Following in the footsteps of titles like Toy Story, Tangled, and Beauty and the Beast live action, Disney Frozen II: The Manga is the latest Disney work to be manga-fied. But Arina Tanemura is arguably the biggest name to have done one of these adaptations.
Set a few years after the original Frozen, Elsa, the queen of Arendelle who can make and control ice and snow, spends her days happily with her younger sister Anna, Anna’s boyfriend Kristoff, Olaf the talking snowman, and Sven the reindeer. But a part of her is restless inside, and she can’t ignore the musical tone only she can hear. Eventually, Elsa sets out to find who’s calling her, and a worried Anna and the others join her on her quest.
If I had to sum up Frozen II: The Manga in a word, it’d be this: frustrating. Frustrating because it comes so close at times to being a truly wonderful adaptation, but yet it keeps failing to reach its full potential.
While the Frozen movies had the sisters share the spotlight, Frozen II favored Elsa just as how Frozen favored Anna. Tanemura’s version straight-up makes Elsa the lead. This makes Frozen II: The Manga a more personal journey of self-discovery, perfect for a one-volume manga.
The downside is when parts from the other storylines pop up, they’re going to feel like they’re out of left field. One example: before and during an early musical number, Anna reassures Olaf some things never change. This is replaced with Elsa telling herself to appreciate the now:
So when Olaf is later upset, manga-Olaf’s comment of, “And you said some things never change” doesn’t make sense here since Anna never told him anything of the sort!
In another case, Kristoff’s new friendship with one of the Northuldra tribe members is reduced to a single panel with no dialogue between them. So then it seems really strange Kristoff would tell someone he just met he’s trying to propose and agree to his new buddy’s plan. It’s one thing to make cuts, but cuts need to be done in a way that all references to those things are also removed or edited.
And yet, there’s the occasional moment where Tanemura takes Disney’s original film and makes it shine brighter, like the Kingdom Hearts-esque opening page of an upside-down Elsa, eyes closed, hearing the voice amidst dark space.
But nothing can beat Olaf’s summary of Frozen and how it’s made even better thanks to dolls, cosplay, and dramatic poses.
The manga-style also clicks for comedy bits like a happy Sven and a blushing Kristoff as well as more serious moments like the sister’s determination. Anna especially transfers well into Tanemura’s style, almost as if she was a heroine the manga creator designed herself, and Elsa gets some lovely artwork too with crystals and the water horse and such. Unfortunately, Tanemura seems to struggle with the dark-skinned Mattias, who always appears too angular and/or wide-eyed compared to the rest of the cast. The voice is also presented terribly, just as an aside “Aahh~” that doesn’t capture its melodic mysteriousness…and in one case, I mistook it for Anna snoring.
Also something important to note: the book is read in Western orientation, from left to right. This took me by surprise, as I know other Disney manga have been produced in right-to-left format. In addition, dialogue bubbles tend to be oval-shaped, making the text more comic book style and somewhat clashing with the heavy manga-ness of the work.
However, it’s also a shame we didn’t get a color insert from Tanemura. The physical version is wider and taller than most of VIZ Media’s releases, and while there is some subtle gloss on the covers, a bit of full color artwork would have cemented the special edition-like presentation of Frozen II: The Manga.
And that’s the problem with it — it always just stops short of crossing the goal line into the great territory. Tanemura’s visuals are lovely overall, and making this more Elsa-centered keeps it from being just and abridged version of Frozen II. Yet this manga adaptation has some obvious drawbacks. I’d love to see Tanemura return to adapt another Disney property, and with any luck, all the wrinkles in this manga won’t follow her to the next one.