Even by the standards of most video-game themed manga, today's review is an odd one. It's written by a American woman, drawn by a hentai artist, and is all about anthropomorphizing a console war that largely only existed in the West, yet got published as a web manga and brought back over here.
It's just a shame that it really, REALLY wasn't worth all the effort.
WORLD WAR BLUE (Aoi Sekai no Chushin de), written by Anastasia Shestakova with art by Crimson. First published in 2007 and first published in North America in 2012.
In the land of Consume, the Niltendo Empire has conquered all the kingdoms save one: the Segua Kingdom. There lives a young orphan named Gear, a young man possessing oddly blue hair and super speed. When Niltendo forces kill his best friend, he and his other childhood friend Nel set forth to join the Segua Army. Together with skilled archer Opal and the pervy yet brilliant strategist Tejirov, they represent Segua's greatest hope towards rescuing their commander Alex and taking down Niltendo once and for all.
Ok, who let someone turn their video game fanfiction into a manga? I joke, but that's basically what World War Blue is. It's a fanfic of the 90s console wars written by someone who has both read too much bad shonen manga and is a massive Sega fangirl, and it's just as proud of itself and amateurish as that description would lead you to believe.
The story onto itself is about as generic as you can get when it comes to a shonen series. It follows the hero's journey formula note for note. It starts with a plucky young lead who is motivated by the death of a loved one, joins a crew of ragtag warriors that he inevitably wins over through his infallible good heart, and sets forth to battle against a vague but wicked ruler. It's like someone threw all of these tropes in a blender along with a few copies of Sega Visions until it turned into grey, pulpy goo, then molded that into a manga. That would also include a volume or two of Dragon Ball Z as well, as there's more than one instance where a character gets a super-special glowy power-up by concentrating real hard and screaming. The only original idea to be found here is the video game conceit, and even that's got problems.
I have to wonder how well this went over with Japanese audiences considering that it's referencing a rivalry that didn't exist on their side of the ocean. While Sega and Nintendo were serious rivals in the West during the early 1990s, in Japan things were very different. There, the Sega Mega Drive (aka the Genesis) was soundly beaten by both the SuperFamicon (aka the SNES) and even the NEC PC Engine (aka the Turbografx-16). Maybe they were just amused by all the references to real-world studios and games. The kingdoms are all named for studios, while all the named cast members are references to games from that era. Some of them are more obscure than others, especially to people who didn't grow up in the eras of the Genesis and Master System. It would be easy for most people to guess that Gear is an expy of Sonic or who the mustachioed, red-clad Emperor Marcus represents, but how many are going to connect Opal to Fantasy Zone or magic-wielding Nel to Phantasy Star 2?
The references tread a fine line between clever and stupid, often switching sides on a whim. A better writer might have incorporated these references more smoothly, but Shestakova is no more elegant at that than she is at writing shonen fantasy. She's also got a lousy sense of humor, which is a real problem in a story this goofy. The best she can manage are some lame sex jokes; otherwise, she treats everything with deadly seriousness, which is absolutely the wrong approach to a fantasy about video game companies fighting one another.
It's a bad sign that while reading this, I almost longed for the relative quality of Hyperdimension Neptunia. It's a much later franchise based on a much later console war that's both obnoxiously meta and pandering as all hell, but compared to this clumsy excuse of a story it's positively clever. It handles its references more deftly and forges its own metatextual path instead of just aping a well-worn formula badly. I would sooner play all of those games (including the idol management spin-off one) than read another volume of World War Blue.
Crimson is an artist mostly known for doing hentai doujin. I was vaguely aware of him thanks to fellow IDR writer Jonathan, whose knowledge of hentai manga is vast and is himself a fan of Crimson's. Sadly, the skills to make good hentai manga art are not the same as those needed to make good shonen art because the artwork here is decidedly mediocre. The character designs certainly leave something wanting. He's got a good grasp on anatomy, but he tends to draw the same face on everyone, especially the women, and he's not so good with facial expressions. The best of the lot is probably Gear, as his blue hair and beady eyes still work within this universe visually but also make it just obvious enough to figure out what character he's meant to represent. He also clearly isn't comfortable with drawing action, a major flaw for what is meant to be an action piece. He tends to either skip over them entirely or sum it up in a few stiffly drawn panels before moving on. He tries to make up for this through use of digital blurring to communicate Gear's power and speed. It's an effective trick early on, but by the midway point it's clear that this is Crimson's ONLY trick.
He doesn't bring much visual flare to the world of the Segua Kingdom, either. The backgrounds and costumes alike are plain as they can be. This isn't helped by the fact that nothing is shaded, so every image looks as flat as the paper it's printed on. During fights, they fade out entirely and are replaced with a series of speed lines. Even the paneling is workmanlike. Good artwork might have helped sell this half-baked fantasy, but Crimson is simply not up to the task.
Even if you're not familiar with this era of gaming, you'll get the references thanks to a series of comical conversations that go more into the history of Sega. They take a while to get to the point, but get the job done.
World War Blue is too serious, too amateurish, and too plain for its own good. Its combination of hamfisted Sega references and half-assed shonen formula are embarrassing to behold. There's Sonic the Hedgehog mpreg fanfiction out there that's more dignified than this. In short, this series is Game Over right from the start.
This series is published by Seven Seas. This series is complete in Japan with 10 volumes available. 8 volumes are available and are currently in print.