Review: Kingdom Hearts 358/2 Days Vol. 1

indexIllustrator: Shiro Amano
English publisher: Yen Press
Genre: fantasy, action, adaptation
Rating: A (all readers)
Release date: November 19, 2013
Price: $12.00

Note: All manga illustrations come from fan-translated scans. The dialogue itself is not the same as the official version and differs slightly.

Originally released as a hit Playstation 2 title, the Kingdom Hearts franchise has since expanded to other consoles and entertainment mediums.

Following the release of Kingdom Hearts 358/2 Days for the Nintendo DS, gifted artist Shiro Amano put his pen to the page, bringing the title to life in manga form. The manga spans a total of five volumes, with the final two scheduled for an English release later this year. Let’s take a look at what lights (and shadows) lie beyond the locked door of the 358/2 Days manga adaptation.

Storyline

Roxas has been a part of Organization XIII for as long as he can remember… which isn’t that long at all, actually.

Having only been conscious for a few weeks, and with no memories of his past, Roxas struggles to fit in and complete his missions, along with the rest of the Organization’s members. One thing Roxas does know is that he, like the others, is a Nobody—a leftover shell from a previous life, born without a heart and the emotions that emanate from it.

ochapter_1.12Without these key components to guide him, Roxas learns through trial and error, discovers meaning for the first time, and makes a friend in Axel—Organization XIII’s pyromaniac assassin with a heart of gold.

But things have been unsettling in the Organization of late. A new, mysterious member named Xion has arrived, and Roxas feels that some destiny connects the two of them. Like Roxas, Xion has no memories of her life before becoming a Nobody. The two begin to work missions together and a friendship forms.

And then there’s the Keyblade—a mysterious, key-shaped weapon, capable of releasing hearts from defeated Heartless. A sort of cousin to their Nobody counterparts, Heartless are spawned from darkness, and mindlessly devour the hearts of those they come in contact with. The Organization spends no time in telling Roxas that he’s the “Keyblade’s Chosen One” and that his task in the Organization is vital—use the Keyblade to collect hearts from the Heartless.

The hopes of the Organization rest on Roxas’ shoulders. With every heart he collects, the members of the Organization come closer to gaining hearts of their own… and becoming human again.

Content Review

Positive Elements
m09At the heart of Kingdom Hearts is a lot of… er… heart. 358/2 Days is no exception.

The three central characters—Roxas, Axel, and Xion—befriend each other and go to great lengths to see that friendship protected. Axel lectures Xion about the importance of having someone to lean on. Later, we see Xion visiting a comatose Roxas everyday and bringing him gifts with the hope that he’ll wake up. Small acts of kindness between these friends pepper this first volume. They’re simple, yet heart-warming.

Seeing Roxas grow is especially poignant. Literally brought into a world with no memories or emotions, Roxas is forced to learn naively basic principles—friendship, love, kindness, and so on. It’s a truly touching development to watch unfold.

When Axel goes missing, apparently terminated, Roxas grows incredibly upset (he’s the only member in the Organization to do so). Axel, Roxas, and Xion spend many quiet moments eating icecream together. It’s a powerful example of how the simple things in life mean the most in the end. None of the other members have such a bond, and they don’t seem to understand its power.

Spiritual Content
The manga carries a very magical, Disney-like feel. Some members of the Organization can use magical attacks when they do battle.

The Organization is made up of beings called Nobodies—mere shells of their former lives, without hearts or emotions. Some may view this as a form of reincarnation. The “heart,” as it’s discussed in the world of Kingdom Hearts, appears to be similar to the human soul, as the Bible would identify it. When members of the Organization are terminated, they’re said to be gone completely—simply turning into dust, with no mention of going to an afterlife—because they don’t have hearts.

Roxas is sent into an unexplainable, magical, comatose sleep. He is unable to re-awaken until Sora is put into stasis. A sort of unexpressed connection seems to exist between Sora and Roxas. It isn’t fully explained until later issues of the manga.

The Organization’s ultimate goal is to collect hearts that have been stolen by the Heartless. Once these hearts have collected into a massive force known as Kingdom Hearts, the Organization believes that they can regain their hearts and be human again.

k24Violence
All violence is slap-stick and peppered with starbursts and the like. There’s nothing graphic and no blood is shown. That being said, destroying Heartless is central to the plot, so fighting crops up pretty often.

About half-way through this first volume, certain members of the Organization begin to be “terminated.” The termination itself is not shown—only discussed by the remaining members—but it brings a sort of darkness over the characters, especially Roxas.

Language/Crude Humor
There are no literal swear-words in the official English translation (though fan-translations will undoubtedly include some). However, a couple of words are worth noting for parents with young readers.

“Stupid” is used three times in reference to individuals or things. “Shut up” is exclaimed twice (usually for comedic capitalization). “Imbecile” is said once. There’s also a brief gag where one of the members puts a whoopee cushion on Axel’s seat, exclaiming, “Somebody farted!” An after-manga short implies that Vexen has passed gas, much to the dismay of the other members (it turns out it isn’t him).

After Roxas gets beat up while trying to rescue Xion, Axel yells, “You’re supposed to be saving her butt, not getting yours kicked!”

Sexual Content
There is no sexual content.

Drug/Alcohol Reference
There’s a drink called an Elixer, which appears to be some sort of energy-boosting liquid. The characters drink it to refresh themselves, though it doesn’t appear to have any trippy side-effects.

