jin. Ran is infinitely charming. Most of this comes from being an insanely well written 10 year old girl. She is cute, optimistic, selfish, simple, and frequently doesn’t understand what’s going on, and in the manner of a very young cousin you become fiercely attached and even protective of her. Her misadventures have this profoundly compelling sense of childish glee and wonder that can only be captured through stellar character writing tinged with some genuine aw as you allow this 10 year old girl to show you how truly wonderful the world can be. You find yourself rediscovering simple pleasures by proxy of this character, and it sinks you into a non-specific nostalgia. It’s an extremely pleasant but also great way to remind you of childish innocence. Jin on the other hand provides this element of contrast. In this story Jin and Ran’s mother is more or less absentee and their father is also frequently gone, and so Jin is a character who had to grow up a little too fast. Jin isn’t necessarily unhappy, but he also is one of the few characters that can’t afford to be carefree. Ran relies on him for protection and attention and his father relies on his consistency and strength of character, and so he sacrificed his own innocence in a lot of ways to protect Ran’s. It’s a bittersweet situation. While Jin’s protectiveness is heartwarming, at the same time one can’t help but feel sad for what he himself has lost. It doesn’t hurt that he is oddly charismatic. Despite being something of a stoic loner who takes what life gives him without complaint or comment, he is oddly compelling. He should have been kinda boring, I don’t know exactly what it is, but despite extremely stiff competition he became my favorite character almost instantly. However, almost all the characters in this manga are similar. They all are compelling for the emotional conflict they inspire in the reader. This manga does a great job recognizing that people aren’t usually introspective enough to perfectly articulate the tragedy and fortune of their own circumstances. These characters don’t whine about themselves or launch speeches about how thankful they are. You just perceive how their lives and circumstance has shaped, hurt and healed them. There is subtlety to it. Even the one fucking bad character makes Hatchiman look like he has the depth of a puddle on a hot day. I should probably mention Outarou. He is kind of the outlier. Outarou is an irredeemable dick. The manga keeps trying to convince us he has redeeming features, and without spoiling I am going to say that perhaps by the end he is given some humanization, but that doesn’t change the fact that for most of the manga he just sucks. He doesn’t have a place here. This manga that relies on the stories of people doing their best to live the best they can despite often adverse circumstances, did not need a pompous, privileged asshole being oddly central in the story. He just kinda shits on your day a little, and his relationship with Ran evolves steadily into something more and more creepy. He would have been fine as a one off character but his ubiquitous nature just smears the canvas with just enough shit to notice, particularly since Jin puts up with him to an uncharacteristic degree.
Speaking of canvases, this manga is fucking beautiful. Like seriously. This manga doesn't just look good. It looks the best. I don’t have a super duper amount of experience with manga, but if this isn’t one of the most gorgeously drawn manga of all time I will shoot my own dick off. It’s a work of art. I think the artwork is actually responsible for a lot more of the atmosphere this manga achieves than one might immediately realize. This manga spends a lot of it’s time convincing us to see the world as Ran does; as a 10 year old girl does. You are supposed to be inspired by a comfortable sense of awe. It’s supposed to inspire a childlike curiosity. It wants you regard the world around you with a sense of giddy awe and it’s hard not to feel some of that when the world on the paper in front of you is fantastically gorgeous. Do I have an intense childlike desire to explore this world and stare in wonder at every new crack and the wall and cloud in the sky? You best believe your punk ass I do. I will stare the shit out of any diseased but hole you point at if it’s drawn as well as the rest of this manga. The art supplements the writing and the characters to really draw you into a legitimately absorbing experience. I find making a comparison impossible because there legitimately isn’t anything else I've seen that looks this visually appealing. The anime adaptation of Kawaii complex does something similar, but even that doesn’t reall inspire the same serene wonder as Ran to Haiiro No Sekai does. This manga would be impossible to animate. No one should ever try.
