Wednesday, December 3, 2014

Review: THE SEVEN DEADLY SINS

Ever since the runaway success of Attack on Titan, every manga publisher has been looking for their own version of The Next Big Thing in shonen.  Even Kodansha Comics isn't immune from this, despite the fact that they are the ones making money hand-over-fist from that franchise.  So does this series stand a chance at such a title, or is it just another pretender?

THE SEVEN DEADLY SINS (Nanatsu no Taizai), by Nakaba Suzuki.  First published in 2012, and first published in North America in 2014.



PLOT:
The land of Brittania is under attack.  It had been under the protection of seven powerful knights known as the Seven Deadly Sins, but they all found themselves framed for the murder of the king.  Now the Order of the Holy Knights has taken over and forced the populace to serve them or die.  Princess Elizabeth managed to escape their clutches, only to fall down in exhaustion at a faraway tavern.  Luckily for her, the tavern is staffed by the pint-sized Melodias, who turns out to be one of the fugitive Seven Deadly Sins.  Now the two wander across Brittania in their quest to find the other Deadly Sins, clear their names, and save the kingdom.

STORY:
So, is this the Next Big Thing in shonen?  Well, from what I've seen here it's certainly a solid beginning.  I'm just not completely convinced that it's all that different from its competitors.

I definitely get the sense that more thought was put into the plot versus the characters.  We don't even learn all that much about Melodias over the course of the book, and he's the freaking main character!  All we know about him is a bit of his backstory and that despite his child-like looks, he's an adult with a taste for fanservice.  As you can imagine, if they can't bother to do that much with the lead, the supporting cast gets even less development.  I was really disappointed that Elizabeth was relegated to the Token Girl role so early on.  Once she sets the quest into motion, all she does is provide fanservice (since she's weirdly blasĂ© about Melodias grabbing her boobs or looking at her panties) and appeal to the emotions of others while Melodias does the actual fighting.  It really shouldn't be that way, considering that she has just as much of a stake in this fight as Melodias does.

The plot itself takes a lot of cues from the usual fantasy tropes.  We have a team of supernatural warriors to assemble, a number of increasingly powerful bosses and minibosses to fight, and plenty of wacky adventure to fill the time in between the plot-relevant fights, and all of this is played perfectly straight.  The good folk are (mostly) wholesome and righteous, and those villains who are not pure, mustache-twirling examples of evil are played as goofy louts. Honestly, what this reminds me of most strongly is Dragon Ball.  Aside from the fact that the story centers on a short but powerful guy and a taller girl with an agenda of her own, both Dragon Ball and Seven Deadly Sins have the same sort of light and wacky tone, which helps to make this a fairly pleasant series to read.  Unfortunately, that's where the similarities in story ends.  Suzuka doesn't have the flair for strong personalities that Akira Toriyama did even in the early days of Dragon Ball, and that lack of personality is really what holds this series back from becoming the sensation it wants to be.

ART:
My Toriyama flashbacks didn't stop with the art.  Suzuki clearly takes artistic influence from him as well, and it's honestly a welcome change from the ugly, angular art that so typically defines modern shonen.  The character designs strike a very nice balance between handsome, grounded photorealism and the sort of rounded cartoony forms Toriyama used for the Dragon Quest series.  Shading is done mostly with hatching, which adds to the slightly unpolished quality of the art.  If the artwork has a fault, it's that it's sometimes too busy for its own good.  Suzuka will fill the panels full of tiny details, be it the messy shingles of an old roof or raucous tavern rooms full of celebrating people.  It's great for establishing a scene, but sometimes the characters seem to get lost in the crowd.  Worse still, Suzuka isn't all that great at drawing action.  He's good at perspective and visually communicating the crackle and spark of magic powers, but he's not so good at choreography.  As such, his fights don't flow well on the page and he tends to overcompensate with speed lines.  It's a shame, because good shonen often depends on good-looking fights to excite the readers.  I do believe that Suzuka has the potential to become a great manga artist.  If he can work on his fight scenes, then the series can truly begin to capture its artistic potential.

RATING:
While the story sticks to the standards, the artwork has a lot of potential.  The Seven Deadly Sins isn't quite yet the big hit it wants to be, but with time and care it could grow into that role.

This series is published by Kodansha Comics.  This series is ongoing in Japan, with 11 volumes currently available.  5 volumes have been published so far, and all are currently in print.  The series is also currently available digitally through Crunchyroll.

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