Reviewby Carlo Santos, Mar 14th 2008
Shin Megami Tensei: Kahn
Six months ago, Karukozaka High School was sucked into the demon world, and in the ensuing chaos, only two survivors emerged: Nobu, who defeated the Demon Lord that took over the school, and Yumi, who possesses latent demon powers of her own. Although they're both trying to put the incident behind them, the gateway to the Underworld remains open, and soon Nobu finds himself battling demons right on the streets of Tokyo. The reason for this infestation is simple: a secret organization is trying to establish a Demon Kingdom on Earth by summoning demons through the gateway. Nobu and Yumi are the only people to have been to the Underworld and survived, so they may have the power to stop the infestation ... but before that can even happen, they'll have to find each other first.
They're not exactly high art, but video game adaptations have definitely carved out a niche for themselves on the manga shelf. Everyone's been exposed to the .hack// series at some point. Anything with the words Kingdom Hearts on it is an automatic Top Ten seller. Even an international project like Warcraft has found its audience.
But then something like Shin Megami Tensei: Kahn comes out, and one has to wonder: what's the point of licensing a title based on a 14-year-old game that was never even released outside of Japan?
That's right, folks; this one dates all the way back to the Super Nintendo era, based on an obscure spinoff called Shin Megami Tensei: If... that combines demon-summoning RPG elements with a high school setting. And really, the setting is the only part that Kahn gets right, creating a unique atmosphere of "demons among us" as it places monstrous creatures in a modern-day urban environment.
As for the story itself, it heads down a path that many other ill-fated first volumes have taken: typical teenage boy finds himself confronted with supernatural foes, discovers that he has the power to vanquish them, and is promptly introduced to an organization that specializes in this kind of business. The only thing that really sets it apart from similarly themed series is the unusually high level of graphic content: violence to the point of decapitation and disembowelment, full frontal nudity, and a scene that can only be described as "lesbian demon sexual assault." The shock value might be entertaining to some, but a lousy story with an extra layer of gratuitous gore is still a lousy story.
Even a thickening plot and the new characters in later chapters are of little help: Nobu's introduction to anti-demon agents Gotoh and Ozawa only makes things more confusing with the whole "Here's a secret organization that's really important, but it's a secret, so we won't explain how it works" angle. Meanwhile, Yumi's role is a passive one at best; apparently her entire purpose in this volume is to have bad dreams, pine longingly for Nobu, and be attacked by her demonically possessed roommate. And she's supposed to be one of the main characters? Between Yumi's lack of initiative and Nobu's generic, predictable career path, there's absolutely no motivation to find out what happens next.
If the uninspired storytelling isn't bad enough, there's also the stilted artwork: never has a demon invasion of Japan looked so awkward. The vividly drawn demons and level of detail may look impressive, but that's just surface gloss, and everything else falls apart when it comes to fundamentals. The linework is cold and stiff, lacking any style or personality, the "action" scenes are nothing more than static poses laid over piles of speedlines, and in a miraculous feat of bad character design, Nobu's forehead seems to change in size every few pages. Naturally, the backgrounds are painful to look at as well, looking more like a series of how-to-draw perspective exercises than a demon-infested Tokyo. At least the layouts are easy to follow with their clean, fast-paced panel-to-panel transitions—but even then, there are a number of ridiculous, cringe-inducing scenes like an angry Nobu screaming into the sky with arms outstretched, or the near-pornographic staging of the lesbian demon assault scene. After all, a cliché-ridden story needs some cliché-ridden visuals to go with it, right?
Let's not forget the cliché-ridden dialogue either, which is littered with such gems as "You want me?! Then show yourselves!" and "I'm all alone in this world..." In other words, just the same old doom-and-gloom drivel that's commonly associated with dark supernatural adventures. If it's any consolation, at least the translation is a solid one—if only because these lines and phrases are so overused that anyone who works in manga translation probably has them ready to cut-and-paste. Sound effects, however, remain untranslated, which detracts from the action scenes by making them oddly silent in English. Meanwhile, a short glossary explains some of the terms and back-story from the Shin Megami Tensei universe, for anyone who still wants to try making sense of this poorly done adaptation.
With its generic demon-hunting story, uninteresting characters, and hideously awkward art, the first volume of Shin Megami Tensei: Kahn ought to be exorcised from this world. The idea of demons and humans battling it out in a modern-day setting is a compelling one—as proven by the popularity of the various games in the franchise—but this comic-book take on the concept falls flat in every way imaginable. Add in the fact that very few English-speaking fans would have even been exposed to the original game that this was based on, and the appeal of this title drops to nearly zero. Gamers! would do best to stick to the actual games ... and manga readers would do best to stick to game adaptations that are halfway decent. After a travesty like this, stuff like the Kingdom Hearts manga actually does start to look like high art.
Overall : D-
Story : F
Art : D
+ With the brief dialogue and clean layouts, at least it's over quickly.
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