However, one can complain a bit about the story. The manga is at it’s best when it is simply exploring the day to day lives of Ran and her family. The simplicity of the experience combined with the excellent art and writing, is both relaxing and compelling. Unfortunately the mangaka had ambitions of story rich epics and in the middle there is this random left turn into a battle manga, with half a fuckton of lore expositionally dumped on you like a sack of bricks. Well I say a left turn as if it is sudden, but it actually leads up to it pretty organically. The story curve is incredibly smooth and the action and tension ramps up naturally. If this was any other manga I would probably be praising this bit. However, the problem is that the battle manga stuff is just not as good as the rest of it. It’s a weird detour into an alternate dimension where you decided to pick up the manga about clandestine battle with interdimensional fruit flies instead of the one about a 10 year old who was over eager to grow up. The battle manga ark is only obnoxious in that it’s a break from something you were already enjoying. It might have been great had it not had to stand next to the rest of the manga that is just far superior. What equally frustrating is that it feels frustratingly climactic. It feels like this was exactly where the manga is heading, despite the fact that it isn’t at all where you want it to go. However, in the end the emotional payoff to the ark is pretty effective, and it gently lowers you back into the same exact comfortable lullaby the beginning so effectively sang. This manga is definitely best when it’s pacing is slower, but the fast paced bit certainly isn’t a deal breaker. More of a mild irritant.
I have said before that sometimes simply being an emotional experience and I stand by that. Stories like this, Usagi Drop (the anime), or Natsume Yuujinchou don’t necessarily need to be more than just extremely emotionally effective. That’s enough. However, if they do have thematic elements that’s not a bad thing, and it should be noted that Ran to Haiiro does have a clear message. This manga’s message is “you don’t have to grow up so fast.” I will be the first to admit that that isn’t exactly the most nuanced point in the world, but sometimes it’s not the themes themselves that are compelling, but how you present them. Sometimes a compelling presentation can breath life into a stale idea and that’s exactly what Ran to Haiiro does. It tells the readers that it’s ok to be a child through Ran and the joy she brings to the world around her, while also showing through Jin and the other adult characters that how the weight of adult responsibilities is non-trivial. It’s a very warm and very genuine delivery. That’s something I don’t think enough people take into account. I love Kuuchuu Buranko or Tatami Galaxy for how clever and witty they are. It’s an outstanding feature. However, they don’t feel genuine in the same way. I will always like Haibane Renmei a little bit more than Tatami Galaxy because it feels more like the author really profoundly cares about what it is saying, in a way Tatami Galaxy and it's ilk fails to achieve. Ran to Haiiro takes that idea to the extreme by being insanely heartfelt. Reading this manga is like sitting next to Mr. Rogers when you were 10 while he calmly, compassionately reminds you that you will grow up, but for now it’s ok to be a child. It’s convincing in its sincerity. Sincerity is the most underrated aspect of a story, and one should never ignore it in your appraisal.
I think it is clear by now that I love this manga. If I had read more than 6 manga I would tell you it’s in my top ten. It’s so warm. It’s so human. It’s breathtakingly beautiful, and wondrous, but also heartbreaking and melancholy. I compared it to Mr. Rogers earlier but I think I have a better comparison. It’s like reliving memories of your kindly grandmother telling you stories when you were young. She is old. She has seen friends, lovers and family pass away. She has witnessed war and hate, loss and sadness. She has experienced so much of this world and it has taken from her. You can see subtle and indelible pain etched into her eyes, her stiff joints, her pained walk. You didn’t notice when you were young, but in hindsight the tole time has taken on her is plain. But she isn’t broken. For she has seen beauty and sadness in equal measure and it gives her a quiet strength. She sits you down on her lap and affectionately regales you with stories of her youth. You were younger then, you probably fidgeted, bored by stories whose importance your developing mind could never properly appreciated. But looking back, now you understand. You understand her. You understand an old woman who knew what it meant to grow old, and genuinely wanted you to enjoy being young while you can. Imagine that, and add 10 extra layers of meaning that I am too poor a writer to convey. Let that feeling wash over you. That’s what it’s like to read Ran to Haiiro No Sekai. Fucking read that shit.
P.S here is more pictures cuz PRETTY