Gestalt 8

July 11, 2010

Yun Kouga – Viz – 2010 – 8 volumes

I still think I might be Gestalt’s biggest fan. It does have some storytelling and character design issues, but I can’t help but enjoy myself when it comes to the magic elements and the story.

I had trouble jumping back in here, since I couldn’t recall if Black Olivier and the being inhabiting Messiah’s body had been explicitly stated in the previous volume. I don’t think they had, since the ambiguity leaves a lot of wiggle room when it comes to the final confrontation. It’s been clear that Ouri’s had some divine help all along too, and even her helper is misidentified at first.

The way the divine beings appear is a little strange, since I was expecting the characters to play out their various roles, but the ending was still suitably epic, with the full telling of the past making things come full circle and the island of Gestalt’s fate on the line, along with that of the rest of the world.

The relationship between the Gods could have been clearer, since the only two I was sure of were Gestalt and Salsaroa, but the other players didn’t matter a great deal (it did a little bit, since one had been important through the whole story and his role wasn’t clear at the end, but it was easy to forgive). Salsaroa’s role was very satisfying, and I loved the way it made Olivier react to things. Of all the philosophical stuff spouted at the end there, Olivier’s was the best as a result of Salsaroa being there.

In the end, Ouri was easily my favorite character, and was a big part of what made this series so fun. Seeing him adapt to the attitudes of the others while staying completely true to himself, was really nice, and it’s a shame the other characters weren’t really developed enough to touch him. His parting words of wisdom were really great, and unlike the usual broken ramblings other manga series end with. Granted, we got some of that with the other characters, but Ouri left his sister with some of the most straght talk you’ll see.

Gestalt does go through several different phases, and it sometimes loses focus of some things while chasing down others… there are a lot of things that are difficult to follow, sometimes the characters are hard to tell apart, and frankly, I don’t think that tournament with Ouri’s siblings ever went anywhere. But all the same, it was worth reading, and I loved all its key themes, its fantasy flavor, and Ouri. It’s definitely not for everyone, but if I liked it this much, I know there are others, and it’s safe to say that it’s worth reading all the way through to the end.

This was a review copy provided by Viz.

Gestalt 7

May 21, 2010

Yun Kouga – Viz – 2010 – 8 volumes

Man, I really love this series.  The characters are sometimes hard to tell apart, and sometimes the action scenes aren’t very clear… and there’s stuff that doesn’t make sense.  But I really, really love this series, and I am super-excited now that things are climaxing.

There’s a really cool scene at the beginning as the characters arrive in a harbor town from which they will be departing for G.  Each of the four main characters encounters a ticket girl and asks for something specific, and the ticket girl offers commentary on all four.  It was a pretty neat scene, and it’s a fun reminder of just what a motley crew the four really are.

There’s also a neat scene that shows us what all of Ouri’s siblings are up to, and how they’re slowly dropping out of the fight.  I did like that their fight helped drive the plot as much as anything else, though it’s a shame that almost all the siblings are so faceless here at the end.  On the other hand, had they played a bigger part, that would have been just too many characters.

There’s a fun fight against a siren, some misgivings, and a small island interlude just before they get to Gestalt.  My favorite part was probably Ouri’s Gestalt-rooted interpretations of the stories that Olivier was told at the Church of Salsaroa.

And, from here, they land on Gestalt, and a true clash of the gods commences.  In this volume, we find out what moves the dead Messiah, and who Black Olivier really is.  We also find out that Ouri has more siblings, and at the very end, we also see why she keeps her hat on all the time.

The ending’s going to be pretty weird, but I’m interested to see where everything winds up.  I love that the mythology took such an epic turn at the end of the story.  And I’m really looking forward to whether or not Olivier gets his memories back, and whether the curse/handicap on Ouri will be lifted.  She really steals the show, and hopefully she’ll make a fine king at the end.

This was a review copy provided by Viz.

Gestalt 6

March 2, 2010

Yun Koga – Viz – 2010 – 8 volumes

I like this series more and more with every volume.  It’s still an acquired taste, but it’s to my liking, and there are a lot of others that will probably really get into it, too.  I imagine it being very much a “you love it or you hate it” series, though.

