Nintendo has been on fire this year with the release of the Switch and its many quality games; one of the releases was Splatoon 2, the sequel to one of its biggest hits to date, and what a coincidence, a manga series based on the franchise just got released as well. Is it good?
Here’s the official description for this volume:
The Turf Wars have started in Inkopolis, and the team that inks the most ground will be crowned the
winner! Goggles and Team Blue are ranked lower than their competitors. But with some teamwork and a
touch of creativity, they might just leave their mark on this tournament!”
Despite never actually playing the series, I love Splatoon. It is a fun, inventive, team-based third person shooter that feels wholly unique with its bright visuals and creative ideas/designs. So, the idea of a manga based on the game itself, focusing on a team competing together sounded like a fantastic idea. The series lends itself well to a fun Shonen action series for all ages with plenty of potential. However, once I started sinking my teeth into Splatoon Vol. 1, I felt rather disappointed by the results. The best way to describe it after reading it all the way through was that it reminded me of very old school Power Rangers and Teen Titans Go offerings.
Splatoon Vol. 1 focuses on Team Blue, a group of Inklings named Goggles, Specs, Headphones, and Bobble Hat, as they try to raise to fame, wins matches, and become better as a team. Each chapter focuses on them taking on a new team and running into a complication, their eventual realization of how to overcome this complication and them learning a lesson. This is very much a children’s series, so there’s nothing complicated or dark here at all. It’s a series of silly shenanigans focusing on what’s considered to be the dumbest team in the competitive scene and how they rise above their challenges while trying to cram in as many jokes as possible. In that sense, for little kids, this series will get the job done and it’ll be entertaining enough.
However, I can’t help but feel this series could be better and not just disposable children’s entertainment. To begin, the story just dumps us into a plot already in progress and spends no time trying to introduce the characters or the setting. There’s no real motivations outside of wanting to be the best, winning, or having fun. Everyone has just one personality trait and while there are four characters, there are essentially just two since two of them are the straight man and the other two are jokers/goofballs. The plot of each chapter is resolved almost the exact same way with the main squid kid, Goggles, hitting the opposite team with the Inkzooka after hitting us with a moral bromide about teamwork and friendship. After a while too, it gets kind of boring since, despite how dangerous the rival teams are built up to be, the story turns around almost immediately at the end and the heroes win. There’s little variation and try as the story might to say how weak or stupid our heroes are, they never lose in any of the matches we see and don’t come across as the underdogs. It really feels like this manga could have benefited from a stronger narrative or from better creative decisions.
Character-wise, there’s really not a whole lot to the cast. Goggles and Bobble Hat are energetic, dim-witted, and very happy-go-lucky individuals who always seem to be in a state of euphoria, especially Bobble. Goggles’ main gimmick and quirk is that he’s always losing his clothing or forgetting to dress, so he ends up naked a lot. His dimwitted nature tends to be very annoying at times, constantly annoying his own teammates and causing trouble while never learning any real lesson. Specs and Headphones are generally happy people, but they’re constantly getting annoyed by Goggles messing things up or running around naked, making them more much sympathetic and people you can’t help but feel bad for. Specs has his own dimwitted moments as well, like getting into fights with Goggles, yet he’s the second most defined character of the cast. Oddly, for a game series where its female characters and female Inklings are well-beloved and instantly recognizable, the manga tosses them all aside to focus only on the male Inklings and having all the main rivals be male as well. Bobble and Headphones are the only girl characters in the story and don’t have any characterization besides goofy and normal. It’s disappointing in that regard that in a series for both boys and girls that the manga is only concerned with the male characters.
The writing overall on the book isn’t particularly bad but it didn’t leave much of an impact. The pacing was incredibly quick, speeding from moment to moment without much room to breathe. Combine this with the humor-focused nature of the story, the main draw of the game series, the actual Turf Wars, felt like a letdown to read; the writer speeds through them and turn most of them into jokes, leading to battles that felt rather underwhelming and lacking in excitement. The humor isn’t bad for what it is, more in the sense it’s aimed at much a younger audience, but I wouldn’t say it was great. There’s very little here that’ll appeal to anyone outside of the twelve and younger crowd. The dialogue is serviceable and there are no real negative or bad morals being taught here. Besides Chapter 0 being at the very end of the book for some reason and the very narrow target audience for what is an all audience game, it’s not awful.
The artwork for the series, on the flipside, is pretty good at capturing the game’s aesthetic. The characters,\ the locations, the weapons, and clothing are all perfectly represented here. The creator got all of their looks down right to where it looked like everything stepped right out of the first game. The characters all look different and distinguishable from one another (I do like that Bobble Hat always seems to be in this perpetual state of joy with her mouth always open and smiling) as well. Unfortunately, the action is very stiff and jumbled, going by too quickly and lacking the energy and power you’d need for a fight scene. Everything is easy follow with layouts flowing well and things never looking like a chaotic mess. I’m a bit disappointed that this wasn’t in color, since color plays a huge role in the video game. It’s all about bright, colorful visuals and spraying the ground in gaudy color ink to mark your territory. Here, it just looks like the characters are spraying and black and grey sludge all over, which certainly lacks the visual beauty that the game had.
Is It Good?
Splatoon Vol. 1 is a disappointing start for a series. While it serves its target demographics (particularly young adult males) perfectly fine and captures almost all of the franchise’s aesthetic, it feels like the story missed its mark by quite a bit. It ignores almost all of the female characters (strange for a videogame series where the female characters are remarkably recognizable and iconic), the action in an action series is toned incredibly down, and all of the characters and writing just feel flat. There’s nothing offensive here, but beyond just its small target audience, there’s no real reason for fans of Splatoon to check it out.