Drifters 1

Kohta Hirano – Dark Horse – 2011 – 1+ volumes

Okay. I like Hellsing. I know it has its problems, but I liked it anyway, and ten volumes was the perfect length. This is just Hellsing with all the vampires and fun cast of characters and slightly sympathetic motivations stripped out. This is awful and almost incomprehensible. And Hellsing was about Nazi vampires that were trying to bring back the reich after developing super-monsters in Brazil for 50 years.

I don’t even know if I can summarize this. So, there’s a game going on, and it’s a war between “Drifters” and… The Black King. Except people who are not part of either team are fighting this fight using the Drifters and the Black King team as pawns. Both teams consist of historical figures from different time periods in Earth’s history. I would say that Drifters are all from Japanese history, except Hannibal and Scipio are also on the team, and both of them are Roman. The Black King’s team also has one of the Shinsengumi leaders on it, so both sides are a mix, I guess? Anastasia Romanova is also on the Black King’s team, and is clearly accompanied by Rasputin, and I’m sort of looking forward to more about those two.

All these people from our history are drawn in via a mysterious gate, and I assume all are presumed to have died under mysterious circumstances…? Anyway, the world they are drawn into is inhabited by fantasy creatures like elves that are enslaved by other humans. For some reason. In a really awesome scene, Toyohisa and Oda Nobunaga free the village by doing their own crazy thing (Toyohisa by just flying into battle as a kind of berserker, Nobunaga by burning the fields and cutting off an escape, and a third character named Yoichi sniping fleeing humans). Apparently freeing the elves is a bad thing, but we don’t know why yet.

Admittedly, part of the problem is that a lot of the characters that this volume focuses on are from Japanese history, and are sort of obscure at that (with the exception of Oda Nobunaga and maybe Toshizo). They talk a lot about the battles they were in during their time in Japan, and I have no idea what they’re talking about, nor is it important to what’s going on in Drifters. But I realize that reader recognition is important with those particular characters, and I’m failing that test. It’s my fault.

On the other hand, there’s too damn much going on in volume one, with too many characters and too many points of action and too many unanswered questions. After the action cuts away from Oda Nobunaga and the initial three drifters, it took me a long time to figure out that, somehow, the war had come to them and they were fighting again. The idea is a cool one, but we didn’t need to see the faces of the people pulling the strings, nor did we need to know everyone on the opposing team as of the first volume. It just feels like too much at once. I think the first few chapters, up to the liberation of the elves, could have been expanded into a full volume. I would know more about the characters, less about the story, and feel more prepared for what’s ahead. As of right now, though, I’m confused.

But Hirano’s art still looks very good. He’s still great at drawing completely insane characters, and he’s great at drawing action, too. There aren’t a whole lot of female characters yet, so there’s no Seras-esque fanservice, but at the same time, his strong female characters in Hellsing was one of the best things in that series, and I’m missing that a little here.

I’ll keep reading. Hirano isn’t a terribly fast worker, so I know we’ll only get about a volume of this series a year, and that won’t help me figure things out. But then again, it took me six volumes of Hellsing, then a re-read, before I could appreciate what was going on there, so maybe I only have to give Drifters time to build itself up before I can enjoy it. Until then… it’s awful. I’m sorry.


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