Reviewby Rebecca Silverman,
It started out as a perfectly normal day – high school students Kazuya, Atsuro, and Yuzu were supposed to meet up with Kazuya's cousin Naoya in Shibuya. But Naoya doesn't show, instead sending three specialized “comps,” devices that look suspiciously like Nintendo DS systems, that come equipped with weird messages predicting the future. Before the trio knows what's going on, they find themselves battling demons that have emerged from their machines, soon to be caught up in a war between devils and humans that they can't even begin to understand.
While any form of adaptation from one medium to another is difficult, games into another narrative format seem to be particularly troublesome. Whether this is because the choices present in the originals now have to be made for the reader, as opposed to the players making those decisions themselves or just because the mechanics of storytelling in a game are too far from telling one on paper I'm not sure, but the first volume of Satoru Matsuba's manga version of Atlus' game Devil Survivor definitely has some signs of not working quite as well in this format.
The plots of the two are thus far very close, barring the “death clock” aspect, although it seems likely that will enter the picture next volume: three teen friends, the unnamed game protagonist now named Kazuya, are hanging out in downtown Tokyo when they are given specialized “comps,” Nintendo DS-like computers that function similarly to a cell phone. The comps are encoded, but Atsuro is a computer whiz, and he sets about hacking into the devices. When he does, it reveals an email predicting future events...which rapidly begin to come true. Shaken, the three friends soon find that their lives are even more complicated when the comps summon demons from a variety of mythologies. Kazuya succeeds in defeating his, thus revealing a system whereby summoned demons will come to the aid of humans for a price.
There's a very mechanical feel to this first volume, almost as if you can see the choices popping up on a screen but are unable to make your own selection. Even the game mechanic of being able to give your character a nickname is indicated when each character is introduced: the character's full name and age are written out, followed by a name in quotation marks, presumably showing what he or she is usually called...or maybe what they think they ought to be called, since nowhere in the book does anyone refer to Yuzu as “Yuz” or Atsuru as “At-Low.” Also seeming a bit off is the introduction of an Internet-worshipping cult in the volume's opening pages, followed by the convenient passing by of one of the members, a girl who just happens to be able to tell the gang some of what's going on as she's headed somewhere else. It's a conceit that works better on-screen than on-page, and while having our protagonists survive at least day one is important, it comes off as feeling very canned.
Not that the book is a total disaster. Clunky storytelling mechanics aside, the diversity of the demons is impressive, pulling from American, British, Scandinavian, and Japanese mythologies in just this first volume, and Kazuya's ability to stop himself from panicking and focus makes him more than just a cookie cutter hero, largely because we see him panic before he comes through. He also seems to really try to understand what's going on rather than just going with it, making him a nice change from the more typical shounen protagonist, who has a tendency to leap before looking or thinking. I am somewhat concerned that neither Yuzu nor Atsuro will get to become characters in their own rights, but given the distinct feeling of set up in this introductory volume, it seems worth giving the story another book to start heading in that direction.
The artwork does maintain a visual link to the original game, but besides that has some issues. The major one is Yuzu; remarkably unattractive outfit aside, her body looks far too thick for her head, giving her a misshapen look that doesn't really happen with the boys or the less buxom Amane, and her breasts seem to change size with each panel. All of the characters suffer from pinheads, and the large amounts of dark gray spaces can make the images a little hard to follow at times. More at issue here, however, is the fact that the inner edges of almost all of the pages disappear into the binding, something which has happened in the past with other Kodansha releases. The binding is nice and flexible, so the book can be opened wider without destroying the spine, but on a few a pages even that isn't enough for full readability.
Devil Survivor's manga version is off to a bit of a shaky start, suffering from clunky storytelling, some awkward art, and a production issue. It isn't inherently bad by any means, and the introductory feel of this volume definitely merits giving it another book to get itself on track. This falls into the “mostly harmless” category – good enough to finish the volume, but not quite good enough to give it more than two.
Overall : C
Story : C
Art : C
+ Interesting diversity of monsters in both art and origins, no lulls in plot progression.
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