Nut Ink. Mini reviews of texts old and new. No fuss. No plot spoilers. No adverts. Occasional competency.

Saturday, April 19, 2014

Lone Wolf and Cub: Omnibus: Volume Four (2014)

Author: Kazuo Koike | Illustrator: Goseki Kojima | Page Count: 696

"They'll sacrifice anything to further the clan—even their reputation! That's why they're so dangerous!"

It's well-established that Ogami Ittō is a man of action and few words. Kazuo Koike takes that trait to extremes in the first half of Volume Four. I'm guessing the ratio of words spoken to people killed is almost balanced. The land is covered in snow, so even the normal ambient sound effects are muted, but it works because Goseki Kojima is as good a storyteller with his kinetic art style as Koike is with his minimal text. As in life, sometimes words just get in the way.

Retsudō, the head of the Yagyū clan, is a key player this time. It's all well and good to have a nemesis, but unless they have a suitably dramatic reason for wanting to kill the hero, then they're a walking cliché. Fortunately, Retsudō has a reason. We get to see the beginnings of his hatred for Ogami and better understand the fire that fuels his obsession. Drip-feeding info over an extended period of time can backfire if it's not done properly, but Koike has mastered it.

In desperation, Retsudō hires shinobi (ninja) to kill Ogami. The shinobi use tactics that an honourable swordsman wouldn't, tactics both direct and indirect.

No space left to expand upon how Ogami gets handy with the Nagamaki; the bitter-sweet way Koike explores a woman's anguish and the mechanics of personal sacrifice; or Daigoro’s determined countenance.

The book ends with a multipart story that delivered everything I'd hoped for, and more. It became my favourite part of the entire series so far.

The book collects together chapters 41 - 52 of the original Lone Wolf and Cub manga (the remainder of Volume 8: Chains of Death; all of Volume 9: Echo of the Assassin; and the first part of the stories from Volume 10: Hostage Child).

5 weaves out of 5

Wednesday, April 16, 2014

Uzumaki: 3-in-1 Deluxe Edition (2013)

Author: Junji Ito | Illustrator: Junji Ito | Page Count: 648

Spirals… this town is contaminated with spirals.

Some fears are universal, such as the eeriness of an empty corridor or short-cutting through a shadowy graveyard at midnight, and some are more specific, such as islanders and their complicated relationship with the sea; Junji Ito has the uncanny ability to tap into both kinds and use them to full effect.

Uzumaki (Spiral) is the story of a small coastal town, Kurôzu-cho, and a girl named Kirie Goshima. The town has a strange influence upon its inhabitants that most of them are oblivious to, but as the peculiarities escalate Kirie begins to take notice of how horrific everything is and how difficult it is to escape.

Making the source of the horror a shape, the titular uzumaki, as opposed to an entity that can be hunted and killed creates a fine line between bizarre and ridiculous, but Ito seems to be fully aware of that; he takes that invisible line and warps even it into a spiral. The result is that the weirdness creeps from deeply unsettling to just plain silly and back again, sometimes from one panel to the next, but approach it with an open mind and you’ll be drawn invariably and uncomfortably inward. The attention to detail in the environment helps a lot. Everything feels saturated with a Lovecraftian aura. The people that live in Kurôzu-cho are warped but believable.

Each episodic chapter is somewhat self-contained but also adds to the overall arc and moves the narrative forward. Something that I'm certain will divide readers is the abrupt way each one ends. Some people will feel they were cut short. I'm guessing that by withholding a traditional resolution Ito was hoping to leave the reader with disturbing thoughts, thoughts that would wriggle and worm their way around the consciousness until they’re exorcised. In my case that exorcism was sometimes as ineffectual as the attempt at purging malady was for some of the book's characters. (Those mushrooms! Wiggins.)

The book collects into hardcover all three volumes of the Uzumaki manga.

