The classic LGBT+ story by the creative master of Rose of Versailles!
Born as “Claudine” in a female-assigned body that doesn’t reflect the man inside, this heart-wrenching story follows Claudine through life, pain, and the love of several women. Master shoujo mangaka Riyoko Ikeda explores gender and sexuality in early twentieth century France in this powerful tale about identity, culture, and self-acceptance.
Lately, Seven Seas has been licensing a bunch of either classics or LGBT+ manga; Claudine happens to be both. Originally published in Margaret in 1978, this is is one of the works of the legendary mangaka Riyoko Ikeda–most well known for her shojo masterpieces The Rose Of Versailles and Dear Brother.
Claudine is framed as a story narrated by his psychiatrist, who first met him when he was a child. Throughout the story, we quickly see Claudine growing up every time he falls for a new woman, alternating between his point of view and his doctor’s.
You can tell this was written in the 1970s: here, being queer means living in misery, awaiting tragedy. Its gender explorations, although well-intentioned, has its limitations. There’s also cheating and the occasional murder.
Still, in its own way, it tries. Although it’s not accepted by everyone, there are characters that recognize and respect that Claudine identifies as a man. His doctor considers him more a friend than a patient, and listens to him rather than trying to “fix” him.
I must confess that I didn’t like the story as much as the way it’s told. I can’t resist a good shojo melodrama, and Claudine delivers without ever neglecting genuine emotions. Claudine is entertaining, but it so often recurs to telling instead of showing (presumedly because of limitations of the length) that I never got into it too much.
On the plus side, knowing what kind of queer representation to expect and not particularly connecting with any character allowed me to better appreciate how the story is told, which brings us to my favorite part: the art.
I generally love the 1970s shojo art style, so of course I was all over this. Claudine‘s art and composition are delicate and incredibly inventive. Ikeda shows her mastery with her strategic close-ups, creative use of effects and overlays, and the diverse shapes and alignments of her panels. Without even considering the effects: pain, confusion, the passage of time… in some pages, so much it’s told so beautifully just by the structure of the panels.
Claudine is full of breathtaking pages, and I often found myself doing a double take just to appreciate the composition. While the writing is not exactly neglected, the art is what truly gives the story its impact and sells the character’s emotions.
Claudine is well worth the read, if only to have a taste of Riyoko Ikeda’s storytelling skills. I’m so glad that a shojo classic like this one is legally available for English speakers now–here’s hoping we get even more!
This title is licensed by Seven Seas, with 1 volume available in paperback. You can find it on Seven Seas’ website.
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