If both man and mask are to survive, they’ll need to work together. And in a world torn by war, they’ll need to figure out how to do that fast.
KAMEN VOLUME #1
WRITER: Gunya Mihara
ARTIST: Gunya Mihara
COVER ART: Harvey Tolibao
COVER AND INTERIOR DESIGN: Richard Rodriguez
PUBLISHER: Gen Manga Entertainment
COVER PRICE: $12.95 (paperback), $1.99 (digital)
Previously in Kamen: As this is the first volume, there’s no previous content to catch up to speed on. But it’s quickly obvious that the reader has been thrown into the story in media res, in a time of war and hardship.
THE SOUND OF SILENCE
“Kamen” translates to “mask” in English, and that’s the very first thing we see when this volume opens. A man is lying in a field when he comes to, wearing a mask that he quickly discovers can communicate with him. When he attempts to take the mask off, the mask informs him that if he does, both the man and whatever the entity that the mask is will perish.
And before the reader has time to wonder how this masked man is supposed to eat (which is answered later), a group of soldiers transporting prisoners spots him. He goes into custody peacefully, never saying a word, and unnerving the soldiers the entire time. It is unclear if the masked man has always been mute, or maybe the mask has somehow robbed him of his speech in the process.
We also get the chance to meet 17-year-old female general, Simba, who is tough-as-nails and passionate about protecting others. She’s viewed with disdain by the other generals, but it was refreshing to see them look down on her for her age, and not her gender. We get a chance to see three different female characters – two young women and one girl. The women are strong and won’t compromise their ideals. The girl, after she finds her resolve towards the end of the volume (and has a good reason for not having resolve earlier), is also shown as strong in her own way with promises of awesome in the future.
But the best part of the whole volume is the sequence where the masked man saves the little girl’s life. It’s hinted at that he might be a savior figure, but it’s not because of the mask that he might be so. And the mask helps him fight, barehanded against katanas and crossbows, all while carrying the little girl and protecting her as he moves. He shifts his hold on the girl from one side to the other, but only ever has one hand free to fight. He catches blades by pinching them, and is determined not to take a life.
BLINK AND YOU’LL MISS HIM
I was incredibly surprised when I opened up the book and saw in the credits that someone else other than the primary artist did the art for the cover. While this is part and parcel for US comics, Japanese manga artists generally stick to themselves when they do all their art. They do have artistic teams assisting them (though I’m not sure if that’s the case here), and it’s often possible to watch an artist’s style evolve over time and not just in the span of a single series, but in general, it’s one artists’ name for a single series.
And this is huge, because I decided to check out this series on the cover alone. If you check the listing on Amazon, it doesn’t even give a summary.
I’m going to get this out of the way right now – there was one typo. And typos can happen, but with an industry that hasn’t always has great translations or editing/clarifying, any competitor needs to be on top of their game when it comes to proofreading and editing if they wish to compete.
I spent some time trying to figure out how to describe Mihara’s art, and the best way to do so is “detailed when needed.” I feel like he tried to simplify as much as he could, but there’s only so much simplifying that can be done with clothing of the time period and samurai armor. (I want to say I can see this taking place in Japan in the 1400s – 1600s, but I’m not sure.) The faces don’t go into super-deformity, even for momentary emphasis. Characters have scars in not quite the same places as I’m used to, which is refreshing. The amount of age lines on each character feels to hit their ages, or at least do if the ages I assume they are happen to be what the Mihara is aiming for.
I’m unsure if the “little girl,” as she’s described, is actually supposed to be 7 or 8, or potentially 12-13. I got the sense that she was 12, just looking very small for most of the issue since she was starving. I’ll get a better idea of her age once she actually stands up.
What is also notable is the lack of backgrounds. Unless the scenery is the main focus in a panel, the backgrounds are super-simplified to being non-existent. At first this surprised me, as I’m used to ultra-detailed backgrounds in manga, but I quickly got used to it, especially since it helped zero in on the characters. There was nothing to get distracted by, and it make the story move quickly.
If you’re a fan of fighting manga I think you’ll really enjoy some of the twists here. If you’re an occasional fan of the genre, I definitely recommend picking it up. Paying $1.99 for the .pdf of 220 pages is pretty awesome, though make sure you do so on a computer and not your mobile device, and then transfer. (I had issues with the Gen Manga website.) I give Kamen volume 1 3.5 out of 5 stars.