While The History of the West Wing, story by Sun Jiayu and art by Guo Guo, is a gorgeously illustrated love story set in historical China, the story reads like a playbook, which makes sense since the original tale was adapted from a play, which was also inspired by a Chinese fable.
The story of The History of the West Wing is incredibly simple. Aimless boy makes something of himself to impress a beautiful girl whom he has fallen in love with. While there are a few plot twists, of course, since we all know “the course of true love never did run smooth” (thank you, often over-quoted English playwright). The historical Chinese setting is mainly window dressing, although it certainly gives the obstacles facing the lovers a certain panache (arranged marriage to a debauched drug addict from a good family, rebel armies threatening to violence unless they get what they want, social-climbing mother-in-law-to-be. You may know the drill).
For the record, at times I was reminded of the anime version of The Story of Saiunkoku, which takes place in a fictional empire, “Saiunkoku,” but bears strong resemblance of the History of the West Wing‘s representation of China (one assumes historical China was the inspiration for The Story of Sainunkoku). In both stories, taking the imperial examinations in order to become a civil servant is deemed a worthy and esteemed path in life (so different, somehow, from our current associations with government service. The contemporary comparison I can make to the honor associated with passing the imperial examinations in these stories is the way I’ve heard some students talk about taking Foreign Service Exam in the U.S.)
While the story lacks depth, there is no doubt, though, that the art is exquisitely beautiful and a bygone era is captured quite lovingly through intricate detail in the representation of buildings, fabrics, and hair styles.
Review Copy provided by Yen Press.
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