Written By: Victor Hugo
Story Adaptation By: Crystal Silvermoon
Art By: SunNeko Lee
Published By: Udon Entertainment
Reviewed by Melissa Minners
When I was a kid, there were these illustrated books that were available for borrowing at the school library. With these books, I got my first taste of classics like The Hound of the Baskervilles, The Last of the Mohicans and more. Though shortened versions of the originals and written more simply for children, the pictures and ease with which they could be read helped me gain an appreciation of tales I might not have ordinarily read unless it was on a must read school list. Now, Udon Entertainment seeks to bring more kids into the world of the classics, luring them in with manga. Their first edition in the Manga Classics series - Les MisÚrables.
Les MisÚrables tells the story of Jean Valjean, a former convict who cannot seem to escape the trappings of his past. In 1815 France, the people still suffer despite the revolution that was supposed to save them. Starving families resort to theft in an effort to feed them. It is this very action that causes Jean Valjean to be imprisoned, having stolen bread in an attempt to help feed his sister's family. Upon being released from prison, Jean Valjean discovers that no one will have anything to do with him.
He is taken in by a kindly Bishop, but repays his kindness with theft. When Valjean is caught, he expects to be returned to prison, but instead, the Bishop saves him, telling authorities that the items in Valjean's possession were given to him willingly. The Bishop further tells Valjean that he should do some good in the world with what he has received. Valjean vows to abide by the Bishop's request.
He recreates himself, becoming Monsieur Madeleine, a philanthropist and aiding all within his power to do so. He eventually comes across the path of a young woman named Fantine. An unwed mother, Fantine was unable to find steady work, scorned by those around her as a loose woman. Leaving her daughter, Cosette, at an inn while she seeks work in another part of France, Fantine finds work at Monsieur Madeleine's factory until a jealous co-worker tells everyone that Fantine is an unwed mother. Unjustly fired and with the inn keeper asking for more and more money for Cosette's care, Fantine does what she must, selling her hair, her teeth and eventually her body to pay Cosette's caregiver.
Learning of Fantine's plight, Monsieur Madeleine makes every attempt to return Cosette to her now ailing mother, but his efforts are hampered when a local official recognizes him as Jean Valjean, a repeat offender who should be returned to the prisons at once. But Jean Valjean never forgets the promise he makes to a now dead Fantine. He finds a way to escape yet again and finally finds Cosette, but what life can a convict hope to offer an orphan now enslaved to an innkeeper?
I've actually never read Victor Hugo's Les MisÚrables, nor seen the various musical and movie adaptations, so Manga Classics' version of the story is my first real introduction to the work. And what an introduction it is. Sure, the story is shorter than the original version, leaving out a great deal of flowery writing, subplots and asides to present the main story. Sometimes, you have to simplify things to get the point across and Crystal Silvermoon does a great job of culling the superfluous in an effort to create a story that will excite readers, making them want to read more. The artwork of Manga Classics: Les MisÚrables is excellent. SunNeko Lee stays true to the manga format when dealing with moments of surprise or extreme angst, but the rest of the artwork is incredibly detailed and quite beautiful.
Both the story and the artwork combine to create an incredibly enjoyable read and one that has inspired me to check out the original Victor Hugo creation. I would also love to see some more classics from the Manga Classics line. This is a great way to introduce children to the classics and lure in those adults who may have missed out on them along the way.