BOOM! Studios’ new series Fence chronicles the lives and rivalries of teenage fencers. As a fan of sports anime, I was intrigued by the series’ premise and hopeful that the sport would lend itself well to some beautiful artwork. Does Fence #1 start the series off impactfully?
Writing-wise, C.S. Pacat does a decent job on this issue. The two main protagonists, Nicholas and Seiji, are introduced, their first meeting is depicted, and we get some background on Nicholas’ personal life and how he started fencing. Nicholas is very much an underdog, from his economic status to encountering hostility in the locker room to being pitted against a much more experienced and skilled athlete (Seiji). Nonetheless, Nicholas persists, even after defeat and humiliation. The character is likable and shows promise for interesting future developments.
Unfortunately, he’s not all that engrossing here. He’s likable, yes, but his emotional life doesn’t feel like it’s received adequate attention. The underdog is a great archetype, but this issue doesn’t actually hit very hard when depicting Nicholas’ struggles. I didn’t actually feel much while reading, and that’s a problem. Part of the reason for the emotional ineffectiveness may be that the issue tries to cram too much into too few pages. It’s nice that the pacing isn’t slow, and the creative team definitely seems to have narrative goalposts they’re shooting for. Nonetheless, we see several figures in Nicholas’ flashbacks who are meant to be important to him, but who the reader has no incentive to care about. Large stretches of time are totally skipped over, and said stretches of time are often ones where Nicholas’ emotions could have been delved into quite effectively. The choices made throughout in terms of how to accommodate both present day and past events are ultimately disappointing.
My other main disappointment with this issue pertains to the artwork. That’s not to say that penciller Johanna the Mad and colorist Joana Lafuente do a bad job. They don’t. But much like the writing, they don’t transcend solidness to achieve greatness. Characters’ emotions are fairly well conveyed and there’s never really any confusion as to what’s happening. Basic coherence is present and the character designs are decent, but…there’s just no real flair to it all. Given how arresting fencing’s visuals are, it’s a major bummer to see the sport rendered so plainly. The matches lack a sense of energy, and the equipment itself lacks detail. There is no sign of shimmer or light otherwise hitting the blades; all we see for weapons are nondescript black lines.
Overall, Fence #1 isn’t bad. It just feels very average. But for a series with such an intriguing premise, centering around a visually appealing and comparatively lesser-known sport, “average” is a major disappointment. I’ll likely check out the second issue, but I’m not clamoring for it. Ultimately, that’s perhaps this debut’s biggest failure — it doesn’t generate much interest for subsequent installments.