I’m going to be honest right out the gate: I didn’t expect much going into 1UP at first. Being (unfortunately) my presumptuous self, I thought this was going to be another sci-fi battle manga featuring cute female protagonists. You know, the kind we’ve all seen thousands of times before, from Bubblegum Crisis to Battle Angel Alita.
So, it was to my delight to have found out that 1UP managed to come up with an interesting premise when I delved into it. Without giving too much away, think of it as Pixar’s Inside Out meets Hiroya Oku’s Gantz.
The story’s main players are three scantily clad—well, for sake of a word— “agents”: Katana, Rin, and Iko. Set literally inside the human mind, these women are tasked with battling various emotional and mental problems, which manifest themselves as inhuman monsters.
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On the other hand, we have characters from the real world: ordinary human beings dealing with certain mental and emotional problems of their own. First, there’s Naila, a teenager suffering from bouts of sadness that the three stalwart mind agents have selected to save. Then, on the latter half of the story, we have Kaito: a young CEO of a company who has rather deep, personal demons that our heroes must rescue.
As such, 1UP switches between the perspectives of these three heroes and the real-world humans they’ve been tasked to assist. There are scenes that happen within the human consciousness, where Katana, Rin, and Iko exist. Then, there are sequences set in a world very much similar, if not one and the same as ours.
Like I said, this manga is what happens when Inside Out and Gantz have a baby, and with a dash of pretty artwork thrown in the mix there as well. It’s a welcome premise: one that I’d gladly take any day over the barrage of superhero comics out there.
However, premise aside, 1UP suffers from a number of issues that held me back from fully immersing myself with the story. Most overt and critical of them is the hefty exposition that instantly stops the plot in its tracks. By that, I mean it’s one thing to have talking heads a la Brian Michael Bendis, which at best is an acquired taste for any given reader; it’s a whole other thing to jam expository details or preachy dialogue every 3 pages or so.
It’s that same problem that tends to hold back what an otherwise great read might be. 1UP fails to provide readers with steady, gradual buildups to its nicely done battle sequences, opting instead for a start-stop pacing that provides less surprises than it does frustration on my part.
Even worse, I felt a tad disappointed that this same problem did a disservice to what would have been some clean, 90s-inspired artwork. 1UP’s art is clean and most of the character designs are reminiscent of something you’d see from CLAMP. Unfortunately, this is all overshadowed by walls and walls of text that, frankly, diminishes the overall experience.
A lesser issue in this case, but no less important, is the lack of characterization between the characters Iko, Katana, and Rin. Yes, it’s a good thing that they’re all drawn in a very attractive manner, but that just makes it harder to distinguish one from another. It really seems like the three protagonists are interchangeable, with very similar personalities in spite of the creators’ attempts to make each and every one of them as distinct as possible.
That is an understandable flaw, though: we are, after all, talking about a—or at the very least an as-yet— one-shot manga. Considering how difficult it is to create a memorable character in just forty pages of so of story, 1UP played to its strengths and centered instead on plot.
But, like I mentioned before, that path from start to finish became pretty bumpy due to the chunk of expositions it has and the overbearing dialogue by the main characters. Suffice it to say that 1UP knew what to do with its format (focus on moving the plot forward), but hit several hitches on how to do it.
On the plus side, and as I’ve mentioned earlier, there are a few elements that redeem 1UP aside from its interesting premise. For one, the artwork is more than serviceable, with character designs that succeed in paying homage to mech-inspired manga and anime that have come before it without looking like it’s just a mere rip-off.
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Secondly, the battle sequences between Katana, Rin, and Iko against their savage adversaries are testaments to how great 1UP’s potential could be. Now, before you read the succeeding paragraph of this review, know that I’m just placing this SPOILER ALERT here. If you haven’t read 1UP yet, go ahead and do so, then come back here.
In Rin, Iko, and Katana’s world, emotional problems from the real-world manifest as literal, dark, deadly monsters. So, assuming we’re living in the 1UP universe and you feel sad, there’s a huge chance agents like them are physically battling your “emotional monster”, so to speak.
And this is where 1UP shines. The battle sequences between the protagonists of the story and those murderous, wild creatures set themselves apart from the rest of the issue. It’s like the artist reserved all their energy for these scenes. That’s not to say, though, that the quieter events in the issue aren’t good at all, because they totally are.
Setting the cumbersome dialogue and exposition aside, readers could see that this is a story that deals with very human problems: mental and emotional pain. Now, I don’t want to spoil anything if you haven’t read the comic, but rest assured that the plot’s approach to solving these problems are anything but formulaic. And that is a good thing, one that 1UP’s creators hopefully keep on doing should they decide to release another issue.
So, would I give it another go? With its fun premise, pretty linework, and exciting action sequences, I just might. But I’m going to need to see a preview for it first. Another exposition dump and I’d honestly have to give it a hard pass.
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