Sunday, September 15, 2013

Akaneiro (Comic)

American McGee is a name in the gaming industry that is today probably most associated with his popular alternate take on the Alice in Wonderland story, a PC game entitled American McGee’s Alice, which recently received a sequel, Alice: Madness Returns, on multiple platforms. While I am not one to subscribe to one person’s entire catalog of work, I do find his alternate takes on fantasy stories, or at least the ideas behind them, to be very fascinating, such as the concept behind the free-to-play ARPG Akaneiro: Demon Hunters, from his Shainghai, China-based company Spicy Horse, which takes the popular Little Red Riding Hood fairy tale and places it in a Feudal Japan setting. While I haven’t actually played the game, I did show some interest in a tie-in comic from Dark Horse, simply titled Akaneiro, since I figured I could at least experience the story that way. The existence of this comic took me completely by surprise, since I only found out when my local comic shop listed the comic on their website. It was only when the third and final issue had come out that I thought to request back-orders, which I did so I could read the story in one shot. After reading the whole thing in one sitting, I found the comic to be overall worth the purchase.

The Iomante ceremony is about to begin in the Ainu village, which aims to help a deceased bear move on to the afterlife. A village girl named Kani, however, doesn’t feel comfortable trying to follow every Ainu tradition, mainly because her father wasn’t an Ainu villager to begin with, being a Ronin samurai who wandered into the village; a traditional facial tattoo was being applied to Kani before she kicked the tattooist in the face, resulting in only a small dot on her upper lip. As her father tries to comfort her, however, a Yokai (demon) interrupts the Iomante ceremony, turning the bear carcass into a demon as well. As Kani’s father tries to take down this new Yokai, it proves to be too much for him, at which point Kani takes his axe and attempts to fend off the demon herself. Soon, the Red Hunters of the Order of Akane, who are specifically trained to hunt Yokai, show up to finish the evil bear off, gathering the Karma Crystals that appear as a result. While most of the Ainu villagers are mad at the Red Hunters for their actions, Kani disagrees, wishing to join the Red Hunters to make peace between the two groups. After negotiations have been made, Kani sets off to find the village of the Order of Akane on her own, knowing not what exactly she had just gotten herself into.

The story, written by Justin Aclin, is actually fairly well-written and has a pretty good pace to it. While it is based on a video game, it feels self-contained, which is a good thing for people like me who are not familiar with the game proper. Being a story that’s also based on Little Red Riding Hood, it also hits on all the right points of the original tale, but with a nice twist on them to suit the narrative. For instance, the red hood takes the form of a red-dyed cloak given to Kani by her father before beginning her journey, while the role of the wolf in the story is played by a large pack of wolf demons. There’s more to the connections than this, but you will know them when you see them (assuming you are familiar with the fairy tale in some way, which you most likely are). The story also has a nice amount of foreshadowing and twists for its 3-issue run that will keep you going until the very end. I also like the way Karma Crystals are worked in, which from what I gather is an actual mechanic in the original game, their inclusion written such that they don’t really feel out of place.

I wasn’t entirely sure what to make of the artwork by Vasilis Lolos, since I found it a little odd at first, but the more I thought about it, the more I realized the style actually fits the story, considering its Feudal Japan setting. The characters are at least distinguishable from each other and the Yokai that Kani encounters have a nice variety to them. The colors by Michael Atiyeh aid Lolos’ pencils and help give the comic a nice feel to it that further matches the setting of the book. Even more impressive are the covers by Shu Yan, which are very nicely done and do the job well of catching one’s eye to the comic, displaying a lot of well-placed lighting and shading while still making Kani the focal point of the composition. While the style of the interiors may be off-putting at first to people who are regularly spoiled by big-name artists in the comic book crowd, Vasilis Lolos’ style is at least more up to par than the artists on the Mirror’s Edge and Chronicles of Vergil comics.

At the end of the journey, the Akaneiro comic is actually pretty good. The story does a good job of getting readers interested in Akaneiro: Demon Hunters by being self-contained, free Karma Pack codes on the back of each issue aside, and the art, while not the greatest, is actually a great fit for the story and is better than a few other video game comics I have seen. If you are an American McGee fan, whether you have played the actual game or not, this is a comic you can definitely get into. Even if you aren’t that familiar with an American McGee product, this is definitely a comic you can just pick up and read. The codes included with each comic are something more to entice Akaneiro players with for picking up the comic, but they also provide a perfect incentive to get non-players to start playing the game. Regardless of whether you decide to use the code or not, the comic itself should provide a good-enough experience on its own.

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