Yggdrasil Vol. #01 (Mania.com)

By:Gary Thompson
Review Date: Thursday, January 15, 2009
Release Date: Sunday, June 15, 2008

It's a world where everyone plays a super popular MMORPG.  Thankfully, that's not all the story has to offer.

Creative Staff
Writer/Artist: Lay Mutsuki
Translation: Christine Schilling
Adaptation: Mallory Reaves

What They Say
It's the near-future, and online gaming is all the rage! Teenage gamer Ko has more of an edge than others, since his father works for the company that produces the biggest online game out there... at least, he had an edge, until someone hacks his account and starts playing his character! Ko is determined to find out who's been logging into his game, but he and his friends may have found more than they bargained for as they delve deeper into the fabulous world of Yggdrassil...

The Review!
The packaging for this is very attractive.  GoComi! has a production standard that is uniformly high, so this is no real surprise.  The cover uses the same illustration from its Japanese counterpart, but it's not the same cover entirely.  For what it's worth, I like the GoComi! layout better: you can see more of the illustration and the rich colors give the cover a regal feel.  Things are nice on the inside as well.  The note about honorifics is up front and there are page numbers, which I always approve of.  There are only four translator notes and they are well marked throughout the book.  More helpful, though, is the Yggdrasil Official Terminology section, which more thoroughly defines some of the elements of the book.  Having this as an actual part of the book is likely the reason why the translator notes are so sparse.  Be careful of possible spoilers, though.  Not knowing that there were two sections of defined terms, the first time a translator note came up, I flipped to the back and started reading the terminology section not knowing the difference.  That's obviously my fault, not the books, but I relate the story just as a mild warning for any who may do the same. 

The art in this is top-notch.  Really, it is very well done and some of the panels were just a pleasure to look at.  There are, however, some drawbacks.  There is an old maxim that in pretty much all creative endeavors, you are either good at drama, action, or comedy.  If you know you're good at one, it's best to stay away from the others.  This is definitely the case for Lay Mutsuki.  There is a fight very early on in this volume when the main characters first log into the game.  It is only two pages and I dare any man, woman, or child to accurately describe what is happening other than the main character getting hit with...something.  The fight goes on for a few more pages and things make a bit more sense the longer it goes on, but for the most part, everything that happens over that span of pages can only be determined by assumption and innuendo.  Other than that, everything is quite nice.  Mutsuki has a very laid back style and a good-natured quality to her work.  All of her characters are well designed and unique and I like how expressive they all are.  So other than her nearly nonsensical action, this is a very pretty manga.

Just like the art, this is almost perfect, but there are a couple of considerations.  As per usual, the translation is very well done and the adaptation is very smooth and readable.  That, truly, is the most important thing.  Just like their packaging, there is a very high level of translation and adaptation at GoComi!, so there is never all that much to complain about.  But, like I said, there are a couple small complaints here.  For one, the character Gyoku supposedly speaks with a strong accent.  Strong enough that other characters mention it a number of times throughout the whole book.  When reading his dialog, though, the way they have him speaking doesn't seem that heavily accented or out of the ordinary.  Sure, he says “ain't” here and there, and some lines feel properly accented, but the execution isn't that strong.  Certainly not strong enough that you would expect so many people in the story to find it notable.  And while I know that adapting Japanese accents into English is always a difficult thing, it just seems like more could have been done here to make it feel prevalent.  The second is also Gyoku related and may just be a pet peeve of mine, because I seriously don't like it when I see things like this in manga.  Or anything, for that matter.  At one point, when an unfortunate thing happens to Gyoku, he screams out, “DO NOT WAAANT!”  While I felt his pain for the circumstance he was in, him saying that just ripped me right out of the story.  Seriously, Internet memes need to stay on the Internet.  Sure, they might provide a little extra humor here and there for those who live and breathe in their indulgence, but they are easily dated and esoteric.  What little pleasure they bring in the present can only be a hindrance years down the line. 

Contents (please note that content portions of a review may contain spoilers) :
The latest and greatest operating system just came out not too long ago, and unlike previous operating systems, this one came bundled with a free MMORPG that has become a huge hit thanks to its ubiquity. 

