What if Harry Potter, D. Gray-man and Claymore were one story instead of three?
Writer/Artist: James Perry II and Ryo Kawakami
What They Say
Five years ago, a young witch named Cierra broke the one unforgivable law of the witch society: attempting to create her own magic. Her unlawful tampering burned down a research room and injured the Mayor's daughter, Cierra's best friend. As punishment, she was exiled to the Wilderness, a barren wasteland crawling with witch-devouring Fairies and the bloodthirsty Forsaken.
After surviving for five ruthless years, her exile has now ended, and she has been ushered back to civilization only to discover that the world around her has changed greatly. Will Cierra be able to adjust back to a society that abandoned her? And if her freakish new ability that links her to the terrifying Fairies is discovered, she may not be let off with mere exile this time...
Orange Crows' funky, colorful packaging if a bit zany, is certainly attention grabbing and memorable. An eye-popping digitally painted cover portrays Cierra in purple and green and Natalie in black and gold "surfing" upright on their brooms. The dominantly orange background gives us a duotone look at their home district, and some monstrous looking Fairies. Fire wraps over the spine to the back cover where sharp, full color cell-style renderings of Cierra and Natalie stand next to the summary against a diagonal checkered pattern. Paper and ink are of fine quality and extras include some fan art and comments by the creators at the end. The English writing requires no translation/adaptation and is mostly smooth (a typo on page 60 was missed), but the Japanese artist rendered the SFX in katakana and there they remain un-translated.
The artwork is a bit inconsistent. Each first page of the six chapters is mostly rendered in much more detail, strongly composed and employ some interesting screen tones. Several of the other pages appear hastily inked and have only solid gray tone for a ho-hum result. Also between chapters, a panel of facts about the world occupies a full page with unattractive text. However, the action is believably captured and flows clearly with some unconventional camera angles and compelling frame layouts.
The opening sequence recounts a botched experiment from five years past. Cierra and her then assistant Natalie are caught in the resultant explosion which horribly injures the left side of Cierra's face and leaves no trace of Natalie. Cierra wakes from the flashback, a nightmare, to face the reality of her present circumstances: struggling for survival in a harsh wilderness inhabited by demon-like Fairies after having become an exiled "Forsaken" witch for the crime of illegal magical experimentation. Her physical scars from the accident are bandaged, but her deeper pain is the constant guilt she feels for how her actions affected Natalie. The old opera house where Cierra is holed up gets scouted out by a squad of witches and warlocks—The Orange Crows—on a searching mission. They manage to coral Cierra who is shocked by the arrival of the squad leader... Natalie, alive! An elated Cierra is met coldly by Natalie who shoves her away, stating curtly that Cierra's exile period has ended and she may return to civilization for reassessment. What follows is a thirty some page montage of flashbacks which reveal the depths of Cierra's remorse, the agony she feels over her mother's death, and the realization that she is becoming more like her mother than she wants—obsessed with work—as she takes on the arduous magical research left to her in her mother's will, all in hopes of somehow attaining her dead mothers acceptance .
Back in present time, Cierra's reassessment is completely bypassed in an unexplained development and she is brought to Natalie's headquarters for debriefing on an escort mission in which she is expected to play a part. The Orange Crows and their escortees embark via airship on course across the wilderness when mid-flight, they are ambushed by a crowd of Forsaken witches and warlocks. In the ensuing battle, Cierra and Natalie finally re-connect as they fight side by side. The Orange Crows realize too late that during the brawl, a smaller group of the attacking Forsaken witches have been slowly building a combined spell that is about to be released and is far too powerful to be blocked. Cierra steps up. She unbandages the scared left side of her face, exposing a strange looking eye which, amazingly, begins to absorb the spell, an ability only Fairies are thought to have. She succeeds in absorbing the whole power of the spell, but her exertion has set off a reaction in her body which begins to mutate horribly, becoming more fairy-like than human. Completely out of control, Cierra must be brought to submission by the same people she has fought to save. Will she ever find a place to belong?
Overall, the Orange Crows debut comes in at just above par, with adequate story-telling and reasonably likeable characters. Cierra is able to engage our sympathy and her journey promises to take some interesting turns. Why then must the majority of the ideas and designs be so obviously derived? Witches shout Latin-esque incantations while brandishing custom made wands. They don wise, snarky talking hats and even compete in broom flying sports with rivaling witch districts. The Harry Potter comparisons are inevitable as are the similarities with other manga. When near Fairies, warlocks manifest "craft", powerful weapons unique to each character, a concept which apes D. Gray-man where exorcists wield "innocence", anti-demon weaponry that activates in the presence of akuma. Cierra's special power is owing to her partial fusing with fairy essence and she walks a fine line between a controlled unleashing of her abilities and being consumed by the fairy nature, a dynamic which Claymore readers will instantly recognize. But with a few new flourishes, like upright board-style broom riding, technologically advanced ships and punky character stylings, there is just enough of a fresh spin to keep it all interesting, and an appreciation of the aforementioned franchises will go a long way towards whether or not Orange Crows hits home with its readers.