Anime Programming in the US
Making a Living in Manga in Japan with Felipe Smith
Lost in Translation
Fifteen years after the War of Heroes, the realm of Lodoss is again threatened by evil forces. The remnants of Beld's armies have regrouped under Ashram and Pirotess, and King Kashu, Parn and Deedlit once more lead the free lands against the island of Marmo. During these trying times the apprentice knight Spark is given a seemingly mundane assignment: recover a stolen orb from a band of dark elves. Unhappy at being left out of the impending war, Spark heads out with a band of adventurers to recover the treasure. But Spark's mission is more important than he realizes, as the orb is one of three items the evil wizard Vagnado needs to resurrect Cardis, Goddess of Destruction. Soon Spark and his friends are in a desperate race to stop Vagnado and prevent the annihilation of all Lodoss.
The "second generation" story is a favorite of the fantasy genre. Virtually every successful sword-and-sorcery novel has a sequel about the characters' descendents following in the footsteps of their predecessors, ridding the land of evil. In this regard, Record of Lodoss War: Chronicles of the Heroic Knight gets no points for originality. Like the original Lodoss War, this is your run-of-the-mill fantasy adventure, but it presents an Eastern take on a traditionally Western tale, allowing us to view the "second generation" fantasy tale through fresh eyes.
Though much more popular than the manga, the anime version of Chronicles of the Heroic Knight is not generally well-liked among many Lodoss fans. Its crude artwork doesn't even approach the visual opulence of the original OVA. Though it asks viewers to disregard the latter episodes of the first series, several glaring continuity errors remain, and the story does not mesh well even with the earlier OVA installments.
The manga version avoids these pitfalls. Masato Natsumoto's artwork is rich and detailed, realizing the world of Lodoss as vividly as ever. And Lodoss creator Ryo Mizuno's script focuses more centrally on the new characters and sidesteps the plotholes of the anime, which rewrote too much of the histories of the old guard. It still ignores the final events of the original series, but grafts its tale seamlessly onto the end of the War of Heroes and presents a thoroughly entertaining "alternate ending" to the Lodoss cycle.
Mizuno is also careful not to merely recreate his original cast in this new band of adventurers. It is true that the main character Spark is little more than a regurgitated Parn, and like the original Lodoss warriors his companions represent a prefab cross-section of the various races and character classes that make up any fantasy questing party. But personality-wise, Spark's comrades-in-arms are all new and unique individuals far removed from their Lodoss ancestors. The shy, hulking wizard Aldo Nova seems less like his master Slayn and more like Patlabor's Hiromi; the dwarf cleric Greevas is way more fatherly than Ghim ever thought about being, and the sultry thief Laina's only resemblance to Woodchuck is her profession.
Most successful of the new characters are the mercenaries Gallac and half-elven Leif. The sharp-tongued pair appear patronizing and condescending to Spark and the others but soon reveal themselves to be good-natured, loyal, and concerned about their young leader's well-being. Gallac is an especially endearing personality; openly against Laina's inclusion in the party, he nonetheless risks his life to save her after his distrust puts her in jeopardy. The only two characters without any clear forerunners in the original Lodoss adventure, Leif and Gallac help keep things feeling fresh.
Once again we find Lodoss on the brink of destruction, and our heroes unwittingly swept up in the battle for its future. Mizuno shakes things up a bit by giving his heroes some inventive baddies to fight, including a Dark Elfling with some pretty amazing powers. The carefully plotted tale unfolds at a brisk pace and keeps its readers' attention glued to the page by balancing character and plot development in even doses. But for all the action and great new characters, Chronicles of the Heroic Knight is still telling the same old tale. It's told well, and it makes for a satisfying read, but there's nothing here that hasn't been done before. Lodoss War's most unique draw has always been its Japanese interpretation of European folklore, and it is the hyper-realistic battle sequences and slightly anachronistic view of medieval times that make it stand out from its Western-fantasy-novel cousins.
The attractive artwork makes it worth a look as well. Masato Natsumoto really gets a chance to shine here and has a lot of fun with Lodoss' many unusual creatures. Highly-detailed weapons and armor do not detract from the expressiveness of the characters wearing them, and like the original OVA series the Chronicles of the Heroic Knight manga has a rich and noble look to it. Getting caught up in Natsumoto's splendid visuals allows the reader to easily overlook the formulaic elements of the plot.
Lodoss War fans disappointed by the animated incarnation of Chronicles of the Heroic Knight will be pleasantly surprised to find the story done right in manga form. For high fantasy adventure with a manga twist Record of Lodoss War continues to be the title to beat. Thanks to the close involvement of Mizuno, here is an epic adventure that is both respectful of its heritage and worthy of its legacy.
Overall : B
Story : C
Art : B+
+ slick art and characterizations tell a much improved story over the animated version
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