Reviewby Casey Brienza,
Once upon a time, there was a god known as “G” who betrayed the Supreme Creator of the seven continents and fled to a faraway island. Legend now has it that there is a great beast on G's island that will grant the wishes of those who venture there and are able to find it. Father Olivier of the Valaria Order has experienced a crisis of faith and sets out on a journey to G's island to find the aforementioned beast. He does this against the will of his superior, who immediately sends a Dark Elf after Father Olivier to recover him. Father Olivier's journey has barely begun, though, when he is gifted with a mute but buxom female slave who, as it turns out, is actually Ouri, gifted sorceress from the G's island itself…
Though she has been publishing in Japan since the late 1980s, veteran creator of cat boys (Loveless) and fallen angels (Earthian) Yun Kouga has only become popular on this side of the Pacific in the past few years. But her popularity as such has been explosive, and now America's top manga publisher Viz Media has decided to get in on the Kouga action with the licensed release of Gestalt. One suspects, rather, that they were a bit desperate to get in on said action—otherwise, why settle for such a mediocre entry into the mangaka's otherwise impressive oeuvre?
Gestalt was originally published with Enix's Gangan Fantasy Comics imprint in the days before Enix and Square became one and the same. It was an early foray into shounen manga for Kouga, who had previously specialized in josei, shoujo, and self-published yaoi doujinshi, and its debt to videogame RPGs is palatable. In fact, it's hard not to conclude that this slavish homage to RPGs exists because the mangaka did not know what else to do for a company otherwise known primarily for its screen media, not its print media.
And so, what results in the first volume is a story that is only marginally entertaining. You get the background story in the first five pages or so, and it is just complicated enough to be irritating…but not complicated enough to actually be remotely interesting. Apparently there are eight gods, and one of them is the boss of all the rest. They ruled the three continents and the seven seas, and created people to worship them. But then one of the seven lesser gods rebelled against the Supreme Creator Salsaroa and took his followers to a remote island. This apostate god is now known only as “G.”
Cut to the “present.” A handsome young priest with a cute star on his forehead named Father Olivier wants, for reasons unstated, to find G's island and the beast supposedly resident there that grants wishes to anybody who can find it. Thus does his adventure begin. In classic videogame RPG style, he soon starts acquiring companions on his journey. These companions include a dark elf and a fortuneteller. However, the most notable of his fellow travelers is the mute slave girl Ouri, who we eventually learn is a lot more than just a mute slave girl who likes swapping sloppy kisses with her master. Not to spoil things overmuch, but suffice it to say that Ouri boasts an important connection to Olivier's vaguely outlined objectives, and the amble bust line is in fact…acquired. Fujoshi ought to be pleased.
Other than this juicy bit of fan fiction potential, though, there is not much to swoon over in Gestalt. Granted, the artwork is exquisite; the mangaka's distinctive, fluid lines and asymmetrical layouts will appeal to any fans who are also addicted to the likes of CLAMP and You Higuri. The Viz Media edition, “bargain” priced at $8.99, happily includes eight full color pages and the cover art of the Ichijinsha reprint edition. (Taken together, the color pieces represent a summary perspective on how Kouga's style has evolved over the years.) And of course, the character designs themselves, bishounen with flowing locks, bishoujo with bulging boobs, are sure to appeal widely. But unfortunately, pretty pictures do not a great manga make, and when all the story does is hopscotch from one battle to the next—like, well, a videogame RPG (not to belabor the comparison)—you will soon lose interest in playing the patience game.
Overall, though, you get the feeling that Kouga is just phoning it in. Ouri has a bunch of siblings that seem determined to off each other, and Olivier has a dark side that comes out at the cliffhanger conclusion to volume one. Neither of these facts, nor the fujoshi-pleaser secret about Ouri, seem worth the effort it would take to come back for more for any but the most devoted of Kouga fans. The rest of the manga reading world is safe sticking with the likes of Loveless and Earthian and leaving Gestalt to its remote little island.
Overall : C+
Story : C-
Art : A-
+ Sexy characters (both male and female) and Kouga's signature, exquisite artwork.
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