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Darkstalkers/Red Earth: Maleficarum

by Mami Itou
Udon Entertainment, 200 pp.
Rating: Not Rated

Darkstalkers/Red Earth: Maleficarum is one the latest manga releases from Udon Entertainment. It’s a compilation of short stories created by Mami Itou featuring characters from the two Capcom franchises named in the title. The Darkstalkers material consists mainly of short, barely connected tales while the Red Earth material is a single, multi chapter story.

It pains me to admit that the writing is nothing fantastic or terribly memorable. The Darkstalkers material are odd one offs featuring some of the key players from the franchise, Jedah, Talbain and of course everyone’s favorite succubus, Morrigan. While there are hints of the greater story and tales that make up the back story for the Darkstalkers game franchise, for the most part they’re forgettable one off’s giving us some basic information of the characters and the world while containing ominous tones and speeches that don’t actually go anywhere in the stories themselves. The Red Earth section fares a little better as it’s a complete story. Unfortunately it’s pretty short and feels awfully rushed in places. Additionally the characters have no chance to develop beyond their names. Apparently this is partly due to Itou not having access to any information to the Red Earth world beyond a few rounds at a game expo in Japan prior to it’s release. That really makes me wonder why Capcom would even bother producing these stories in the first place. If they were hoping to use them to generate interest in the game at the time, then wouldn’t it have been helpful to have let the creator in on the game’s story and character histories? Another thing that truly shocked me is that in a few panels words are cut off and letters are missing. I honestly can’t recall ever seeing this before in any Udon manga to date, so encountering it here was pretty shocking and took me right out of the story.

While I’m really harsh and underwhelmed by the writing, the artwork is actually quite lovely. The Red Earth section in particular look absolutely gorgeous as Itou employs a wonderfully detailed thatch heavy style. The result is beautifully, rough and gritty artwork that does a terrific job at conveying the fantasy setting of the world and which give the action scenes that extra little oomph that makes them explode off the page. While Darkstalkers features a slightly cleaner style with toning here and there, the action sequences still stand out as being incredibly kinetic and bursting with energy. Sadly for both stories this energy comes with a price and on more than one occasion the sequences seemingly devolve into a mess of lines and blobs of ink making what’s happening in said panels virtually undecipherable.

This book is a real mixed bag. People unfamiliar with either franchise will probably find themselves lost and confused, attempting to figure out whether to two tales are meant to connect and if they’re not why it starts off with a chapter of Darkstalkers before sliding into the Red Earth story. As such it feels like a truly niche title, something that will most likely only appeal to fans of the original video games. But aside from some lovely artwork I’m not sure what this book has to offer even those hardcore fans.

Darkstalkers/Red Earth: Maleficarum is available now from Udon Entertainment.

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