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Mythopoeic Society

a non-profit organization devoted to the study of J.R.R. Tolkien, C.S. Lewis, Charles Williams, the Inklings, and the genres of myth and fantasy


Reviews

The Guin Saga

The Guin Saga. Kaoru Kurimoto. Translated by Alexander O. Smith with Elye J. Alexander.

  • Book 1: The Leopard Mask (Vertical, 2003). Originally published as Hyōtō no Kamen 豹頭の仮面 (Hayakawa Shobo, 1979).
  • Book 2: Warrior in the Wilderness (Vertical, 2003). Originally published as Kōya no Senshi 荒野の戦士 (1979).
  • Book 3: Battle of Nospherus (Vertical, 2003). Originally published as Nosuferasu no Tatakaiノスフェラスの戦い (1980).
  • Book 4: Prisoner of the Lagon (Vertical, 2008). Originally published as Ragon no Ryoshuラゴンの虜囚 (1980).
  • Book 5: The Marches King (Vertical, 2008). Originally published as Henkyo no Oja辺境の王者 (1980).
  • Buy Online

Reviewed by Daniel Baird


[This review originally appeared in Mythprint 48:10 (#351) in October 2011.]

Did you ever read the twenty-five novel series of Edgar Rice Burroughs, Tarzan of the Apes? I voraciously read them as a child and reading The Guin Saga brought back all of those wonderful childhood memories. The Guin Saga is one of the oldest (as far as the modern genre is concerned) and longest running fantasy series in Japan — Kurimoto was working on the 130th novel when she passed away in 2009. As such it holds a special place for introducing and influencing motifs, tropes, and character types in Japanese fantasy. Although the novels have been likened to Conan the Barbarian, Harry Potter, and even The Lord of the Rings, with sweeping fantasy both high and low and even some stories feeling more like something out of sci-fi, these first five novels remind me of Tarzan.

Perhaps it is the monkey-like Sem who figure predominately as both protagonists and antagonists throughout. Maybe it is the main character, Guin, who like Tarzan stands tall and well-muscled in his bronze skin as he converses with animals in their language. Then again it could be the themes of the clash of civilization versus wilderness, and just what is civilization anyway? Tarzan had his jungles and Guin’s Nospherus is no less a dangerous place with sand worms, sand leeches, bigeaters, big mouths, and other nasties ready to eat, slime, or otherwise terrify humans. Remember Tarzan’s big fight with the main ape in a contest for dominance? Guin does have an episode of wrestling a lagon, who although not ape-like, are a race of people who stand out mainly be cause they are the only race of anything more muscled then Guin himself.

Lest you begin to think that Kurimoto needs to be brought up on posthumous charges of plagiarism I need to bring in the other half of the Guin Saga, the one that truly places it in the realm of fantasy. The whole story begins, not with Guin, but rather with two spoiled twins, Rinda (female) and Remus (male) who awake to find that their kingdom of Parros has been invaded by the Mongaul. Of course their parents, the king and queen of Parros, have been killed in the process. Unfortunately for the invaders a bit of magic is used to wisk the twins away and thus sets up the story of find the twin heirs to Parros. The first to do so is Guin but I don’t want to spoil the story by giving away how. Add in villains such as Amnelis, daughter of an archduke of Mongaul, rogues such as Istavan the Crimson Mercenary, and Suni the required cuddly sidekick (sidekick? well if you have seen any Japanese fantasy anime such as Magic Knights Rayearth you get the point), and you get adventures serious and comic.

The Guin Saga is important simply because of its place in history, inspiring many other later important fantasy series such as Record of Lodoss War or Slayers. Unfortunately only the first five volumes are currently available in English translation. The translator, Smith, I should point out also did The Twelve Kingdoms series, but Vertical Press did a better job than Tokyopop, resulting in a better reading experience (no misspellings, etc.) There has been an anime released from The Guin Saga that goes beyond the first five books but still leaves the reader/watcher wishing for more. Finally Vertical has also released a 3-volume manga of a side story: The Seven Magi, illustrated by Kazuaki Yanagisawa. (A warning on the manga, although the novels and anime are kid-friendly, the manga are definitely not, with intense depictions of violence and nudity.) So go ahead and indulge in a bit of muscle-flexing, sword-swinging, spell-casting, wooing, and general warfare and adventurous mayhem this week and dare the wilds of Nospherus in The Guin Saga.


The Guin Saga. Kaoru Kurimoto. Translated by Alexander O. Smith with Elye J. Alexander.

  • Book 1: The Leopard Mask (Vertical, 2003). Originally published as Hyōtō no Kamen 豹頭の仮面 (Hayakawa Shobo, 1979).
  • Book 2: Warrior in the Wilderness (Vertical, 2003). Originally published as Kōya no Senshi 荒野の戦士 (1979).
  • Book 3: Battle of Nospherus (Vertical, 2003). Originally published as Nosuferasu no Tatakaiノスフェラスの戦い (1980).
  • Book 4: Prisoner of the Lagon (Vertical, 2008). Originally published as Ragon no Ryoshuラゴンの虜囚 (1980).
  • Book 5: The Marches King (Vertical, 2008). Originally published as Henkyo no Oja辺境の王者 (1980).
  • Buy Online