There are lots of fantasy and magic-based action still, but most of the video game allusions have been stripped away, and the majority of the action in this volume is a look at Ouri and her feelings for Olivier.  Yun Koga has a way with angsty, yet subtle situations like this, and it’s agonizing to see Ouri tear herself apart with having to be satisfied that she’s once again a stranger in Olivier’s life.  A stranger that gets to stick by his side, but a stranger all the same.  She has a few asides that come across beautifully.  I’m not entirely sure this originally ran in a shoujo manga magazine, but amidst all the vaguely defined action scenes and the somewhat foggy forward progress of the story, Ouri’s asides about Olivier give it rare and valuable moments of shoujo-ness.  I think I like it best because of Ouri being such an interesting character.

Later, the volume dips a bit into Ouri’s past.  The story returns to the fight with her siblings, and we finally see flashbacks to Ouri as a little boy and her connections to Gestalt, what the contest is, and some answers about her physical form.  This is my favorite plot thread, and I’m happy to see the story moving past the slow fights with the vaguely evil preachers and on to Dark Olivier, the journey to Gestalt, and answers about Ouri.

Again, the story is  a bit vague on some finer details, like its sense of place or even having only one thing going at once among the same group of characters.  I was surprised when the fight that started towards the beginning of the volume kept resuming, usually after something else had happened, like another set of characters enterting or another plot revelation, et cetera.  It would just show that evil priest, and I’d realize he really was still there, just hanging out and waiting his turn for a whoopin’.  Whatever.  I like it for this dreamlike quality, though, and I like that everything is so ill-defined as far as fights and time frames go.  It gives the story a kind of ethereal mood, something that works really well for a fantasy story.

We’ve finished the Continental part of the story, which means that next volume should feature Gestalt.  With Olivier’s motives revealed and a whole lot more about Ouri coming forward, I am very much looking forward to what the final two volumes of the series have to offer.

This was a review copy provided by Viz.

Gestalt 5

January 17, 2010

Yun Kouga – Viz – 2010 – 8 volumes

Yay, Gestalt gets very serious and much better in this volume!  There’s still a few points where it’s not very clear what’s going on (for instance, all the characters hanging out outside while Olivier is debating with Messiah… that was kind of weird), but overall I like this shift in mood.  The story also shifted as well, and as of the end of the volume, it looks like it might be taking a new direction, at least temporarily.

The bond between Ouri and Olivier is a strange one.  Ouri’s gender isn’t so much the problem since she clearly feels quite fond of Olivier (Ouri is, of course, a man who was “handicapped” by being turned into a woman).  But she doesn’t want to push Olivier into anything he doesn’t want, so she has to settle into the role of protector and self-appointed “slave.”  She continually beats herself up over the loss of Olivier’s arms, and when another event happens at the end of this volume, she takes to beating herself up and inflicting damage on herself to atone for what was lost.  Strangely enough, while neither character’s true nature has been revealed, and both are acting themselves all the time, it still feels like we know more about Ouri than Olivier.  Well, we do, and Ouri is also easier to relate to than Olivier, who is pure and holy and without flaw, but you know what I mean.  Ouri is an extremely interesting character, and is the main reason I keep coming back to Gestalt.

I can take or leave Shazan, Suzu, and Sakata.  Both Shazan and Suzu get a little bit of a chance to shine here (in various ways, Shazan winds up doing something awful to snap Ouri out of her funk), but all three feel rather unnecessary in what is essentially Olivier’s journey to find himself with Ouri the body guard tagging along.

They move from the holy temple to the town of Titania, home to those who worship the god of death and rebirth.  Outsiders are not welcome, and Ouri finds herself shaken by the town’s rituals, which involve human sacrifices and the celebration of death in general.  That’s a big part of why the mood of the story suddenly turns dark, but the other part is what they wind up doing in Titania to try and get Olivier’s arms back.

