Manga-ka: Shiro Amano
Publisher: Yen Press
Rating: All Ages
Release Date: May 2013
Synopsis: “After a terrible storm shatters the peace of his tropical island home, a young boy named Sora is set adrift from his world and his friends, Riku and Kairi. Meanwhile, Disney Castle is in an uproar when it is discovered that King Mickey has gone missing, leaving it up to Court Wizard Donald and Captain Goofy to find him! When Sora, in search of his friends, and Donald and Goofy, in search of their king, cross paths, their fateful encounter will change the destiny of the universe forever!!”
The recent announcement of Kingdom Hearts 3 set a rejuvenating ripple through the fandom at the recent E3 convention. Yen Press’s new release of the Kingdom Hearts manga almost couldn’t possibly be better timed.
Tokyopop originally released this series as four volumes back in 2005. Yen Press is redelivering a slightly updated version with a new translation and the whole series contained in two redesigned omnibus editions. Though I do own the original Tokyopop books, I won’t spend a lot of time going into the differences between the two as far as the translation. Adaptations are a very taste-based art, but I can say that Yen Press’s read perfectly fine, so it’s up to each reader which version they prefer. The important parts are the story and art, which remains almost identical between them. Yen Press is releasing the Final Mix version, which like the game of the same name, is a rerelease of the original with some updates. In the manga’s case, it includes some touched up panels, the omnibus format and some short gag comics.
My first impression of Yen Press’s books was how much I love the cover design. The designer uses artwork that wraps from the front to the back, with alterations to add images in where the spine displays. The licensed Kingdom Hearts logo is used as well. The combination makes these books look like novels on my shelf instead of manga volumes, because of how much the wraparound images stand out from the predominantly text-only design of other books. They look great.
[[Some things though, are a little odd. These two omnibus are flipped, meaning the artwork has been mirrored so that the books read in the English style of left to right. This is something very rarely done in manga publishing these days, and it seems hard to believe that the fan base of Kingdom Hearts is considered part of the mainstream audience that this method is used to cater for. Inside, a header and footer containing the logo and page number are included on every page. This is also something rarely seen, in comics in general actually. Usually the artwork bleeds off the edge of pages when not contained by a panel. I can’t say for certain why this decision was made – and it’s definitely a bit awkward on the eyes – but I assume it was so the book would maintain a particular page proportion. Looking at Tokyopop’s editions, you can see some of the artwork had been cropped to fit full-bleed on the tops, while they also used a footer. Tokyopop’s editions were also flipped. While Yen Press’s has more ‘complete’ imagery, it’s too bad that because of the original material it requires these additional spacers. A preview for the sequel, Chain of Memories, at the end has artwork with proper bleeds.]]**
**(June 20, 2013) – Yen Press has since contacted me to say that Kingdom Hearts Final Mix was originally printed left to right, and utilized the headers and footers. These were not decisions made by Yen Press and are authentic to the original publication.
As for the story themselves, anyone buying this series is likely familiar with its source material. Kingdom Hearts is a franchise of games that begin with a young boy named Sora who finds himself wielding a strange weapon called a Keyblade. When the island he lives on is destroyed, he is thrown to another world where he teams up with sorcerer Donald Duck and knight Goofy, to find the missing King Mickey, search for Sora’s friends, and solve the mystery of creatures called Heartless who are destroying worlds.
Kingdom Hearts is the lovechild of Disney and SquareEnix. It stars a number of original characters who head the story, with the rest of the world populated by the familiar faces of Disney and Final Fantasy characters. These two books make up the first game and include, among many many others, Mickey Mouse, Squall ‘Leon’ Leonhart, Peter Pan, Cloud, Winnie the Pooh, Maleficent, Cid, and six Disney princesses. What at first might seem silly, actually works remarkably well and makes for an experience that plays off fandom and nostalgia to great effect, on top of having its own strong original story. It’s tons of fun, and no surprise why the series continues to do so well.
It’s pretty clear why Shiro Amano was chosen to do the adaptation. Their ability to draw Disney characters is spot-on, and each one maintains their own distinct art style while still blending in with their new surroundings and situations. Each picture could be a Disney art pin-up. I don’t have the same love for the Square Enix and original characters though. While they’re drawn fine, they just don’t look as polished-perfect as the Disney characters. Still good, but they just fall short of great.
Yen Press’s edition of Kingdom Hearts are a nice update from the Tokyopop versions, but don’t have enough substantial changes that I would say everyone should rush out and do a swap out – unless of course you just want to replace some old read-worn and yellowed copies with something new and crisp. They’re really nice though so worthwhile in either case; exceptions to quality being the flipped artwork, and use of those headers and footers**, which are the only notable two factors that left me disappointed. Still, Tokyopop’s editions also had this so it’s no step backwards for collectors. For any who don’t already own Kingdom Hearts, however, this is a perfect opportunity to do so and Yen Press’s omnibus editions make it affordable and easy. This manga is a lot of fun, and both those who have and haven’t played the games can enjoy it.
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Books provided by Yen Press for review purposes