Taitou Shirei is one of the strongest fighters in his village–so strong, in fact, that he helps drive out soldiers from the Imperial Army when they make trouble for the other villagers. On the day Taitou finally completes his coming-of-age ceremony, his teacher gives him an ancient sword, the Kenkaranbu. But the sword’s not fated to stay in Taitou’s hands for very long: a mysterious thief makes off with it that same night, leaving behind the unwelcome revelation that Taitou’s destiny is tied to the legend of the Big Dipper.Now, to anyone whose read a lot of fantasy novels or manga, all of this is probably sounding quite familiar. A boy with a special fate? Check! A sword of destiny? Check! A prophecy involving stars? Check! It’s all been done many, many times before. So what hope does Hero Tales have of standing out from the pack?
Two words: Hiromu Arakawa. There are only a handful of mangaka who have earned so much of my goodwill as Arakawa; I love her work in Fullmetal Alchemist that much. That story has such wonderful characters and tight plotting that I was honestly curious to see what Hero Tales had to offer, even though my patience for run-of-the-mill fantasy ran out a long time ago. Arakawa may not be the sole creator of this work–she shares the credits with various other names–but it definitely still has her fingerprints all over it.
Much of the action in volume 1 is just what you might expect from such a familiar premise. The first chapter introduces our hero and some of his sidekicks, and the theft of the sword provides the impetus for Taitou to leave his village and begin his quest. What saves Hero Tales from being wholly generic are the smaller details, especially the amusing interactions between the characters. Taitou’s sister, Laila, is just as strong-willed as her rather dense brother, and their traveling companion, the monk Ryuukou, has his hands full keeping the two of them out of trouble. And it doesn’t take long for the trio to encounter various other interesting individuals, like Koyou, a sailor who does women’s makeup as a hobby.
The art will feel familiar to anyone who has read Arakawa’s other work. When I read a chapter of Hero Tales in Yen Plus magazine, I kept expecting Taitou and company to run into characters from Fullmetal Alchemist. The style itself is more serviceable than stunning, but I appreciate the clear paneling and the easily distinguishable character designs. And the style does work well to highlight the many small comedic moments, such as Taitou’s failed attempts to unsheathe the Kenkaranbu.
Volume 1 of Hero Tales is a decent start for a series–nothing more and nothing less. It might not be original enough to snare a casual reader, but there’s enough potential in the characters and story that I’m interested in seeing where Arakawa goes in future chapters. I’ll keep my fingers crossed that at least some of those directions are unexpected ones.
Review copy provided by Yen Press.
Review originally published at MangaLife.com.