After Ouri self-destructs and the party is split up, the book ends on a very uncertain note.  As much as I’ve been enjoying this story all along, this is the first time I’ve found myself really excited by the next volume.  You can see Kouga’s storytelling skills developing as the series goes on, so it’s settled down from its former random fights and is moving in a very interesting direction now.

This was a review copy provided by Viz.

Gestalt 4

January 4, 2010

Yun Kouga – Viz – 2009 – 8 volumes

Crown of Love put me in a Yun Kouga mood, so I’m glad I happened to have the newest volume of Gestalt handy.  I really do like this series a lot, it’s a great early ’90s adventure manga in the spirit of things like Sorcerer Hunters and whatnot, and it does nearly everything well as far as that goes.

We get the answers to some of the mysteries of the series in this volume, including the curse of G and what the whole contest in Ouri’s family is about.  We also get a lot more character development for Ouri, moving her firmly into favorite character territory.  She’s goofy and completely devoted to Olivier, but she also has quite the evil streak to her, and seems to not care too much about the welfare of others, whereas Olivier is a priest and cares deeply about such things.  I’m sure they’ll clash in a major way soon.

Also interesting is the growing mystery around Olivier.  Black Olivier doesn’t make another appearance, but we learn that there might be more to Olivier’s past than just his being raised in the sanctuary.  They’re looking for a way to get his arms back, which will probably lead to some fun revelations that I’m looking forward to.

Also interesting is the fact that Olivier really did stay armless.  Usually when this happens, the characters get fully functioning prosthetics right away, which completely nullifies the point of the loss in the first place.  Olivier is armless and completely helpless, relying on others to dress him and do other things for him.  Ouri is absent for most of the story, but I’m sure there’ll be a little bit more about her nursing him in the future.  I really do like the growing relationship between them, which isn’t even really of a romantic nature.  It’s just… nice.

While all this is going on in the main plot, there are also shorter stories at work.  There’s a subplot about an evil mansion that harvests body parts and another about Ouri’s activities while away and another about the group returning to the sanctuary to get Olivier’s arms back.  It is varying degrees of successful juggling all this, and some of the story is told better than other parts, but I still like that there’s so much there and it’s still relatively easy to read.

The only things I don’t like about it are, again, some of the confusing character designs and the way that the story sometimes abruptly hops around.  At one point, Ouri was having an inner monologue before going to bed, and for no reason, it cut to a panel of her fully dressed finishing a thought, then back to her in pajamas.  There are several instances of that, and other instances of… major storyline ending and then having old villains introduced on the next page.  It doesn’t really suffer coherency issues because of this, because it never takes more than a panel or two to figure out what’s going on, but it’s still annoying.

I would also say that there’s a few too many characters, but it solves this problem by having the background characters so generic that I don’t care who they are.  Ouri’s siblings trying to defeat her?  Doesn’t matter which ones they are, they’ll be gone shortly.  I forgot that someone else came from the sanctuary to get Olivier, but he’s gone now, so it doesn’t matter.  I actually mean this in the nicest way possible, it really does make things easier when the side characters are completely forgettable, and I like how the slow development is continuing for the main party of four.

Again, I like Gestalt quite a bit.  It’s very flawed, but it’s still a fun read, and I’m growing more and more attached to the characters in every volume.  Ouri is quite a strong girl right now, and I couldn’t be happier.

This was a review copy provided by Viz.

Gestalt 3

September 4, 2009

Yun Kouga – Viz – 2009 – 8 volumes

Now, I really liked the first chapter in this volume, but anyone unfamiliar with video game RPGs will have a hard time following the fight, as a lot of what goes on… well, they get pretty deep into hit points, defense points, heal spells, summoning elemental creatures, and stuff that is otherwise completely irrelevant to the story and is not explained well, but was cool all the same.

