Vol. 1 of The Last Man
Balak + Sanlaville + Vive̒s
Brought to you by OBS Reviewer Scott
Manga, or the Japanese style of rendering graphic storytelling has exploded onto both American and European shores and it’s hard to find an interesting take on the drama. The Japanese pace of storytelling is a difficult one to master, requiring multiple volumes often detailing a fraction of the overall storyline; and full-fledged libraries to complete a single story.
The European approach to graphics novels is another matter altogether. It usually contains self-contained stories that are an arc to a greater storyline if it appears at all. The page count is usually higher than the American graphic novel, and the artwork is more diverse.
The Stranger, volume one of The Last Man series has elements of both in this tale of a young boy and “the stranger” a Western Man out of his element and their exploits in a fighting tournament each has reason to win. It has the European look of famed illustrator Mobius (Jean Giraud), with its surreal, deftly drawn renderings of a non-described land with roots in both Chinese and Japanese history and the slow pacing of a Japanese story.
The artwork, however, merits the price of admission. It was only because of the sepia coated lavishing art that I was able to push ahead through the text. Vivid and awe-inspiring in places, the fluid lines in the page/panel composition leave no doubt as to where your eye needs to be directed next. Mixing intriguing character design with the highly detailed backgrounds keeps the story focused as the artists play off relatively simple renderings of the leads with the intricate and exotic backgrounds. The only thing I found missing were the “breaks” in the fighting scenes – “breaks” are where the human character is rendered in such a fashion that distorts the figure from realistic, to what would be considered life ending contortions. In the martial arts genre this aspect was solely missed.
Although an entertaining quick read, I found the story’s pacing somehow wrong. Usually there is a reaction to each possible action (or so I’m told) and this holds true in manga, however, here action took place without reason or motivation. A little more background on each of the characters in this crucial first part of the series would seem to be the culprit. I found myself reading about characters who, in retrospect, should have been protagonists and antagonists, reduced to the same two dimensional forms as the “extras” that populated the rest of the graphic novel – just with more panels devoted to them. The volume ends with the reader not knowing anything about the characters than their experiences throughout the course of the read.
All in all, The Stranger wasn’t a bad read, yet it wasn’t the strongest piece of sequential art I have read. It has it’s perks and flaws and I would probably be tempted to see volume two to see how the story plays out. If you enjoy magic and martial arts manga, good artwork and a quick read, you’ll enjoy The Last Man Volume One: The Stranger.