4½ bent shapes out of 5

Sunday, April 13, 2014

The Guild: Volume 1 (2010)

Author: Felicia Day | Page Count: 93
I have all the tools to live life to the fullest. 
As soon as I get happy, I'm raring to go!
Am I there yet?
I loved The Guild and yet had no idea it existed in comic form. I snatched it right up. This is a collection of comics 1 through 3 that detail the origins of the guild as we follow Cyd Sherman; a meek and timid girl who uses gaming to escape the pressures of her real life that include underemployment, a douchebag boyfriend and general lack of control. That sounds kind of heavy, but it is first and foremost a comedy like it's web video counterpart. The underlying emotion though helps with a connection to the character since it feels real. Since the whole concept of the Guild is partly autobiographical to author Felicia Day's own experience with gaming compulsion it is not hard to see how she could be so well versed in how it is to be able to translate it onto paper.

The artwork is crisp and vibrant and is also scattered with various artists work from the original comic covers and bonus art in the bonus section of the back. The series characters come out very well onto paper with their special mix of comedy and antisocial sociopathic tendencies. As Cyd delves further into her growing addiction she comes across all her guildmates forming something akin to human interaction that seems to solve some of her social faults, even if her therapist disagrees. Overall, a quality book in story, art and even the physical paper itself. So glossy, mmm, I can see my fingerprints when the light shines on them.

4 accidental acts of arson out of 5

Friday, April 11, 2014

The Legend of Zelda: Phantom Hourglass (2009)

Author: Akira Himekawa | Illustrator: Akira Himekawa | Page Count: 190

“…everything changed, and nothing did.”

The game (2007) on which the Phantom Hourglass manga is based is a sequel to The Wind Waker (2002)* but WW didn't get a manga, so if you read PH without having played WW you may be wondering why Link is on a sailing ship with a crew.  Alternatively, you may not care very much because the story of PH offers little to connect with.  Of the ten LoZ mangas I've read, it was the least entertaining.  The saving grace, ironically absent from the game, is the inclusion of a dangerous guilt that eats away at the conscience of one of the characters; it plants a seed of unpredictability within the already shaky group stability.

The elongated midriff and stumpy legs design is recreated.  I was prepared for that but without the eyegasm attained from the beautiful cel shading that makes everything glow, the weird perspectives are harder to overlook.  There’s also more chibi but it’s not as frequent as it was in The Minish Cap (2006).

I'm disappointed that the superior Twilight Princess (2006)* was passed over.  TP has a more dramatic story with a dark ambiguity that could've been brought to the fore.  Taking into account how well Akira Himekawa has handled similar themes in previous books, I've no doubt that it would've been better than PH.

2½ monsters with obvious weak points out of 5

*You can read reviews of both The Wind Waker and Twilight Princess games on our sister site, Nut Load.

Thursday, April 10, 2014

The Legend of Zelda: The Minish Cap (2006)

Author: Akira Himekawa | Illustrator: Akira Himekawa | Page Count: 190

"The road you travel will be dangerous.  Take this."

Link is always recognisable in his green duds and pointy hat but he’s not always the same Link.  There are exceptions but usually the character is different in each game.  It’s not a drastic change; it’s more of a variation on a theme.  Akira Himekawa applies the same principle to each of her Links in the books.  The art in TMC is 100% chibi.  It would've made sense to draw certain parts of the story that way but unfortunately it’s used from beginning to end.  I'm not a fan of the style but judging by the level of excellence shown in the previous books, I'm guessing it’s at least good chibi?

Something else I wasn't enamoured with was this version of Link; he’s a moody child in need of a reality check or a swift kick up the ass (if Hyrulian law allows such things).  Fortunately, he gets it (the reality check, not the ass-kick) when a villain casts a spell on Princess Zelda.  Personally, I’d have left her as she was; she’d complain less and the only maintenance required would be a dusting every now and then, but Link wants her back so he sets off to right a wrong.

When child Link is the protagonist, LoZ fans are required to dismiss questions about why a child is sent into danger with a sword to kill and maim but TMC addresses those concerns wonderfully by providing a valid reason for that kind of irresponsibility to be necessary.

I really enjoyed the game's story* because it explores the ordinary from an extraordinary perspective.  I hoped that behind the eye-bleeding cuteness the book would deliver the same.  It does, but in a much shorter span of time.  I also love the changing history of Hyrule that shapes the societal and religious beliefs each time; that part of it is well represented here.

