Karakuridoji Ultimo, Vol. 1 – 2
From the minds of comics legend Stan Lee and the creator of Shaman King Hiroyuki Takei comes Karakuridoji Ultimo! Yamato is your typical teenager, crushing on a girl and attending classes until he encounters the mechanical puppet known as Ultimo in an antique shop… Except that’s not where the story begins. It actually begins in feudal Japan where Yamato first encounters the mechanical puppet Ultimo. Karakuridoji Ultimo is a saga that spans lives and centuries about the clash between good and evil and what those terms mean.
As mentioned above Ultimo seems to be an epic that spans time and space, jumping back and forth between the past and the present to tell it’s rather grand tale about the clash between the forces of good and evil. In this case the forces are represented by a set of mechanical boys, Ultimo (good) and Vice (evil), created by the mysterious man known only as Dunstan. We quickly learn, however, that they were just the beginning as it’s soon revealed that he’s created more puppets beyond the original two, all apparently for the purpose of finding out which is more powerful, good or evil. Each puppet is bond to a master who it obeys and studies in the hopes of learning more about the nature of good and evil. Of course this complicates matters as the various masters concepts about what’s good and what’s evil varies. For Yamato good seems to hinge upon his desire to protect his friends and loved ones, but what about the other good puppets and their masters? It’s a question raised only briefly in the first two volumes, but is one that feels like it will becoming more important as time goes on. While the idea of someone studying the concept of good and evil is hardly new, nor is the idea of battles involving a master/pet (ala. Pokemon or even Zatch Bell) Ultimo combines the two with enough style and twists that you end up with a surprisingly entertaining whole. The further idea of reincarnation and how the masters in the present may be reincarnations from the past further opens the door a variety of interesting spins. There’s no reason entire arcs or volumes couldn’t be dedicated towards exploring the exploits of the dolls in the past, or for that matter the idea of introducing new masters who have no history with the dolls.
Hiroyuki Takei’s artwork is sharp and stylish. His character designs, especially for the puppets, are interesting while maintaining a certain unified feel connecting them all together visually. They all look incredibly thin with huge gauntleted hands. It’s striking and the cover colors make them look even more fantastic. Sadly when it comes to action sequences the awkwardness of the thin arms and huge gauntlets, not to mention a few transformation sequences into bizarrely skinny and angular robots, sometimes results in confusing and difficult to deciper moments. There’s a small issue with scale and size when Vice and Ultimo occasionally transform into giant forms. At one point Vice looks positively massive, with trees coming up to his knees, but in another shot he and Ultimo seem only a few stories tall at most. He does show a nice versatility when it comes to body shapes and faces outside of the dolls though. The puppet masters run the gamut from heavily scarred and scary looking thug types to old, hunched over elderly men and more.
I have to admit that I’ve been curious about this title since it was announced but at the same time a bit hesitant to actually pick it up. With a few rare exceptions Shonen Jump material doesn’t really do it for me. With the closing of Borders I took a chance and picked up the first two volumes and I’m rather glad I did as Ultimo is a surprisingly enjoyable read. It’s certainly not the greatest read of all time, but it was definitely a fun read that’s left me wanting to pick up the subsequent volumes to follow the various twists and turns in Yamato and company’s lives.
Karakuridoji Ultimo is available now from Viz Media.