There’s also a scene where Marluxia raises a wine chalice in a comedic toast to Organization XIII.

Other Negative Content
Some members of the Organization can be lazy, grumpy, snooty, and whiny. They aren’t all ideal role-models, but their faults are usually played for laughs.

Axel is implied to be an assassin. He is later ordered to “dispose” of certain members. Not long after, the remaining Organization members begin discussing how certain members have been “terminated.” This prompts Roxas to worry about Axel (who has been gone for some time), and his fear is only escalated when Xigbar tells him that Nobodies simply stop existing when they die. Roxas begins to worry that he’ll never see Axel again and falls into a sort of small depression. The other members appear to be indifferent to the deaths.

Treachery appears to be a mainstay in Organization XIII, and, as you read, you begin to get the idea that “nobody’s really safe.”

Presentation

Like the other manga adaptations, 358/2 Days stays true to its source material, while, at the same time, being fresh and original.

The manga keeps the basic outline identical to the plot of the 358/2 Days video game. However, it takes many liberties to spin the story into something new—with new scenes, more humor, and original character interactions. Humor, especially, is the name of the game—er, k05manga—here, and it works to periodically dispel the manga’s darker, or too-serious-for-too-long, moments. The monotony of an imperative Organization meeting, for example, is broken when one character places a whoopee cushion on another’s chair. These sometimes over-the-top moments of hilarity aren’t anywhere to be found in the game, but they do offer a fresh, cheery twist to the original formula.

The artwork resembles the style of the game, but isn’t a perfect copy. The characters have a unique look in the manga, giving them an even more anime-ish appearance than they have in the video games. Xion, for example, sports larger eyes. Much of the humor is complemented by bizarre, distorted expressions and postures, reminiscent of typical manga. Again, it’s not something found in the games. Some fans may dislike the more extreme anime influence on the manga, but those with the acquired taste for Japanese comics and humor will find it hilarious.

The 358/2 Days manga uses pacing to great effect. Dramatic moments are often characterized by a set of “silent panels.” These add a lot of weight to the story and the emotions of the characters.

And since I’ve brought up the characters, let me just say that they’re hard not to love. Roxas is an amateur member of the Organization, and readers won’t feel lost while following him through the story. As he learns more about himself and his world, the reader learns along with him. It’s a clever use of a plot element, and it ensures that the reader won’t be turned away by a flood of information thrust on them all at once.

The premise of this story is original and interesting, to say the least. The simplicity of friendship that lies at the heart of this tale may sound like a cheesy platform from which to build a plot, but this theme never really ventures into eye-rolling melodrama. In fact, Roxas’ naïve viewpoint is a deep, vibrant place for the story to spring from. The themes are traditional, but the messages go deeper than this basic surface, and they create something timeless.

The entire manga is in black-and-white. The first few pages are in color, however—a nice opening touch that helps paint the fantastical world that is Kingdom Hearts.

Final Word

Fans of Kingdom Hearts are likely going to be pleased with this adaptation. The only real gripes come from the fact that this manga deviates heavily from the literal scenes in the game (while still managing to follow the basic plot within). Some may not like the excessive cutting-up humor, or the liberal use of distortion for comedic purposes.

ochapter_1.19That being said, fans looking for a fresh approach to their favorite games, characters, and moments, will be pleased with the treasure trove of original material to be found within. This first volume of 358/2 Days is an excellent addition to any Kingdom Hearts collection… or any manga collection for that matter. The story opens in a place—and with a character—that allows newcomers to quickly grasp the Kingdom Hearts world. With that in mind, I don’t recommend this manga as the only source of information for the would-be fan. As I’ve mentioned earlier, it deviates heavily from the cannon material, despite the fact that it sticks to the basic plot points.

If you’re looking to read something unique and original, or you’re a long-time Kingdom Hearts fan wanting to cover all of the bases, this first volume of 358/2 Days is certainly something to look into. It’s got an attention-catching premise, not to mention a slew of colorful characters, and a core message with a lot of genuine heart.

Stick around, as I’ll be reviewing 358/2 Days Vol. 2 next!

Positives

+ Original, interesting premise + Loveable characters + Lots of humor + Unique adaptation of the video game + Strong message about friendship and love

Negatives

- Deviates heavily from the video game - Lots of added humor, which detracts from the seriousness - Uses distortion to generate humor (acquired taste) - Some minor, dark themes involving death and assassination

The Bottom Line

If you’re looking to read something unique and original, or you’re a long-time Kingdom Hearts fan wanting to cover all of the bases, this first volume of 358/2 Days is certainly something to look into. It’s got an attention-catching premise, not to mention a slew of colorful characters, and a core message with a lot of genuine heart.

 

Story/Plot 9.5

Writing 8.5

8

Casey Covel

Casey Lynn Covel (known online as “Cutsceneaddict”) is an award-winning, published writer, avid reader, and aspiring author. She runs a nerdy writing blog called Meek-Geek and founded PROJECT: Magic Kingdom Hearts in 2012. When she’s not writing for Geeks Under Grace, Florida Geek Scene, Beneath the Tangles, or FROM JAPAN, she enjoys cosplaying, and has won several awards for her work. Follow her on Instagram for her latest cosplay endeavors. #meekischic

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