Viz Media has added a new fantasy series to its roster this week with Aki Irie’s Ran and the Gray World. The manga stars a young girl named Ran and her family, who possess various magical abilities. Her brother Jin can transform into a wolf and her mother Shizuka has seemingly limitless creation powers. Ran herself, meanwhile, can instantly grow into a young adult version of herself by putting on a specific pair of shoes. Needless to say, magic and conflict related to age are at the forefront of this series. Does the debut volume, which collects chapters 1-6, make a good impression?
Given how central magic is to this series, it’s fortunate that Irie does a good job conveying its wonder. We don’t yet know the rules of how magic works in this manga, but we get to see its awesome effects. Shizuka’s arrival in Ran’s hometown is signaled by outrageously large flocks of birds and winds so extreme that flower petals fly off trees and descend like snow to the ground. Another great moment is when Jin first transforms into a wolf on panel. While the shift itself is mystical, Jin’s actions while in wolf-form hammer home magic’s implications. We get to see him leap long distances and otherwise show off his new physical abilities, highlighting the realm of possibilities that magic opens up in this manga. The first half of this volume is full of similar moments that get things off to a charming start.
Unfortunately, this potential is squandered by the inconsistent quality of the character work (or rather, the lack thereof). The supporting cast members aren’t bad. Jin and Shizuka have an interesting dynamic stemming from Jin’s belief that his mother abandoned her children. Ran’s father Zen, though lacking development, also occupies a unique role in the family’s collective rapport.
Ran herself, meanwhile, lacks any notable quirks or depth. She’s essentially just a child struggling with feeling disrespected. While she the ability to temporarily pass as older than she is, she clearly doesn’t know how to navigate adult spaces. This sounds promising in theory but it’s the only note her arc hits in the entire volume. We don’t know any more about her by the book’s end than we did by the conclusion of chapter one. While the reader can either see or infer many of the issues Ran is dealing with, her struggles are never made palpable. She’s a protagonist who’s much less interesting than most of her supporting cast. This makes the second half especially disappointing, as fewer new types of magic are introduced and the action just follows Ran as she wanders around, not grasping societal norms. There are points throughout these chapters where it seems like Ran’s antics are meant to be humorous, but the comedy doesn’t land very well.
On the plus side, this volume’s art is consistently impressive. Irie puts a lot of detail into her line-work, making the animals, plants, and other nature imagery very pleasing to look at. Moments like when Ran and Shizuka are lying down on a bed surrounded by exotic birds look extravagant and make the series’ world feel truly magical. Irie also does a good job in terms of the sequential art; most transitions between panels are smooth and easy to follow. The shading throughout is also quite good, with a solid amount of contrast.
Overall, Ran and the Gray World Vol. 1 is a solid if somewhat underwhelming debut. Irie does a good job introducing the series’ magic, the art is pleasing to look at, and most of the supporting characters show potential. Unfortunately, the actual protagonist is dull and underdeveloped. The more the manga focuses on Ran, the more forgettable it gets. This isn’t a bad book by any means, but it does lack punch.