Maximum Ride is the story of six friends, led by Max Ride, who are the products of some unscrupulous genetic engineering. When they were younger, a sympathetic scientist helped them escape from the school that had made them by knitting together human and avian DNA. Now the school is hunting them down, and Max and the others realize that they won’t be safe until they get some more answers about where they come from and what they were made for.This global manga is adapted by NaRae Lee from James Patterson’s bestselling adventure novels for teens by the same name. Volume 2 of this series covers events from the second half of the first book in the series, The Angel Experiment. I haven’t read volume 1 of the manga, but I have read the original prose novel. And I think this may be a rare case where an adaptation improves on the source material. The manga adaptation is less weighed down by Patterson’s bland prose, and the addition of stylish visuals to the action-packed plot is effective.
It helps, of course, that Patterson’s story has a lot of manga friendly elements. Appealing young people (with wings!), gruesome monsters, epic escapes, and dramatic backgrounds that range from Death Valley to New York City. The manga is at its best when Lee takes full advantage of this with her art, as when she draws Max and her “flock” in full flight as they get themselves out of another scrape. (They do get into rather a lot of them!) Lee’s character designs for the flock are attractive and easily distinguished. It’s a good sign, actually, when the characters are recognizable even after they’ve disguised themselves in an attempt to avoid capture. Her art handles the villains less well. The Erasers are generic wolf-men; they are as forgettable as the low-level minions in a Shonen Jump fighting series.
The weaker aspects of the story tend to come straight out of the source material. Most of the characters other than Max do not have much of a personality; in that respect, they do not live up to the promise of their character designs. That’s particularly true of Fang, Max’s tall, dark, and handsome love interest. He’s supposed to be brooding; he comes off as a blank. Iggy and Gasman are also underdeveloped, though that’s slightly less problematic because they also get less page time. They aren’t supposed to make readers swoon. As for Max, she does get some character development, but for a person with wings, she spends a distressing amount of time swooning and being caught by others.
The plot is a standard one that blends together a lot of familiar tropes: genetic engineering, evil schools, psychic kids, and (of course) teens who will save the world. It’s not boring, but it’s also not original enough to be much of a hook on its own. This is not a story about shiny ideas; it’s a story that provides excuses for beautiful people with wings to get into really cool fight scenes.
Reading volume 2 of Maximum Ride didn’t leave me particularly interested in continuing with the story in volume 3. It’s not bad, but it’s also not making a good argument for being worth mine time. I do hope, however, that the future gives us a chance to see more work from NaRae Lee. I would definitely like to know what she can do when she is not being constrained by the limits of someone else’s story.
Review copy provided by Yen Press.
Review previously published at MangaLife.com.