Graphic Novel Review: Cimarronin

Cimarronin, by Neal Stephenson, Charles C. Mann, and others. 3.5 stars out of 5; I was hoping for a comic that’d draw on the breadth of historical information and pithy observations about historical characters I found in Mann’s 1493. Instead… well, it’s more of a Neal Stephenson story, and I’m just not a fan of his stuff. I spent most of the story along with Kitazume (our samurai protagonist) wondering what the rogue Jesuit Luis is up to, why did you drag me across an entire ocean after a Manchu princess, and just what the heck is going on? We never really get answers to most of that, and it’s highly frustrating.

This story could have really benefited from footnotes. And possibly an afterword summing up the specific state of the world in 1632. And especially from characters taking a moment away from the action to think about or discuss who they are and how they got here. For example, very late in the story an enemy samurai finally drops the clue that several prior events all took place on the Japanese island domain of Satsuma. Now to me, who’s read extensively on Early Modern Japan, and especially what led Satsuma to be a cranky domain to the point of helping kick-start the Meiji Revolution, this made a lot make sense. Of course Spain saw this as a potential weak spot in Japan. And had matters gone differently, they might well have tried for an invasion from Manila. (Japan certainly contemplated invading Manila about that point in time.) But you have to have read a fair amount of different history books to put that together. I wonder how many readers hit that point and only registered yet another foreign name without an explanation.

I may also be a bit cranky that characters identified in the text as Ming… are shown with the Manchu shaved forelock and queue. Guys. Guys. This was a freakin’ political statement of allegiance at this point in the Ming-Manchu conflict, and afterward through the whole Qing Dynasty. Ming warriors would not have cut their hair!

Now onto the comic’s good points. Kitazume is a relatable, and I think likeable character; banished from Japan, trying to find his footing, not even sure he wants to keep going in a world that offers nothing better than bloody mercenary work. Luis is a trickster with a habit of showing up in the nick of time, and has a stubborn comrade-in-arms devotion to Kitazume. And Irgen is an intriguing look at a Manchu princess who wanted more than tradition would give her. On top of that the situation with the cimarrones is a piece of history that deserves to be more widely known.

Some of the action scenes could be less confusing, but it is overall well-drawn and an interesting depiction of what the world might have looked like when people from around the globe traveled to and through Mexico. And I specifically wanted something that’d help me picture characters traveling across to the Pacific to Mexico about this time period (though earlier), so it’s going to be a helpful reference.

All in all, a good story, and worth checking out.

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