Manga-ka: Yunosuke Yoshinaga
Rating: Mature (18+)
Release Date: February 2010
Synopsis: “China: 184 A.D., a time of great turmoil. A young drifter named Zhang Fei stumbles upon a slaughtered village and encounters the volunteer army of Liu Bei. He joins them in time to help in the defense of a walled city. But later, while attempting to save the life of a little girl, he’s struck by an arrow and thrown off a cliff. Rescued by two wizards, he is revived and given great powers. But the price could cost him his very soul!”
Coasting the countryside in search of his next meal, Zhang Fei enlists himself into a volunteer army fighting against the tyranny of another group’s assaults on local villages. But, when an adorable young girl destined for continued sidekick status is in peril, he takes an arrow strike that puts him on death’s doorstep. Before he knows it, Zhang Fei awakes with the arrow missing and a spear piercing his chest, now making him the vessel for a power he typically can’t control. So what’s a guy to do now?
Rampage obviously has a lot of plot points it can’t wait to set into place – for better or worse. The beginning of book does a pretty quick run down of the world at large, a war-torn nation plagued by battling factions and famine. Throughout the book we’re briefly introduced to a fairly large cast of characters. What happens unfortunately is that readers are yanked from one place to another without really engaging us with any, save perhaps with what’s happening with Zhang Fei.
So groups collide in a big battle scene, some supernatural stuff takes place then suddenly the series takes a turn that oozes a Dragonball Z-vibe not felt since, well, Dragonball Z. This is mostly a visual thing, the Chinese-era attire atop a tightly muscled young man screaming out speed-lines and spouting short insulting monologues at his opponent while exchanging blows. Purely observational but it gives you a gist of the shift the series takes when Zhang-Fei becomes possessed by the… whatever it is.
To be fair, Zhang-Fei’s internal struggle with the force within the spear is a well-rendered strife following these angry-now fight scenes – a combination of desperation and perseverance. However, it loses much of its potency by the end of the book where the danger of his ability seems nonchalantly swept under the proverbial rug. For having just dismembered half an army, fought for ownership over his body and learned about the potentially imminent death of his soul, Zhang-Fei sure is casual about the whole deal. Leaping into a war when you have a battle-happy spirit strangling your soul seems a tad unintelligent.
Hopping back a point, there definitely seems to be way too many characters introduced in this first volume. Obviously they aren’t all equally important but the story is too quick to toss half a dozen faces and names at us from different places and battles that simply don’t come together enough to make them relevant enough to be worth remembering. Sure this random guy looks neat, and yeah this other guy is being talked about a lot but… so? Future volumes could explain them in a more interesting fashion but here they feel rushed and disengaging.
The series’ cover-token female lead is also off to a really disappointing start. Sure Liu Bei’s a general of this massive army under the guise of being a man (so spoils page one) but this amounts to… what? Her first real confrontation with Zhang-Fei is frustrating – though to her credit she at least keeps damseling response to a minimum. But she’s a general! Is she anything more than just a figurehead? It certainly doesn’t feel like it and not only does this suck from a hope-for-a-strong-female-character POV, but she thus far falls flat as a character period. Painfully, presumably-obvious flashbacks involving Liu Bei and her constantly vacant stare don’t help either. But it is only volume one after all so maybe holding out a little bit of hope could bear fruit.
The artwork in Rampage is overall attractive but suffers from much of the same inconsistencies that the story does. Lots of nice elements but they don’t always mesh. The detail work is really nice and action scenes are especially well rendered, unfortunately, the character designs don’t always mesh as nicely, most notably the faces of characters which are often overly simple and sparse when sitting atop exuberantly more detail-heavy figures. It can make them look flat and it proves more a distraction then one would like. Still, this is a pretty minor issue in the grand scheme of things – the art as a whole is pretty nice to look at and predominantly would simply benefit from an easier to follow story more than a drastic change to itself.
Ultimately though this whole book is a messy collection of potential marred by dull clutter. On one hand you have some stylish artwork and potent individual sequences – on the other hand you have too many characters and a convoluted plot that fails to be very compelling past a scene’s ‘neat’ factor. Rampage’s Chinese-era motif, raging wars and supernatural tie-ins have the potential to be something engaging but future volumes are going to need to pull it together a lot less awkwardly to convince readers of that.