Let’s get to the point: The Legend of Zelda: Twilight Princess is not just the best Zelda manga under female duo Akira Himekawa but the best Zelda manga period. Not that there are many competing for that title — only Shotaro Ishinomori’s take on A Link to the Past springs to mind, and even that suffers from the same crippling flaw present in Himekawa’s previous works: they’re fleeting, rushed abridgements of the source material, and what should be fascinating adaptions of beloved Nintendo games end up falling short. In the case of Himekawa, this wasn’t a deliberate decision — an Anime News Network interview reveals magazine restrictions were the cause — but now having found a new publisher, Twilight Princess finally lets the Himekawas’ creative liberties soar.
On a personal level, it’s even more amazing when considering, as I’ve elaborated elsewhere, I don’t especially care for the original game. To relevantly illustrate this, compare what occurs in this third volume to the end of Himekawa’s longest work: Ocarina of Time. There, we didn’t have a third volume, as Link defeats Ganon by the second volume’s end; here, Link and his Twili companion, Midna, begin the book by reaching Kakariko Village, spend its majority saving it, and end it by setting off for the second Shadow Crystal (otherwise known as the game’s second McGuffin, going by a different name than the game’s “Fused Shadows”). From a cynical, superficial glance, that would imply Himekawa fell prey to the source material’s bloated padding and backtracking, but here’s the wonderful thing: they didn’t. Link’s duel with King Bulbin arrives not as a backtracking segue but as this arc’s climax, the enigmatic undead knight that taught Link battle techniques is woven into the story, and there’s no sumo-wrestling silliness impeding the pacing.
It’s natural, it’s compelling, it urges questions, it’s interesting, and so much of that has to do with this particular iteration of Link. He’s not the gung-ho, doe-eyed warrior we’ve witnessed in the previous comics; here, he’s reluctant, only taking on the “hero” mantle because he has to. While he becomes more comfortable with the role, it takes a near-death experience to recognize he can’t skate by on desperation forever — if he wants to protect the innocent, he must take on the bravery his legendary green tunic represents, lest his quest inevitably fail.
Other characters, developed in the original game or not, catch our attention too: Midna is as engaging and feisty as she’s always been, but her sudden tears upon reuniting with a certain individual bring out an unfamiliar side we’ve never witnessed before, and we already want to see more. Meanwhile, Ilia — the girl next door from Link’s village of Ordon — is no longer an amnesiac damsel-in-distress, but a character perhaps designed for narrative agency — her one appearance in this volume immediately grabs us when desperation nearly forces her to make a fatal choice (one that makes us wonder how Nintendo approved this, but hey, I’m not complaining.
This isn’t all to say Twilight Princess had an especially bad story or anything, but its constant hindrance by fetch quests prevented any successful ambition; here, the manga adaption is not only unfettered by the rules of gaming (not the least in having Link speak), but now finally possesses the freedom to flesh out the story however it wishes and however long it desires to be. Be it establishing King Bulbin as an actual character with motivations or brief detours like meeting Coro — the lantern oil salesman whose afro hosts a bird nest — none of it comes across as filler but genuine contributions to the overall narrative. (It’s enough to ponder what other changes lie in store: could Malo, the shrewd, unnerving toddler who eventually builds his own marketing chain, end up being the true villain of this adaption? Probably not, but man, I’ve always felt there was something to that conspiracy theory.)
Himekawa’s artwork is as gorgeous as ever, and in spite of the source material’s grimy, washed-out aesthetic, their lush sense of style still shines through. The monsters are appropriately fleshy and menacing (I never thought Bokoblins could look this terrifying!), and as someone who’s never cared for Twilight Princess‘s NPC design, it’s strangely comforting her human designs continue echoing that 90’s style of manga/anime. About the only weakness I could find is the battle scenes can be a little hard to follow (more so the brief skirmishes in Link’s wolf form), but that they, too, are finally allowed to breathe is a blessing.
While I was already on-board with the Himekawas’ adaption of Twilight Princess before, this third volume is the most rousing yet. The liberties its taken with the story are far more fascinating than that of the original game, and it’s looking likely I’ll end it enjoying it more overall. (And for those worried at the initial news it’ll only have four volumes, don’t fret — it was recently confirmed it’ll go on longer than that. And hey, it’s not like they could end it at only the second dungeon, right?)
Final Verdict: 4.5/5
This review was based on a review copy provided by VIZ Media.