Today's review could have easily fit in with last month's theme as it does with this month's, being an adaptation of a television series. If only it were an adaptation of a GOOD series.
RECORD OF LODOSS WAR: CHRONICLES OF THE HEROIC KNIGHT (Rodosu-to Senki: Eiyu Kishi-den), adapted from the light novel series by Ryo Mizuno & drawn by Masato Natsumoto. First published in 1998, and first published in North America in 2003.
Years have passed since the legendary knight Parn conquered the forces of evil and saved the island of Lodoss. Now an apprentice knight named Spark wants nothing more than to follow in Parn's example and become a full-fledged knight. It's too bad for him that once again, he failed to qualify. Things get only worse when he manages to get himself a guard job at the royal castle, only to have a bunch of dark elves break in and steal a magical artifact. The king commands Spark to take back the stolen artifact, and now it seems that Spark just may get his wish. So, he and his band of fellow warriors must set off to find the artifact, defeat the dark elves, and save the day once more.
Lodoss War is less of a series and more of a franchise. It started in the 80s when Mizuno literally started doing write-ups of the games of Dungeons & Dragons that he and a bunch of fellow authors were playing. These grew so popular that he turned them into a light novel series, which in turn inspired a popular OVA, comedy spin-offs, manga series, a TV series with a great opening and little else, and even more manga series. This manga fits in that very last category, which to many would be a black mark against it right from the beginning. Now, I'm only familiar with the Lodoss War franchise in name only, so I hope I can give this series something resembling a fair shot.
Unfortunately, that might hurt my enjoyment of the series simply because this is a direct sequel to Record of Lodoss War: The Grey Witch (which was inspired by the OVA). The main cast from that story make cameo appearances here, and it's clearly supposed to be a big and exciting thing. In many ways, we're supposed to be geeking out over their appearance in much the same way our lead does. This also means that this series has something of the same problem that I had with the Tenchi Muyo review I did so long ago: it requires you to do some homework. Again, like Tenchi this wouldn't have been so much of an issue when this book was first released, but pretty much everything Lodoss related has long since fallen out of print with the closure of Central Park Media. As such, most modern fans won't be familiar with the original story, much less the sequel.
This story really does feel like reading through a D&D dungeon master's notes, because our lead and party fit almost perfectly into the classes we've all come to associate with that series and those like it. We have a knight, a mercenary, a wizard, a half-elf, a cleric, and even a thief or rogue class by the end of the volume. The most creative they get with these types is making the cleric a dwarf instead of an elf. I could have lived with the blatant lifting of D&D classes if these characters had decently developed personalities. Alas, they mostly live up to the stereotypes, and those that don't have equally one-note personalities. Not even Spark is immune - his every thought and action is driven by his need to become a knight, and it gets tiresome after a while. They don't get any more creative with the villains either. They are an equally stereotypical collection of goblins, dark elves, and an evil king. Naturally, these evil races are just as awful in looks as they are in morality, except for the females who look like beautiful women with darker skin and some funny ears.
The story follows a pattern that would also be familiar to RPG players. The first half is spent setting up Spark and going through roll call for the previous warriors. The second half sets up the quest, gathers the warriors, and even gets through the first of what I'm sure are many a boss fight. Even their motivation is rather generic, in that these evil forces want to take over the world (OF COURSE!) and our heroes are the only ones who can stop them. The whole story just begs for more personality and more creativity. To continue the D&D theme, what this story really needs is a more imaginative DM, because I feel like freaking Queen's Blade did more to create an original story from tabletop RPG resources, and Queen's Blade is little more than a parade of boobs in crazy costumes.
While the story is derivative, the artwork is not. Natsumoto's artwork is handsome and detailed. The characters are handsome, well-built, well-detailed, and the fanservice is kept to the barest of minimums. The worst is gets is with Laila, the rogue/thief sort, who wears something that doesn't so much say 'medieval fantasy' as it does '80s hair metal groupie.' I only wish these nicely drawn character don't exist in a more visually interesting world. Natsumoto keeps things pretty tightly focused on the cast, so we never really get a sense of scale to the world of Lodoss. Worse still, it makes the fights harder to follow. The biggest artisitic failing of this work isn't the fault of the artist, but instead the fault of Central Park Media. No, it's not the fact that this was released flipped. It's that the first half of the volume I read has bizarrely pale pages. They resemble nothing so much as a bad photocopy. Things improve as the volume goes on, but it's clearly a printing issue and it does distract from the work as a whole.
Central Park Media did have the good sense to include a lot of surprisingly dense notes about the world of Lodoss and all the races and concepts within that universe. I only wish all this information could have been woven into the story organically, as it would have helped to give it some well-needed depth.
This series was published by Central Park Media. The series is complete in 6 volumes, and is currently out of print.
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