Final Fantasy Type-0 Side Story: The Ice Reaper
ファイナルファンタジー零式外伝 氷剣の死神 (Final Fantasy Zero Shiki Gaiden: Hyouken no Shinigami)
SHIOZAWA Takatoshi (story/art), NOMURA Tetsuya (supervision)
Shounen – Action, adventure, drama, war
5 Volumes (complete)
Long ago, the legendary warrior known as the Ice Reaper was a cadet who dreamed of joining Class First. Kurasame always believed he was special and destined for greatness. However, as he rises in prominence, Kurasame must struggle with duty, love, loyalty, and justice in a world where those who die are deleted from memories.
Final Fantasy Type-0 Side Story: The Ice Reaper targets players of Final Fantasy Type-0, but it’s still a good enough read for anyone who wants a short blend of school life and war.
One of the first questions any potential reader will ask is, “Do I have to play Type-0 to understand The Ice Reaper?” The verdict: even with rudimentary knowledge of Type-0, The Ice Reaper is still enjoyable.
The manga opens with a scene set in the game’s present before going back to the past. The younger Kurasame is a cadet attending the military training facility known as Akademeia. Kurasame believes he is far more mature than his classmates and doesn’t really socialize with his fellow cadets. After a class event goes awry, he finds himself becoming close to three other students: the tomboyish Miwa, goofball Guren, and brainy Kotetsu. The manga covers how these students became known as the Four Champions of Rubrum.
Of course, if you’ve played Type-0, you will already know much about what happens to the Four Champions. However, The Ice Reaper tries to show both the bad times and the good times. Sure, they are legendary heroes, but they’re also still teenagers. Kurasame and his friends find themselves being sent on dangerous missions on a regular basis, but the group still manages to find to time to crack jokes about Miwa’s dancing or enjoy suggestive comments about Kurasame’s relationship with his friend Kazusa. Kurasame doesn’t stay in school or leave school for long periods of time, so this allows The Ice Reaper to have a nice mix of school life and action.
This balance also means the story doesn’t lose itself in either comedy or melodrama. In the latter’s case, the story also touches on a lot of philosophical questions about memories and sacrifice. The Four Champions struggle with the prospect of a traitor in the Dominion, and even when that person’s motivations are revealed, you can see the logic (however warped it may be) behind their argument. It’s a good reminder that not everything is black or white.
However, five volumes is on the short side to cover several years of a person’s life. (The manga technically covers even longer if you count the final scenes). Other series would have gone well into double-digits to cover a similar journey. Quite frankly, I liked The Ice Reaper, but its length means there’s less time for Truly Epic Moments. It’s akin for a two, two-and-a-half hour long movie being crunched down to an hour and a half. You can still have a nice, coherent story, but you wish you could have spent more time with the characters.
This is most notable in the final volume. It includes a 30 page “what if” story, but I think those pages would have been better served on the final battle. Kurasame’s anguish is just plain more interesting than watching a few would-be couples dancing together. It’s as if that movie decided to be two hours after all, but the last 15 minutes is all bloopers. Bloopers are nice as an extra; they’re not-so-awesome when part of the actual presentation. The ending is full of revelations, and an alternate-universe school festival is just a lame way to end the series. The final shot of the main story should have been the final page of the volume. Just drop that proverbial curtain and let the story go out tugging on your heartstrings. The fifth volume is quite good, but those thirty pages probably could have elevated this series from good to good. Yes, I know it’s a homage to the game, but who cares.
Outside of the ending, the manga could also have elaborated a bit more about the world. I know The Ice Reaper is intended for Type-0 players, but most non-game players would find it extremely odd that one of the Champions remained in Class Fourth. Since Kurasame wants to get into Class First, it just seems more logical that lower numbers = higher rank = more powerful cadets. In reality, class assignments are heavily based on specialty rather than strength. I know one of the complaints of Type-0 is the story being complicated and/or technical, and The Ice Reaper should have established all the kingdoms and rankings of Orience without expecting readers to already know so much. A good prequel — manga, movie, whatever — should still be newbie-friendly, and The Ice Reaper could have smoothed over some of these holes in the story.
However, one particular strength of the series lies in Kurasame himself. He’s a character a lot of people can relate to. I think many of us understand wanting to be special, to feel like we’re more than just another student or worker (or person in general). While a lot of heroes are either annoyingly positive or negative, Kurasame acts like a fairly typical teenager. He still has a lot of time left to determine what kind of person he will be, and the manga shows us what path he takes. Kurasame changes quite a bit from his somewhat-loner self to someone who fights for his friends. The story never strays too far from its protagonist, and the manga is all the better for it. This is The Ice Reaper, not The Four Champions of Rubrum. It also doesn’t hurt that he reminds me of the fan-favorite character Kakashi of Naruto. Both are teachers who have a moving past involving their teammates. (Oh, and Kurasame will eventually wear a mask.)
Out of the main characters, I felt Miwa was the most boring. She really doesn’t have much of a personality outside of being “the chick” of the group. Sure, she has tsundere tendencies and bad naming sense. Otherwise, it seems more like she’s just preventing the Four Champions from being another all-male group like Noctis’ entourage. Kurasame’s rival also appears rather late in the manga, and I really didn’t get how he fit in the story. He just seemed forced.
Character designer Nomura is known for two things: spiky hair and zippers. Well, Type-0 and its spinoffs are pretty light on the latter, not so much on the former. Shiozawa tries to capture Nomura’s style, but I feel like the designs just don’t translate well to 2D unless Nomura himself is drawing. The characters feel on the stiff side, like Shiozawa was trying too hard to make Kurasame and the others look like their game selves. It’s easy for a computer to generate a distance shot of a character, but not so for an artist. Since Kurasame’s hair is spiky, it really stands out when Shiozawa doesn’t draw all the tufts. However, the action scenes are much more attractive. Many shounen artists tend to draw small panels in order to fit as many hits as possible on page, but Shiozawa keeps the panels on the large size. This makes fights very easy to follow. The abundance of magic also means the battles are a combination of short- and long-range attacks to add some variety. The larger panels also means the dramatic portions of the story are given plenty of attention. I actually wish more stories did such a nice job with the paneling.
I’m really not going to cover much here, as most of the translation choices were made by Square Enix. So “Suzaku” has been changed to “Vermilion Bird”, “Magic Learning Institute Peristylium Suzaku” is “Akademeia”, etc. The spells are mostly in English (or at least English-y) anyway, so that part is pretty straightforward.
The Ice Reaper is a welcome prequel for Type-0 players, and even non-gamers can relate to Kurasame’s situation. The Ice Reaper is a good read, but I don’t think I’ll have a burning desire to reread it anytime soon. It’s just missing that extra one-two punch (probably due to its length) to make this an excellent series. If I did ratings, I would probably give it like a B or 4/5. For some people, that’s high enough score to buy it; for others, it’s more of something to borrow. Either way, check it out, especially if you’re a Final Fantasy fan.
Yen Press also released the manga adaptation (really more of an introduction) of Final Fantasy Type-0.