Reviewby Rebecca Silverman,
The Legend of Zelda: Twilight Princess
Two years ago, a childish adventure gone wrong resulted in the destruction of Link's homeland. Now he lives in the village of Ordun, forswearing his sword training to live as a simple ranch hand. He's enjoying his new life, although he is plagued with nightmares of a twilight realm, and all of the books he reads can't tell him what's going on. All too soon he finds out – the ancient boundaries between the worlds of light and shadow have been breached, and the twilight creatures are invading. With his new life threatened, Link must take up his sword once again.
Gamers will already be familiar with the basics of this latest manga adventure of Link. Based on the 2006 adventure game, The Legend of Zelda: Twilight Princess is spun off from an alternate path of the earlier game Wind Waker, and stars a darker, older Link than we typically see. But even if you haven't played the game(s), Twilight Princess' first volume is easily accessible to fans of sword and sorcery fantasy, giving us more than enough basic information to get into the story and starting what looks like it's going to be a fairly intense ride.
The story opens with Link having established himself as a ranch hand in rural Ordun a year previously. No one's quite sure where he came from, and he has no interest in telling them, but his easy charm and willingness to work hard, not to mention his physical attractiveness, have helped him to fit in. He seems especially close with Ilia, a girl about his own age, and the family of Rusl, the local swordsman. Both Ilia and Rusl sense that there's something Link's not telling them about his past, but they're also willing to let him be. Meanwhile in the Twilight Realm, a parallel world to Hyrule, where the characters live, the king has died and his advisor Zant has taken the throne from Midna, the princess heir. He sets in motion a larger usurpation: that of Hyrule itself, and it looks as if Ordun is the first target on his list. The idyllic village suffers an attack that not only leaves a lot of adults dead or wounded, but also results in Ilia and Colin (Rusl's son) being carried off by Zant's minions.
It is easy to see that this initial volume is designed to force Link to realize that he can't run and hide from his own past. We get a very good sense that this is precisely what he is doing in Ordun even before he confides his secret in Rusl a little over halfway through the book. In part this is because he makes comments to that effect and has nightmares, but it's also clear through Akira Himekawa's artwork, which shows Link with a perpetually troubled expression. He hides it when he's playing with the local kids, but you can still sense it lurking beneath his smile. There's a real feeling that he's holding himself apart from everyone, with Ilia and Rusl coming closest to breaking through his self-constructed shell. This gives the story a sense of unease even when there's nothing more than harvesting pumpkins or fishing going on – Link wears his depression and guilt like a translucent cloak.
Along with setting the mood, this characterization of Link also makes the book easy to get into for non-gamers. There's no feeling that we're missing something, just that the whole plot hasn't been revealed yet. For those who have played the game, the volume does fill things out, but thus far, premise aside, the manga feels like it can stand on its own. It does so for an older audience than many of Viz's other Legend of Zelda manga releases, however - the level of violence feels like it has gone up, and Link's psychological issues are more deep-rooted than we've typically seen. The art also makes a case for an older audience: although the younger children are still drawn round and wide-eyed (and frankly kind of irritating, in a couple of cases), Link is the buffest we've seen and the violence doesn't hold back in terms of gore or, for example, running someone through with a spike. The transformation Link undergoes in the end of the volume is also a bit disturbing, but that's also a testament to how well-drawn it is.
The Legend of Zelda: Twilight Princess may be a video game tie-in, but it also is starting a manga series that has the potential to be good in its own right. The little details, such as the strangely fussy local clothes that Link remarks he had to get used to and the way some villagers are quick to blame him for misfortune because he's a pointy-earred outsider, help to establish the story's world as a grounded one, and the pacing of the book makes sure that we understand this incarnation of Link and his baggage before it moves into the action. The pseudo-prologue about Princess Midna and the background of the Twilight realm's issues is the clumsiest part, but once you get past that, the story more than holds its own. Now that the actual action has begun, we'll have to see if the manga can continue to be accessible (and interesting) to non-gamers and hope that the character relationships, such as that with Ilia, formed in town can hold up going forward. If everything remains in place, this could be a good old-fashioned fantasy adventure that anyone could enjoy.
Overall : B+
Story : B+
Art : B+
+ Interesting even if you don't know the game, good characterization of Link and his relationships with others. Some lovely background details.
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