The Fall 2019 Manga Guide
Our Last Crusade
What's It About?After his conscience propels him to release a young girl (a member of the Nebulis Sovereignty who his country is at war with, and who possesses large magical capacity), the young soldier Iska is thrown into prison for the crime of treason. One day, suddenly, he is released and given the task of defeating a witch of incredible power. Handed two swords which allow him to counter the Witch's magics, Iska reunites with his squad and fights her on the battlefield, an even match in skills and ability, only to find when her mask is knocked off that she is but a girl, a human just like him, not some incompatible magic monster as his empire would have him believe. And so, the two begin to form a connection, a bond through chance meetings that threatens to rend the status quo asunder and, hopefully, put an end to the war between their two nations for good.
Our Last Crusade or the Rise of a New World features art by okama and character designs Ao Nekobane. It is based on the series of light novels by Kei Sazane. It is available from Yen Press, releasing in November and retailing for $13.00 physically. The light novels are also available from Yen Press.
Is It Worth Reading?
Some series make a seamless transition between their original format and manga. Others do not. Sadly Our Last Crusade is one of the latter, and at least part of its problem is that someone felt the need to up the fanservice rather than relying on the story – which I mostly enjoyed in its light novel form – in order to hook readers. Mostly this is a problem with the art, particularly with MisMis, one of Iska's fellow Imperial soldiers. MisMis as a character is annoying in her own right, falling into the tropes of “ditzy female officer” and “adult who looks like a child,” but the artwork here adds a whole new level of incredulity to our attempts to digest her. Seriously, if she managed to get away with paying a child's rate at the movie theatre with that ludicrous chest, someone was giving her a discount for a different reason. Of course, since artist Okama doesn't have the world's best grasp of drawing bodies with any sort of consistency, maybe that's on them rather than the plot.
In any event, pieces of what made the first novel interesting do remain here. The central plot, that the Empire and the Sovereignty have been at war ever since the Empire started treating magic users poorly about a century ago and now two plucky young teens are thinking that perhaps stopping the senseless killing would be a good idea, remains intact, as does the star-crossed lovers element of Iska and Alice's relationship. At this point, though, the story isn't far enough along to really get into that, and we're more stuck in the “Alice is a tsundere” portion of the romance. While this absolutely exists in the novel as well, the greater amount of content there allows for the plot to move past this more annoying stage more quickly, something I didn't realize was so helpful until I read this manga volume. There's also a lack of time for side characters like Rin, Alice's mother, and Iska's other teammates to develop, nor do we get the sense of how oppressive both sides are to their forces. While all of this may very well come out in volume two, it feels like we're just getting the shadows of the characters and their story here, which makes the whole thing less compelling.
There is a nice addition to the piece about Iska's actions a year prior to the events of the plot, but on the whole this just isn't as instantly interesting as its source material. Unless you're absolutely opposed to reading a novel, I'd definitely suggest experiencing the story that way, because this just isn't as good.
The awkwardly titled Our Last Crusade or the Rise of New World is not offensive in any way, shape or form. Its primary interest is simply in parroting a basic anti-war message on top of a Romeo and Juliet story with swords and magic and explosions thrown over top, and it kind of stops there. Its writing isn't very good, oscillating wildly between conflicting tones and never really deciding whether it wants to be a politically charged epic or a tender, basic rom-com, but it is perfectly harmless and serviceable in mind of its central goals. The main problem is that the execution of its manga adaptation is severely lacking.
I don't like talking about art quality in my reviews very much. I'm not an artist myself, I'm not well versed in visual art techniques or means of construction, and mangacraft is an extremely difficult, exploitative field that takes an insane amount of work to create with often very little appreciation or compensation. But the art in Our Last Crusade is not good at all, to the point where it's impossible to gloss over. Faces are flat, bodies have ludicrous and uncanny proportions (the scene where the big-breasted, ditz-y commander is introduced is so badly drawn it has to be seen to be believed), and the action is smudge-y, half-drawn blurs cycling through motions that don't even scan as physically plausible half the time. It also has some of the worst paneling I've seen in a long time, and its character designs are genuinely bad, so lacking in distinction and same-faced to an extent that's almost funny. It's a manga that fails so hard as a manga it's remarkable. Our Last Crusade would be simply bland if this manga iteration weren't so, on-its-face incompetent. It's a good reminder that script and story are only an aspect of a given manga series, and that basic things like having panels that flow into each other or even fully fill-out a page are just as important. Manga is a visually based art form, after all. Any kind of story or style will fit inside its pages, it just needs to be considered and utilize the enshrined, existing methods of expression that have been in play since artists first took paint to canvas. Our Last Crusade takes any semblance of considered expression and throws it out the window, to a point where it may need to be studied to dissect all the layers of went wrong. Point is: If at one point you must flip your book upside down to read dialogue in a fantasy Romeo and Juliet riff, something might have gone wrong.
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