I started with a Star Wars manga, so naturally I had to end with one. You see, it rhymes. It's like poetry.
STAR WARS EPISODE ONE: THE PHANTOM MENACE, adapted from the film by Kia Asamiya. First published in 1999 and first published in North America in 1999.
The planet of Naboo is on the verge of disaster thanks to a trade negotiation gone sour. Their Queen, Amidala, decided to bring in a couple of Jedi Knights to help with the negotiations. This fails epically for them, and after a few detours and one annoying Gungan they all find themselves sidetracked to the planet of Tatooine. This in turn leads them to a slave boy named Anakin with a knack for podracing and the potential to become the most powerful Jedi of them all.
First of all, I hope you all appreciate the fact I tried to distill the boring yet needlessly convoluted plot of The Phantom Menace to less than one paragraph. Honestly, that's way more difficult than it really should be. Secondly, despite the fact that this is a completely different film adapted by a completely different mangaka, this manga has the same problem as the one for A New Hope: it's a overly literal translation of the movie. Unlike that one, though, this is an overly literal translation of a terrible movie.
I'm not shocking anyone by stating the obvious here: The Phantom Menace sucked. It sucked in 1999, especially once the joys of the opening weekend passed and all we were left with were the dismal dregs and that one scene with Darth Maul. It still sucks now, despite what the kids who grew up with these films might try to tell themselves. It's badly written, it's boring, and very little of it has any impact on the later prequels, much less the larger universe of Star Wars. You could fill several servers full of the thinkpieces, reviews, and alternate cuts that spawned from this film. Sadly, all of that suckiness was successfully translated from the screen to the page.
Actually, let me correct that: it successfully translates the suckiness of the first half of the film to the page. Do we have all the tedious trade negotiation stuff? Check! Is there all of the nonsense with Jar-Jar and the Gungans? You bet! Do we still have to deal with overly chipper, precocious and virgin-birthed Anakin? Yep! At least there were moments and characters in A New Hope that people would have wanted to relieve in manga form. There is none of that here, as it cuts off just shy of the podrace and all of the good action sequences happen during or after that point. That means that like the previous Star Wars manga I covered, this one also ends up focusing on all of the most boring bits of its respective movie.
On top of all of that, you can add the complete and utter lack of character for the cast. There are plenty of characters and they talk plenty, but there's no sense of emotion or character voice...at least, where the humanoid characters were concerned. Asamiya seems to struggle far less with the various alien and robot characters. If anything, he strives to accurately capture their lines (or in R2D2's case, transcribe his beeps). This means that he and the translators go out of their way to accurately transcribe Jar-Jar's every single word. Let me tell you, it doesn't get any less racist or annoying on the page! Even I had forgotten just how omnipresent Jar-Jar is during this portion of the film. Every panel he's in is sheer agony and he remains completely out of place in this super serious and stone-faced plot.
This is absolutely a product of its time, that time being that brief period in the summer of 1999 when Phantom Menace merchandise was inescapable and the ineptitude of the film hadn't quite sunk in for most. It's the last time anyone would have wanted to relive it in manga form, especially when the manga in question is so literal and inept to begin with.
Hisao Takada's big flaw was being rather generic. After reading this, though, I longed for his brand of artistic decency because Kia Asamiya is an ABYSSMAL artist. This book might feature some of the stiffest artwork I've seen in a manga. At best, he can draw maybe two sorts of faces: wide-eyed innocent and squinty-eyed older person. Worst of all, they are all stuck on a perpetual expression of 'dull surprise.' Regardless of whichever face he might be drawing, they are drawn in the crudest, most angular possible, and many of them have these weird hatchmarks that I suspect are meant to convey cheekbones but look more like wrinkles.
He doesn't handle bodies any better, and that makes me dread of how precisely he would have handled the actual action scenes. His paneling is simply too small and too stiff to even convey the fluidity of a swinging lightsaber. There's no way he could ever capture the grandeur of all these exotic locations or Amidala's ridiculous wardrobe. About the only thing he can draw competently are the aliens. All of them are shockingly on-model, and if he wasn't working from reference materials or screenshots I would be shocked. It's a shame that he couldn't bring any of that effort to anything else.
This is a terrible manga adaptation of a terrible movie. There is no charm, no originality, no beauty, and no sensible plot to be found here. Even the most hardened Star Wars fans would dismiss this manga as completely unnecessary. Not even the publisher bothered with the rest of this, so why should you?
This series was published by Dark Horse. This series is complete in Japan with 2 volumes available. One volume was published and is currently out of print.