On the brink of death after a battle turning, suicidal blaze of glory, feudal samurai warrior, Shimazu Toyohisa, finds himself transported to an eerie office-building corridor, manned by a lone, mysterious bureaucrat; then just as quickly moved to a fantastical land populated by elves. Soon he meets other ‘drifters’, also from feudal era Japan, and discovers the land is in the midst of a civil war that is being engineered by various other warriors from throughout our own history.
Long before the current über-craze for manga, that brought such companies as Tokyo Pop to the fore, Dark Horse Comics were blazing a trail supplying the then niche medium to fans who had a hard time feeding their passion through any other means. Titles such as Blade of the Immortal, Oh My Goddess! and Gunsmith Cats were released in western style, left to right, single-issue format before being collected in digest sized volumes.
Subsequently Dark Horse’s formatting has changed with the times but their adherence to securing quality properties has never wavered, their output including old-school favourites such as Lone wolf and Cub and Lady Snowblood, through all time classics, Akira and Ghost In the Shell, to contemporary mega-hits such as Gantz and Hellsing.
Indeed, the popularity of Hellsing, one can assume, is the leading factor for Dark Horse picking up author/artist, Kohta Hirano’s latest work, Drifters. Kohta Hirano has such an idiosyncratic style to both his writing and artwork that comparisons of Drifters to Hellsing are not only inevitable but outright necessary.
Those who have read Hellsing will know that what started out as a relatively straightforward premise, over the course of ten belated volumes, spiralled into an absurd state of near abstract action sequences, blood letting and Nazis, reflecting Hirano’s artistic tendencies, which switch from incredible dynamism and detail to childlike simplicity and chaos at the drop of a hat. The story simply zigzagged so he could draw whatever the hell he felt like, whenever the hell he felt like, and the postscripts were like the ravings of a madman, giving the whole works a sense of glorious ADHD.
So what of Drifters? Well, right from the off the premise is not as straightforward as Hellsing, but this largely intentional to put you in the same befuddled mindset as the lead character, but once you get your head around what’s going on, it all gets rather intriguing, as, basically, characters from history and historical pop culture square off in a fantasy land of dragons and elves. A fire wielding Joan of Arc battling samurai warriors and The Wild Bunch as a WW1 pilot takes out a dragon? I’ll have some of that! The story moves along at an impressive speed but the dialogue does get convoluted and a tad confusing to follow at times.
The artwork is, for the most part, simply exquisite. It must be said that my own preferences to manga art lean towards the less cookie-cutter, more individualised side of the medium, the stuff with a hint of originality added to the mix; think Akira, Uzumaki and Lone Wolf over Naruto, Bleach and Fruits Basket. That being said, anyone would be hard pressed to argue that Kohta Hirano is right at the top of the pile when it come to portraying movement, action and sheer detail in his work, despite his signature unpolished approach. The special treats come when you get to the action-pose-splash-images, of which there are quite a few.
If you get the chance have a quick look through a copy and if the artwork entices you, give it a go, if it doesn’t then I can pretty much guarantee the writing won’t do much for you either. All in all it’s an entertaining if slightly confusing read, with artwork that has the potential to blow your socks off, but if you’re planning to follow it to the end don’t expect it to make that much sense.
A- rating – for artwork
C rating – for writing
B+ rating – for pacing
Overall rating – B-