Manga Classics: Les Miserables by Victor Hugo; Adapted by Crystal Silvermoon. Illustrated by SunNeko Lee. ISBN: 978-1927925164, Udon Entertainment (August 19, 2014). List Price $19.99 / Amazon $16.57.
I should confess that I’ve never actually read the original version of Les Miserables by Victor Hugo. I always thought I knew the gist of it. It was about the the revolution in France in the time of Napoleon. There were two lovers. A corrupt officer of the government had a vendetta against a man somehow related to the lovers — or one of them. And a miserable time was had by all.
So, I read through this manga and was totally surprised at the details of the story. Like any modern person I turned to Wikipedia to read the summary of the story and found that it matched the Manga. Maybe now I’ll skip the movie — though I do love the music.
Basically, Napoleon Bonaparte has been defeated and the economy is crappy. People don’t have enough to eat, jobs are scarce, and the law is extremely strict. France had a guilty until proven innocent view of justice. Since it is very difficult to prove a negative, many, especially the poor, found themselves in prison.
The story follows several different people and moves forward and backward in time to bring each of them into the story and up to where the threads of their story weave into the main story line. This makes for some odd disconnects until you realize the story isn’t continuing, but going off on a tangent to come back to the point you were at later.
Jean Valjean had been released from prison but since all his papers labeled him a convict his chances of getting work were slim. He was even refused to be allowed to purchase food or lodgings with what little money he had out of fear that being involved with him would get them in trouble with the law.
Through a series of convenient events, he manages to gain some funding to pass himself off as a wealthy man. Then to pay things forward, he sets about to do good for those who live in his community and work in his businesses.
Fantine had been dumped by her lover when she had a daughter, Cosette. And so she was unable to find work because of her loose morals. She sought work, and found people who she thought would take good care of Cosette for her while she worked. It was expensive, but she thought it was a better life for Cosette.
Javert, a police office/military-type, hated convicts and felt that they could never be reformed, and therefore must always be returned to prison, whether they did anything wrong or not. He’d once been Valjena’s jailer and when he thought he recognized him — he began to be obsessed with hunting him down and seeing he was returned to prison.
These are the major characters. Through other circumstances, Valjean promises Fantine to raise her daughter and take care of her. He and Cosette then proceed to move about, always a step ahead of Javert and doing what good works they can where ever they lived. Of course, as Cosette grows up this becomes more and more difficult as she attracts attention as does their wealth.
Will Cosette find love? Will Valjean be able to give her into another’s care? Will Javert ever give up his crusade to find and punish Valjean? Can he ever be convinced that convicts can be redeemed? Into this steps the revolutionary uprising among the students of Paris. This is actually a minor side note of the story, but one that is important to bringing all the pieces together.
The artwork is wonderfully detailed. The characters can be individually identified — which I find very important. The story unfolds smoothly — except for those flashbacks and flashforwards I noted previously.
All in all, I believe that if you’ve been interested, this is a great way to become familiar with the story and the characters. It’s well adapted and illustrated and a great way to get a taste of classic literature if you don’t want to spend the time reading the original works.
Tags: Classic Literature, Manga, Victor Hugo