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animefringe january 2003 / reviews

El-Hazard: The Magnificent World Vol.2
Format: Left-Right manga, 168 pages
Production: VIZ / Tsubura Hidetomo / Hayashi Hiroki / Tsukimura Ryoe
Comments: A notable rise in pace and plot can be found here in the second volume of El-Hazard. Combined with the top-notch artwork already established in the first installment, you can bet this is going to be a supremely enjoyable series.
90%
Rating:
Animefringe Reviews:
El-Hazard: The Magnificent World Vol.2

Months have passed and I've still not had a chance to watch El-Hazard, on which this manga series is based. However, as the story progresses, the pricey boxed set is looking more and more appealing.

If (like me) you also haven't seen the anime but (unlike me) haven't seen the manga yet, either, here's a summary. Mizuhara Makoto (along with some of his various friends and rivals) has been transported to the "Magnificent" world of El-Hazard after kissing a strange artifact-turned-woman on the lips. Each of the former earthlings are discovering new abilities gained upon their transportation to this fantastic land of adventure, such as his teacher, Mr. Fujisawa, who has newfound superhuman strength. However, Mizuhara's annoying and self-centered classmate Katsuhiko Jinnai was also transported to El-Hazard, where he quickly took control of a malignant army of beings known as the Bugrom and somehow made himself a threat to the peace and stability El-Hazard had experienced for generations.

Mizuhara arrives in the world after Jinnai has already stirred things up, and he quickly takes a defensive stance against the Bugrom before he even realizes his "self-proclaimed rival" is leading the enemy forces. In the first volume, Jinnai succeeded in reviving a legendary Demon God who looks mysteriously similar to the woman that Mizuhara kissed in the beginning, putting the entire mess in motion. The plot thickens considerably in this volume of El-Hazard but the humor and interesting character-driven drama remain, making me even more eager for the third installment.

In this volume, we learn that Ifurita (the Demon God introduced in the first issue) is not the only being of her kind, and that the true threat to El-Hazard comes from a far more sinister place than the simple-minded Bugrom. An interesting relationship between Ifurita and Mizuhara is established. As he attempts to bring out the woman's humanity, she directs her massive powers according to Jinnai's lame-brained whims. Rather than turning into a whiny Ikari Shinji (of Eva fame), Makoto quickly sets his personal safety to the side in order to set Ifurita free from the bonds of her Demon God nature. It's rather impressive to see a skinny inexperienced boy risking his life by clinging to a supernaturally strong incredibly beautiful woman in order to save her. She's the one blowing up mountain ranges -- you'd think he'd want the saving.

Yet, that is not the case, and it's always pleasing to see a character you can feel proud of instead of one you'd like to kick. Let's face it, everyone who's seen Evangelion wants to kick Shinji at some point or another. Happily, the only person deserving of a kick (Jinnai) will most likely get what he deserves in a future volume, and I'll be there to see it. Without ruining the surprise, readers can rest assured that there are deeper levels of political intrigue here than was suggested in the premiere volume.

The story contains something of a counter-cliché, however. For years, men were depicted as the strong, powerful heroes of the tale while women were relegated to roles of victims, lovers, or generally the characters that cry when something sad happened. It was such a common character arrangement that it became horribly cliché. For the past fifteen or so years, though, many shows have been contradicting that cliché with a new one, and that's the one where the women are the unbelievably strong heroes of the tale while the men are relegated to comic relief. This arrangement doesn't in any way offend me, but some people might see it as more standard and less groundbreaking than it used to be. So long as you don't have anything against women playing the dominant roles with the guys being (mostly) more passive, then there shouldn't be a problem here.

Visually, this is an eye-pleasing manga, with well-defined lines, excellent character designs, and a good use of shading. Women in the series tend to be on the busty side, and men are usually skinny or scraggly, but this is a fantasy adventure -- not a drama. Action scenes convey motion skillfully, and close-ups of the characters do a good job of letting the readers know what emotions are passing through their minds. Despite a heavier plotline, El-Hazard keeps its enjoyable sense of humor, and to complement the funnier moments, there's the occasional super-deformed scene thrown in here and there. The cover is an attention-grabbing orange featuring the three luscious elemental priestesses in charge of El-Hazard's defense. I'm rather fond of the back cover, and not only because it has my name on it somehow, but because of the cute illustration of Ifurita and Makoto.

This volume is up to par, technically, with Viz's other releases. It's the same price and size as most of their manga, and sadly, it's been flipped to read from left to right instead of right to left. I just hope I don't have to buy a "special edition" of this enjoyable series someday just so I can see the artwork as it was originally inked. The summary on the back sounds appealing, and there's a section detailing "The Story Thus Far" in the books beginning. There are even a few bonus features, including the original preview that ran promoting the manga in Japan and a gallery of covers used for the individual comic book releases. A color cover art gallery would be fantastic, but I guess the addition of color is an honor reserved for Vagabond or Uzumaki. Japanese sound effects have been replaced with English ones, but that's not really something I usually have an issue with, so long as the artwork is preserved.

Overall, this volume was more engaging than the initial book, and it has me eager to read the next installment, which is already available in stores. As I mentioned earlier, there's an increasingly good chance that I'll get the fancy DVD box set once my Christmas bills are paid off in full. So, sometime in 2006, I'll finally be able to see El-Hazard in motion! I can't wait.

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