Author: James Patterson
Manhwa-ga: NaRae Lee
Publisher: Yen Press
Rating: Older Teen (16+)
Released: January 2009
Synopsis: “Maximum Ride knows what it’s like to soar above the world. She and all the members of her “flock” are just like ordinary kids, except they have wings and can fly! It may seem like a dream come true to some but for the flock it’s more like a living nightmare when the mysterious lab known of the “school” turns up and kidnaps their youngest member. Now it’s up to Max to organized a rescue, but will help come in time?”
Maximum Ride is a Yen Press commissioned manhwa based on a series of apparently popular (admittedly I’d never heard of them until now) books by James Patterson. I’ll start off simply by saying I really enjoyed this first volume of the series.
The combination of pacing and artwork makes it very easy to follow along the thus-far simple plot and its numerous characters. Our lead characters are a group of people with bird-like wings who live deep in the mountains to avoid capture by a thus-far generic evil organization bent on using them for science. The story kicks off when the ‘flock’s’ youngest member, an adorable little girl accurately named Angel, is kidnapped.
The flock’s leader is a young woman named Maximum Ride and readers can expect to see her the most as the series’ title character. Along with her, there are six of these bird-people in total: Fang, Iggy, Nudge, Gasman and the aforementioned Angel. Don’t let the multiple characters scare you though. Great diverse character designs and varied personalities make the crew very ease to get accustomed to, especially in a first volume. I imagine it must’ve been a little harder to grasp this many sudden introduction when reading the story in its native novel format.
Occasionally the pacing of the book betrays its adaptation roots when it’s clear that the artist doesn’t have as much creative freedom as would’ve benefitted the story. Things still need to happen at certain times in certain ways and sometimes it feels like the story is riding a stiff-track. Some things happen a little too conveniently, and others seem too cut and paste, leaving much more depth to be desired (such as a short-lived search for one of the flock’s parents).
Some moments in the book are a little bumpier than others, from some events in the science lab with Angel that border both creepy and surprisingly harsh, to the fact that I don’t see how the flock’s wings make any sense when it comes to their convenient ability to tuck them away completely. Where do they go? If you’re going to use non-disclosed magic to hide your giant wings, I at least expect some clichéd sparkles to help me digest it. The lead character’s named is pretty ridiculous too (Maximum Ride? Thank goodness it usually sticks to calling her Max), and the end of the book does feel like it momentarily cheapens the story by tossing in a predictable plot twist and a cheesy final page set up for the next volume.
Fortunately some of the characters make for a very likeable cast, with some cute moments, including oddly enough eating out a dumpster, so it’s easy to forgive some of the books more contrived moments and enjoy it for everything else that makes it entertaining.
Nara Lee’s artwork is fantastic and it really brings the story to life. Along with really nice character design work, the panel layouts and backgrounds are also treated with care and there’s a really nice balance between function and detail on all the pages. My only real complaint would be that some of the characters’ ages aren’t very well-expressed by their design. This was especially true with Max who I took for a young woman easily 18-20 when she’s in fact only supposed to be 14. Overall however, those who may often fear the visual quality of an OEL need not do so here with Nara Lee delivering a consistent and eye-pleasing first volume that’s evident of her experience as a manhwa-ga.
Yen Press has also done a wonderful job on this release, easily one of their best to date. The book is thick so you can look forward to a hefty page count, and the cut size of the book is larger to match much of the rest of their catalogue. The binding is great, allowing the book pages to turn very easily, loose while still feeling tightly bound. The spine is nicely squared and the design of the books’ front and back cover make it evident that there’re hopes of marketing it to both the manga and novel reading audience with sparse artwork but a simple, eye-catching layout all around. At the back of the book are some words and doodles from the artist and a snippet from the latest Maximum Ride novel release.
Overall, Maximum Ride is a strong start to this on-going series. I’ve little doubt it’ll appeal to manga readers who like a character-driven adventure story, but having not read the original novels, I can’t say how this works as an adaptation for those already a fan of the original books. Either way, coloured me impressed as I really enjoyed this one. I hope volume two upholds the entertainment value and character-charm that this one did, even if some of the likely-necessary hookiness must return with it.