Ral Grad Vol. #01 (Mania.com)
Review Date: Thursday, February 07, 2008
Release Date: Tuesday, January 29, 2008
Writer/Artist:Tsuneo Takano / Takeshi Obata
Translated by:Tony Cusdin
Adapted by:Kelly Sue DeConnick
What They Say
During a bloody war, a child is born at the cost of his mother's life. From this baby comes forth a huge and powerful dragon born of shadow that lays waste to the landscape. A quick-thinking knight locks the baby in a cage of darkness, where he grows to be a young man, knowing only the kindness of his young female tutor. Until the day the Shadows attack...
The packaging for this book is sturdy and nice. The cover art is the same as the Japanese release and the image itself is fairly striking and dynamic and the cover is matte with a high gloss on Ral. It's the kind of image that will actually entice you to take this book off the shelves and see what it's about. Other than that, there isn't much else to say about the packaging on this one. The sound effects are overlaid, which is to be expected, the paper is sturdy and the printing is crisp. Other than a couple of advertisements and the table to contents, there really isn't anything else in here except for the story. There is a short and rather odd introduction to Takano and Obata that deals with salads, but that's it, there are no translator's notes or anything. Of course there is nothing wrong with that, but it's worth mentioning.
There is little else that can be said about the art other than it is gorgeous. Obata does the kind of art that you can find yourself being quickly spoiled by. His level of detail, scale, and dynamism come together for a very well put together piece of work that is as lively as it is intuitive.
It seems that Obata knows when to push the envelope as well as when to keep things simple. There are more than a handful of pages where there is a sizable amount of action going on, but nothing is ever over-crowded or so obscured with erroneous lines or sound effects that you can't see the illustrations that really matter. Also, he draws gorgeous women. From the very first page I was instantly enamored with Mio, and because of Ral's particular affections, he is always surrounded by gorgeous women. Of course, in a more general view, this implies that Obata is very good at character design and anatomy. All of his characters are expressive, varied, and idiosyncratic (even random guards have personalities), and each contributes to an overall authenticity that elevates the entire book.
The translation and adaptation of this is very lively and, I think, needs to be pointed out as better than average work. The translation's accurate, from the best of my memory, but, just as importantly, the dialog flows with unique mannerisms and tone. This isn't the kind of thing that is instantly noticeable or even attempted in some cases unless it is overtly used in the original, but it comes about in evidence of people with critical eyes who truly pay attention to character and narrative tone. I'm not trying to say that this stands out as the be-all and end-all of adapted translations, but it surpasses competent. The text in this book manages the enviable task of being natural and nuanced in a way that it is almost invisible. It sounds simple, but that is the crux of a good translation/adaptation: the better the job you do, the less people can see your involvement.
The shadows are attacking, and this time it looks like there is no hope. There is, however, one final gambit; it's a long shot, but it is the only option left. Fifteen years ago, Ral, the son of the king, was born, but he had a powerful dragon as a shadow. Uncertain of what to do, the king imprisoned his son in darkness to ensure that the dragon was under control. For the fifteen years that Ral was in he shadow prison he was being tutored by Mio about the ways of shadows and the world. But now that times are desperate, and thanks to an endorsement from Mio, Ral and the blue dragon, Grad, are set free to help cull the onslaught of shadows.
To put it simply, Ral Grad is shonen as it should be. This is not to say that it is the best, or that it is perfect and will forever reside in hallowed halls, but it has everything you want in a good shonen story. It is fun, funny, sexy, action-packed, and full of adventure.
There are plenty of things that make this title not perfect, but unlike most times when you hear someone say that a flaw isn't that big of a deal, this time it's actually true. There are things that simply get over-looked, like Lord Roy: Ral attacks him as soon as soon as he is out of his prison, but is he dead? You never see him again and no one ever talks about him afterward, but no one seems upset and Ral is never punished, so that's simply never resolved. Also, when Ral is first released he is a wonderful innocent who is actually innocent, instead of annoyingly na´ve, but after about a chapter he turns into a character with a more childlike simplicity and sincerity: something more typical of shonen protagonists, though antithetical to someone who is still experiencing the world for the first time. This isn't as much of a problem as it would seem because, between the first and second chapters, there is a time jump that, while certainly short, is of indeterminable length. That, and his character doesn't necessarily change, but it seems like it does because of a difference in experience. Despite this slightly more world-worn approach, Ral still does act with his perfect innocence on occasion after the first chapter, so it's not as if it is completely abandoned.
There is something, though, that really is a drawback to this book and I hope to see less of in future volumes, and that is the ceaseless boob jokes. Ral has, what I would consider, a healthy appreciation for breasts, and his overt love for boobs and women provides some of the funnier moments in the manga. But there are limits to everything, and as the book moves on there comes a time when the joke just becomes overused and starts to detract from the story. It's not all of them, though: some of them come about naturally and are funny, while others are just shoe-horned in. It's a shame because everything else in the book is handled with a good amount of moderation, so this sticks out as a glaring error.
There are may little things that you can nitpick with a title like this, but all of them, except for the excessive boob jokes, are about as inconsequential as possible. Each of the tiny things that could be considered wrong in this are easily overshadowed by the overwhelming enjoyment that the book provides. And anyway, I have come to praise Ral Grad, not to bury it. It's hard to say, specifically, what makes this so much fun to read, but a lot of it certainly comes from a tried-and-true formula that brings together unique elements in appropriate proportions. That's a very clinical breakdown, but it is accurate. Ral Grad isn't breaking any new ground, but it is having a lot of fun doing what it is doing. Whether it's Ral tricking shadows and having Grad obliterate them, a hilariously mis-understood aspect of the world, having Lady Bira flaunt her sexy evilness because she loves being sexy and evil, or having Obata indulge in the fact that he has some very sexy characters and he can do whatever he wants with them. In the end everything comes together to make a well made, fun manga that really satisfies.
I think it's pretty obvious that I really enjoyed this title and am looking forward to keeping up with it. With so many books coming out now that are doing the same old thing in the same old way, it is truly a breath of fresh air to have a book that is just fun and isn't trying to do something that is obviously far out of its reach. Needless to say, if you are a fan of shonen this is well worth your money. I, certainly, am looking forward to the next volume.
Mania Grade: B+
Art Rating: A-
Packaging Rating: A
Text/Translatin Rating: A
Age Rating: 13 & Up
Released By: Viz Media
Orientation: Right to Left
Series: Ral Grad