There are many spoilers in this review, so please read with caution!
One of my favorite types of shojo series tell stories about girls who get sucked into other worlds. From Fushigi Yugi to Red River, these stories combine action, drama, fantasy, and romance into multilayered epics that are hard to forget. One of the more popular series of this type is decidely less known here in the U.S: Kanata Kara, also known as From Far Away. Noriko Tachiki is a 14-year-old girl who is transported to another world after a terrorist bombing. She immediately is discovered by Izark, a handsome man who possesses extreme physical strength, which he uses to fight monsters that are about to attack Noriko. Inevitably, he becomes the young girl’s protector. Noriko, who can’t speak or understand the language of the world and stands out like a sore thumb because of her clothing, finds herself helpless, slowly becoming more competent over the course of the series. But as Noriko learns the language and makes new friends, she soon learns that her meeting with Izark may have been more than just a mere coincidence.
One thing I really like about From Far Away is that it’s very clear Kyoko Hikawa knew exactly where she wanted to go over the course of the 14-volume series. Very early on in the manga, it becomes known that Noriko is “The Awakening,” a being thought to be an ill-omen because it portends the arrival of the all-powerful sky demon. She learns that many of the highest political figures have gone missing or have been removed from office and replaced with corrupt officials, all who would love to capture Noriko so they can use the power of the sky demon to their benefit. But as it turns out, Izark is the sky demon, and the reason he was where Noriko was upon her arrival in his world is because he knew the Awakening would come on that fateful day. One of my favorite scenes in the series is when Izark recollects their first encounter – he had planned to kill the Awakening, but when he found a tiny, helpless girl he couldn’t help but want to save her. Rather than in many of these types of series, where it feels as though the girl who gets sucked into a strange land could have been practically anyone, it’s almost as if Noriko had to be the Awakening in order for Izark’s destiny to change shape. While I’ve heard people dismiss Noriko because she is physically weak, I was actually quite impressed with her character. She’s not only kindhearted but extremely logical – realizing that she needs to improve her situation as quickly as possible so she can be less of a burden on Izark, she takes it upon herself to learn the language and culture, and she rarely whines or falls into bouts of self-pity. And she’s extremely adorable.
Inevitably, a romance develops between the two, and rather than being played for melodrama their relationship grows quite tenderly. At one point Izark leaves Noriko with Gaya, a trusted friend of his who is sort of a mother figure, as well as a warrior from a rebel clan known as the Grey Bird tribe. Both realize they miss one another, and Izark finds that he can’t part with Noriko as he’d planned to. Being with Noriko both reminds him and heals him of his wounds as an outsider;living on his own and ostracized by his family because he is the sky demon. Izark is afraid that the more he uses his powers the less he will be able to control them, until he finally turns into the sky demon for good. In volume five, Noriko sees his transformed self for the first time in battle, yet instead of being afraid she tells him she doesn’t care who he is and that she loves him. He’s touched by her acceptance of him, and although he is initially reluctant to admit his love for her he eventually becomes very affectionate, teasing her and hugging her when he once could barely even laugh or smile. It is Noriko’s positive spirit that eventually helps Izark discover that there is something else inside him alongside the sky demon – a source of hope and strength which he can use to defeat the sky demon within him.
The side characters in From Far Away are fun, too, even if they aren’t all that memorable. Gaya has a tough attitude yet is kind, while hot-headed warrior Banadam has an unrequited crush on Noriko. Later in the series the couple encounter a mother and daughter, who along with the other townspeople try to figure out their true identities (the funnest guess is that Noriko is a princess who ran away to be with Izark, her knight). Izark and Noriko gain plenty of enemies as well, from Keimos, a warrior who is obsessed with defeating Izark because he is the first person to ever defeat him in battle, and Rachef, whose desire for anarchy stems from the very human fear of wanting to be accepted. However, I had a bit of a difficult time keeping straight all of the characters, who weave in and out of the story, and I had a hard time getting attached to anyone besides Izark and Noriko. And because the author had clearly planned the ending of the manga from the beginning, the story can be a bit difficult to follow. Characters have cryptic conversations, mentioning chimos (creatures used for teleportation) and moonstones (which are used to keep evil spirits out and amplify one’s power) without describing what these things are – and it isn’t until much later that they are explained.
Whether From Far Away is the best ‘girl falls into another world’ story really depends on what the reader is looking for in such a story. From Far Away has many strengths, including great action sequences and a fantastical setting filled with exotic creatures. But for those looking for a grand drama or a sweeping love story, I would suggest Red River over this series because it’s so based on character interaction. Yet From Far Away is not without the human touch. The ideal of the series is encompassed wonderfully in one scene, when enemy Doros decides to help Noriko out simply because she says thank you to him. From Far Away sends such positive messages – such as how powerful kindness is or that even little actions can result in big changes – without ever feeling saccharine. So while From Far Away may not be my favorite series in the genre, I still enjoyed it and would definitely recommend it because it does so many things so right.