Reviewby Rebecca Silverman,
Monster Hunter: Flash Hunter
Monster Hunter: Flash Hunter marks the second adaptation of the popular Monster Hunter game franchise to make it into English translation, the first being Kodansha's release of Hiro Mashima's Monster Hunter Orage. Flash Hunter differs in a few significant ways from Mashima's foray into game-based manga, most notably that where Mashima was clearly just playing around with a world and setting he enjoyed, Flash Hunter is much more invested in actually presenting a recognizable picture of what it would be like to live the game rather than just play it. All of author Keiichi Hikami's monsters are from the games, as are his locations, which may make this more palatable for players. This manga is also an adaptation of Hikami's light novel series, Monster Hunter Episode, which is a collection of shorter tales about different groups of hunters, although the manga will just follow Raiga, Torche, and Keres over the course of its ten volumes. The format of the novels may explain why this book initially feels like a sequel, with a character introduction and “the story thus far” page; rest assured, however, that Raiga's adventures do in fact start here.
The story begins outside of Dundorma, a town which appears in Monster Hunters 2 and 4. Raiga is working with a different party and is not making a great impression on them – he's too reckless for their liking and needs to work on his listening skills. When they finish their hunt, the leader announces that their party will be disbanding, leaving Raiga to try to find another group willing to work with him…and as that turns out, there really isn't anyone. An encounter with a mysterious older man pairs him up with Keres, a much more taciturn young hunter, and the two board a ship for Loc Lac (from Monster Hunter 3), where they find themselves totally at a loss. No one wants to trust two guys with armor from monsters they don't recognize, so they end up stuck with each other (despite serious personality clashes) and add flighty Torche, a local no one really wants to work with, to their ragtag band.
As fantasy set ups go, it's really very basic. Although all three party members are technically hunters, each has a specialization, although we don't see too much of that in this volume. (Keres, a gunner, gets to show off his unique skills more than the other two.) Fight scenes are a bit crowded in terms of lines denoting action, and they can be difficult to read, particularly towards the end of the volume, but all things considered, there aren't all that many fights in the book anyway. Largely this seems to be because most of the volume is set up for the major battle at the end, when the party comes to realize why so many other groups have failed to take down a qurupeco, which, it is implied, really shouldn't be the case.
Despite that worrying sequel feel from the very beginning, this is very much an introductory volume. We do get Raiga's backstory, which is fairly typical of shounen heroes, but other than that are simply getting to know the characters' different fighting styles and philosophies – Raiga is much more invested in being a hunter to save people while Keres' goals follow a more practical “don't get killed” route. Torche still feels like the unknown at this point, but that doesn't feel like the result of her being the “token girl” character – as the only member of the party from the Loc Lac region, it feels normal for her to be a bit inscrutable given that Raiga and Keres are the point of view characters. If she remains the most underdeveloped, that will be different, but as of right now it would be precipitous to worry about it. The book does pick up speed and interest as it goes on, and while I wouldn't say that it's an overall quick read, it is interesting enough that you want to keep going.
Shin Yamamoto's art, apart from the aforementioned fight scene issue, is clear and readable. Monsters and armor are recognizable from the games, and all of the characters are distinct enough that they are easily told apart. (It's always a surprise to see Keres out of his armor with a visible face!) He doesn't over-exaggerate bodies, male or female, which is nice, and there's a real feeling of vast space whenever the characters leave town in search of monsters, which can sometimes look very ominous.
Monster Hunter: Flash Hunter isn't off to the fastest start, but it is sufficiently fun to merit reading and giving a couple more volumes to see where the story goes. As the characters get developed and morph into the team we see in the prologue, there's a lot of potential for things to heat up, and fans of the game should find the way that Hikami and Yamamoto use its world interesting. Even if you don't know the games, this is a decent start to a fantasy action that the ending of this volume implies could be an entertaining ride.
Overall : C+
Story : C+
Art : B-
+ Fidelity to game world, characters have potential to grow with the story. Nice art, story builds on itself.
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