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The Stonekeeper, written and illustrated by Kazu Kibuishi, is the first in the Amulet graphic novel series and introduces us to Emily, a girl with the ability to wield a mysterious, powerful stone gifted to her by her great-grandfather.
Note: As of the writing of this post, I’ve read books 1-3 of this series. Instead of writing a post for each book, I’ll probably do a post with continued/wrap-up thoughts after I finish book 7 (latest release).
What I liked:
- I’m still slightly in shock at how much I liked The Stonekeeper. Honestly, this book/series was on the ‘I’ll get to it when I get to it’ part of my TBR, and I picked it up because the bookstore didn’t have the title I really wanted that day. Now I’m seriously considering sending a copy to a cousin in Japan who loves manga.
- Kibuishi draws fantastic settings. I’m not a huge fan of his character designs, except for maybe a few of the robots, but I love how he draws backgrounds and Silas’s house. Also, he’s a master of the epic panorama scene. I have a feeling his worldbuilding techniques are influenced by Miyazaki and other manga/anime creators, and I wonder why he didn’t model his characters the same way.* I also wonder how much editorial input he had to accept before the book reached its final form. If he ever publishes a book chronicling his personal artistic journey and the development process behind Amulet, I’ll definitely take a look.
- SILAS’S HOUSE IS A GIANT ROBOT. HOUSE ROBOT. I didn’t check the dates, but the similarity to Miyazaki’s rendition of Howl’s moving castle (lowercase deliberate) is definitely present. (Or any of a number of characters from his other films – 風の谷のナウシカ or 天空の城ラピュタ anyone?) Kibuishi also hails from the culture which brought the world Gundam and other giant robot delights, so maybe it wasn’t Miyazaki. Either way, details like this from Kibuishi’s worldbuilding felt like small homages to our culture and absolutely made my reading experience more enjoyable.
- Did any fellow JA/Nikkei readers look at Miskit’s first appearance (in disguise) and immediately see a signature Miyazaki character type and/or possibly also a very common manga/anime reference? I realize I might simply be projecting my very great desire to see US Japanese/Nikkei creators engaging with the awesomeness of our cultural artistic heritage, but I seriously doubt the greats like Miyazaki had zero influence on Kibuishi’s work.
What I learned:
- This might be the first non-comic, non-manga graphic novel series to really capture my interest, and I credit Kibuishi’s masterful blend of gripping plot and beautiful artwork. I didn’t think I would ever find anything like Amulet outside of manga,** so it was a pleasant surprise to realize how much I was enjoying Kibuishi’s story. Now that I know I can appreciate this medium, I’m excited to look for similar works!
Questions I had:
- Did Kibuishi ever consider making Emily and her family Asian/POC? From what I’ve read so far, the story would proceed in exactly the same way if Emily happened to be, say, an Asian American girl instead of a white one. Given the popularity of the Amulet series (not that Kibuishi could have predicted it), this would have been a great opportunity to normalize POC representation in US children’s media. I haven’t looked up any interviews with Kibuishi, but I wonder if other Asian/POC readers have asked him the same question.
- On a related note, why did Kibuishi choose Emily’s dad’s death as the catalyst for their move to Silas’s house? I wonder if Kibuishi wants children who have lost a parent to see themselves in Emily and Navin, or if he had some other reason for constructing the plot this way. To return to my above point, I do think if Kibuishi wants readers to (re)consider what a ‘standard’ family can or should look like, making Emily and her family Asian/POC might have served the double purpose of normalizing single-parent POC households. After all, white people don’t need to be and shouldn’t be the only examples for teaching children about significant family events. I also can’t help thinking of how single-parent households are often stigmatized in Japanese culture, and how meaningful it could be if a high-profile Japanese/Nikkei creator like Kibuishi used his work to challenge this perception.
- Is Kibuishi’s work available in Japanese? I think Japanese kids would enjoy the Amulet series, if perhaps more for the perceived foreign-ness of it than for the qualities Nikkei kids might notice. For that matter, does Kibuishi envision 日本人 as one of his target audiences?
- Does Kibuishi identify as Japanese, Japanese American/Nikkei, or something else? From what little I’ve read about him, it sounds like he moved to the US from Japan at a young age. I’m assuming he grew up in a more Japanese than Nikkei household, if his parents are both Japanese. His background interests me because I’d like to know how he feels his personal experiences influence his art and writing. Given the history of colorism and anti-blackness in both Japanese and Nikkei communities, I paid particular attention to how Kibuishi created his fantasy/non-human races. As of now, I haven’t noticed any overt racism or cultural appropriation, and I hope the rest of the series bears this out. Part of me wonders if Kibuishi consciously populated his world with many non-human races to avoid the representational faux pas of works like ATLA. I guess I’ll have to wait and see if any kind of hierarchy emerges among the human, humanoid (like elves), and visually non-human (animals, robots) characters. I just hope we don’t discover white(-coded?) humans like Emily being held up as some kind of ideal race/species.
- As will be evident by the time this post goes up, I’ve already purchased the rest of the series through book 7. I’m not sure if book 7 is the final installment…I hope not.
*To be clear, I don’t think there can be any kind of ‘objective’ standard for categorizing manga/anime-style characters as ‘better’ than characters drawn in other styles. I also don’t mean to say Japanese artists should only draw in recognizably manga or anime styles. Instead, I mean my personal aesthetic preferences, as influenced by my background and experiences, tend toward manga/anime-influenced styles as opposed to styles more popularized in the US by white artists. For example, I deeply admire Sana Takeda’s artwork in Monstress, which, though not what I would call manga or anime style, certainly appears to be in dialogue with both.
**The closest thing I’ve read in terms of English-language graphic novels is probably Gene Luen Yang’s American Born Chinese. I enjoyed Yang’s work, of course, but the genre, narrative style, and art work were so different, I hesitate to even mention it as a comparison.