Reviewby Carlo Santos, Nov 25th 2007
Lewin Randit is a first-year student attending the Gaius School of Witchcraft and Wizardry—except that he shows no aptitude for magic. Currently in training as a Swordsman, Lewin is constantly picked on by classmates and teachers alike for his lack of talent. But one day in the library, Lewin makes a couple of friends from the Magic division, and for the first time ever there are people who actually enjoy his company. However, a visit to the Magic division's labs goes awry when Lewin and his new friends accidentally unleash an army of undead! Now a team of inexperienced first-year students must fend off a magical dilemma that even the school professors would have trouble with.
The fantasy genre comes in many flavors these days. On one end of the scale, you have the brutish hack-and-slash quests where musclebound heroes go tromping in search of monsters and gold, often with copious bloodshed. On the other end, you have the kind of adventures where babyfaced kids perform frilly, sparkly acts of magic in order to defeat slimes and giant rats, and possibly bring a cake to a tea party.
Guess which one Aventura leans towards. And no, they haven't even brought out the cakes yet.
To its credit, the first volume of Aventura does have its heart in the right place: the lengthy introduction and fanciful visuals all point to a lovingly crafted fantasy world. Comparisons to a certain famous British book series are inevitable, but the Gaius academy is definitely its own brand of magical institution: they teach swordsmanship, of all things, and the enchanted objects on campus draw from plenty of outside fairytale influences. The story's system of magic is also more developed than the usual point-and-shoot style of sorcery; incantations, spellbooks and various levels of elemental control add up to a curriculum of magical education that actually sounds challenging.
There's just one little problem with this: the story and characters involved are all kind of lame. Lewin comes across as a whiny, talentless hothead, either storming around in anger or piling on the angst with his troubled childhood. Look, flashbacks are nice and all, but Lewin's life story reads like an excuse for people to feel sorry for him. It's also revealed that he has this "hidden power" (doesn't everyone?), which is simply one of many clichés to pop up throughout the volume: the timid but well-meaning best friend, the strict but fair professor, the sudden outburst of magic when confronted with danger, the dramatic flashback in a time of crisis. It would be a good fantasy tale, perhaps, if not for the fact that anyone familiar with fantasy tales will see this stuff coming a mile away. Worst of all is that the second half of the volume becomes an all-out battle against a horde of reanimated skeletons, thus turning this journey of discovery into a monotonous run-and-gun spellfight. Really, the elaborate world was the only thing the story had going for it, and when that gets sacrificed in favor of slam-bang action, things quickly drop from mediocre to worse.
But let's be fair: Aventura is, if nothing else, pretty to look at. Just don't expect it to be an easy reading experience. The artwork is wonderfully elaborate, with costuming and architecture all rendered in sinuous, delicate linework. However, with so much detail and tone going into each page, it quickly becomes an exercise in clutter, where one only gets a rough idea of what's going in. The panels crowd so tightly against each other that the only breathing room on the page is in the dialogue bubbles, and occasionally, in the white-background flashback scenes. Battle scenes are the most difficult to look at—sure, they're loaded with dynamic speedlines and a sense of energy, but can anyone tell what's actually happening? Didn't think so. The character designs, meanwhile, are a matter of taste: those raised on old-school Final Fantasy, or Dragon Quest, or the ten thousand "anime-style" online RPGs will probably find the cutesy characters right up their alley, but to other readers, it'll look like these swishy-haired, elven-eared tots are supposed to be bringing cakes to a tea party, not battling with magic.
With the story so steeped in familiar genre conventions, it should be no surprise that the dialogue also takes an orthodox path. The tone is conversational, but devoid of slang; specialist language only shows up in the incantations (written in archaic English) and the Japanese naming of the school's enchanted objects (which is conveniently explained in the glossary). The only other variation in the writing comes with the more sentimental and abstract flashback scenes
If anything, Aventura gets points for trying. The concept is there, in the form of a beautifully illustrated world, with elaborate magical principles to back it up. However, the other fundamentals of storytelling go amiss in this opener: the characters lack strong appeal, genre clichés keep popping up everywhere, and the art is presented in such a way that you can never quite tell where people are, who they're fighting, or where they're headed. With the latter half of the volume devolving into a drawn-out chase and battle, it's hard to see if anything else good will come out of Lewin Randit's exploits. This magical institute might be a nice place for an education, but reading about it just isn't much fun.
Overall : D+
Story : D
Art : C
+ Detailed artwork, fancy designs and an elaborately thought-out world make this a traditional fantasy experience.
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