As a critic, few words fill me with more trepidation than “inspired by the popular video game.” I’ve read my share of video game manga, most of which were thin on plot and characterization but heavy on explanation. Every so often, however, I run across a series like Monster Hunter Orage, which manages to stay true to its roots while offering something to readers who’ve never played the game.
What makes Monster Hunter work is Hiro Mashima’s script, which does a solid job of translating game play into genuine plot. In the original game, players answered to a town guild, accepting orders to hunt or capture a variety of monsters. Players could fly solo or team up with one, two, or three other gamers to bring down bigger monsters and boost their skill rating. (The ultimate object of the game was to attain the highest skill level, rather than accumulate the greatest number of points.)
In the manga, Mashima builds a story around Shiki, a hunter on a quest to find Myo Galuna, a.k.a. the Thunder Dragon. Shiki is a Seal Hunter, a special category of monster-slayer who’s free to pursue game without interference from town guilds. Though he’s strong and skilled, his brash behavior and social cluelessness prove serious barriers to finding comrades — that is, until he meets Ailee, a fiercely independent hunter who shares Shiki’s desire to find the Thunder Dragon, and Sakya, a gunner who wants to avenge her father’s death.
Shiki and Ailee’s peppery rapport provides a welcome jolt of comic energy, whether they’re arguing about how to kill a monster or how to catch dinner. Like many of Mashima’s heroines, Ailee has little tolerance for teenage male foolishness, and frequently dismisses Shiki with a withering comment. (When they first meet, for example, Shiki blurts out, “Say, haven’t we met before?”, to which Ailee replies, “It’s been forever since I heard that stale pick-up line. Wait. Don’t respond. Just go somewhere else.”) Other supporting characters play a similar role in keeping the tone breezy: the Prince, a preening, foolish hunter, is font of malapropisms, while Maru, the Prince’s sidekick, provides an energetic stream of patter whenever the two appear together.
The art is as nimble as the script, relying heavily on Mashima’s crisp linework to give definition to his characters, monsters, and landscapes; he’s as sparing with screentone as Arina Tanemura is with white space. Though the characters have marvelous, elastic faces, capable of registering fifteen degrees of surprise and indignation, the monsters are unimpressive; they look a lot like dinosaurs with extra feathers and appendages. Put the men and the monsters together, however, and the results are terrific: the fights are graceful and swift, allowing the main characters to demonstrate their martial arts acumen without dragging out the conflict over three or four chapters.
If I had any complaint about Monster Hunter Orage, it’s that the story quickly falls into a predictable pattern. The outcome of the fights is never in question, nor is Shiki’s role as the hunter who will ultimately be the one to outsmart the monster. Even efforts to introduce subplots only go so far; by the end of volume one, it’s clear that the Prince will do anything to destroy Shiki, but his buffoonish behavior and general incompetence make him a less-than-credible threat to the heroes.
But if Monster Hunter isn’t as deep as it could be, it’s still a lot of fun, propelled by a goofy, anything-for-a-laugh script, appealing characters, and plenty of man-on-monster action. And at four volumes, the series won’t overstay its welcome. A good beach read.
MONSTER HUNTER ORAGE, VOL. 1 • BY HIRO MASHIMA • KODANSHA COMICS USA • 192 pp. • RATING: TEEN (13+)
Derek Bown saysJuly 5, 2011 at 3:08 am
Ah, I’ve been waiting to buy this. I was kind of surprised that Kodansha was making this one of the titles in their second wave of releases. I guess they’re capitalizing on Mashima’s popularity, since Fairy Tail is doing well as both a manga and anime. Here’s hoping they don’t bring Monster Soul over, it would only hurt his popularity (not a great idea to be drawing two series at the same time).
I never played any of the monster hunter games, so the fact that I actually enjoyed this manga speaks volumes I think. I can’t wait to hear your opinion on the other volumes, if you decide to review them.
Katherine Dacey saysJuly 5, 2011 at 6:03 pm
I haven’t seen Monster Soul. Is it also based on the Monster Hunter franchise?
Derek Bown saysJuly 5, 2011 at 6:28 pm
No, it’s an original monthly series he started at the same time as Fairy Tail, and especially in the last half it’s obvious where his preference was. Monster Soul has a pretty shoddy ending, and is overall generic most of the time.
Mashima is one of those manga-ka that I’ve noticed, when they’re good they’re really good. But when they’re bad, it’s kinda embarrassing. Some of his short stories can be pretty bad (he’s got some really good ones too). So yeah, he’s really good, except when for some reason he just gets really generic.
Katherine Dacey saysJuly 5, 2011 at 9:09 pm
Mashima is one of those manga-ka that I’ve noticed, when they’re good they’re really good. But when they’re bad, it’s kinda embarrassing.
I imagine that’s 70% of the battle when you’re cranking out long-form adventure stories; audiences don’t want you to go too far off the reservation, but they still expect you to bring something fresh and interesting to the table. Given how many thousands of pages Mashima has written, I think a .350 batting average would be pretty astounding.
Derek Bown saysJuly 5, 2011 at 9:14 pm
They say it takes about a million words for writers to start getting good. The same is probably true for manga artists, the only difference is that writers tend not to have publishers who say “Let’s publish all this old stuff you did, while you were still learning” once the writer gets popular.
lovelyduckie saysJuly 7, 2011 at 2:54 pm
I love TWO manga series that’s based on anything (and isn’t the original source). I enjoy Higurashi When They Cry, and Alice in the Country of Hearts. I’m especially shocked I enjoy the latter, anything based on an Otome game usually ends up feeling empty and makes me feel pathetic for reading it because the plot just seems to be set up so I can place myself as the heroine and have all these “unique” bishies throw themselves at me. Somehow Alice in the Country of Hearts makes it alright by giving the main character some personality. I have a lot of hope that series will be rescued since it was one of the more successful recent series.
I like the Zelda series but it’s nothing to go wild over. I’d also like to try the Suikoden III series sometime.
Katherine Dacey saysJuly 8, 2011 at 8:26 am
Suikoden III has great art, and works fine for readers who don’t know anything about the game. It isn’t as magical as Qwan (also by Aki Shimizu), but it’s complete and not too hard to come by on eBay.
lovelyduckie saysJuly 11, 2011 at 12:51 pm
hhhmmm I played and enjoyed Suikoden III a lot, although I only followed one of the three possible paths.