Hopefully I've made it clear that the problems I had with the book adaptation were predominantly of my own making and based on my own preferences, so take that into account.  The story is good and takes some risks that pay off handsomely.  If you love chibi and you love LoZ, then TMC may be tailor-made for you.

3 pieces of happiness out of 5

*You can read a review of the GBA game on our sister site, Nut Load.

Wednesday, April 9, 2014

The Legend of Zelda: A Link to the Past (2005)

Author: Akira Himekawa | Illustrator: Akira Himekawa | Page Count: 184

Somewhere under heaven is the Golden Power…”

All the LoZ mangas can be classed as action/adventure tales but ALTTP* is more traditional than the rest.  Its simplicity reminds me of the classic fantasy movies of the late 80s.  Ironically, that’s also its weakest aspect.  It’s too familiar.

It’s not all bad, though.  The emotional content is increased to compensate for the lack of originality.  From the very beginning, ALTTP grips the reader's sympathies more aggressively than any of the preceding books.  It weighs the immensity of the task ahead against the weight in the hero’s heart.  The hero is (of course) Link; he’s kind, gentle, noble and selfless.  His quest is threefold: save the princess, uncover his own origins and protect the innocent by conquering evil.

Akira Himekawa created an original character to accompany Link on his quest.  It might sound heretical to people that hold ALTTP in high regard but it works beautifully; the relationship between them helps detract from the all-too-familiar nature of the story.  They share common ground but have different motivations.   The praise for Himekawa doesn't end there.  Her artwork gives life to the adventure more successfully than the simplistic dialogue; even during a quest montage!  She's an artist that makes contrasts work in her favour.

Ultimately, if the sensitivity of the protagonists and newly created concerns that drive them hadn't been to the fore as much as they are, the book would've struggled to rise above its failings in other areas.

3 revitalising apples out of 5

*You can read a review of the SNES game on our sister site, Nut Load.

Tuesday, April 8, 2014

The Legend of Zelda: Four Swords (2004)

Author: Akira Himekawa | Illustrator: Akira Himekawa | Page Count: 196 + 176

"There’s a new Link in this chain!"

I've not played Four Swords Adventures (2004) because the stores near where I lived didn't stock it and I didn't have access to online retailers back then, but after reading the two-part adaptation I'm wishing that I could play it right now!

After some brief but satisfying establishing of Link’s uppity nature and his close friendship with Princess Zelda, the Big Bad is unleashed and the adventure begins.

The environments will be familiar to anyone that’s played any of the previous games (Castle Town, Mountain / Ice / Desert regions etc) but that familiarity doesn't result in reader apathy because the situations that the Links find themselves in holds the attention completely.  The comedy is situational and more often than not caused by confrontation; it’s rarely the goofy kind that I complained about in Oracle of Seasons (2001), so it’s much more enjoyable.

The art is black and white, so the four colours identifier on the cover is redundant inside.  Akira Himekawa gets around that by giving each Link a unique tone / pattern instead.  She also provides each with a unique personality.  There’s plenty of help in the narrative but frantic battle scenes can be confusing.  Rather than try to remember who the darker gray was and who the dotted pattern was, etc, I found it more engaging to remember which colour was impetuous, which was cautious, etc, and then note the expression on each Link’s face as he responds to words or actions.  The temperaments are so well depicted that it made it both simple and fun to match them to their colour.  At the same time I could note the strengths and weaknesses of each one at specific times.

Book I is fantastic and surpasses all the LoZ books that came before it.  If Book II had kept the same level of momentum then Four Swords would've scored even higher but I need to take an average of the two, therefore:

3½ lucky finds in the toy box out of 5

Saturday, April 5, 2014

The Legend of Zelda: Oracle of Seasons / Oracle of Ages (2001)

Author: Akira Himekawa | Illustrator: Akira Himekawa | Page Count: 194 + 196

"Use your left hand!  Your left!"

