Reviewby Rebecca Silverman, Oct 23rd 2011
Monster Hunter Orage
Ever since he was a small child, Shiki Ryuho has been training to travel the world and fight monsters. After his master's untimely death, Shiki vows to continue the fight while following his master's precepts: 1) Introduce yourself to the local guild. 2) Find comrades. 3) Treasure those comrades. With these goals in mind, Shiki feels he is set to take on the world – or at least the baddest monster it has.
Don't be fooled by this book's T rating or Hiro Mashima's previous works. Despite the hack'n'slash premise and Mashima's busty art style, this is a series for the 8 to 10 crowd, and while older readers can enjoy it, it will find the warmest welcome within that younger demographic. Based on Capcom's relatively popular Monster Hunter games (which also tend to carry the T rating), the story was created with the goal of allowing Mashima to play around with the established world. Since RPGs tend to go through an immense amount of world building before the game hits the shelves, this gives him a lot to work with. While manga based on games have a checkered past in general, Mashima does a credible job of transferring the Monster Hunter universe from the console to the page.
The story begins with a brief flashback to Shiki's training under his now deceased master. This allows a few things to be established: the story will use a star rating system to tell us how difficult the monsters are to kill, and the basic moral of the story is to love your friends. Both of these conventions firmly point to a younger intended audience than either Fairy Tail or Rave Master, and despite the amount of killing, the violence is as bloodless as a Wile E. Coyote cartoon. Monsters die, but you'll see more graphic battle if you own a cat who hunts. Shiki's character is also laid out in the opening sequence: he's loyal and has a tendency to yell while drawing out his words (“Yesssss!!! Masterrrr!!!!”). It can get annoying, particularly as he doesn't loose the habit once he is older.
Shiki is a character of uneven maturity. At times he wanders around yelling his intentions at the top of his lungs - “I, Shiki Ryuho, will now approach the guild!!!!” Then within pages he'll be making astute comments about how someone is clearly a guild regular because she has a reserved seat. He maintains this strange dichotomy throughout the volume, leaving us with an uncertain grasp of his age. He also at times tends to talk in an NPC in a role-playing game, something other characters are guilty of as well. Explanations are given as if we are reading the text in a quest log, and some of the background details of missions also have that flavor. In all fairness, Mashima may be doing this in order to capture the feel of the original games, but it doesn't quite work. A particularly egregious example is when blacksmith Sakya updates our heroes' weapons. Her descriptions of her work read like a shop's item catalog.
On the subject of Sakya, however, she and heroine Ailee are two things that Mashima does right. Both are strong characters without being stereotypical warrior females. Yes, Ailee is still “the feisty one” while Sakya is “the sweet one,” but they both show strength and skill that matches Shiki's, making this a good choice for both boys and girls in late elementary school. Ailee is dressed in an outfit that conforms to the Barbarian Chick Principle, which states that the less covered a female fighter is, the more protected her flesh. Like her ancestress Red Sonja, all of Ailee's major organs are perfectly exposed. This is the one real issue with the book as one for younger readers – Ailee twice removes her “armor,” leaving her in what by most people's standards is underwear. That, however, is something for parents to decide rather than reviewers.
Mashima's art is a bit simplified for this series, although he still goes into amazing detail with costumes and backgrounds. The monsters are nothing special, perhaps due to fidelity to the source material, but faces are ever so slightly less detailed than in his more typical art. This does give a more Oda-esque flavor to the work, and Shiki may remind a few people of Luffy in both personality and appearance. It isn't enough to be distracting, however.
Kodansha's product remains nigh on indistinguishable from Del Rey's, although this volume contains a note verifying that the translation is faithful and giving the original Japanese date of publication, something not present even in other Kondansha releases of the same month. Translation notes this time around speak more to the difficulties of bringing this volume to English speaking readers, as the translator was forced to go between the manga and the English versions of the games. If you're coming to the manga as a player of Monster Hunter, these notes will mean much more to you. Likewise the appendix of Mashima and his assistants' playing habits will be more interesting to gamers than casual readers. Otherwise the translation is solid and uses simple vocabulary.
Despite its flaws, Monster Hunter Orage is a fun, if not always inspired, read. Although Ailee provides some eye candy, the simple plot, immature (or rather, unevenly mature) hero, and slightly simplified art style makes for an easy way to hook a reluctant reader. Older consumers will be bored and possibly a bit annoyed, but overall, Mashima has done a good job making a video game into a very readable manga.
Overall : B-
Story : B-
Art : A-
+ Younger readers will find the story exciting, retains the flavor a game without being incomprehensible to non-gamers. Excellent background art and good action poses.
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