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The Knights That Go "Meh": So-So Debut for "Knights"!

by on August 26, 2008

When I think of Manga, I conjure up images of dark dystopian futures, Japanese mythology, battles with vampires and, of course, most importantly, large, large breasts.

Manga comic Knights really only features one of those traits, and you’ll be thankful to learn that it’s the large, large breasts.

ImageKnights is one of the new Manga volumes getting a western publication thanks to Digital Manga Publishing. It is by writer and artist Minoru Murao and revolves around an alternate take on the Black Knight of English folklore. In this variant, the Black Knight doesn’t refer to the color of the knight’s armor, but his skin.

Okay, not exactly a new idea, and it’s certainly one that has been exploited in comedy (2001’s Black Knight, for example). In this story, though, the concept is played seriously.

Over its one thousand years of existence, the Kingdom of Excludo has seen two hundred years of witch-hunting, much to the profit of the Church and its unwholesome priests. Through the hysteria and finger-pointing comes Mist, a dark-skinned hero deemed “The Black Knight.” Along with his accomplice, Euphemia, a near naked witch who appears to have a passion for bonking her enemy and/or throwing herbs at them, the pair wander the land seeking out injustice, righting wrongs and, well, beating bad people up with swords and sex.

Volume One contains the first five chapters in black-and-white glory. While the concept is fairly interesting, there is a question as to just how far the story and art go in carving out a new niche.

The “Black” Knight is an idea that works in the story’s favour. It sets up a protagonist who suffers prejudice and isolation in a way that gives the story a contemporary resonance. The antagonists—all of whom are distorted religious types—also work to the book’s advantage, with their fetishistic indulgences giving the otherwise flat story a dark depth.

The real problem with Knights is that, try as it might, it doesn’t really offer anything new—or at least nothing new that carries substance. For all the effort that has gone into creating a brave new universe, Knights falls for the same Manga trappings that make it feel like the same universes we’ve walked through before. We have the drippy, overly sweet princess who hankers for the hero; the overtly sexy, confident sex bomb who dominates any panel she can slip into; and of course the hero, whose manifest destiny is to pout and fight with over-sized weapons.

Image It also suffers from being a straightforward Manga staged in front of a European medieval backcloth. The backdrop is quite evocative: an unfair world of religious exploitation and prejudice with a hint of mystery running through it. Unfortunately, the Manga fixation on sex, fights and pouting simply undermines any depth the story and tone muster—particularly the sex. Euphemia, that sexually liberated witch, is a cardboard emblem of teen lust, a platform for puerile bawdy gags. When the giggle of the moment is the titter-ye-not fact that Euphemia keeps Mist’s blade to “trim her bodily hair”, you really have to question what statement the author is making—if any.

For a contrast, if one looks towards Sláine—a comic that carried similar intonations about the abuse of women and their sexuality by religious groups—we can see a whole host of strong, sexually liberated female characters, none of whom become a foil for teen sexual fantasies. Euphemia seems a very low-brow attempt to draw in teen readers, which is a pity, as her message of freedom is lost between the sexy jokes and flesh-baring splash frames.

Like the story, the art is a little variable (and the cover suffers from the most terrible logo I’ve ever seen grace a book). On one hand, the artwork is confident, dynamic and quite beautiful in places, but occasionally it is confusing, predictable and lacking the fluidity the sequential narrative demands. On more than one occasion I couldn’t distinguish between the female characters. They looked well defined on their own, but not distinctive enough to be recognizable straight away. Put together, the art just misses the mark. The elements just don’t hang together well enough to complement the tale.

Overall, Knights isn’t bad by any means, it’s just not as good as it feels it should be.

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