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Dark Angel 1: The Path to Destiny. By Kia Asamiya. Translated and adapted by various. New York: CPM Manga, 1999, 2000. Approx. 210p. $15.95. ISBN 1-56219-927-7.


Adults, teens, kids

NOTE: Originally published in Japan in 1992. Apparently collects the first five issues of the Dark Angel comic (there is no specific information provided).

There is a world that consists of five pieces of land. The central and ruling land is Oukoku. At each major point of the compass is one of the other lands, which are ruled and protected by their resident Phantom Saints. Nanban, the southern land, is the home of the Phantom Saint of the Red Phoenix, Sou, who is training his successor, the fourteen-year-old Dark. By pushing Dark to his limits, Sou is able to be defeated by the young man. His dying request is that Dark declare himself the new Phantom Saint of the Red Phoenix (hereafter referred to the PSRP) in Oukoku. He gives Dark the sword of the PSRP to prove his status.

Dark and his guardian spirit Kyo (a tiny winged woman) set off for Oukoku. However, Dark's sense of direction is bad, and he and Kyo wander into Toi, ruled by the Phantom Saint of the Blue Dragon, Leen. Dark's illegal approach is noted, and Leen and two of her attendants, the hulking Tou (a water master) and the beautiful Chao (an air mistress), confront the intruder. They challenge Dark's presence in Toi. When he admits he got lost, they laugh and refuse to believe he's the PSRP, even though he carries the sword (Dark initially can't draw it, and they assume it's a fake). Tou starts to attack Dark, but the young PSRP shakes off most of what the water master can do to him. When Tou drops 600 tons of water on Dark, the spirit of Sou comes to Dark and helps him understand how to draw the sword. He parts the waters and emerges wet but unharmed.

Now Chao insists on battling Dark. She explains that she was secretly Sou's lover and trainee and wants vengeance on Dark for killing him. She batters Dark with winds. Dark refuses to fight back because she loved Sou. But when Chao zaps massive lightning at Dark, Kyo intervenes and is killed. Meanwhile, Leen is deciding that Dark really is the PSRP. Still attacking, Chao sees the spirit of Sou in Dark and can no longer fight. Unfortunately, the spell she was casting at the time goes wild. Dark saves her from it.

At this point Pan, captain of Oukoku's royal guard, makes an appearance, wondering why Dark hasn't arrived at Oukoku yet. When he learns of the battles (which are forbidden), he punishes both Phantom Spirits. Leen is forced to resurrect Kyo by giving the spirit some of her own life force; Dark is forced to turn over his sword. With apologies all around, Dark and Kyo resume their trek to Oukoku.

The main story is followed by the first-ever appearance of Dark. This story is rather incoherent, but basically Dark saves a young amnesiac girl from some bad guys, then learns that the girl is the wandering spirit of an evil alien woman confined under the waters of a lake. By defeating the woman, he grants the girl autonomy, or something to that effect, I think.

The book concludes with "Dark Angel Production Report" and a gallery of alternate covers, one by Daniel Brereton.

In many ways this is a textbook manga. Beautiful backgrounds, posing characters, swords, swirling four elements magic, people (especially children) with astounding power--you've seen it all before. Oh, it's a beautiful book, all right. But beyond the art, which I assume is the main attraction of this title, lies a truly banal story. I don't think there's an original thought between these covers. Warrior has to slay his teacher--hoo ha! Warrior has to journey to find his destiny--oh boy! Spirit of dead teacher speaks to warrior--use the Force, Luke! (RIP, Sir Alec Guinness.) And it's from the man who created Silent Moebius, too.... Well, they can't all be gems.

Even the most cliched story can be saved by good characters, but there aren't any in Dark Angel. Dark had potential, but he's too goody-goody and mouths too many platitudes for me to care about. What character development there is is both superficial and hammered into you repeatedly--"Find your destiny" etc. The pacing is s-l-o-w (there's a difference between arty slow manga and slow slow manga, believe me), the dialogue is repetitive, and almost nothing happens in 151 pages, which is not surprising, given that the book is basically a collection of fight scenes. Annoyingly, the large sound effects slash right across the action, making the typically complicated manga art even harder to follow.

Hard to believe this poor effort is one of the hottest titles in Japan--but then, I could never understand why anyone thought Robert Jordan's books were good, either. Dark Angel certainly has its loyal fans and will likely see use in libraries. If you really like fight scenes and don't give a damn about story or character as long as the art is slick, this book will appeal to you. But there are many, many better manga titles out there. Try Lone Wolf and Cub or Appleseed or Slayers or even Mai the Psychic Girl.

Buy it directly from CPM Manga!

Copyright 2000, D. Aviva Rothschild


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