Each of the two Game Boy Colour games that were released simultaneously back in 2001 got its own manga adaptation.  The games were connected but also cleverly designed to be enjoyed independently in whichever order the player chose.  You could say the same of the books but it makes slightly more sense to read Seasons before you read Ages; I’ll explain why later.

Oracle of Seasons begins in Hylia.  Link balks at the suggestion that he should practice his sword skills more fervently.  He doesn’t yet understand why Hyrule needs knights willing to lay their life on the line to protect its citizens, but the power of the Triforce will soon change all that…

The main problem I had with Seasons was the exaggerated comedy typical of manga aimed at a younger audience.  I’m aware that the books are targeting a young audience but the previous volumes, Ocarina of Time (2000) and Majora’s Mask (2001), avoided that kind of cliché for the most part.  Having it so prevalent in this volume was unexpected and lessened my enjoyment of the story.

Oracle of Ages is superior to Seasons in every way.  It’s less comical and thematically more satisfying.  There’s also more action but not at the expense of story or character development.  It’s as if the events in Seasons have helped Link grow less foolish, to gain confidence and have faith in his decision making.
The story puts him in a race against time to stop an evil from destroying the present by meddling in the past.  It takes place in a different land than Seasons but the structure is similar in that none of the dungeons from the game are featured and his new-found companions come to his aid when needed.

3 seed abilities out of 5

Friday, April 4, 2014

The Legend of Zelda: Majora's Mask (2001)

Author: Akira Himekawa | Illustrator: Akira Himekawa | Page Count: 208

"As long as I see that in the sky, I can’t rest."

Majora's Mask continues the story told in Ocarina of Time (2000).  Link enters a mysterious forest searching for his missing fairy, Navi.  Trouble ensues and Link ends up in a situation wherein he has just three days to stop a major disaster or everyone caught in the impact will be killed.

The way the N64 game is structured* doesn't make any kind of linear adaptation easy, so Akira Himekawa took the only sensible route open, which was to focus on the acquisition of those masks that directly effect Link and ignore all but the most pertinent side-quest, i.e. the one that offers the most opportunity to pluck at the heartstrings.  You can likely guess which one that is.  Consequently, a lot more changes have been made to the story than was made to OoT, but in most cases they were unavoidable and as before they're respectful.

MM had some very dark themes; some of which make it onto the page.  The Happy Mask Salesman is wiggins and the main antagonist is somewhat disturbing in ways that I won’t mention.  What’s even stranger is that, while they’re innocuous enough to be overlooked, the inclusion of a small number of questions asked by some of the characters can be interpreted in such a way that they lend credence to the theory that sprung up amongst fans to explain how Link got from Hyrule to Termina in such a short space of time.  It's interesting, to say the least.

MM is one of the few Legend of Zelda games in which Princess Zelda doesn't play an active role, so it seems fitting that the bonus story that comes after the main story has no Link; but it’s connected nonetheless, so don’t skip it.

3½ shtump steps out of 5

*You can read a review of the N64 game on our sister site, Nut Load.

Thursday, April 3, 2014

The Legend of Zelda: Ocarina of Time (2000)

Author: Akira Himekawa | Illustrator: Akira Himekawa | Page Count: 192 + 192

You’re certainly popular with the ladies.”

The first LoZ manga from Akira Himekawa* was a two part work based on the excellent N64 game of the same name.  It essentially tells the same story but there are some significant differences in how characters are introduced, none of which I found to be in any way disrespectful.  In fact, the opposite was true.  The narrative makes new connections between existing characters, and in doing so enables some very successful emotional moments to surface.
The drama is never underplayed but nor does it ever take itself too seriously, so it's able to have an occasional laugh at its own expense (see above quote).

The artwork is magnificent.  Even the rough sketches that are included are fantastic!  Child Link world has a different feel than Adult Link world and the danger level in each reflects that.  Seeing the locations rendered in comic book form is great fun but it’s the little things lurking in the background that make it extra special.  The cuccos at Kakariko Village and the dogs and sleeping Bombchu lady in Castle Town were my personal favourites.  Akira Himekawa obviously spent time in the game world and drank of its delights.**

The hurried pace as a consequence of content removed is the only thing that drags the books down.  Although it’s not all bad: the Water Temple is reduced to about 4 pages that amounts to Enter / Kill / Exit, which is something that many gamers wish they could've done while playing, myself included.

