Shiro Amano’s bestselling manga, Kingdom Hearts, takes a second look at its critically acclaimed predecessor, the Kingdom Hearts video game by Square Enix. However, unlike most other mangas, this work remains true to is counterpart, including a near-replication of its story line, but what truly makes this work unique is the fact that the manga is based on the video game, breaking the traditional role of video games being an adaptation of a book or movie.
Both the original video game and the graphic novel take part on an amalgamation of worlds that are mostly derivatives of the familiar settings of popular Disney franchises as well as a few developed exclusively by Square Enix. Sora, the amiable, sunny protagonist, begins on his native Destiny Island with his two best friends, Riku and Kairi. A devastating attack on the Island by a mysterious force called the “heartless” separates the friends among worlds they never believed The trio travel among the new worlds, searching for Sora’s friends and the King, along the way learning more about the ominous goals of the Heartless and the notorious Disney villains who plan to take control of it. At the manga’s gripping conclusion, Sora finds both Riku and Kairi, but in moments lost them yet again. The King also remains at large, and the bewildered three companions must wait until the sequel to continue their search into even newer worlds.
However, there are many stark differences between the two works, even at a surface level, the most evident being the artwork itself. While they are both of Japanese origin, the game sought to satisfy a worldwide audience, while the manga was written only with the Japanese audience in mind. Sora is asked to respect the pseudo-Shogunate traditions of Mickey’s Kingdom in the graphic novel; in the graphic novel but not in the initial video game, he is asked to take off his shoes before entering the “Gummi” spaceship that travels between the worlds. Fighting scenes in the graphic novel are also stylized more in the vein of Japanese manga rather than Western superhero comics, which are the inspiration for the battle sequences in the video game. Most notably, the manga stresses the importance of the face, enlarging the character’s eyes and making their heads disproportionately large. Additionally, the manga employs more aspect-to-aspect panel transitions, putting more focus on the detailed background. As a result, the two formats employ completely different artistic elements.
In addition, while the plots of the two are generally the same, the manga does not offer as much detail. It glosses over the main points and bypasses the intense battle scenes entirely, while the game focuses on every aspect of the plot. Consequently, the readers who are not familiar with the game are left in the dust when reading the manga, consequently uninformed of what is actually going on. Additionally, the manga avoids the addition of many “Easter Eggs,” such as the 101 Dalmations, which, although not necessary to the plot, add depth to Sora’s character and illustrate his motives. Overall, this brevity further lends itself to more problems in the construction of the story.
Most importantly, the manga does not offer the in-depth character development that the game does. Throughout the game, there are numerous cut-scenes, each of which, offers insight into the characters themselves. This is most evident in Sora. The manga paints him as a care-free, fun-loving adventurer, who is out to find his friends, Riku and Kairi. However, he is also illustrated as very selfish and immature, detracting from the reader’s ability to empathize with him. On the other hand, the game shows Sora’s transition from a naive key-bearer to a much more mature, introspective hero, one who is much more suited for saving his friends and every world.
The manga further suffers from a lack of plot development in respect to its appeal to the audience. This is shown through the lack of closure in the manga. Because the plot is so linear, the readers do not have as much freedom to put their own perspectives into the story, limiting the relationship that the readers and the story itself. The game, on the other hand, implements this idea very effectively. The numerous cut-scenes throughout the game serve as analogues to panels, while the actual game play serves as the gutter, allowing the players to immerse themselves in the plot and enjoy the work.
Surprisingly, the manga does not even offer an advantage in flexibility over the game. One unique characteristic of graphic novels is the reader’s ability to revisit previous elements of the plot, effectively refreshing the reader’s memory. However, the game gives essentially the same advantage, allowing the players to revisit old worlds and interact with the characters there.
However, as someone who played the game before the reading manga, all of these differences were not as important. Having already played the game and having learned the entire plot, I was able to skim through most of the manga. Through reading it again, I found that the one, most vital change in the manga, was the addition of Riku’s story. While the game is told from solely Sora’s point of view, the manga drifts between characters, giving insight as to what Riku is doing through the storyline. This is a great change when compared to the game, which only gave select snapshots of Riku’s journey, leaving the audience in the dark.
Yet, regardless of the differences between the game and the manga, the first manga series was successful enough to, first, end up with each issue from the manga reaching the top 150 manga bestsellers, and second, to spawn the creation of two other manga series, Kingdom Hearts: Chain of Memories, and Kingdom Hearts II, both of which follow the events which occur in the respective video games. While the storyline and character development in the manga are lackluster when compared to the game, it still adds to the story. In fact, the manga can be seen more as a supplement to the game: a way to supplement the already fleshed out storyline from the game. And even though the manga series is currently on a hiatus, as soon as the next game comes out, readers should be keen to pick up the next edition in the manga, if only to supplement the game.
--By Mitchell Bieniek, Ted Li, and Nilesh Kavthekar--