Haruna and Koki have know each other since they were children and are best friends.  Koki always oversleeps because he stays up late playing Yggdrasil, and even though it is well out of her way, Haruna always comes by in the morning to make sure he is awake so that they can walk to school together.  When school is over, they both like to play Yggdrasil together, but when Koki logs in, he gets a message from Haruna saying that she is in trouble at the front gates.  When Koki runs over to help her, he finds that she is with another girl named Aoi and some really high-level monsters have spawned out of their designated location and they are being attacked.  Koki tries to help, but he is one-shot killed.  Luckily, a mysterious user comes out of nowhere and teleports Haruna and Aoi to safety, then he easily kills the monsters.  The whole spectacle attracts a lot of attention, including Gyoku, a brash user who instantly starts putting the moves on both Haruna and Aoi.  It turns out that this mysterious user is known as Phantom, and he was the best programmer for the game during its beta test; he is now something of a rock-star and is known as a legendary avatar.  But even though he is a mystery to everyone else, as readers we know that Phantom is actually Koki's secondary character.

Aoi becomes quick friends with Haruna, even though she is shy, and she eventually befriends Koki as well.  Gyoku does what he can to be involved.  Haruna decides that she wants to meet Aoi in real life, so they make a meeting and Haruna brings Koki along.  But while they are out, Koki gets a phone call from his dad telling hims that not only are the occurrences of high-ranking monsters spawning out of their area increasing, but some unknown person is dispatching of them...using Phantom.

There is a lot to like in Yggdrasil, and I ended up liking it a lot more than I initially expected I would.  I am not a fan of MMORPGs; in fact, it's pretty safe to say that my feelings about them border on hatred.  So when I started this book that is about a super popular MMORPG, I had very low expectations.  Fortunately, the story came as something of a surprise to me because unlike all those other stories that revolve around people playing in a game world, Yggdrasil doesn't solely rely on that conceit.  Sure, they do go into the game and play there, but there is more time spent outside of it.  Instead of focusing on the game or its peculiarities, the main focus is on the characters and their interactions.  I like that this isn't just game interaction, but game interaction plus high school drama and a touch romantic comedy all in one. 

All of those elements together gives this book a “something for everyone” vibe and makes this pretty fresh and fun to read.  Even though the problems in Yggdrasil with the high-level monsters and the other person playing as Phantom are certain to become the main conflict, I find myself caring more about what is going to happen between Koki and Haruna next.  It helps that Koki is actually a pretty cool guy and not a cookie-cutter oh-so-anguished-and-misunderstood guy and Haruna, while certainly happy-go-lucky, isn't an airhead or a cynic.  The two of them together make a very good pair and their back and forth is truly enjoyable.  And Koki's sisters are a hoot.

As I mentioned above in the art section, as a whole, the art in this is very well done and expressive.  But Mutski seems to have a problem with action.  The first time they enter a game there is a fight with some monsters that is disjointed to say the least.  Actually, that whole segment where they are in the game for the first time is easily the weakest part of the book.  If not just for the disjointed art and flow where it is hard to tell what is going on, the character introductions and interactions that go on that whole time are the worst executed in the book. It just seems like Mutsuki had a lot that she wanted to accomplish in those pages and didn't know how to fit it all in eloquently.  The action is hard to follow and the character thoughts are hard to follow; things happen quickly and you don't really know why.  But, thankfully, it's not that bad (there are certainly worse examples out there), and everything evens out afterward. 

And really, when you have character interactions as fun and entertaining as the ones that happen in this book, its a bit easier to move on from the frustrating mistakes.  While I mentioned how much I enjoyed the Koki and Haruna interplay, there are just enough hints about the other characters to make me wonder what is going on with them.  There is still a lot we don't know about Aoi and even more that we don't know about Gyoku, so I know there will be lots more interesting character stuff down the line to keep us out of Yggdrasil, even though the story line seems like it wants to focus more on in-game interactions in the future.  Even though this is the first thing that I have read from Lay Mutsuki, this volume gives me confidence in her abilities and decisions.  So while the story is pointing toward finding out what is going wrong with the game and who is playing as Phantom, I feel like she cares too much about the other stuff – the romance and the high school drama – to let that all fall by the wayside.  And because of that, I'm really looking forward to what is going to happen next. 

While I don't think I can go as far as to say that this is an excellent book, it is a pretty good one. It has an enjoyable happiness to it that grows on me the more I think about it.  While there isn't anything necessarily bad about this manga that keeps it from being excellent, it just doesn't have that extra heft – that superior quality that grabs your emotions and runs with them – that pushed it over the top. But so what?  That's hard to accomplish and very few things that try get it right.  What we have here is something that knows that it is fun and just wants to do that to the best of its abilities.  This is great light reading: fun and engaging.  Just because you need a break between reading that amazing “A” level material doesn't mean you have to run to the bottom of the barrel.  Read Yggdrasil instead.

Mania Grade: B
Art Rating: A-
Packaging Rating: A
Text/Translation Rating: B+
Age Rating: 16 and Up
Released By: Go! Comi
MSRP: 10.99
Pages: 200
ISBN: 978-1933617916
Size: B6
Orientation: Right to Left