Hero Tales, Vol. 1
written by Hiromu Arakawa and Huang Jin Zhou
Taitou lives a happy life in his village of Taizan: picking on his sister Laila, standing up to the Imperial Army when it tries to exert its might, and attempting to complete his coming-of-age ceremony. On the day that Taitou does finally become the last person in his village to complete the ceremony, he is given an ancient sword that can only be drawn by a true hero. As Taitou is frustrated in his attempts to draw the sword, a mysterious thief arrives in town, steals the sword, and unleashes a monster living inside of Taitou. Now the young man must journey with Laila and a mysterious priest named Ryuukou to try to retrieve the sword and learn more about his destiny as one of the seven hero stars of the Big Dipper.
Arakawa, popular creator of Fullmetal Alchemist (published by Viz), is part of a collaborative group turning its sights on Ancient China in this fantasy adventure. Themes of destiny, power (and the corruption of power), triumph over the odds, politics, and familial ties are all woven into the story. The hero’s journey storyline is used to good effect, putting Taitou and his companions on a path that will intersect with the empire they hate. Along the way, readers are shown why the empire is hated through examples of their treatment of others. Rather than just explaining things up front, the story is built slowly, details dropping in where needed. At times, this leaves readers as overwhelmed by information as Taitou himself feels, but the story is intriguing enough to drag itself through those parts.
Volume one is obviously just the beginning. It outlines the three main characters, gives us insight into their personalities, and sends them on their way. All three are strong in both personality and body. Taitou is plucky, smart, and an extremely strong fighter, and his sister Laila is more than his equal. Just as with FMA’s Edward and Al Elric, Taitou is the older brother who is often guided by the wisdom of his younger sibling, though Laila is more spirited than Al and doesn’t hesitate to smack Taitou around if he needs it. Ryuukou is intelligent and resourceful, but not so old that he can’t be both mentor and friend to Taitou. The art is easily recognizable as Arakawa’s: round faces, muscular bodies, and sharp eyes, with strong chins on many of the older characters, especially the villains. There is a new character introduced in the last chapter of this volume whose looks are so similar to Taitou’s that it is easy to confuse them, but that is the only real weakness.
This volume is a sure bet. Arakawa is a mega-popular creator, even when working in a group, and an intriguing beginning to the series, appealing characters, and attractive, eye-catching art all add to the appeal. Even if volume one doesn’t do much more than set things in motion, fans of Fullmetal Alchemist, Tegami Bachi (by Hiroyuki Asada from Viz), Gin Tama (by Hideaki Sorachi from Viz), and even Fruits Basket (by Natsuki Takaya from TokyoPop) should find plenty to enjoy and be eager for volume two.-- Snow Wildsmith