After the main story, there are two bonus stories.  One is a prequel featuring the mysterious Skull Kid that I liked a lot.  The other is unconnected to the game story and features a new race that was less interesting.

It's presented in the original Right to Left manga format, which seems to have eliminated the usual need to flip the images, so yes, Link is a lefty.

3½ bottles of milk out of 5

*Akira Himekawa is a pseudonym used by two authors / artists whose real names are unknown.  It was simpler just to use the one name to refer to them both.

**You can read a review of the N64 game on our sister site, Nut Load.

Wednesday, April 2, 2014

The League of Extraordinary Gentlemen: Nemo: Roses of Berlin (2014)

Author: Alan Moore | Illustrator: Kevin O'Neill | Page Count: 56

I think I recognise my conscience on those rare occasions when I meet it.”

Roses of Berlin is set in 1941.  An adversary from Janni‘s past, typically unnamed but recognisable, returns to make life difficult for her and her family.

Moore brings a few things back from past adventures to keep the continuity going, and heaps some new content on top to keep things fresh.  As usual, he fills his narrative with obscure references to people and places that will alienate a great many readers.  To get the most from the story you’ll need some knowledge of WWII politics and silent era cinema, particularly the German Expressionist movement.  I have some of the latter, but not so much of the former.  Realistically, though, I suspect that percentage will be reversed in the majority of cases.

He further alienates readers by having some of the text in German without a footnote translation.  I only know about ten words in German, so I was unable to understand what was going on in those scenes.  There’s also some minor French dialogue.  I could read it but it wasn't at all necessary to understanding the plot.  It merely reinforces what we've already been told, which begs the question of why it was included at all.  I can’t say the same for the German pages, though.  They could be similarly unnecessary, or they could be crucial.  Fuctifino.

Overall, perhaps partly because of what’s mentioned above but not completely, I found this volume lacking.  The cinematic elements were fun and action packed, but the story didn't feel like it warranted its own separate edition.

Nothing to do with the plot but notable nonetheless is the return of the League title on the cover after being absent on Heart of Ice (2013).

2½ propaganda broadcasts out of 5

Tuesday, April 1, 2014

Shaun of the Dead (2010)

Author: Chris Ryall (based on a script by Simon Pegg and Edgar Wright) | Illustrator: Zach Howard / Sean Murphy | Page Count: 96

You've got red on you.”

If you've not already watched the FILM (2004), put your Hog Lumps down and go do that before you read the official adaptation because it’ll help you fill in the gaps, of which there are many.  That’s the consequence of editing a packed story down to just 96 pages, which is what Chris Ryall had the unenviable task of doing to Simon Pegg and Edgar Wright's original script.

There are of course things about the film that can’t be recreated in a comic medium, such as the long tracking shot as Shaun goes to buy the newspaper, and Queen on the Jukebox, both of which are highlights, but the sharp wit of the dialogue translates well and it’s that part of it that Ryall captures almost perfectly.  I say ‘almost’ because obviously the inflections are absent, but if you’re familiar with how Pegg and Frost speak then you can add them yourself.

The biggest casualty is that the absence of some of the quieter moments results in Shaun seeming more of an anxious depressive than the lovable loser he ought to be, and the bromance between he and Ed is compromised.

The artwork is excellent.  The resemblances are there but it’s also uniquely stylised.  There’s great use of free form lines, meaning it’s not overly rigid in its depiction.  It exaggerates some of the action scenes but hey, it’s a comic, it’s allowed to do that and it works in its favour.

A small number of panels are added showing events that aren't seen in the film but they’re nothing to get excited about.  The main difference from a story point of view is that some of the action is presented from a different character’s perspective.  That was a welcome change.

I consider it more of a fan-pleasing companion piece than a standalone work.  That way I can overlook the fact that locations change suddenly, characterisation of secondary characters is almost nil and the ending is even more abrupt than this.

3 dangerous vinyls out of 5