2009’s Ran and the Gray World, Vol. 1 is the first tankōbon for Aki Irie’s Ran to Haiiro no Sekai comic fantasy manga series, which was serialized in Japanese from December 2008 to April 2015 in in Harta. Volume 1 was translated into English in 2018.
Keeping the gates of Hell firmly sealed shut is a full-time job for sorceress Shizuka Uruma. Her underlings do their best, but without her help their efforts would fail. Shizuka must spend most of her time at work and set aside personal concerns, such as family and household.
It’s not having time for her family that is the most frustrating.
Schoolgirl Ran is too young to fully comprehend why her mother is never around. Likewise, the ten-year-old is too immature to accept so much deferred gratification.
Since her mother cannot come to visit Ran, Ran is determined to visit her mother in her celestial realm. Ran tries and fails repeatedly. Each failure leaves havoc in its wake. Because mom is busy, it’s up to the rest of the family (her dad and her older brother Jin) to keep a close eye on Ran.
While Ran has enormous magical potential, she cannot access it when she’s so young. Unfortunately for the world, Ran owns a pair of magical sneakers. When she puts them on, she is transformed into a voluptuous adult woman with an adult sorcerer’s magical resources. Too bad that she has a child’s lack of concern for the consequences of her efforts.
Enter handsome lothario Outarou, who of course has no idea that the beautiful woman who mysteriously appeared in the garden of his penthouse apartment is anything other than what she appears to be.
There are a lot of stories out there about children instantly transformed into adults; C. C. Beck’s Captain Marvel is one but there are others. This story is the sort where the transformed individual does not gain cognitive or emotional maturity to match the physical maturity or nigh-godlike powers.
I imagine that many of my readers are alarmed at what might happen when a child in an adult woman’s body meets a lech who has no idea that she is not what she seems to be. The manga stops short of exploring the direst possibilities, at least in volume one. But the plot does sail pretty close to the wind. Outarou puts the moves on Ran and is foiled. Ran thinks he’s just weird. As it happens, Outarou is the sort of letch willing to accept a no1. Cue my relief … but it’s too bad the subject came up at all.
Obviously this creepy sexualization of kids is not unique in the world of manga in particular — I assure you googling this subject will only make you unhappy — or speculative fiction in general. In fact, there are quite a lot of manga (and SF books) that make extremely questionable choices regarding the depiction of kids. I probably could go on at great length on this subject but I think its distasteful and will only note it to flag its presence.
The art in this manga is quite well done, but I am afraid I can’t overlook a protagonist who is always crossing the line from “naïve but endearing” to “annoying knucklehead.” Nor does the Outarou subplot work for me; it’s creepy. I gather this all works out very badly for Outarou in the long run2 but I won’t be sticking around to see how it plays out.
1: And not because Outarou suspects Ran, if threatened, could turn him into a newt. Or worse. He simply finds “No” perplexing but sufficient.
2: It will turn out badly for Outarou, not only because Ran can protect herself, and not just because her brother Jin (who I probably should have mentioned is a werewolf) is very protective of Ran. Proximity to Ran means being exposed to supernatural predators against which Outarou has no defenses.