Review

by Carlo Santos, Sep 29th 2007

Disgaea 2

GN 1

Synopsis:
Disgaea 2 GN 1
Demon prince Laharl has finally become Overlord of the Netherworld, but all is not well in his realm. Laharl's vassal Etna, tired of being kicked around, has revolted and decided to start her own quest to become an Overlord. The quickest way to become one is to defeat one, so Etna sets her sights on Zenon, the demonic ruler of the world of Veldime. However, Zenon is also being sought out by another would-be conqueror—Adell, the last human in Veldime! Things aren't exactly working out for Adell, though: instead of summoning Zenon into battle, he's summoned Zenon's bratty daughter Rozalin instead. Now he must return Rozalin to her father—and if Adell can defeat Zenon while he's at it, restoring peace to Veldime, all the better...
Review:

It goes without saying that the people most likely to buy a Disgaea manga are the people who have played the Disgaea video games. But that doesn't mean it's inaccessible to "newbs"; in fact, the comedy angle adds an extra layer of appeal to the usual RPG-adventure elements. Much like the original story, Disgaea 2 is all about fantasy heroes and villains bumbling around and making a mockery of the genre. Spoiled demon princesses, washed-up action heroes, and a troupe of befuddled exploding penguins—it's all good fun ... until the silliness wears out. Once that happens, the weakness of the series becomes evident: it's just another good-versus-evil quest with strangely-named characters in funny clothes. Clearly, self-mockery only goes so far.

But how far exactly? About 80 pages or so—that's the point where the pure goofiness ends and the Veldime arc (and hence the start of the actual Disgaea 2 game) begins. Prior to that, the first half of this volume is basically a bridge between the first and second Disgaea games, and because it's completely original content, it gives artist Hekaton a chance to shine. The characters feel more vibrant and outwardly comedic than they ever were in the first Disgaea manga—fallen angel Flonne has her airheaded naïveté pushed to the max, Etna is as much of a firebrand as she ever was, and Laharl reigns supreme with his cocky attitude. The humor works best when it inverts the demon world into a series of goofy sitcom situations—Laharl and Etna arguing over pudding, a court hearing where Etna applies for "Beauty Queen" status (because they don't give out the "Overlord" title, so that's the closest you can get), and Laharl spending a lonely night of gaming because everyone else has left the castle.

And then the new characters show up. It's understandable for a video game sequel to introduce a new cast, but switching to them halfway through a manga volume—not to mention switching to a whole new storyline—is a disorienting experience. Will Etna's quest to overthrow Zenon ever be resolved? Apparently not, since Adell and Rozalin just take over the story completely. While these two do have a certain charm, with Adell playing the straight man to Rozalin's spoiled-princess act, it's clear that they're just going through the motions of the actual game's plot. They traipse through the forest, meet the action-hero-turned-TV-host Axel, and spend the night with Adell's family after a fruitless day of searching for Zenon. As one can imagine, these generic adventure-quest events don't have the audacity and spark of the book's first half, not even with the wacky anime-parodying "episode previews."

Even the artwork seems to reflect this shift in quality: the first half is a showcase of bold lines and snappy comedic sequences, but once the Veldime storyline kicks in, the visuals become cluttered with adventuring scenes and unfamiliar characters. Hmm, could it possibly be that trying to squeeze in the game's plot is hampering the layouts? Just a thought. The style is constantly high-energy, with characters jumping and running and exploding their way through each scene, often breaking panel borders or switching to super-deformed style. But as mentioned above, the artwork gets pretty cluttered when it's trying to tell the story and look dynamic at the same time. At least the character designs are clean and consistent—there isn't anything too groundbreaking about them (typical RPG fare), but they're easy enough to remember after a chapter or so. Don't be fooled by their childlike looks, though: this one lays it on pretty thick with the fanservice, from Etna's skimpy outfit to Rozalin's ample chest (which does get exposed in a bathtub scene).

Irreverent dialogue is part of Disgaea's comedic charm, and the translation definitely gets that part right. It's fun to see Laharl and Etna go at it, or Adell grumbling about Rozalin's spoiled attitude. Even parody references and gaming lingo are handled well: a cultural glossary in the back is used mostly for explaining various spoofs, including the "episode previews" between chapters. Sometimes it even catches subtle, easy-to-miss jokes! The only hiccup in the dialogue is that it sometimes goes too far trying to be funny—it gets a bit tiring having to put up with the Prinnies saying "dood" all the time. Meanwhile, sound effect translations are done in a very entertaining way, with lettering that matches the Japanese originals in both size and style. A glossy color page in the front also adds a premium touch to this volume.

Although Disgaea 2 has the potential to be entertaining, as shown in the first half of this volume, it backslides into typical RPG territory once the real storyline shows up. Poking fun at fantasy worlds and characters is a good thing—but apparently, that satirical edge has to be sacrificed when trying to juggle a video game plot at the same time. We can only hope for one of the following developments in the next volume: either the plot gets deeper, or the humor picks up again. (Or maybe both!) Anyone can tell a story about a young hero on a quest to vanquish a demon lord, but Disgaea's trademark has always been to tell that story in the most goofy, self-deprecating way possible. Frankly, Adell and his co-stars just aren't being goofy and self-deprecating enough, and that's a big disappointment.

Grade:
Production Info:
Overall : C+
Story : C
Art : B

+ A hilarious, boldly drawn first half where demons and their ilk get into all sorts of scrapes.
Abruptly introduces new characters and a new world in the second half, and then loses a lot of its humorous edge.

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