Reviewby Carlo Santos, Feb 28th 2008
In the distant future, after the events of the Great War, the world has transformed into a harsh desert environment. In this era, advanced technology is closely guarded by an elite ruling class called The Third, leaving common people to struggle for survival. Among them is a young girl named Honoka, who is undergoing apprenticeship as a "Dune Runner"—an odd-jobs specialist who helps out other common people. Honoka's tasks could be just about anything: finding a lost cat, helping a bedridden boy live his dream, stopping a robot on the loose, or saving a musician who's down on life. But Honoka also carries a secret that suggests she may be more than what she seems.
If there's anything original to be found in the manga version of The Third, it's that it digs into prequel territory, rather than blindly reciting the events of the anime or novels. But just because it generates new story content, doesn't mean it's great: this chronicle of Honoka's early years is just another typical walk through the sci-fi action-adventure wasteland. A desolate, post-futuristic desert setting? It's been done. A bounty-hunter-type girl who defends the poor and stands up for what's right? It's been done. The art may look clean and polished, with a number of lively action sequences, but that kind of eye candy can't hide a storyline that's decidedly lacking in substance.
To its credit, though, at least this series tries. Honoka's missions cover a wide range of subject matter—yes, she really does recover a lost cat in Chapter 1—and the characters she meets come from all walks of life ... even artificial life. The plotting is also easily understood, following a safe formula where Honoka gets her assignment, figures out what must be done, and then resolves the issue (usually with a few leaps and explosions). Even Honoka herself carries plenty of appeal: her outspoken, gung-ho attitude makes her a heroine worth cheering for in any situation.
Despite these positives, however, the storytelling does little else to make itself stand out in the genre. After all, following an episodic formula only means that the story makes sense; it doesn't necessarily make the story more gripping or imaginative. And that's the problem here: the challenges that Honoka faces are rather dull, having been pulled from the pages of other work-for-hire-adventurer stories. Watch over an innocent child; put a stop to some technology gone wrong; protect the life of a genius musician and her instrument—all decent ideas on paper, but lacking the spark or twist that makes a reader say "Wow! I gotta get more of this!" A lack of continuity between chapters also makes it hard to get that "I want more" feeling: there's no motivation to keep on reading if every chapter starts with the same wordy introduction and ends with some arbitrary feel-good moment. And when this volume does try to dig into bigger plot concepts, it's too little too late: a handful of pages about the politics of The Third and Honoka's unusual condition is basically lip service that says, "Find out more in the anime, because we're not going to bother discussing it here."
If you're going to sit through a lackluster story, there might as well be decent art, and that's where this series delivers. Honoka's adventures are rendered in crisp, clean lines, with just the right amount of action to keep fans happy. At times, individual scenes get a little too cluttered with speedlines, but the well-spaced paneling makes it easy to follow what's going on. Also easy to follow are the character designs: sure, they're all victims of the generic big-eyes-and-sharp-hair style, but each one is distinctly different, and there's no mistaking Honoka or the secondary characters for anyone else. The backgrounds are a tad more ordinary, though: all the usual post-apocalyptic badlands clichés are in play here, including endless dunes, weather-beaten towns, and occasional pockets of metropolitan civilization. Put all together, this is a visual package that's well-polished and pleasant to look at, although lacking in innovation.
The overly simple dialogue might be another reason why this series' storytelling doesn't satisfy: it's hard to take the characters seriously when they express their thoughts in short grade-school sentences. Consider Honoka's lines from Chapter 1, for example: "In the outlands, there is an outland way of living." (Oh really? Thank you, Captain Obvious!) It gets a little better once there's action and adventure in between the dialogue, but most of the writing still feels dumbed-down. Sound effects in this volume are left untranslated, although there aren't that many in the first place. Regular readers of Tokyopop titles might also be pleasantly surprised to find a couple of glossy color pages up front and sharp print quality throughout the book.
The paper-and-pictures version of The Third may be a fun diversion for those looking for an action-adventure fix, but it still has its flaws. The stories, varied as they are, all seem to walk through the challenge-fight-win formula, and the lack of an overall plotline makes it difficult to stay interested from chapter to chapter. If you can accept those flaws, however, this volume is decent enough: the lead character is likable, she gets to do a whole lot of different things, and she shows off her battle skills in a number of well-polished scenes. Just don't expect anything beyond the usual fancy leaps and explosions—it's only a prequel, after all, and the real heart of The Third is to be found in the main series.
Overall : C+
Story : C
Art : B-
+ A variety of characters and situations rendered in a sharp, appealing artistic style.
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