By Patrick Wolf
Years ago, I finally got around to reading Hemingway’s A Farewell to Arms. To this day, I’ve never been more disappointed in a book. I was a big Hemingway fan and A Farewell to Arms was supposed to be his best work. The problem was I just couldn’t connect with the novel’s hero. The protagonist was simply too nonchalant for me to be emotionally invested in the story: Sons of Fate suffers from a similar drawback.
Sons of Fate takes place during the Japanese Tokugawa period, and follows an old samurai who gets shipwrecked off the coast of Africa. There, not only must he learn to survive in the jungle, but also he must come to terms with the fact that he’ll never see his family again. As time passes, however, the samurai befriends a young African boy and agrees to train him in the martial arts. Unfortunately, once the boy’s fellow villagers witness his new skills, they demand the samurai train an army for them. To add to the tension, European slave traders are spreading across the African continent and many locals are more than willing to help them. Can the old samurai and his pupil stop the impending conflict before it’s too late?
A moment ago, I mentioned how A Farewell to Arms disappointed me because I couldn’t connect with the story’s central character. Well, Sons of Fate has a similar problem; however, instead of having characters that suffer from hyper-stoicism, the heroes in Sons of Fate are just too perfect to be relatable. Imagine what an old, stereotypical samurai might look like. Are you visualizing a stern man who champions the virtues of honor, sacrifice, and courage? Now, picture what you think the samurai’s student might look like. Is your representation of someone humble, submissive, and astute? Congratulations, you’ve just described the two central characters of Sons of Fate.
The point I’m trying to make is, not only are the two main characters stereotypes, but also they’re just way too perfect to be interesting. Now, while I’ve got no problem with virtuous characters, I do take issue with flat ones. The characters in Sons of Fate never change and never possess enough flaws to make them interesting. To give an example, consider Woody from Toy Story. Woody possesses many virtues: he’s honorable, courageous, kind-hearted, and so on. But these attributes are not what make him interesting. What makes Woody so loveable is his flaw—namely his desire to be the ‘top toy’.
As we all know, Woody’s need to be the leader results all sorts of shenanigans, but eventually resolves in his learning to share leadership with Buzz. Now imagine what Toy Story would’ve been like if Woody had been so honourable he didn’t care if he was the top toy or not? I'm betting a pretty boring story. This is important because it shows that boring stories don’t always equate to ‘no action’. Toy Story and Sons of Fate both have plenty of action. But what makes Toy Story so lovable and Sons of Fate so forgettable are their differences between dynamic and flat characters.
Another problem that Sons of Fate suffers from is its lack of theme. This comes as no surprise since theme is often related to the central character’s flaws. Since the characters have no discernable failings that enable them to grow, the theme’s growth is stunted as well. At several points in the story I stopped and asked myself ‘Why am I reading this? What’s the point? What’s the story trying to tell me?’ Unlike Toy Story, whose theme is immediately obvious (i.e. sometimes it’s okay to share authority), Sons of Fate’s message is obscured in the story’s lack of character development and pseudo-philosophy. You get the feeling the story’s theme probably has something to do with the old samurai finding a new son in the pupil, but the connection never feels genuine. Perhaps in the next installment this’ll become clearer.
That said, besides these drawbacks, the story’s still pretty good. The artwork’s very beautiful and fits well with the narrative’s samurai roots. When reading Sons of Fate, I really felt like I was holding something crafted from the Tokugawa period. As for the other technical elements, such as story structure, plot development, and action sequences, again, no complaints. It’s really a shame this book’s theme and characters weren't stronger because Sons of Fate could’ve been something really special. That said, the story’s still good and very entertaining. I would definitely recommend this to fans of the martial arts genre. Just don’t expect the next Samurai X.
Sons of Fate: Origins
Writer: Jean-Paul Deshong
Artist: Jean-Paul Deshong
Colorist: Jean-Paul Deshong
Letterer: Jean-Paul Deshong