The latest Zelda game, Breath of the Wild, is nearly upon on us. But for now, let’s focus on something else that just arrived: a manga adaptation of Twilight Princess. That game came out over a decade ago, but let’s see what this manga can bring us after all this time.
The Legend of Zelda: Twilight Princess Vol. 1 (Viz Media)
Written and drawn by: Akira Himekawa
Translated and adapted by: John Werry & Stan!
Lettering by: Evan Waldinger
Located somewhere in a heavily forested area of Hyrule is Ordon Village, a quiet little community known for its amazing pumpkins. Things are incredibly peaceful and going well for everyone, including Link, a ranch hand who moved into town a few years back and has been a hit with the town’s children. However, the young man has a past he would prefer to forget and hope will stop haunting him. That won’t be easy though because trouble is brewing within the Twilight Realm, a second Hyrule of sorts, as an evil tyrannical ruler sets his sights on conquering both the light and dark worlds.
The Initial Impression
I have played Twilight Princess on the Wii twice before in the past, but never officially beaten it myself despite getting close. I quite enjoyed my time with it personally, even though it’s a rather polarizing title in the franchise. Then I heard interesting things about this particular manga adaptation–it was originally intended to come out back in 2006, but was put off in Japan due to the game’s higher rating. I also read the creator’s previous Zelda adaptations, noting that they were very quick and fast moving despite the games’ content. So, coming into this book, I wasn’t sure what to expect and how good of an adaption of the material it would be. But, having finished the first volume, I’m more than pleased to report that the first volume of Twilight Princess was extremely promising and got me wanting to dive back into the original game as well.
The way to look at the story of Twilight Princess manga, at least for the first volume, is that it is both a loose and expanding adaptation. The first volume covers the events of the game right up to when Link turns into a wolf for the first time, so we focus on his time in the village and his relationship with villagers and their children. We see him at his job, handling problems, playing with the kids, using the grass whistle, and doing some of the stuff you would do in the game at the beginning. Eventually, disaster strikes as the Bokoblins roll in and we go from there. However, outside of hitting the key important plot points of the start, the volume really does its own thing while also building off what was established within the full game itself.
For example, the story actually begins in the Twilight Realm where we first see Zant, our story’s villain, rise to power and convert the world’s citizens into the monsters you fight in the game. We even meet Midna pre-transformation, who provides narration to the history of the realms and who Zant is. When we do focus on Link, he’s given his own troubled backstory about why he’s in the village (I don’t believe any of that was in the game) and his own personality. We spend some time with the relationship between Rusl and Link, which didn’t get that much attention in the game in comparison to his and the other villagers’ children, and we learn more about the village’s heritage. We even get to see some expansion on the monsters’ chaos when they arrive at Ordon Village and their frightening assimilation abilities head on, which only got kind of a passing mention by a side character in the game. In this first volume, the manga really is able to do quite a lot with the material it’s given by both expanding on things already existing or going in its own unique way. For fans of Twilight Princess, I think they’ll appreciate being able to experience the story in a different way.
So the manga does the story and adaptation aspect well, but how does it handle characterization and development? It does a fairly good job in that department as well, capturing the personality of all the villagers well. Replaying it recently, everyone seems like themselves, such as Colin’s meekness, Ilia being sweet and kind towards others, and Rusl being the brave and kind-hearted warrior that protects the villagers. Link has a personality here and it’s more of the stereotypical guy trying to escape his dark past, trying to settle down in the village but keeps having nightmares about events from before. You’ve seen this character type all before, but it’s not badly executed here and what did happen for him would certainly traumatize anybody. With his personality and history, his character arc as he goes through the events of the story should be pretty interesting. As for the villains, Zant is basic standard, evil conquering kind of villain and doesn’t show his more… memorable traits at this point. King Bulblin is portrayed much more darkly in the manga than in the game itself. In the game, he’s your basic general character that just follows the orders of the bigger bad guys and causes plenty of problems, but that’s mostly it. In the manga, he is very deprived, psychotic, has a strong bloodlust, and even implies some more… icky things that feel really out of place, even in a much darker take on the series. He certainly makes much more of an impression here as a character than before.
And since we’re on the subject, let’s talk tone. Twilight Princess is definitely the darkest entry of the Zelda series, outside of maybe Majora’s Mask. It has gloomy visuals, the atmosphere feels more hostile and ominous even in brighter areas, the villains are intimidating, the soundtrack is nightmare-ish at points, and there’s a melancholy vibe throughout the story. And yet, despite all of that, the manga somehow manages to outdo the video game by being even bleaker and far more disturbing. We see Zant taking over the Twilight Realm, we see Shadow Beasts kill and convert others into beings like them, the violence is graphic, Link’s backstory is really eerie and depressing, and the visuals are just oozing in striking and creepy imagery. The manga without a doubt cranks up the creepy/horror elements a lot and frankly, it really works. Nothing that happens within the manga would feel out of place in the actual game and it feels more like an extension of the vibe the game already has. If Twilight Princess pushed the boundaries a bit more, this would be the natural conclusion of it.
Then we turn to the artwork and it’s amazing. Looking at this book and the creator’s previous work on Zelda styles, I feels like it’s night and day (or…twilight and day? 😀 ). Looking at his work on stuff like Oracle of Seasons where his line work was lighter and more cartoonish, the artwork matches Twilight Princess’ more dour, gritty feel. Heavy on the line work, lots of detailing in the world and its inhabitants, the action and violence is much more vicious, and there’s a lot more inking in the shadows and scenery. Himekawa shows here that he’s quite capable of readapting his signature style to make it both similar and unique when bringing this story to life. But beyond that, his work in general is quite good. The characters are drawn well and capable of showing a wide range of emotion and expression in their faces and body language (except for one character, but they’re kind of like that in the game as well). The layouts are strung together well and you get a good sense of motion and energy as characters move about. There isn’t much action so far in the story, but from what’s seen so far, it looks decent in how it is depicted. Also, everyone, every place, and everything looks exactly how it does in the game, even down to the little details like the right items being sold in Ordon Village’s shop. It’s the little things that make this such a good manga.
The Legend of Zelda: Twilight Princess Vol. 1 is perhaps one of the best adaptations of a video game I have ever read in manga form. It goes its own way with the source material to a certain degree with how it builds off certain points, while still capturing the feel and the tone of the game almost perfectly. The writing is really done well and the artwork is just beautiful looking. Unless you dislike the game, any Zelda fan should definitely give this one a look.