Aside from the first chapter, I feel like some of Gestalt’s bad habits are starting to fade away, and I’m growing more and more to like it on its own merits rather than because it sticks so close to a video game formula (though there are still some allusions to that, as I mentioned above). Most of what goes on here is a struggle with and possible origin for Black Olivier.  I found this to be a lot more interesting than the companion-gathering or the fight with Ouri’s somewhat faceless siblings.  In fact, the fight with Black Olivier takes a very unexpected and surprisingly permanent turn.  The volume leaves the story in a bad place, and I’m very much looking forward to the next volume not only to resolve the current rift between Ouri and the party, but because I want to see what becomes of Olivier, the true purpose behind the battle royale with Ouri’s siblings (hinted at via a fable here)… and I’m also curious about Black Olivier and what will happen once he reaches G.  Most of the novelty value in the series being so close in structure to an RPG has worn off, and now I’m genuinely interested in the story.

Of course, the series still has some rough points.  As I said, those unfamiliar with video game RPGs are going to have a hard time following the fights.  The story is still a little jumpy, and even though it settled down significantly in this volume, it still took me an awful long time to figure out what was going on with Ouri and where he was for the last third of the book.  There are also strange short chapters slipped between the longer ones called “Gestalt Theatre” which are unrelated gag chapters.  I appreciate their aim (to lighten the mood of the otherwise very dark story), but they aren’t very funny.  Of course, one of them is a cosplay chapter where the characters dress up as Super Sailor Moon and Morrigan, and even though I didn’t like the gag chapter itself, I thought that was pretty cute.

It’s still flawed, but a lot of what made the first two volumes hard to read has been eliminated, and a very interesting and engrossing fantasy plot is emerging.  It hasn’t changed much, but I care a whole lot more about the characters and what’s going on after this volume, and I am really looking forward to volume four.

This was a review copy proided by Viz.

Gestalt 2

July 30, 2009

Yun Kouga – Viz – 2009 – 8 volumes

I still like this series, if only because I get a big kick out of the RPG structure.  It really is a lot like reading an RPG in manga form (and not just an adaptation, that takes only the story, but with subtle winks at progress in the game), and I get a big kick out of the characters constantly comparing levels and classes.  There’s a lot less spell assignments and whatnot in this volume, but there is a nice section where the characters sell a valuable item, buy a whole bunch of equipment with the money (complete with discussion about how they would like the more expensive equipment, but can’t afford it), and then realize that the item was a rare coin they needed in order to board the ship to get where they were going.  A tournament was involved with obtaining a replacement.  That may or may not be directly from an old school RPG, but again, it was close enough that I dug out Dragon Quest and played it.

There are a few problems, though.  Obviously, if you aren’t approaching it from the RPG angle, a lot of the content is going to be a bit tedious (which I think is brilliant, because that’s exactly what playing an RPG is like).  Those games aren’t known for their excellent plots.  Two other major problems with this volume lied in some similar character designs, particularly between Shazan and Olivier, two members in the main party who are both tall, blonde men with glasses.  A lot of the other character designs are pretty generic, though I do like the designs on Ouri and Suzu, the other main characters, and I liked the attention to detail paid to the costumes and whatnot.  One of the other problems that sprang up in this volume are the indistinct action scenes.  The characters cast a lot of magic, but it’s not at all clear what the magic is doing, how it is affecting its victim, or in some cases, what is even going on in the fight.  Suzu fights two other dark elves at the end of the volume that intentionally look like her, and those pages are a huge mess as far as the action scene goes.

Part of this may have something to do with the artist’s continuous apologies between chapters for skipping months of serialization and generally causing problems at the magazine Gestalt ran in.  This suggests she missed her deadlines frequently, which… well, could be for any number of reasons, but also suggests that parts of the story are rushed and perhaps not as carefully considered as they should be.  I could be reading too much into that too, though.

In general, I still really like what’s going on.  Ouri gets to be a better and better character with each chapter, and this volume introduces short in-between chapter segments, one of which spells out what happened to Ouri as far as her handicapping in the contest with her siblings goes.  Most of the other in-between stuff was pretty silly, but I did like those few pages.  And I like the fantasy elements they keep introducing, like a disgraced order of knights, charms and amulets used to lure people… I am completely taken in with how much of the content feels like it really is straight from a video game.  Take that as you will, but I like it.

This was a review copy provided by Viz.