Bit of a bumper review, this, but given how closely these two chapters tie together it didn’t seem worth splitting them up. Here we go…
I mentioned at the end of my last review that I was really looking forward to the bumper next issue (the somewhat anachronistically named chapter 73.5…) and the King gaiden it would feature. An opportunity to learn more about King’s past in a whopping 51 page volume seemed fantastic. And while it is worth stating off the bat that I didn’t dislike the chapter as such, it was because I was anticipating it so keenly that when I read it, I felt a little… disappointed.
Essentially, the chapter was a flashback within a flashback, as King’s past with a young Diane was overlapped with his half-remembered, longer history with Helbram.
It was a very clever way to go about the flashback, and certainly a novel one, but personally I felt that even with its huge run-length the chapter felt like it tried to cover far too much. The moral of the narrative, ultimately, came across well: King has come to like humanity, having once disliked them; Helbram – thanks to the intervention of a certain old knight with an eyepatch – passed the other way, from innocence to a full-blown hatred of mankind. On that note, getting to see that the origin of Helbram’s human form was the man that originally set him on a murderous path with his torture and killing of Helbram’s peers was certainly a neat touch.
The two faces of Helbram…
But that revelation in itself raises questions – and is hardly the only loose end left by the gaiden. Why did King not recognise Helbram’s human form when they met before? What caused King’s amnesia, and why did he never return to the fairy kingdom once his search for the missing Helbram ran cold? Just why did Helbram go from hating humans to working with them in the present day? And moreover, how did Helbram survive his apparent death – which, itself, was a shockingly brutal action on the part of King..?
I mean, I know King had promised to eliminate Helbram if he ever became dangerous or hateful, but this was just straight-out callous, and felt somewhat out of character for the usual more genial King.
I think above all, despite having a great idea and premise, the upper flashback (as it were) featuring Diane actually got in the way of what I was really interested in – King’s past as the Fairy King and his relationship to Helbram. A gaiden focused solely on that would have been a better fit at this point in the story, in my opinion. Hopefully (and I’m sure we will…), we’ll get to see more of King’s past in future chapters, as I really don’t feel this gave a full picture of his past and his grief – which is clearly such a massive part of his current personality.
Moving swiftly on, then, to chapter 74 which resumed the present day fight between Helbram and King . I think it’s telling that I actually accidentally skipped 73.5 initially, and read straight from 73-74, and wasn’t immediately aware anything was missing – 73.5 doesn’t feel like an integral part of the story in the way that similar gaidens in Bleach (with the Visored-100-years-ago arc) or Naruto (the Kakashi/Jiraya chronicles) did. Shame.
74, once again, was a really heavy-hitter of a fight chapter – perhaps even more so than 73. Right off the bat, my question from last time about the power King employed to shield Diane was answered, being Christofel’s ‘pollen garden’ technique. Fair enough.
What bugs me about this chapter was not the fight itself – which was, as with the previous chapter, beautifully drawn and choreographed, with some real stand-out panels – but the manner of it. King was really on the ropes last time out; this time, without any apparent cost or change in his fighting style, he was able to make incredibly light work of Helbram. I mean, he used Christofel to just pummel his opponent into submission. That’s fine – I have to admit, I enjoyed seeing Helbram finally struggling in a fight – but I was just hoping, I think, for a bit more.
In the end, to me, Helbram seemed to go down too easily. I was holding out for something showstopping, a last ditch moment of ridiculousness from a character who has become one of my favourites, but instead Helbram just sort of fizzled out. His enslaving of his various Holy-Knight power-loanees looked like it might spark something epic, but King dismissed it in about 2 pages, so even that felt a bit weak.
In the end, King defeated Helbram without breaking a sweat. For me, while his nonchalance looked awesome, it felt out of place after the pains to which he had to go just to keep up with Helbram last chapter. The change just felt too great, too sudden. It wasn’t even that King had reached another level, or pushed through some power-barrier to blow Helbram away: he just sort of stated that, actually, Christofel was his to command and remained ridiculously powerful, and therefore he was going to win. And lo, he did.
The end for Helbram…
The point of this fight was to have the reader feel for King, and his elimination of the fairy that had been his best friend; it was meant to be King defeating with a heavy heart, not in a blaze of desperate glory. That, for me, is where it fell down – and where the gaiden under-cut its emotional impact.
Because I didn’t get enough of a feel for King and Helbram’s friendship in the gaiden, I didn’t relate to the emotional bond between them in the fight. And that’s a real shame, because I do believe this fight could have been awesome, if it and the preceding back-story had been handled slightly differently.
- The art over both chapters was immense, as it has been for much of this arc.
- The flashback was very, very clever and did a good job of establishing King’s relationship with Diane.
- The fight, albeit a bit unfulfilling, was a decent enough scrap while it lasted.
- Not enough time was given to establishing King and Helbram’s friendship and that hurt both the flashback and the resulting fight.
- Helbram went down waaaay too easily, in the end. I mean, that may just be a bit of a fanboy, but I expected more from him…
- The prologue raised more questions than it answered. I, of course, could just be being thick here (wouldn’t be the first time…) but it seems to leave some continuity peculiarities for the time in between the gaiden’s end and the first fight between Helbram and King in the last arc…
Overall: Suffice to say that I think both of these chapters were victims of my own expectations for them. They certainly weren’t bad – both read well, and were clever in their use of art and action – but they weren’t as brilliant as I had expected them to be. They therefore felt slightly lacklustre where they should have felt epic, and as such I’ll give them a combined score of 6.5/10