Mania Grade: C-
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- Art Rating: N/A
- Packaging Rating: N/A
- Text/Translatin Rating: N/A
- Age Rating: 13 & Up
- Released By: TOKYOPOP
- MSRP: 10.99
- Pages: 325
- ISBN: 1-4215-1845-7
- Size: B6
- Orientation: Left to Right
- Series: Witches Forest Novel
Witches Forest Novel Vol. #01
By Ben Leary
August 22, 2007
Release Date: October 30, 2006
Witches Forest Novel Vol.#01
Translated by:Catherine Barraclough
Adapted by:Janet Harvey and Paul WitcoverWhat They Say
Duan Surk, a struggling 16-year-old level-2 fighter and Check, a curious flying lizard, join forces with Agnis, a beautiful young witch, and Olba, a level-13 fighter, as they embark on a lifetime of battling mythical creatures on a quest to rescue Agnis' mother.The Review
Note: The version of this book reviewed was an uncorrected proof copy; therefore the usual ratings for packaging and text do not apply.Contents:
(please note that content portions of a review may contain spoilers)
Witches' Forest is part of a push by TokyoPop to get into something other than manga and manga/anime related novels. It's the first in a series of books about a young adventurer named Duan Surk, set in a world that relies heavily on the fantasy role-playing tradition. The descriptions that immediately occur to me sound like terrible ad copy. "The closest you can get to a fantasy RPG without a computer." "Carry the spirit of an epic quest wherever you go." "Hold a world of adventure in the palm of your hand--the old school way." And so forth.
Witches' Forest does not put these thoughts in my head because it impressed me with its quality, as you might have guessed. I don't dislike it because of the setting. There's no reason you can't use an RPG universe to tell a good story. The problem is that it doesn't use the RPG universe to tell the story. It only uses it to get RPG fans to pick up the book, and then tells an uninteresting story that could take place almost anywhere. Rather like a bad sci-fi novel that puts a love story or spy story in space when it could just as easily take place in Hoboken. The good book (or series of books) Witches' Forest reminds me most of is Beet the Vandel Buster; both are set in fantasy worlds with a strong fantasy game feel, and both take it seriously. But while Beet had the same RPG trappings, such as leveling up and going on quests, it made use of them by putting them into the story in ways that mattered. In Witches' Forest it's all window-dressing. Leveling up does nothing for the characters. The quest is just an excuse to throw the heroes into fights. At least it doesn't try to play the RPG elements tongue-in-cheek--that would have been intolerable. But just being serious about it isn't enough. To treat something with absolute conviction is meaningless if it has no real significance in the story you tell.
Even so the book might have been tolerable if the translation were not such a nuisance to read. TokyoPop has invited criticism before by adaptations that make all the characters talk like high school sophomores and read with the unsettling and distasteful sound of grown-ups trying to be all hip and groovy and "with it." This book invites the same criticisms for the same reasons. The style is never better than bearable and is at times appaling. This is all the more damaging because of the fantasy setting: if you can sustain a sense of wonder and mystery in the face of "duh," "dweeb," "sucks" and the like, you're a better reader than I am. I wonder when publishers will learn that pandering to people who can't really read is a bad move.
So Witches' Forest never manages to overcome the main problem: you're reading about watching someone else play a video game. And the video game isn't all that interesting. It's about a kid without any particular adventuring abilities who wants to be an adventurer. He meets up with a semi-antihero fighter and a girl who knows one high-level fire attack spell. They decide to go fight some witches who live in a forest. Along the way they fight monsters. There are animal sidekicks. I describe all this in a perfunctory way because that's how it comes across in the actual story. No effort is made to differentiate between the action scenes. It's all just things that can kill the characters trying to kill the characters. The only part that I could generate any interest for was when the team reaches the witches' house and has to deal with some traps--at least that was a diversion from the monotonous monster fights. But even that didn't impress me much, or for very long. The characters fare no better. They spend so much time arguing with each other that you begin to feel they would be at each other's throats if they didn't have the monsters to fight. Attempts to develop the characters are as unsuccessful as they are unnecessary. In particular there are two disproportionally long flashback chapters that serve the same function as cutscenes in a not very good video game: they weigh the story down with information you don't really need while distracting you from the important things.
But what really sinks it is the ending. I'm going to break from my usual policy here and use spoilers, because the ending is already spoiled. If you've made up your mind to read Witches' Forest in spite of all my warnings, skip the rest of the review. After going through all the dumb battles and arguments, is it too much to ask for an ending that accomplishes something? The least you can expect from even a bad RPG is a showdown with the ultimate boss. But here you don't even get that. The witches just give up and surrender the magical thingummy. The girl takes it and leaves the others to go save her abstract mother, whose only function in the story is to get the girl in the forest in the first place. We never even see that happen. There's no payoff of any sort--not even treasure. We go right back to where we were at the end of chapter two. Another strike against it is that this is the first book in a series without being clearly advertised that way. So several things introduced early on are never resolved either--for example, the whole angle with Duan's brother. You'll have to read the rest of the books to see if anything comes of it. And I have no intention of going that far.Comments
Witches' Forest is a story that goes nowhere told in a style that makes me cringe. There are apparently people who think this is a parody of fantasy games rather than a silly ripoff. But it doesn't even work on that level. It's no good saying the book is only trying to be funny when it doesn't, in fact, make me laugh. If fantasy role-playing games are your favourite things in the world and you can't get enough of them, then maybe, just maybe, you'll find this a good read. Otherwise I can't think of anybody to recommend it to. If you really want that sort of thing, stick to Beet the Vandel Buster.