Kagerou Nostalgia vol. 1

Kagerou Nostalgia vol. 1
 Chad Clayton  rates it:    

Author/artist: Satomi Kubo
Format: Paperback
Price: $9.95

I’ll be the first to admit that I’m a pretty hard guy to impress, but I like to think that I don’t ask too much from my entertainment. Whenever I sit down to a comic, anime, movie, or whatever, all I really want is a good, well-told story, preferably without loads of extraneous baggage. Failing that, the only thing I truly demand is that the story makes sense and doesn’t bore the life out of me, which makes it all the more amazing that so many titles can’t even achieve that much. Kagerou-Nostalgia: The Resurrection is one such story. In terms of general concept, it seems to be a retelling of Ninja Scroll by way of CLAMP: it involves samurai fighting the demonic forces of evil, except these samurai all happen to be teenage pretty boys. While this idea isn’t terrible in and of itself (apart from the “do we really need another one of these?” factor), it crashes right out of the gate due to some of the worst storytelling decisions I’ve seen in ages.

Kagerou‘s plot, or what little of it I could ascertain of it from this one volume, isn’t particularly complicated; it just doesn’t make a whole lot of sense. It’s the story of the Hikami Clan, who has had several heroes reborn as teenage warriors with incredible “spiritual power,” and their efforts in trying to kill off Gessho the Shadow and his forces, many of whom are apparently not human. There are a few subplots, but that appears to be the main thrust of what’s going on. That may seem like a thin plot synopsis even for me, but to be honest, half the time I didn’t know what on Earth was going on, who on Earth this or that character was, or why I should care – and there’s a very good reason why.

Kagerou is hamstrung right from the start by its bizarre storytelling style. It admittedly starts right in the middle of the action, throws a double fistful of characters at us, and expects us to just follow along in the hopes it will all come together – and it doesn’t by the end of the volume. I don’t know about any of you readers, but I don’t have a lot of patience for this. I’m certainly not trying to say there’s a right or a wrong way to tell a story, but something’s pretty rotten if the story doesn’t start making some kind of sense by page 200. The most important thing of which I was certain about the overall plot by the end of the book, I learned less than 30 pages in: Gessho and his men are very powerful and very evil. I apologize for spoiling this pivotal plot element for all of you.

As a result, reading Kagerou may as well be like reading the obituaries in the paper. You see a lot of bad stuff going on, and people are dying – but there’s no real weight or gravity behind any of it. There’s no feeling that you know or can relate to any of these characters in any way. There no genuine feelings of tragedy or nobility or sacrifice; it’s just watching a bunch of ink scrawlings meet their demise. Honestly, given the choice, I think I’d rather read the obituaries in the paper than read this. At least those tend to make sense.

Kagerou-Nostalgia would be helped infinitely by a sense of context. The first volume tosses no less than 14 or 15 important characters at us and expects us to remember them all, though it scarcely bothers to explain who any of them are or even whose side they’re on. Events happen out of nowhere without any real explanation for them happening. There’s no exposition or background given for the characters or the overall story, so this comic is coming across as less of an epic tale and more like a bunch of stuff that’s happening. We aren’t even sure when the story is taking place; the art is full of strange anachronisms such as present-day clothing alongside ancient Chinese garb, or a ninja from 500 years ago using a bazooka-like cannon for a weapon. I guess in this comic, it doesn’t have to make sense as long as it looks cool.

Kagerou NostalgiaAs if all that weren’t enough, at this point Kagerou is just a pile of cliches stuck together with a thick, gooey, cheesy layer of melodrama. I can’t say I found a single idea in this book that hasn’t been done better by another series, and the dialogue that ties it all together is strangely ineffective. Maybe it’s that I’ve seen essentially the same dialogue before too many times, maybe it’s that the dialogue isn’t particularly clever, or maybe it’s the fact that I didn’t care about the characters, but for all its efforts to the contrary, I found the dialogue flat, unbelievable, and powerless, which is really bad considering that this manga’s much more talk than action. The entire comic tries hard to be dramatic and powerful, but it lacks the only element that can ever make any story so: audience involvement. If you don’t care about what’s going on or the characters involved, the whole comic just comes off as dry and tiresome.

However, Kagerou does have one area of merit: it’s a very good-looking comic. The artwork is insanely detailed; in fact, it’s so detailed that it’s hard to tell what’s going on at times. The character designs, though hardly distinctive, work – but most of characters scarcely look like they belong in the same story. Some of the characters look like they’re from ancient China, others from Japan, others from modern times, and still others from pseudo-medieval Europe…and the evil General Kuroda looks exactly like I’d expect a Japanese Shogun version of Snidely Whiplash to look like. It’s possible that these characters have all been transported through time or something like that, but the comic hasn’t exactly mentioned this yet, so all I can do is assume that this story is just really confused. It’s a pity; Satomi Kubo is clearly a very talented artist, but the storytelling in this comic is maddening.

Kagerou NostalgiaKagerou-Nostalgia is the manga equivalent of X: The Movie. It’s a very pretty but ultimately shallow comic that tries to make up for its lack of proper development by being overly dramatic. At first, I was bored because I didn’t have the faintest idea what was going on, and by the end I was bored because I simply didn’t care. I suppose rabid, completist fans of mystical samurai melodramas might eat this up, but I prefer a well-told story to just about anything else and this comic isn’t delivering that. Sure, it might pick up in later volumes once the whole story is revealed, but I personally don’t have the patience or money to keep up with every manga series that might improve somewhere down the line. This comic just doesn’t have anywhere near enough promise for me to justify further pursuit.

Added:  Wednesday, July 28, 2004

Related Link:  ADV Manga
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