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Element Line Vol. #01 Manga Review

6 min read
Despite my love of the genre, I always try to keep my hopes at a very low level whenever picking up a fantasy manga.

Creative Staff:
Writer/Artist: Mamiya Takizaki
Translated by: Ashton Trujillo
Adapted by: Christine Boylan

What They Say:
Fourteen years after the disappearance of the great hero, Laolyth, the only barrier between the monstrous Rizoms and the destruction of humanity are a few brave soldiers and the Shields, huge walls surrounding the remaining cities. As the Shields tenuously keep the Rizoms away from the populace, only the powerful Guild guards traverse the walls as traders between the fortress-like cities. Kam, an orphan boy living in the city of Grisfynn, is preparing to become one of these soldiers, which would allow him to travel with merchant caravans across the world. But he harbors a dangerous secret that not even his beloved foster family fully realizes…Politics and high fantasy collide in this first volume of the action-packed Element Line.

Content: (please note that content portions of a review may contain spoilers):
In an unknown land, giant creatures named Rizoms have overrun the countryside in a war with humanity. Torn by the loss of his beloved Sarah, a man named Laolyth makes a last stand against the monsters so that his son can grow up in the peaceful world that Sarah imagined. Although he loses, rumors spread throughout society, attributing many victories in battle to this supposedly dead warrior–some even claim to have seen him.

Fourteen years later, Laolyth’s son, Kam, is living in the walled city of Grisfynn with his adopted family. An unexplainable metamorphosis has begun to affect his body, one that will turn the young boy into a beast and cause him to lose control of himself. Determined to leave his adopted family behind before this can happen (or before some mysterious person comes to get him; Kam can’t decide why he’s leaving, I guess), he enlists in the Guild to become a soldier and fight the Rizoms with a plan to never return. Yet the pleading of his close friend Ludia is enough to change his mind and become determined to return fro the dangerous mission. It is not long after the Guilt trainees set out from the city when they are attacked by a new kind of Rizom. While trying to save a comrade in the midst of battle, Kam is thrown into an abandoned warehouse and comes face-to-face with a boy who seems to possess mystical powers…

Welcome to Element Line, a series that wants very much to be an epic fantasy, but fails in developing a sensible fantasy world. Grisfynn is a city with walls strong enough to keep out giant monsters, enough property within the aforementioned walls to feed its population, and enough people to make it all happen. Yet when the Guild, which facilitates limited communication between various cities, wants to try out new recruits, they just dump them into the wilderness. Unless this is all an elaborate system to control the population, it doesn’t make much sense to throw away that much manpower.

It’s not just the world that needs more development, either. Characters feel rather flat and stereotypical so far, but 160 pages isn’t a lot of time to develop a full cast of main and side players. The main character, Kam, has already undergone significant change by the end of the first chapter, but the development is too sudden. Much of the character interaction hinges on relationships that are spelled out so blatantly that they cannot possibly be convincing or moving. Kam and Ludia’s friendship is a prime example of this flaw. It’s obvious that both characters have a weak spot for each other, but that’s about all you get. It’s not just them – conversations between all characters are written poorly and thus hard to believe. Historical and cultural notes given through character dialogue sounds like it’s being read out of a textbook. And that collision of high fantasy and politics that was promised has yet to develop. At best, they’ve started inching towards each other at a snail’s pace.

Yet fantasy often takes a little while to develop. The concept of cities completely isolated and left to either evolve or stagnate on their own is intriguing, so long as disbelief about the food supply can be suspended. Political intrigues being hinted at this early in the series is a good thing, as long as they come together in the end. And two chapters, however long they may be, cannot progress far enough to explore these plot threads. Part of the problem is certainly the strange pacing that can’t decide if it wants to ease into things or blindside you with them. The best example is the last ten pages, which throws about four different “developments” into the mix and leaves you confused, not intrigued, at the last cliffhanger. It’s not too much of a stretch to say that the horrible pacing is what throws off the rest of the volume and causes it to fall short in pretty much every other area.

Character designs, although varied, look like they were lifted from a fantasy RPG. What’s worse is that just by looking at a character, you can probably sum up their personality and overall importance to the plot. Basic human proportions are ignored at various times, particularly when it comes to the long-legged females. Older characters suffer from strangely-placed wrinkles that render their faces distorted and misshapen rather than “aged.” The Rizoms are not frightening, but simply odd; I’m still trying to figure out exactly what they’re supposed to look like. The one time that we are offered a clear look at one of the beasts, it doesn’t resemble the specimens found earlier in the book.

Problems are not limited to just the character designs. Pages are usually just broken into various rectangles and feel repetitive. SDs appear only a few times, but they are jarring and only serve to throw off the reader. The worst part is the fight scenes. Fight scenes are filled with giant swaths of speed lines and screen-toned blood, making them hard to decipher.

Yet the art isn’t horrible, despite all of its problems. It’s just mediocre, with a few good points. Character designs and costumes convey a sense of RPG-like fantasy to the series that may appeal to some readers. Lines tend towards bold, but when Takizaki plays with thickness, some striking frames are produced. My favorite aspect, though, are the backgrounds. Although far from incredibly detailed, they are a step above adequate. In the first chapter, tall buildings and walls dominate almost any setting that we are given. Later in the volume, the area outside of the city is portrayed with wide-open expanses of sky. There are more distanced views of characters, further increasing the sense of space in contrast to the close shots of the first chapter. Still, that’s a lot of digging to find the positive points.

Sound effects are left completely untranslated, which is a big problem with this volume. It’s difficult to tell exactly what is going on in the fight scenes, and having those effects subtitled would have no doubt helped. Thankfully, the characters’ speech is not given a pseudo-Victorian gloss; they speak like normal people. Much of the dialogue is somewhat awkward, but I don’t know if that’s a translation issue or a problem with the original. A few pieces of text are oddly-placed, and at one point, a set of ellipses is almost cut off of the top of the page.

In Summary
Despite my love of the genre, I always try to keep my hopes at a very low level whenever picking up a fantasy manga. That was a solid choice to make with Element Line, because going in expecting nothing means that you won’t be disappointed. It’s a series that tries to be epic, but just comes up short. Repeatedly. I’m still having problems swallowing the concept of a self-supporting, entirely walled-in city–and that’s the main set-up of the story. Maybe it’s the fantasy RPG fan in me, but I can’t bring myself to hate this series with all of its RPG tendencies. There wasn’t anything so bad that I wanted to put down the book, but nothing makes me want to pick up the next one, either.

Content Grade: C-
Art Grade: C
Packaging Grade: B
Text/Translation Grade: B-

Age Rating: 13+
Released By: TOKYOPOP
Release Date: April 1st, 2008
MSRP: $9.99

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