story by Tsuneo Takano; art by Takeshi Obata; adapted by Kelly Sue DeConnick
published by Viz; $7.99 US
Review by Ed Sizemore
Fifteen years ago, an army of shadow creatures from the world of darkness, called Le Noir, began invading our realm, the world of light. They are led by Lady Bira, the queen of the shadows, who wants to devour all the beautiful women in our world and once finished, destroy the human race. At the same time as the invasion, Grad, a shadow dragon, merged with the infant Ral. Ral’s father, Lord Roy of Sphaein, had his son, and others similarly possessed by shadow creatures, locked up in dungeons that sealed them away from any contact with light.
After fifteen years, Lady Bira’s army has gotten stronger and now lays siege to Sphaein. Unable to stop the invaders, Lord Roy agrees to release Ral from his prison in hopes that he and Grad can defeat the adversary. Together, Ral and Grad easily dispatch the enemy. Ral is hailed as the savior of the castle. He soon learns of Lady Bira’s plans and vows to destroy her. He sets off for Lady Bira’s stronghold in Kabil, aided by his tutor Miss Mio and Aia, a 13-year-old girl who, like Ral, is partnered with a shadow creature.
Okay, let’s get this out of the way first. Ral Omega Grad has a HUGE male wish fulfillment element (pun not intended, but noted). Ral has the most rampaging breast fetish in all manga, and that’s quite an accomplishment.
He is a 15-year-old boy in the midst of puberty who has had no contact with humans since he was an infant. He is just now discovering women and all their charms. As a fellow heterosexual male with an appreciation of cleavage, I can sympathize with Ral’s newfound ardor. What bothers me about Ral Omega Grad is the fact that all of the women depicted seem to enjoy having their breasts fondled and find Ral’s behavior endearing and acceptable.
A 15-year-old breast-ogling boy is one thing, but a castle filled with willing women is beyond the pale. I understand everyone feels gratitude to Ral for saving their lives, but I would suspect that there are limits to their thankfulness. And since this series panders to a male audience (it is a Shonen Jump title after all), the women in this series are amply endowed. Mind you, Ral hasn’t had sex with any women yet. I fear to think what hell will come once he discovers that dynamic of the male-female relationship.
With all that being said, I really enjoyed Ral Omega Grad and look forward to reading the next volume. Takano has created a fascinating world of humans and demons. It has the look and feel of medieval Europe, but with a touch of Japanese mythology mixed in. Like Christian demons, these shadow creatures have been banished to their own realm because of their evil tendencies. They can only manifest themselves in the human world through a host person, or in dire straits, an animal. They possess and destroy the soul or their host, then go looking for an new victim. Like Japanese mythology, they also consume the flesh of their host and they eat each other. They gain the abilities and power of the human or fellow shadow creature they consume. Unlike Hell, there is no hierarchy to Le Noir, and so it’s a world where the strong rule as long as they can maintain their superior power.
Grad’s relationship with Ral is something unknown before in either the human world or in Le Noir. It’s a true symbiotic relationship, where both host and shadow creature benefit from the abilities of the others. Aia and one other human may have a similar relationship with their shadow creatures, but that hasn’t been made clear yet.
Ral is a genuinely an interesting character. He is part wide-eyed innocent youth, part hormone-crazed young adult, and part battle tactics prodigy. He has great instincts for reading people and combat situations. You find yourself waiting to see what his next move is in either a fight or his interactions with each new person he meets. Ral is a natural leader in the making and his development promises to be fascinating to follow. He’s a great lead character and hero.
It’s refreshing to read a manga, or any comic book for that matter, that has an unequivocally evil villain. Lady Bira is a return to the classic villains that offer no sympathetic side. She revels in destruction. She loves using her sexuality to enslave her fellow shadow creatures and bend them to her twisted will. It’s her pure evil nature that makes her so magnetic a character and a perfect villainess.
The artwork is stunning. Obata is truly a master of the comic form. His character designs are brilliant and original. His battle scenes suck you in and keep you turning the pages. It’s been a long time since I’ve seen combat that I thought was fun to read and imaginative. Honestly, I can’t find any flaws with Obata’s artwork. He does everything perfectly, from basic figure drawing, to page layout, panel composition, etc. This is a beautiful book to look at.
I know Ral’s breast fetish will keep some people from reading this series. If you can get past that aspect of the manga, you’ll find an engaging and imaginative story with great characters inside a intriguing world. I recommend this book for anyone looking for a fantasy adventure comic that actually adds fresh ideas to the genre.