I did not expect the first comic I covered would be a Western graphic novel instead of a manga, considering the fact that I’ve been reading manga for over seven years. Since this is a Weeb Revues first, let me explain how I’m thinking of approaching comics. Most individual volumes don’t have enough material for me to write a good blog about them one at a time. Plus, there’s the fact that I have read ahead to the more recent chapter releases, thanks to things like Viz’s Jump subscription. So what I’m thinking of doing is to do a first impression of comics I haven’t read before, then a full review when I finish them. The problem is that you won’t get to know my general thoughts on the 100-odd manga I’ve already read prior to starting this blog… I’ll figure something out.
Before we get started, I need to give my background on Western comics. I grew up not reading a single comic book- with my only exposure to the culture being the Christopher Reeve Superman movie. I only just got into comics earlier this year- 2019. My first graphic novel was Amulet. I read the first three volumes, and I hated it. I don’t use that word all the time, but Amulet pushed me over the edge. I could have an entirely separate blog detailing exactly why I hate it so much, but I won’t, because there would be a LOT of salt. Later on, I read Cleopatra in Space. I found that one to be much better, but it seemed to be too fast-paced for its own good. I had planned to tackle 5 Worlds, published by Random House, third because it looked the best out of all the graphic novels I’d seen, and boy did I make a good call!
Being a kids graphic novel, the premise of 5 Worlds is pretty simple. The titular five worlds, consisting of Mon Domani and its four moon-planets, are going through real tough crap, thanks to deteriorating ecosystems and some evil whatsit called the Mimic. Apparently, the only way to turn things back to normal is to light beacons built on each of the worlds. Fortunately, we have people called sand dancers, who do interpretive dance to manipulate, well, sand. However, the beacons can only be lit by a special dancer who has the Living Fire. It’s a good premise with a lot of wiggle room for a fantastic adventure.
The characters, however, are less than fantastic. Oona Lee, the main protagonist, is a marginally better version of Emily from Amulet, but she’s still kind of generic. She’s also just about as much of an overpowered protagonist as Emily was; the dialogue has this “the sand knows” line often that lets us know how she’s able to do some of the things, that according to the rules established, she shouldn’t be able to do because she’s supposed to suck at sand dancing. An Tzu is my least favorite character; he jumps to conclusions way too fast, plus he’s been the least useful in terms of abilities. Jax Amboy is the best character, relatively speaking. He’s got a decent lover-boy personality, plus he’s pretty nifty in battle. But overall, this cast just doesn’t wow me. It’s not the authors’ fault; I had the same issue with both Amulet and Cleopatra in Space. I just can’t help but compare these comics to manga. The pacing and structure is very different between the two mediums.
For some reason, Western graphic novels seem to have quicker plot progression than manga, and the panels in them seem to be incredibly large, which means that they need more pages in order to convey the same content. 5 Worlds seems to be the most efficient out of what I’ve read thus far. It helps that the books themselves have averaged at 240 pages a pop, but even then it still moves too fast. As a consequence, they’ve had to “pull a Disney” (you know, like how parents commonly get killed off in Disney movies) so we can sympathize with the characters immediately: Oona Lee’s sister having run away from home, An Tzu having some kind of Back to the Future disease, and Jax Amboy not having any real friends (well, that’s what the description says). To compare this to a manga with similarly fast pacing, Made in Abyss, that manga might’ve had two unremarkable main characters, but it also had a cast of phenomenal side characters that left a strong impression on me, despite how brief their screentime was.
Similarly, when a big character-based plot twist happens, the emotional impact of it didn’t resonate with me since it occurs just as I’m getting acquainted with the character. I can appreciate that the authors don’t beat around the bush, but in this case, they’re beating the exact location that the bush will be in before it’s even existed yet! But keep in mind that I love One Piece, where you don’t get most characters’ full backstory until over ten years worth of published material.
The art of 5 Worlds is the best out of the three graphic novels I’ve read. It’s a very cartoony and whimsical style with eye-catching colors. Western comics seem to stack similarly sized panels together in order to showcase motion in a sort of flipbook style. I do not find this as impactful as with manga that normally use gesture drawing lines and foreshortening. I did flip through some DC and Marvel comics at my local library, and the action seems to be done similarly, to my surprise. I would’ve expected more from the significantly more complex artwork. Is it a strictly Western thing? Regardless of if it is or not, I can’t get used to it, as opposed to my first manga, where I could understand the medium almost right away.
Current Verdict: 7.85/10
Despite all my nitpicks, 5 Worlds is shaping up to be one of the better Western comics out there. It’s just a real shame that the story moves too fast to really let it grow on me. It’s entertaining and appealing. I’ve read two volumes thus far, and I’ll try to finish this series and put out a full review. But with new volumes only coming out annually, it’s going to be a long process!