Friday, May 29, 2015

Merry Month of Manga Review: ZYWORD

It's no understatement to say that CLAMP has been highly influential in the world of manga.  The only problem is that some people are determined to take that influence a bit more literally than others.  Today's review is the result of someone who never got past their own brush with fame to develop any sort of skill or style of their own.

ZYWORD (Gaiodo), by Tamayo Akiyama.  First published in 2000, and first published in North America in 2006.


In the world of Zyword, the kingdom of Araimel lies under an icy sleep.  The only survivor is Princess Luna, a powerful mage who wants to unfrost her kingdom and save herself from a group of powerful goddesses that want her dead.  Her quest takes her all over the realm with her only companion being a mysterious soldier called Ride.  Together they are out to save the world and reclaim Luna's lost memories.


Zyword feels like someone turned a half-finished concept for a JRPG into a manga.  The story focuses on a Chosen One coming to terms with their destiny, where every turn is based on fantasy clichés and every page is loaded with ridiculous names and jargon.  It's just too bad that all this build-up and all these ideas go precisely nowhere.

The cast is completely unmemorable.  Luna comes closest to making an impression, but the most she can muster is a bit of brattiness, a healthy dose of curiosity, and a lot of stubbornness.  Everyone else is merely there to fill their respective token role, be it the stoic warrior, an innocent victim, or a purely wicked villain.  As the story goes on, it finds itself simply drowning in its own sea of terminology.  Spell names, titles, monsters, goddesses, all of this and more get some jumble of letters to describe them thrown at the reader's head, and Akiyama reinforces this by repeating and defining these terms are frequently as possible.  It's especially bad at the beginning, and it happens so often in the first chapter that I wasn't entirely convinced that the audience stand-in character wasn't in fact a human-shaped parrot.  Akiyama clearly wants to do a lot of world building here, but she hasn't the slightest clue as to how to pull it off.

Luna may be the Chosen One of this story, but more often than not she's turned into a damsel herself so that her mysterious sidekick can save her.  Time and again we're told that she can wield all sorts of incredible magic and has a super-special super-secret destiny that we only learn about in full in the last chapter.  Yet every single time she has to face down a villain, she never gets to use her own skills or knowledge to save herself.  It's a patronizing move that only gets more so with each instance, and it undercuts Luna's own importance in her own story.  It's a real shame because her own backstory is mildly interesting.  The story was kicked off when she had a prophetic dream as a child, one that marked her as blessed by the chaos goddesses and ready for a special (and likely deadly) initiation ceremony.  Luna rejected this so-called blessing, and in return her kingdom was destroyed.  Now she's dealing with a buttload of survivor's guilt and simply wants to make things right.  That's a perfectly valid reason for heroics and I wish the story had given itself more time to explore how Luna was affected by these events.

The biggest problem with Zyword is that it was never finished.  Akiyama was clearly gearing up for a multi-volume journey.  She was building up Luna's backstory, she was widening the scope of Luna's world, she even had just received a token cute mascot creature.  Then it all just stops with no attempt to wrap things up.  I can't imagine how poorly this series must have done to be cancelled so suddenly, without even enough time to make up a last-minute ending.  No matter how badly it likely would have turned out, it would have been better than nothing at all.  Maybe if Zyword had gone on longer, it might have found its footing and turned itself into something better.  In its present state, though, it's guaranteed to remain a muddled unfinished mess forever.


I'm pretty sure that Akiyama's connection to CLAMP was pretty much the only reason Tokyopop licensed this in the first place.  Akiyama was a member of CLAMP back when they were a 10 person doujin group.  She left before they got famous, but she still retained some connections with the present members and she's done her best to make her own art look like theirs.  Like a lot of fanart, though, her art is naught but a pale imitation of the original, and worse still she's still trying to imitate CLAMP circa CLAMP School Detectives.  Sometimes she outright steals from her former teammates, as Luna's fairy beast bears a suspicious resemblance to Magic Knight Rayearth's Mokona. 

There are plenty of lush round eyes, flowing hair, swirling cloth, and goofy fantasy armor, but the faces are stiff, flat, and completely identical to one another.  There's no rhyme or reason to the costumes beyond "add more drapery" or "throw on a few more weird-ass horns," and she really shouldn't have tried to add fanservice when she barely knows how to draw boobs.  She also has no idea how to draw action.  CLAMP's earlier work had some chaotic magic fights as well, but they brought a sense of life and moment to them, as if the swirls of magic could come flying off the page.  Akiyama can't manage that, though, and I suspect that she knows as much.  That may be why so many of the fights are obscured by dark screentones, speedlines, and sound effects.  All that clutter means that there's little space for backgrounds, so Luna and company mostly tend to wander through dingy grey limbo.  At least she knows how to compose a page, as the panels bleed into one another in a way that's easy to follow and almost verges upon elegant.  It's too bad then that she can't bring that elegance to anything else on the page or within this book.


Zyword is not only incredibly derivative, but it's bogged down in boring jargon and bad art and stops before it can go anywhere.  Clearly CLAMP didn't lose anything of significance by letting Akimiya go.

This volumes was published by Tokyopop.  It is currently out of print.

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