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Ahh, fresh manga.

It seems Viz decided to answer my call from before, and it wasn’t long before the recently released Ocarina of Time manga appeared at my doorstep to review. Previously, these volumes were only available in Japanese, or “scanlated” by diehard fans, but were finally brought to the US near the end of 2008. As someone who heavily reads manga, I’ve always been skeptical about a manga series based off of a video game series, especially one as renowned as The Legend of Zelda. My perception of such things has always been skewed; they’ll either be really great, or terribly abysmal. My greatest fear was that the Ocarina of Time manga might cross the border into fan fiction territory – and did I really want to see that?

Yet, knowing this, I opened the books and read them entirely. Did the artists and story-makers who created this properly give homage to Ocarina of Time, or is this manga just another steaming pile of ink?

The Question of Length

Before I say anything, let me iterate: The series is short. this manga condenses the entire story of Ocarina of Time into two standard-sized volumes of manga. If you’re like me, and read copious amounts of manga and/or comics, you’ll fly through this entire series in one sitting. That certainly has its drawbacks, as it means a good chuck of information is left out. However, the length also helps the series tell its tale in the most proper manner.

For example, when I began reading I first wondered how the manga would pull off making Link’s dungeon treks interesting. The answer was simple: It doesn’t. The manga avoids dungeon situations entirely – as soon as Link steps through the entrance he encounters the boss, which is often a two-page battle consisting of some excellently drawn action scenes.

And yet, this format never feels like enough. Although the manga spans two volumes, only about three quarters of the second volume is telling the story of Ocarina of Time – the remaining pages are filled with non-canon stories that take place during Ocarina of Time’s time-frame. By the time you’re finished with those, you’re presented with a notice that the series continues in the Majora’s Mask manga, which I can only gather must be equally as short.

Of course, short doesn’t mean bad – on the contrary, if there was ever an example to show of quality over quantity, the Ocarina of Time manga sure fits. I could have sworn while reading this that the artists must have been doing work for Nintendo directly (let’s ignore that the artists were contacted by Nintendo to create the manga). The character artwork in the manga series matches the Ocarina of Time game artwork not only well, but perfectly.

A Talking Hero

Yes, Link speaks, and thankfully in mostly good taste. As early as the third page, Link’s mouth is open and moving to the tune of a voice we’re all not used to hearing (or reading). In the video game series, Link is always a silent protagonist, and his emotions are largely up to interpretation by the player during gameplay. In fact, the player’s emotions are so imposed upon Link that it creates the impression that the player is Link, which has always been the beauty of the Zelda series. However, this method of conveying emotion and depth only works so long as the player and Link were not synonymous. It comes as no surprise that the authors had to find a way to circumvent creating a manga where the main character had not a single line of dialogue – and so they gave it to him.

Most of the dialogue is tame and moves the story forward, but every so often you’ll find a quip, sometimes placed where you wouldn’t expect it – or want it. When Link learns that the Goron tribe is starving to death, he makes a quip that a young Goron should venture into the dangerous cave with him, because he’s “starving to death anyway!” These types of small, almost chibi-like panels are common in manga, but they’ve never felt more inappropriate than in this book. They’re all over the place, popping up every few pages. Perhaps they only overwhelmed me because Link is the person speaking, and from all the Zelda I’ve played, and from my own personal perception of Link’s character, I don’t expect him to have such a dry sense of humor – or really much humor at all.

When more somber, the the phrases Link spouts are needlessly clichéd shonen mainstays. Link has to protect someone, he has to become stronger, there’s destiny involved that traces back to his lineage – at some point you start wondering if the manga is following some written formula. That said, this kind of practice is also not unique to the Ocarina of Time manga; although I’m no connoisseur, much of the manga I’ve read has either stuck to this sort of traditional machismo style or mocked it entirely. We can group the Ocarina of Time manga into the former category – which means if you’re going to read this manga, be prepared to pass by a few panels where you wish Link had been heroic in a more creative manner.

Fire the Non-Canons!

As I mentioned earlier, what follows the retelling of Ocarina of Time are two non-canon, more creative stories about Link’s adventures within the Ocarina of Time time-frame. Although I said I feared that the manga would “degrade” into fan fiction, this is nothing of the sort – rather, they are short stories that gracefully don’t tamper with the canon of Ocarina of Time. The first story takes place during Link’s childhood, and deals with the evil “Baga Tree” deep within the Lost Woods. The second, much longer tale is of a small Watarara boy named Rouru. The entire race of the Watarara, a Rito-like clan of bird-human hybrids, was fabricated specifically for this story.

Rouru of the Watarara Tribe

Rouru of the Watarara Tribe

It’s plain to see that these creatively developed stories have better pacing than the retelling of Ocarina of Time. I’m wondering if it was only for the ability to draw these non-canon events that the artists undertook the task of creating these books. Given creative liberty, and not strung to a storyline set in stone, the artists created pieces that flow naturally from start to finish. While Ocarina of Time‘s portion of the manga feels rushed, these short tales are just as long as they need to be.

Perhaps the most talked-about non-canon story is of Rouru and the Watarara tribe, specifically their relation to the Rito. It may be that the Rito were inspired by the Watarara, as the Ocarina of Time manga was originally released in Japan in 1998 – long before the time of The Wind Waker. The similarities between the races are more than uncanny, from living in the mountains to having to earn their wings as a coming-of-age ritual. The authors and artists, with the Watarara, were clearly ahead of their time, and it would be interested to hear if Nintendo was, in fact, inspired by these drawings to create the Rito race. For this story alone it might be worth picking up the manga, if you’re curious to see one artist’s interesting twist on Zelda‘s many races.

Let’s Wrap it Up

Each volume of the Ocarina of Time manga is priced at $7.99 – slightly cheaper than most manga volumes. So, is the Ocarina of Time manga worth your cash? The original manga came out way back in 1998 – you might have already read some scanlations online. But with the Oracle of Seasons and Ages manga upon us, it’s time to consider whether or not you want to shell out the money for the official releases to get yourself up to snuff on the series. Make no mistake, the Ocarina of Time manga is beautifully drawn and executed with skill, and is an excellent example of the quality over quantity principle. However, I guarantee by the end of it you’ll wish there were more – which might be its biggest fault. The two volumes alone don’t pack enough inside them to convey the entire story of Ocarina of Time to its fullest, and the message that the series continues in the Majora’s Mask manga feels like it comes too soon.

However, if you’re looking for a quick read, and really love manga, this was made for you. It dispersed my initial fears of the manga becoming fan-fiction halfway through, though it can’t be called canon information by any stretch of the imagination. VizKids has pulled off this manga adaptation quite well, and I look forward to seeing what they create in the future – especially their non-canon stories.

You can find VizKid’s Ocarina of Time manga (both volumes) from Amazon.com (Volume 1 / Volume 2), or wherever manga is sold near you.