Reviewby Rebecca Silverman,
Resident Evil: The Marhawa Desire
Marhawa Academy is Asia's most prestigious boarding school. Located deep in the forests of an undisclosed nation, Marhwa students are fully isolated from the outside world and protected by their fierce head of school, Mother Gracia. One day she contacts Professor Doug Wright, a bateriologist at a Singapore University, with an urgent request for him to come to Marhwa. Wright brings his nephew and student Ricky Tozawa along, and the two discover that somehow the Umbrella Corporation's zombie virus has infected a student at the school. Gracia refuses to allow outside forces to be called in, even as the situation begins to grow worse...will her hubris spell a zombified end for the once-great academy?
Billed as a prequel manga to 2012's Resident Evil 6 third person shooter for the PS3 and Xbox 360, Resident Evil: The Marhawa Desire's first volume actually stands alone quite well. Written and illustrated by Naoki Serizawa, whose Billion Dogs is available on the MangaBox ap, the story is both a fast paced action story and an exercise in world building, which dovetail surprisingly well. While those who have played the game(s) may get more out of the book, those looking for a zombie story with plenty of schoolgirls and less gore than High School of the Dead or Magical Girl Apocalypse will definitely want to check this out.
The book opens with a full-color prologue, although to be perfectly honest, “full color” here mostly means “shades of red.” A girl arrives in her classroom and greets a friend, only to have that friend turn around and eat her – the first zombie to be found at prestigious Marhawa Academy. A mysterious woman in a red-hooded cloak is clearly to blame somehow, but as she neither speaks nor shows up again beyond a quick glimpse in a later chapter, we don't know anything more than that. The scene then shifts to a Singapore university, where esteemed professor Doug Wright is teaching a class on bacteria. His nephew Ricky Tozawa is one of his more indifferent students, but when Doug gets a call from an old friend about a dangerous situation, he tells Ricky that there'll be extra credit if he tags along. The call turns out to be from Doug's former girlfriend, Gracia, who is now the headmistress/dictator of Marhawa Academy. She wants his help and no one else's in containing the school's little zombie problem.
At this point readers who have some familiarity with the supernatural horror genre will begin to get frustrated. Marhawa Academy is situated in the middle of some vast forest in a random Asian country we don't get to know the name of. It has no cell reception and it takes several days of travel over terrible roads to reach civilization. There is, apparently, no way to even place a landline phone call to the nearest town. Simply put, it is the ideal place for a zombie apocalypse to start or for some creepy and deranged individual to run a zombie experiment with little danger of it being discovered until it is too late. Gracia, it seems, has either never read/seen/played a zombie horror story, because she is ludicrously insistent on keeping this whole situation under wraps. No one must know of this distasteful event – it might damage the school's reputation, you know.
The light in this situation is that Doug is just as frustrated as the readers. When Gracia does everything she can to keep him there, he begins to figure out how to cope with the situation and where the problem might be coming from, which is quite brave of him given that it's basically he and his nephew (and maybe his nephew's potential girlfriend, Bindi Bergara) against a potential mass zombie outbreak. That Ricky may have some sort of natural weapon he's unaware of is a major plus, and Doug is clearly the guy to figure out how to use it, providing he has the time. Also fortunate is the fact that zombie-fighting superstar Chris Redfield is more or less en route, having gotten wind of something strange happening to Doug. (Game players will recognize Chris as the regular protagonist of the series.) Hopefully this crack team of both combat and intelligence can do something before Gracia's misplaced hubris kills all of the students in her charge...which when you think about it, would do far more damage to the school's reputation than just alerting authorities about a couple of zombies.
Serizawa's art is very heavily toned, giving the pages a uniform grayness that can be wearing on the eyes. His sense of anatomy is good (except for breasts, which look sort of stuck on), though his faces have a very plastic sameness to them, which he tries to disguise with different skin tones and hairstyles. It is a little jarring to see fairly static faces on dynamically moving bodies, but once the story heats up, you do get used to it. Fanservice is very slim, mostly showing up in the special extra story about one of Chris' companions, Merah Biji. While it's nice that we get the special extra, it really doesn't do much for the book overall, unless you're dying to see a picture of her from a between-the-legs angle.
Overall, Resident Evil: The Marhawa Desire is more than just a game prequel. It is the start of a well-done (and frustrating) zombie story where overwhelming self-interest prevents the people who could stop the problem from doing what they have to. It is contrived in its setting and some of the characters, but if you prefer your zombie stories to keep you a little nervous instead of reveling in bloody body parts flying all over the place, this is a book you really ought to give a chance.
Overall : B
Story : B
Art : B
+ Doesn't feel strictly like a franchise entry, good sense of bodies and movement. Building sense of urgency and frustration.
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