Title: Kingdom Hearts
Creator(s): Shiro Amano
Format: Unflipped; Left-to-Right
Rated: All Ages
Buy From Amazon.com: Vol. 1 / Vol. 2 / Vol. 3 / Vol. 4
“Kingdom Hearts” was one of the most unlikely games to come out in 2002. It was a collaborative action RPG made by Disney and SquareSoft. Disney is known for Mickey Mouse and the Little Mermaid, and SquareSoft is known for “Final Fantasy”, “Chrono Trigger”, and other such RPGs. To say that this was an unusual partnership would be an understatement, and almost everyone felt that whatever the two companies were making, it either wouldn’t be good or it wouldn’t even get finished. But “Kingdom Hearts” was released for the PlayStation 2 in 2002, and became one of the best-selling games of the year, with tons of critical acclaim, and now the sequel (which is set to release in the spring of 2006) is one of the most anticipated sequels of next year. For those who don’t play games (but are interested in the concept), we now have this manga adaptation released by Tokyopop for your convenience.
Don’t let the cute characters fool you…
The story of “Kingdom Hearts” is a bit of a strange one, though (as you probably can expect when you pair two companies like Disney and SquareSoft together). It revolves around a young boy named Sora, who spends his days wondering whether or not there are other worlds in the universe outside of his home island. He has two friends: a teenage boy named Rikku, who wonders the same thing, and a girl named Kairi, who washed up on the island shore one day and may very well be from another world herself. These three characters spend their time on the island playing games, and working on their raft, which they hope to carry them to great adventures relatively soon (for some reason, there are no parents on-site to stop them). On the other side of the universe, Donald Duck and Goofy are in a panic because King Mickey has left the kingdom without telling anyone, leaving only a letter saying that the keys to other worlds have been opened and that they must be sealed. Donald and Goofy decide to go out and find King Mickey and help him out themselves. Shortly afterwards, though, chaos erupts throughout the universe, and Sora, Rikku, and Kairi get sucked out of their world. Sora wakes up to find Donald and Goofy on top of him and with a giant key in his hand. No, it’s not the key to New York City, it’s a key that can seal the doors to the gates that keep balance among the various worlds.
…”Kingdom Hearts” storyline goes in some very dark directions.
Unfortunately, since the doors ARE open at the present time, a bunch of monsters called the Heartless are free to roam the various worlds as they please. These worlds include Tarzan’s world, “The Little Mermaid,” “The Nightmare Before Christmas” (despite the fact that that movie is labeled as a Touchstone movie and NOT a Disney film), “Hercules,” and so forth. It’s definitely a strange concept, but it’s a concept that ends up working real well despite some of the skepticism you might have. The first question that may come to your mind is, how did the author manage to combine the art styles of Disney and SquareSoft? Disney characters are going to look very American, and the Square characters are going to look very anime-ish, so you may be worried that the two styles would conflict with each other. Strangely enough, the two styles end up fitting like a glove (kind of like Mickey’s gloves). With some minor exceptions, like Alice from “Alice In Wonderland,” most of the Disney characters stand next to the anime-style characters and look perfectly fine and in tune. Maybe it has something to do with the fact that classic Disney cartoons were the basis for anime characteristics (big eyes, for example), but it works.
Although, I must comment on the color scheme a little bit. While “Kingdom Hearts” was given the E (Everyone) rating by the ESRB, the game was surprisingly dark for a Disney game. As the story becomes more complicated, there are themes of death, betrayal, separation, destruction, love triangles, and the question of the basis of evil (to name a few). Even Donald and Goofy end up becoming more serious characters as the story gets more and more dire. Since the game was in color, though, it used bright backgrounds to help balance out the dark things that were happening in the story (until the finale, that is). This comic is in black-and-white, though. There is nothing wrong with this, but without the color, the series ends up looking a little bit more dark and gothic than I remember it being (thus making certain parts of the story feel more mature than they probably should for a kids’ comic). Nevertheless, the artwork is really good, and for the most part it captures the spirit of the game extremely well. Though people who have never played the game are sure to be pleasantly surprised, fans who have played the game may not like how the story feels less like an epic in this comic version, and that’s understandable. One of the things that helped get the epic feeling in the game was all the dungeons and temples you not only had to travel to, but explore, examine and fight huge battles in.
This would be tedious in the comic, however, so almost all of the traveling and exploration have been cut down to the barest minimum that the story requires. Because of this, the story pace may seem strangely fast for fans of the game, but if you’ve never played the game, this most likely won’t be much of an issue for you. After “Kingdom Hearts” became a huge hit, Disney announced that along with the video game sequel there would be tons of cool stuff to spin the game off into a franchise. A new anime series was announced, a new manga, a bunch of toys, and even a movie or two. Of all the things they outlined, this manga is the first actual product I’ve seen that I’m able to buy, and most of the other stuff still hasn’t seen the light of day. It makes me wonder if this adaptation was made purely to get people caught up to speed with “Kingdom Hearts” before all the big stuff comes out. I don’t know. Either way, this is a great book. For people who have played the game, it’s a way to relive the story without having to commit to some twenty or more odd hours of replaying the game. For people who haven’t gotten the game yet, or simply don’t play video games, this is a way to experience this interesting Disney story for yourself. The book retails for $5.99, and at that price it is a bargain.
Note To Parents: You might want to make note of the dark nature of the storyline. While Tokyopop has labeled this book with an A (All Ages) rating, the story does get dark, the monsters can be quite scary-looking, and if the adaptation is faithful, then we are in for one heck of a trip with the final book in the series. It may be wise to preview this book before giving a copy to little Billy. Otherwise, though, this book is definitely recommended.
Additional Note: Since this review was first published a few years ago this series has gone out of print. Which means don’t go to the A-1 Comics off Douglas or anything…it’s not there. eBay is your friend right now. Just be prepared to shell out more then $10 for it.
– –Kevin T. Rodriguez– –
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