In the West we have grown up with many myths, in particular with ancient ones based on Greek tales. The wars, the vanities of the gods of Olympus, unblemished heroes who went through relentless challenges. The pantheon was varied and full of narrated events. Similarly, other peoples have established their pantheons, their cultures and their histories: in Scandinavia the myths of Odin and Thor, in India Hinduism with all its divinities has made its way, in the Nile valley with the Egyptian culture another pantheon entered in history; not to mention the world of the Far East with its myths, which in some forms still exist today.
All of this has been combined in Record of Ragnarok, known in the land of the Rising Sun under the name of Shuumatsu no Valkyrie. Star Comics’ October is therefore chock full of new series, with the manga debuting on the 21st of the month, exactly one week after Rumiko Takahashi’s Mao. Behind this story there is a trio of authors: the drawings are Ajichika, the story is Shinya Umemura while the storyboards are Takumi Fukui. Ajichika had an experience with the spin-off of Shokoku no Altair, while the two mangaka who deal with the story have already had publications even if not successful. But the adrenaline-fueled struggle for the salvation of humanity could bring them more success.
Miserable humans and legendary gods
The universe is divided into the celestial kingdom, inhabited by divinities, and the human world. The latter was created several million years ago by the gods, but millennium after millennium they failed to change their habits turning into a cancer for the planet. For this the gods have unilaterally decided to annihilate them. While the major deities are all in agreement, the demigod Brunhilde, one of the 13 Valkyries, answers from the stands. While not being able to speak or vote in this assembly, since she is only a demigod, she responds to the deities that one could use Ragnarok, or the definitive battle between humans and gods. 13 men and 13 gods will face off in the arena and if the humans win they will be able to survive for at least another 1000 years. Brunhild’s words are welcomed by the gods and everything is prepared for the fight. Humans can only be saved based on their strength, as the gods have abandoned them.
Reaching the summit of Olympus
Each people is raised with stories related to ancient myths and seeing them all together makes a certain effect. Zeus alongside Shiva, Odin alongside Anubis, many mythologies have been dissected by the trio of authors to present a parterre of characters large enough to allow a certain variety. However, it is immediately evident that many are of Western origin, in particular with the Greek gods over-represented. In the final list 9 out of 13 come from ancient Western civilizations, with the other 4 divided between Hinduism, Buddhism and Shintoism.
The situation of humans who will have to face the creative deities is a little more balanced. Four Japanese, two Chinese and then for the rest characters attributable to European history or mythology. There are many characters that really existed with someone who, however, does not seem suitable for an open-field fight against the gods, so it will be interesting to understand how the authors want to propose the battles.
We talked about humans and gods in general because in Record of Ragnarok there doesn’t seem to be a real protagonist presence. While Brunhilde and Goll play an important role in choosing fighters and preparing for battle in the arena, they are far from being true protagonists for the moment.
The real protagonist of Record of Ragnarok, as we already understand from volume one, is the battle itself: the first clash between divinity and human is the apex of extremes, excesses, violence and brutality. We are faced with two warriors who only want blood and will surrender only once they are dead, plus a large group of spectators who wait to know the outcome of the battle by witnessing frightening blows. This is, of course, both a strength and a weakness for Record of Ragnarok. On the one hand, the work will proceed swiftly along these tracks leaving little space for subplots, if ever there will be any, favoring the spectacular and the fighting. The characters will come and go, introducing themselves only briefly, with the exception of the more peripheral ones like Aphrodite and Hermes. On the other hand, those who do not like a lack of strong protagonists or in any case a character and a story that act as a cornerstone may find it difficult to follow this product.
So far the volume fighting has proved to be spectacular enough to keep attention from the beginning to the last pages and, considering the challenges involved, it does not seem like there is a risk of a decrease in attention in future battles. Obviously the authors must always be able to be able to hold varied fights and with an element of novelty compared to the others.
In addition, the possibilities of evolution of the manga are many considering that it has so many myths and legends to draw from. With the pace now seen, Record of Ragnarok could easily come to consist of about twenty volumes and, as written above, it is difficult for subplots to be inserted that extend the work that much.
The dialogues instead are a small weakness of the work, at least in this first volume. Very often they stop at being banal phrases, silly provocations that only partially work with the context of the work.
Drawings taken to the limit
To withstand a certain exaggeration of plot and characters, it also takes an adequate drawing style and Ajichika has not disappointed in this so far. While still at the first experiences, after working on Shoukoku no Altair Gaiden: Toukoku no Subaru, you do not notice an immature style in the drawings. Sure, there are certain framing and proportions that are often not perfectly realized, but the style is at its best when it comes to creating exaggerated, caricatured and dynamic characters. Each character design is unique and extreme: so far the only glimmer of normality has been glimpsed only for Brunhilde and Goll, along with some other background spectators. The design of some god was made differently from what we are used to seeing: for example, imagine Zeus always with a lot of white hair and a beard, a sculpted physique, but which in Record of Ragnarok has at least apparently few of these characteristics. Some choice can therefore leave you a little dumbfounded, but it will certainly not create problems for reading.