Madara vol. 1

Madara vol. 1
 Chad Clayton  rates it:    

Author/Artist: Eiji Otsuka/Sho-u Tajima
Format: Paperback
Price: $9.99

If you asked me to sum up CMX’s release of Madara in one sentence, I’d say that it came along about ten years too late.

That’s the primary thought that came to mind as I finished up the first volume. It has that same distinct feel of a lot of anime that hit our shores in the mid-90s: it’s heavy on action, it’s light on story and characterization, it piles on the gimmicks, and it’s violent. And unfortunately, like many of the titles fitting the above mold, it’s also fairly boring, uninteresting, and inconsequential, unlikely to be remembered for long after completion. In fact, I’m forgetting it at an alarming rate as I type this; I’ll most likely have to consult the book again before I finish this review.

Madara is a 15-year-old boy with incredible spiritual power who is made up entirely of cybernetics, or “gadgets” as they’re called in the story. After an attempted invasion of his village, which Madara squelches with the help of his “battle gadgets,” he goes on a quest to obtain the pieces of his “real” body from the beings who cut him up as a baby and scattered his pieces all over the place. There’s also a plot about Madara being the offspring of a god and the subject of a prophecy where he leads mankind to the Holy Land of Agartha. It’s not such a bad story in concept, I suppose, but thus far it isn’t being handled very well at all.

One of the first things that bothered me about Madara is that it absolutely lays on the gimmickry with a trowel. Madara’s entire body is made up of “gadgets,” which he controls with his spiritual power. But he must have a sword that he must hold up to his head in order to activate the full potential of his gadgets. But this sword won’t work if Madara doesn’t have Kirin with him at the time, for whatever reason (presumably because the story requires Madara to have a buddy character of some sort). So naturally, when Kirin inevitably gets kidnapped, Madara must get this special add-on for his sword from a weird little man that gives him a new power, and so it goes on and on ad nauseam. Madara’s quest doesn’t feel so much like a real story as it does an action videogame – must travel to the next locale, kill the enemy there, obtain the items there, and move on. You could easily divide this manga into two parts: the fights, and the stuff that happens between the fights. This drags down the story, big time. Even though content issues (violence, nudity, gruesome creatures) have earned Madara a Mature rating, it seems like the series’ target audience is videogame-obsessed teens looking for a story about killing monsters. It’s mature content pinned together by immature storytelling.

As bad as that is, Madara‘s greatest problem is that it never really comes together into an involving story. It feels like a sequence of events, peppered with dialogue and augmented with facts concerning internal mythology, but with no genuine sense of story. By “sense of story,” I mean the sense that something is actually occurring within the story, and that the occurrence of these events is important in some way. The usual cause for this is yet again to blame: we’re speeding through the story so fast that there’s no time to develop characters or give the events any real weight. So the manga falls back on cliche to cover up the lack of development, with little success. For all the bloody, violent, head-exploding fights, there’s never a true sense of urgency or sense that the characters are ever in any real danger. For all the urgency in this manga, you’d think Madara was just out on a day’s stroll, with some monster killing in the bargain. The characters scarcely fare better: Madara’s evidently supposed to be cocky and confident, and Kirin flirtatious and sassy, but they end up coming off like jackasses or tools more often than not – and not even in a comical way. They’re not terribly likeable or endearing at all.

Had Madara been released 10 years ago, I would probably have more of a reason to be merciful with it. Back then the pickings were a lot slimmer, and in terms of both content and quality, it wouldn’t have been out of place on the shelves with the other titles of that time. But today, the manga shelves are lined with titles that contain better stories, better storytelling, and tons more personality than this. Madara is a perfectly serviceable example of the shounen action genre, but it’s far too cliched, sloppy, and tiresome to stand out as one of the genre’s shining lights. It’s so wearisome, it couldn’t even inspire me to ridicule it or come up with interesting, passionate text for the review. I guess it’s fitting, though: a dispassionate review for a lifeless manga.

Added:  Monday, June 27, 2005

Related Link:  CMX
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