Reviewby Theron Martin,
Long ago on the land of Chantra, powerful Elementals infused the very stones of the land with great power. The five mightiest of these – known as Archons – could grant their wielder unimaginable abilities. Three heroes – the human warrior Nathan, the Orc magician Walcure, and moon elf archer Gracia – eventually secured most of the Archons into weapons and passed them down their family lines. Nathan, having witnessed the awesome power of the Archons and fearing it, had his Fire Archon, which was placed into the sword Brumheart, further sealed by a special sheath, so that none could draw it that were not of his line.
Centuries later Brumheart is nobly and cautiously wielded by Nathan's descendant Leon Manas. While out on a forest ride with his infant son, an act of treachery costs Leon his life and sees Brumheart taken from him, but not before he is able to secure away his son. Sixteen years later the treacherous Ernan still seeks a way to draw the sword, while the hermit Father Kenneth has secretly raised the infant Zian into a quite immature idiot of a young man. The arrival of the pretty young magi Arin and Zian's friend, the half-orc warrior-wizard Ugdrasil, marks the beginning of a quest for the youngsters, while Ernan seeks the Noum makers of Brumheart's sheath as a means to rid himself of it and use the sword's power to take control of all of Chantra.
The ArchLord “manga” is clearly intended to be an advertisement for, and companion piece to, the ArchLord fantasy MMORPG released in the fall of 2006, as evidenced by the “exclusive in-game item download” notation on the cover. One need not be at all familiar with the game to understand and appreciate its graphic novel version, however, as it tells a reasonably good (if very typical) RPG-style fantasy story on its own. Although crippled by an utter lack of originality, its great artistry, well-established background, and some decent writing may make it a worthwhile read for fantasy fans.
The lack of originality is, by far, its biggest detriment. The two pages of all-text Archlord History at the beginning describe a fantasy world very similar in set-up to innumerable fantasy novels, games, and comics put out over the past few decades, and how many times over the years have we seen stories where the son (or daughter) of a VIP is raised incognito by some hermit or hermitlike individual for his own protection, unknowing of his birthright until the proper time comes for him to discover it? How often in such stories have the circumstances come about by an act of betrayal by a jealous former friend of the VIP who gradually becomes twisted to evil by his actions? How often has there been a weapon that only the hero can draw because of his special bloodline? The one real twist here is that the hero in question, while he has flashes of combative brilliance, is a silly, cowardly, and immature idiot. (In other words, the nominal hero is also the comic relief character.) Zian's behavior is much more an unwelcome distraction than a refreshing change of pace, however, as his comedic bits are jarring in a story that otherwise takes itself quite seriously. Fortunately he gets no more “face” time than any of the other major characters.
Unfortunately the only other character introduced so far who has shown much personality development is the villain Ernan, who starts out as the typical jealous companion and later comes across as the stereotypical “determined to rule the world” type, and the principled knight Leon, who only survives for the first two chapters. Ugdrasil doesn't get to do much beyond play out action scenes, and getting a fix on Arin's personality, beyond her irritation with Zian's behavior, is hard based on what is described here. The action scenes, though plentiful and adequately staged, aren't enough to offset the fact that the chief villain is the most involving character.
The other problem is the notable shift in tone after the first two chapters. Through the first 80 pages or so the story is told completely seriously and plays out well despite its familiarity. In fact, one who stops reading after those first two chapters could easily regard this whole project as a top-quality effort. Things go downhill once Zian comes into the scene, however, as his silly antics also occasionally draw Arin, Ugdrasil, and even Father Kenneth into his manga-influenced tomfoolery. As a result, the last few chapters become a prime example of how emulating typical manga storytelling structure is not necessarily a Good Thing.
The problems with the writing absolutely do not extend to the artistry, however. Creator Jin-Hwan Park shows great skill in every aspect of his artistic ability, producing one of the better-looking graphic novel series out there. Character designs shine, with orcs and goblins looking suitably beastly, men looking suitably handsome or wizened with age, and the two women featured here (Zian's mother and Arin) ranking among the most beautiful female characters you're ever likely to come across in a manga or graphic novel. Only in the depiction of a baby, and a comical-looking profile of a deer, do the designs show any flaw, although too often Arin looks like she's posing rather than just standing or sitting naturally. The detailed background art makes good use of clouds and other natural features, and while slightly better portrayals of action scenes in manga do exist, these do well enough. Significant manga style influences only show up in the comical caricatures used involving Zian and, to a lesser extent, Arin.
Tokyopop's production has some issues. The color cover art looks very nice, but one of the listed chapter breaks not only doesn't appear at all, but wouldn't make sense on the page number listed in the Table of Contents. Although printed in standard American left-to-right format, it mostly retains the original Korean (?) sound effects, which in some places is a problem. Following the main story are three pages of specials and 4-panel strips, an 18-page preview of the manwha Phantom printed in the same left-to-right order, and a 16-page preview of the Battle Vixens manga (known in its anime version as Ikki Tousen), which is not only printed right-to-left but has some of the pages out of order for being done that way.
If you're playing the ArchLord computer game then this complementary “manga” should be a highly appealing read. Otherwise its artistry and the caliber of the first two chapters are good enough to balance out the weaker elements and justify fantasy fans giving it a try.
Overall : B-
Story : C
Art : A
+ Great overall artistry.
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