Friday, March 11, 2016


From January through December of 1992, NINTENDO POWER magazine serialized a manga adaptation of the then-newest LEGEND OF ZELDA videogame, A LINK TO THE PAST. The serial was subsequently collected by Nintendo of America in a trade paperback shortly afterward, and then just last year Viz Media collected it again. It is the 2015 volume which I'm using for this review.

Story and art are provided by the legendary Shotaro Ishinomori, creator of several popular Japanese franchises, beginning with CYBORG 009 in 1963. Though produced by Ishinomori in Japan, this manga was commissioned by NINTENDO POWER for the U.S. market, and Ishinomori drew it in the Western "left to right" reading order, rather than the traditional Japanese "right to left".

The story begins as does the videogame, with our hero, Link, awakened by a telepathic message from the captive Princess Zelda. Link follows Zelda's summons to Hyrule Castle, where he arrives in time to see his uncle slain by the evil wizard, Agahnim. Link takes his fallen uncle's sword and shield and rescues the princess, leading her to safety. But Zelda is swiftly recaptured after she describes Agahnim's plot to Link: he intends to sacrifice Zelda and six other maidens in order to open a portal the "Dark World" where his master, the diabolical Ganon, rules.

Link travels to a nearby village to enlist the aid of a wise man in hiding, and eventually after a few trials, makes his way to the Dark World, where he teams up with a mysterious knight named Roam, rescues Princess Zelda, and defeats Ganon, restoring peace to Hyrule.

This is a fun little story, though a very quick read. In a way it almost suffers from being presented in a collected edition. The individual chapters, for whatever reason, are lessened when read one right after another. This is possibly due to the fact that Ishinomori rarely indicates that any time has passed, so it feels as if Link has all these adventures over the course of only a day or two when in truth, given the amount of traveling he does, the reality is probably much longer.

We also have the oddity of Link speaking -- a lot -- over the course of the story. Now this was done relatively early in the ZELDA franchise, before it became a "bit" for Nintendo that we never actually see Link's dialogue, so it can be forgiven for not adhering to a concept that wasn't developed until later on. But it's still kind of a weird feeling to read the adventures of such a loquacious Link.

As far as the adaptation goes, Ishinomori takes some liberties, but his story mostly follows the broad outline of A LINK TO THE PAST. The major departure is simply the inclusion of a new supporting cast. Typically presented as a solitary hero who only gains assistance here and there over the course of his quests, this Link sets up a "base of operations" of sorts at the home of village elder Sahasrahla, and works with the elder, his wife, the village librarian, and a young boy to plan his treks across the world and his infiltration of Hyrule Castle. This development doesn't feel wrong and it works well to help differentiate the adaptation from its source material.

Then there's Roam, a Hyrulian knight trapped in the Dark World. I'm really not sure what purpose he serves. The character doesn't exist in any ZELDA game of which I'm aware, but here he is the first face Link encounters when transported, and he develops sort of a rivalry with our hero -- but the rivalry ultimately doesn't go anywhere and Roam's raison d'etre remains unknown.

Departures and faithfulness alike, though, are all beautifully drawn in an animated, cartoony style by Ishinomori, and the colors are wonderful as well. From a technical standpoint, the only complaint I have is that the word balloons are sometimes hard to follow, not always flowing instinctively from one to the next. At first I thought this might have been due in part to the story's direction being "flipped" for release in the U.S., but as noted above, it was conceived and created with a "left to right" direction in mind -- in which case I suppose the issue could be a result of Ishinomori working in a format to which he was unaccustomed.

Overall, A LINK TO THE PAST is an interesting adaptation, but a very simple story. With all the liberties he takes, one would expect Ishinomori to have crafted a deeper storyline than what we get here, which really only seems to scratch the surface of the mythology. It's not bad by any means, but it doesn't quite hold up to my twenty-plus year-old memories, either. I hate to say it because I wanted to like this today as much as I did when I was eleven years old, but nowadays it just feels forgettable.

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