Is Akira Himekawa’s adaption of The Legend of Zelda: Twilight Princess still the best Zelda manga around? For sure — granted, I wasn’t as taken with this fourth volume as I was last time, yet I can’t deny I’m far more engaged with this adaption than I ever was with the original Wii/GameCube game. Yet again, it’s a blessing the Himekawa duo let their storytelling chops soar with a more flexible, lenient publisher that recognizes their talent.
To compare with Volume 3, this fourth iteration speeds up the pacing, and I admit I would’ve liked things to slow down a tad. As opposed to the last volume’s emphasis on Link’s character development, Volume 4 focuses more on his quest, and he obtains not one but two Shadow Crystals (“Fused Shadows,” for those who played Twilight Princess) within this book. To be fair, said development means we don’t have to sit down and further observe Link’s inner struggles — if anything, this volume further teases the circumstances of a certain town, so we’ll certainly be seeing more of that — but given how much liberty hitherto Himekawa took with the story, it’s a bit disappointing much of this volume largely follows the original sequence of events.
Even so, the strengths outweigh any possible negatives. By far the most vindictive element of Himekawa’s Twilight Princess is how the duo inject personality wherein the Wii game provided none — anyone who’s played Twilight Princess knows Link’s companion in Midna was already a fantastic character, but could you claim the same for Luda, Ralis and Shad? Do you even remember who they were? Of course you don’t, so Himekawa imbues them with actual agency: Luda’s friendship with the Gorons is pivotal to saving their tribe, Prince Ralis’ coming-of-age crisis in succeeding his slain mother bears actual presence and weight, and it turns out Shad is not merely a womanizer, but crucial to the treatment of an amnesiac Ilia. It’s impressive that even with the sped-up story, they all possess relevance in their respective story arcs.
Speaking of Ilia, while some may find it disappointing her damsel-in-distress storyline is preserved, I don’t fault Himekawa for how they actually handle it. Like Ralis, it’s that we follow her amnesiac journey that renders her an effective character — her winding up at Telma’s Bar is certainly fate, as both the benevolent Telma and Shad give her the courage to start out on new feet. Even if it’s something as mundane as waitressing, that she fully commits herself to a job what Telma describes as easing the woes of patrons is inspiring to witness. That this also isn’t a protracted storyline like the original means we can expect more from Ilia in the future; I mean, not to give anything away (at the very least, I doubt Twilight Princess fans forgot there’s a happy ending), but let’s just say if you don’t tear up at a certain reunion, you probably don’t have a soul.
Epona has some nice molars.
Link, too, is further developing into a dang fine protagonist in his own right, and it’s a pleasure watching him grow. No longer does he struggle with the purpose of his mission: despite Midna’s assurance he has no purpose following the third Shadow Crystal, Link is already a bona fide hero, exuding far more confidence in combat and leadership; look no further than his speech to Ralis, as “diving headfirst into danger can be a weakness” is hard proof he’s learned from his mistakes to properly perform his duties. The only question is, could the tantalizing hints towards his past — all but confirmed to hold connections to the current twilight crisis — threaten his obligations, or will he emerge from the answers stronger than before?
For the most part, Himekawa’s art remains a strong point, although I admittedly struggle in claiming it’s successful across the board. With the source material striving for an awkward balance between gritty realism and playful fantasy, not every character adequately translates to manga (great as a character she is, Telma struggles from panel to panel to look natural). Still, it’s something I can’t entirely chalk up as Himekawa’s fault, and I certainly can’t complain when their facial expressions are so evocative (again, that reunion scene? My heart can’t take it!). Alas, fight scenes are still rather clumsy: they’re often far too abrupt, with their briskness rendering them even more difficult to follow.
Any missteps aside, Volume 4’s still a compelling read. It’s not the strongest underneath Twilight Princess‘s belt, sure, but be it carefully navigating through the game’s infamous instances of game padding (Goron sumo wrestling? Only a matter of pages.) or granting some actual character to NPCs, it remains a triumph all the same. Really, I only have one request: if Himekawa’s gonna focus on older Zelda titles from hereon, can they please do Wind Waker next? Pretty please?
Final Verdict: 4/5
Full Disclosure: This review was based on a review copy provided by VIZ Media.