This week's list takes a look at seven priests with less than holy personalities.
Reviewby Carlo Santos, Apr 29th 2005
At the dawn of creation, the mythical land of Tenkai was ruled by a peaceful king. However, the treacherous Lord Taishakuten rebelled and overthrew him, ushering in an age of chaos. Now, three hundred years later, Taishakuten sends out warrior-king Yasha to kill the prophetess Kuyou, who offers one last prediction: "Six stars will fall to this plane… they will be the schism that splits the heavens." She also predicts that Yasha will find a child who will ultimately kill him. Out of sheer curiosity, Yasha seeks out this child, and finds a baby named Ashura—the last descendant of a tribe that was supposedly wiped out by Taishakuten. However, Yasha's decision to protect Ashura guarantees a horrific fate for his loved ones: Kuyou, his tribe, and anyone else he meets. Despite this ominous destiny, Yasha and Ashura head out in search of the "six stars," hoping that they will be the key to ending Taishakuten's reign.
In the past fifteen years, few manga-ka have been as popular as the four-woman team known as CLAMP. However, readers in late 1989 probably wouldn't have predicted such success based on the first volume of their debut work. RG Veda starts out as an enjoyable but unspectacular fantasy story—in short, a testing ground for themes that would return in future CLAMP titles. This is where it all begins: prophecy and fate, a doomed quest, magical combat, and yes, gender-ambiguous characters. It's not their best work, but it's a key stage on the way there.
As some of you might have guessed, RG Veda is loosely based on the Rig Veda, a sacred Hindu text. Don't worry about brushing up on Hindu mythology, though—the similarities begin and end with the character names, which have been translated from Sanskrit into a Japanese phonetic equivalent. The story is CLAMP's own, although it does feel like a copy of an ancient legend. Every culture has its tale of a hero faced with an ominous prophecy, so this setup should be comfortable territory, especially for fans of mainstream fantasy literature. Yasha's journey is an easy one to follow, although it gets off to such a quick start that the early scenes feel rushed (apparently, wandering into a forest and finding a cursed baby is as easy as stepping outdoors). Once Ashura enters the picture, however, the pace settles down into a classic adventure story with dramatic scenes in all the right places. The main drawback is that these scenes are so well-placed, you can see them coming from several pages away.
Like any fantasy or mythological universe, the world of RG Veda is populated with many characters—gods, kings, and warriors. The fast start in Volume 1 demands that the reader learn who they are in rapid succession, and with names like Kuyou, Yasha, and Ashura, it can feel like studying a foreign language. Those who take the time to invest in these characters, however, will find strong personalities that fit the mold of legendary heroes. Yasha's courage in the face of tragedy, along with the mysterious motives of Ashura and magical wanderer Kujaku, will leave readers absorbed and wanting to know what happens next. While some fantasy stories puff themselves up with reams of history or countless battles, RG Veda is one series that's all about drama and emotional impact.
Even in their first book, CLAMP's florid art style is already fully developed, filling each page with broad-shouldered men, sharp facial features and expressive eyes. Principal artist Mokona Apapa shows great confidence in her linework, rendering the characters with dramatic expressions and poses. These characters look awfully alike, though—"that dude with the dark, wavy hair" could be any one of three or four possible candidates. In fact, it might not even be a dude. RG Veda has its share of androgynous characters, and while Ashura has the excuse of being a young child, Kujaku is just plain confounding. On the other hand, there's no confusion with the page layouts, which take a straightforward storytelling approach. Even as the panels change in size and shape to fit the action, it's easy to see what's going on. Occasional full-page spreads add impact to the artwork, as do the lush backgrounds and exotic outfits that define the land of Tenkai.
Although Tokyopop gets a lot of flak for their hit-and-miss handling of manga releases, the English adaptation of RG Veda is one that goes down easy for readers of fantasy literature. With a formal but still readable style, the dialogue calls to mind other epic legends and adventures. There's a little bit too much "thee" and "thou" in the scene where Ashura awakens, but the writing flows well everywhere else, even in Kuyou's poetic prophecy. Because of this rich dialogue, however, Tokyopop's choice of font is a tight squeeze in the word balloons and takes some time getting used to. Also, there aren't any glossy color pages like in the packaging of CLAMP's other early work, Tokyo Babylon. As is customary for this publisher, the Japanese sound effects are left untouched and untranslated, so hang on to that kana chart.
Don't assume that RG Veda is only suitable for hardcore CLAMP fans—this manga is a worthwhile pick for anyone who's into myths and legends and wants to explore a new universe. The pacing stumbles at times, and the character designs can confuse newcomers to CLAMP's art style, but it's a promising start to an exotic fantasy story. Sure, there's already plenty of manga in that genre, but RG Veda is one that's got enough drama and scope to set itself apart.
Overall : B
Story : B-
Art : B
+ An absorbing story in the classic fantasy-adventure style.
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