Monday, December 19, 2011

Kingdom Hearts: An Unreadable Farce

Kingdom Hearts is the manga companion to the critically-acclaimed video game by Square Enix. The story begins with Sora and his two friends, Riku and Kairi in their homeworld. However, as his world is destroyed by shadow creatures called the “Heartless,” Sora loses his friends and is thrust into another world, where he meets Donald Duck, the magician, and Sir Goofy, the knight. The two Disney characters notice that Sora is holding a keyblade, a fabled weapon that has the power to seal worlds from darkness. After being attacked by the Heartless, the three travel to different Disney Universes (e.g. Alice’s Wonderland, Aladdin’s Agrabah) to search for Riku, Kairi, and King Mickey Mouse. Along the way, they realize that they must use the keyblade to save the universe from darkness. In each of the Disney worlds, Sora locks a “keyhole” that seals away some of the darkness and in the end, with the help King Mickey, manage to completely lock away Kingdom Hearts, the source of all darkness.

Yeah, sure, maybe the plot sounds kind of cute, but that’s about all this manga offers. Kingdom Hearts is a poorly-created manga in so many different ways. To begin, the above summary is about as clear a telling of the story as the actual manga is. From the very first panel, the reader is confused. The introduction is ambiguous and suffices only to supply the names of the three friends Sora, Kairi, and Riku. The manga then jerks to a different setting, a scene of a distraught Donald Duck and Goofy after learning King Mickey has disappeared. To add to the confusion, the story then jumps again to Sora, who is now in a completely new location, with no explanation of how he arrived there. These jumps make closure difficult, because, one, the reader has to spend time thinking about what happened between the panels, and two, because the closure that the reader experiences may be ambiguous.
These discontinuities make the manga hard to follow, and thus, it obscures any small details that the author may have wanted to present to the reader. However, even after closely reviewing the panels, we still could not understand much of what happens in the story. There are simply gaps in knowledge. For example, how the keyholes work is never explained and Mickey’s role is never properly elucidated.

These gaps in knowledge are frustrating, because as more and more information is missing, the story gets more and more confusing. However, another problem that results from these gaps is that most of the occurrences seem like silly deus ex machina. None of the events are believable because, in short, we only see the effects and not the causes, and so the reader is not drawn into the story. The most garish example of deus ex machine occurs at the end when Kairi miraculously manages to save Sora just “by the power of her love,” and everything ends, like a Disney story, “happily ever after,” giving Kingdom Hearts a childish nature. This would not necessarily be a problem, given that it could be a children’s story, but the violence and shounen manga style make it seem directed at a teenage audience. That said, Kingdom Hearts lacks other traditional elements of an engaging manga. In manga, we usually see complex plots that keep the reader on his toes. This story, however, is almost completely linear. There are no plot twists and the reader basically only follows Sora and his Disney posse, only seeing Riku every few chapters. Another missing element is the deep character development that makes manga readers grow close to the characters. The only emotions we ever see are surprise and, sometimes, longing for missing friends. Moreover, there is rarely any introspection: the whole story is a bland narrative of what happens on Sora’s journey.

Besides the fact that it is just a poor story, Kingdom Hearts seems farcical in a number of ways. For one thing, the combination of stern manga characters and silly Disney ones makes the story hard to take seriously. No action scenes can be intense when Goofy is in the panel, no mysteries can be suspenseful when it is Donald Duck who is gasping. There are also myriad other details that make this story ridiculous. For example, the ship on which Sora travels is “powered by smiles,” hearts are the source of darkness, and people turn into little black creatures when they lose their hearts.

Unarguably, the story is poorly created. As for visual elements, however, the drawings are competent and manage to supplement the text effectively. The manga is drawn in the style of typical shounen manga, utilizing lines to communicate sound, raised hair to show surprise, and stark contrasts in shading to depict dramatic lighting effects. Moreover, the characters (not including the Disney ones) are drawn in the Japanese style, with large eyes and dilated pupils.

In conclusion, Kingdom Hearts is an awful manga, if you can even call it that. It lacks the elements that make a manga engaging. It is even read from left-to-right, which can actually be frustrating to the seasoned manga reader who traditionally reads right-to-left. However, it is not the untraditional approach of this manga that makes it bad. The most fatal flaw is how jumpy it is, never giving the reader enough information for closure, never filling the gaps in the story. Even if Kingdom Hearts did have an interesting plot, the reader would never know.

Amano, Shiro. Kingdom Hearts. n.d. Web. 17 Dec. 2011.
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James Chen
Yang-Yang Feng
Gus Nelson
Karthik Yarlagadda

1 comment:

Michael Hancock said...

You justify well your response to this manga's narrative with specific references to character and plot. You show even-handedness in observing that the artistic style is what we'd expect of a traditional manga. Some mention might be made of this manga's source material (the video game).