Reviewby Casey Brienza, Dec 8th 2008
Atelier Marie and Elie –Zalburg Alchemist–
The adventuring alchemist Marlone, a.k.a. “Marie,” has returned to her hometown of Zalburg. Although she had no intention of staying, her plans, such as they are, change abruptly when she meets up with Elfir, a.k.a. “Elie,” a newly graduated alchemist planning to set up shop in town. Marie saved Elie from life-threatening illness many years ago, and the younger woman looks up to her. Elie convinces Marie to stay on and run her shop with her. Along with their new elf helpers Passek and Prusha, the two women do just that, and they discover soon enough that there is plenty of excitement to be had right on the mundane streets of Zalburg as they reunite with old friends, defend their home from danger, and take the art of alchemy to new heights…sometimes literally.
The Atelier series is a large series of Japanese role-playing games developed primarily for the PlayStation and PlayStation2 consoles. The games, typically of the lighthearted adventure sort, feature a large cast of characters exploring their world while collecting alchemical ingredients and items. The Atelier Marie and Elie –Zalburg Alchemist– manga spinoff series features the protagonists of the first two games, Marie and Elie. Lilie, the star of the third, makes occasional cameo appearances.
For fans well-acquainted with Atelier's entire impressive oeuvre, this manga will surely be a mouth-watering treat. It takes the characters of the first two games and imagines an all-original story premise taking place after the gameplay ends wherein and older—and wiser?—Marie and Elie become the best of buddies and team up to invent even better alchemical tricks. Fan wish-fulfillment fantasy time, here we come~! This is practically doujinshi material. More awesome still, the story and art are being spearheaded by Yoshihiko Ochi, veteran creator of The Record of Lodoss War: The Gray Witch, another rarified sequential art visualization of swords 'n spells-type high fantasy.
Unfortunately for fans who are familiar only with those examples of the Atelier franchise available in North America, however, the characters that appear in this manga are not the ones they are familiar with. If you are one of those fans or—Heaven forbid!—altogether new to Atelier you will a disjointed, plodding, and borderline pointless procession of chapters that feel, for all intents and purposes, like reading a fanzine when you are not a member of its particular fandom.
In fact, the story begins where ordinary adventure stories tend to end: with the protagonists deciding to get serious, settle down, and work on cultivating the next generation. The last is not literal, of course, but it might as well be; diminutive elves Passek and Prusha look like little kids…and they do not even half pointy ears to signal their inhumanness. The first half of the first volume focuses upon Marie and Elie meeting, acquiring the apprentices, and otherwise getting their atelier (which, by the way, means “workshop”) up and running. Subsequent chapters include a brief interlude with Elie's temperamental flying broomstick and a rampaging giant slime monster. (Hey, aren't slimes the usual first enemy of choice in Dragon Quest? Looks like they are the first enemy of choice in Ochi's manga, as well. How…creative of him. If this is supposed to be a joke, it is not especially funny.)
The second volume is little better and mostly confines itself to reintroducing characters who were members of the various games' supporting cast. Just in case there were any diehard fans out there who were dying to know where they are now. Ochi readily admits in his afterward that he took some liberties with some of the characters' personalities, which makes this manga, once more, very much like a doujinshi. Alas, different does not necessarily mean more nuanced or three-dimensional. It's only with the final subplot of the volume that things get even remotely—keyword remotely interesting: Marie's old friend Kyrie shows up from the demon world with demons hot on her heels and scheming sinister schemes that, of course, the alchemists will eventually be called upon to foil.
But it seems exceedingly doubtful that, after two installments, that very many readers will be interested in sticking around to see that particular inevitable outcome. Which really is a terrible shame because Ochi sure does give Atelier his best shot. His intricate, angular lines melds with surprising beauty with the soft character designs of the games, and the effect is both compelling and charismatic. Foregrounds and backgrounds are stylistically unified in a manner that few artists, with their small armies of assistants, are able to manage these days, and everyone, even the burly, bald swordsmith with the appalling singing voice, look adorable. Readers with a taste for shapely female bodies should feel especially fulfilled. Too bad art alone does not a great manga make. Such a waste.
Overall : D+
Story : D
Art : A
+ Gorgeous character designs and layouts from one of the best interpreters of Western-influenced high fantasy.
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