獣神演武 (Juushin Enbu)
ARAKAWA Hiromu (manga, story); Studio Flag, Genco (story); YASHIRO Ryou (scenario); Kusanagi (art configuration)
Shounen – Action, adventure, comedy, fantasy
5 Volumes (complete)
Taitou believes he’s strong — too strong to lose in the traditional coming-of-age ritual. After all, he’s defeated imperial soldiers! But after actually being defeated, he is given a strange sword that is said to be only for a true hero. When someone comes after the sword, the wheels of fate begin to turn, and Taitou is at the center of it all.
First of all, “Huang Jin Zhou” is not a person. It’s a collab group between Arakawa and a couple of anime studios / production committees.
Hero Tales ran concurrently to Fullmetal Alchemist, and although this wasn’t just a solo work, this is her first non-one-shot after (well, during) Fullmetal Alchemist. As you can imagine, with her name on the cover, Hero Tales is bound to be compared to Fullmetal Alchemist. It’s unavoidable, particularly when some of the character designs are almost copycats of King Bradley and other characters.
So, Hero Tales is a cross-media project with a manga and an anime. It feels like one. Each chapter feels like an anime episode, one without fillers. Now before you celebrate, let me remind you that “fillers” aren’t necessarily bad; they can add characterization and make the story feel less rushed. This is especially true in a series like this, where Taitou is supposed to gather other members with a celestial mark.
You see, there’s a legend in this world about people who have the powers from one of the stars of the Big Dipper, with two of them destined to battle it out. In the opening chapter, Taitou’s power to access his ki awakens as someone tries to steal the sword he just got. Taitou loses control when the life of his sister, Laila, is threaten, and the sword is stolen. So he sets out with the person he did his coming-of-age ceremony with (Ryuukou), who is really another person with the mark of a star, and Laila. As they travel, Taitou learns more about his destiny and meets the others.
I wasn’t really interested when I first started collecting the volumes, and even after reading all five volumes for the first time, I’m still not interested. The beginning feels incredibly generic. Find the legendary warriors blessed by the stars? Save this corrupt kingdom? Gee, never read that bbefore.
Then, when if finally starts having its own identity, the series marches straight toward the ending. Five volumes is rather short for a story about saving a kingdom, but that is feasible in an arc. As a whole manga? Less so. Family secrets, betrayal, death — no time to dwell, we still have a final battle to get to! If you’ve ever expressed frustration that a 10+ volume manga series was crammed into 13 episodes in an anime, well, Hero Tales gives you that same feeling in reverse.
Plus, the ending is rather poor. One character is hinted to be special at points throughout Hero Tales, but their actual identity feels like a deus ex machina. A time skip epilogue with no reason why that person disappeared. A relationship that could be viewed as familial or romantic. Sure, you get an all-out brawl, but it doesn’t lift or carry the rest of the manga.
There were sparks of originality and creativity. Most chosen ones stories have a destined rival with a similar origin stories or frustrations. As Keirou and Taitou both are avatars of the Big Dipper (and another five representing the rest of the constellation), there were a lot of ways Hero Tales could have handled the relationships. Laila is actually a pretty strong fighter in her own regards, not just “comically scares all the men” tough. The mentor is a fun older sister type. One major character does die, and, if done well, a major character’s death can shake up a story.
Taitou himself may be a positive or a negative depending on your view. Taitou shares Edward’s penchant for scowls, stubbornness, and being a nice guy who tries to hide that fact. He is arguably almost too nice at points, not feeling a lot of resentment when some of his companions turn their ire towards him or other people they care about. Yes, Taitou does lose control to the point Laila is the only one who can bring him back. Still, he’s not really that interesting of a main character. Ryuukou probably ended up being more popular, even if at first he was the straitlaced sidekick. Meanwhile, Keirou’s motivation is shown at the end, and the manga flips the script on one character’s naivety with little warning. All in all, these are folks you can find in most shounen stories.
As I mentioned, some of the designs (or at least Arakawa’s depictions of them), bear striking resemblances to Fullmetal Alchemist characters. If you though The Heroic Legend of Arslan or Silver Spoon had some dead ringers, well, Hero Tales has some twins. King Bradley has been reincarnated as Keirou: the same build, the same mustache, injury on eye, high ranking military man. For me, I don’t think I’ll ever shake off shades of Fullmetal Alchemist in Arakawa’s drawings, but this series doesn’t even try to hide the similarities. Maybe Arakawa felt rushed since she was doing two series at once, or maybe the group was going for heavy Fullmetal Alchemist inspirations.
Either way, the Chinese inspirations doesn’t do enough to give this series its own visual identity. Housei, in the color illustrations, is shown to have a darker skin color, but this isn’t reflected in the manga itself. Arakawa’s style of smirks and sharp teeth find their way in to lighten up the story in more humorous moments. The action scenes are clear, the layout making it easy to follow along the fights and the various check-ins with other characters. If nothing else, I can see Arakawa fans picking this up just to round out their collection.
Honorifics are used, which is a rather strange choice for a Chinese-inspired setting. I like honorifics, but this is a a manga where I don’t think they fit. Translation notes are included in each volume, and they explain quite a bit about Japanese and Chinese culture and references. Names are kept with the Japanese pronunciation, not the Chinese or English names. This differs from the subtitles on Crunchyroll (Kenkaranbu vs Xian Jia Lan Wu, Hagun vs Alkaid, Seiryuutou vs Qing Long Platoon). That version also eliminates the final long volume in names (Taito) versus Yen Press’ manga (Taitou).
If Hero Tales sounds like a very dull title, well, the series doesn’t do much to change that first impression. Hero Tales is like a jack-of-all-trades and a master of none — not bad, but lacking no matter what type of manga you’re looking for.
Hero Tales‘ anime version is available from Crunchyroll and Funimation. Fullmetal Alchemist is available from Viz Media, Kodansha licensed The Heroic Legend of Arslan, and Yen Press also is releasing Silver Spoon. Volumes of the latter two of Arakawa’s manga are also available on Crunchyroll.