Substance has been lacking in the American Manga market for several years due to its fast rise in popularity. Soon every American comic company was buying up every property it could in vague attempts at catching the next big hit. Unfortunately with so many choices of material to pick from the market wasn’t pointed at one property and being told, “Read this… because it’s all you’re getting.” Instead they were finally given the choice of what to like and choose and become fully fledged Otaku’s for a particular property. Again, because of this substance has been lacking from the American Manga market, but now with its popularity plateauing fans are picker and less likely to take any old Manga put in front of them. That’s why I present to you today, Drifters, Dark Horse Comics latest translated property from Japan and creator Kohta Hirano who’s most famous work to date is Hellsing. The story of Drifters begins in 1600 on a battle field in Japan as one warrior stands his ground against an invading army. He’s armed with several swords and a gun, his name is Toyohisa and he’s prepared to die in battle to have respect and honor and claim a victory for his side of the war. Toyohisa defeats several of the warriors and claims the head of their leader before falling over half dead from his injuries. He awakens to find himself in a hallway filled with doors and man sitting behind a desk doing paper work. He demands to be taken home, but all the man behind the desk does is open a door for Toyohisa. He runs through the door and falls down half dead yet again in a strange place.
From there the story moves on to reveal a world filled with Humans and Sub-Humans such as Elves, Dwarfs and the like. The self-appointed Black King has waged a war against everything on the planet and hopes to extinguish everything that is alive. Each side has what only can be described as “Ringers”, people with extraordinary abilities plucked from all points of the time stream. These Ringers then naturally pick a side to fight on, becoming either a “Drifter” or an “Ender.”
The story is confusing as hell; to be honest you can’t even begin to figure out the pieces until the last two chapters when other characters finally begin explaining what exactly is going on. Until then you’re basically grouping around in the dark trying to figure how these different historical characters and what exactly is their importance in this world and the story itself. I honestly think that if this was a first time writer telling this story it would never have been picked up by a publisher due to the confusing nature of it, but because it’s Kohta Hirano he’s allowed to pick the pacing of his story. It’s refreshing in that it doesn’t start the same as practically every other Manga does, but he definitely needed to clue the reader in earlier as to what exactly the story was about.
The other major problem with the story is the sheer amount of characters introduced. At first it’s only a handful and it works really well, but soon the numbers nearly double and it becomes difficult to tell each characters role in the story. Some of the characters aren’t even named after their appearance which makes their presence even more confusing. What works for the story are the concept and the six or so main characters. The Enders and Drifters are all warriors of their time so they all have that one uniting warrior instinct, but what makes them interesting characters is their own nuances of why they fight and that’s what determines the side they fight on.
The translation is pretty good as far as I can tell. At times there seemed to be literal translations that felt out of place, but that’s what happens when you adapt one cultures style of storytelling to another’s. This awkward translation is really only apparent with one particular character that said, “Screw that” after basically everything, including when he would say, “Screw that.” It became almost comical, but it was never clear if it was intentional or again just a weird literal translation.
The art is great no question about it. It’s stylized in a familiar Japanese Manga way so there’s nothing new there for readers to look forward too. If this were your first Manga I would advise trying something else first as Hirano’s particular style includes unfinished faces, cartoonish interludes and other particulars that will be unfamiliar to you.
In general this is an interesting idea and a unique start to a series. Is it the next big thing? I don’t know, but it is a new series that I will be following to its inevitable conclusion. It’s interesting enough that even though I was confused by elements of it, it wasn’t enough for me to give up on it and quit reading. If anything being confused by it made me want to read it more and figure out what was going on exactly. If you’ve given up on Manga in America I’d say take a look at Drifters, it might just bring you back into the fold.
Writer/Artist/Creator: Kohta Hirano
Publisher: Dark Horse Comics