Review by Ian Keogh
As students go, Hadashi’s not the best. He’s impulsive, reckless and used to carrying the can. Then again, his sensei has a greater fondness for sake than teaching, so Hadashi and his fellow students have become self-reliant. This is in a 17th century Japan where a bunch of sorcerers attempted to contact God, and instead opened a rift through which monsters emerge to settle.
Writer M. Nicholas Almand establishes Hadashi and his mates as free spirits, then throws in the first major shock. It changes the direction of Hadashi’s life, and shortly thereafter he comes across the orphan blade of the title. He, however, is not the only one with an interest in it.
Almand’s influences are very obvious, mimcking both the construction of and the characters associated with a manga epic, while throwing in just a dash of Lord of the Rings. The derivative aspects wouldn’t be of consequence were Almand’s original ideas given at least equal prominence, but they’re not. It’s a pity, as there are interesting elements buried within Orphan Blade, the world Almand’s constructed as explained in some detail in the opening pages, for one. Another factor rendering this less than compelling is Almand’s poor sense of narrative structure, spending pages on matters that could be covered far more briefly, at the cost of building the cast. Considering what occurs, pretty well the entire opening chapter is redundant, and time would have been better spent applying more than the single characteristic to Soyako and Katze, who’re Hadashi’s longer term companions. When the final pages reveal this to have been in part a love story it’s a surprise, but one with little previous foundation.
Jake Myler’s art is effective in producing a manga hybrid, and his background sketches very good indeed. Rarely for someone not Japanese drawing this type of material, he’s more at home with the quieter moments than with the actions scenes, which are often cramped and confusing.
There’s the kernel of something interesting within Orphan Blade, but it required far better editing to tease it loose.