Anime Reporter listens for the trademark music, opening a large treasure chest to hold the Legend of Zelda Manga Collection triumphantly into the air.
The Legend of Zelda is one of video game’s most popular franchises with its often innovative puzzle solving and hugely imaginative and expansive mythology. The games are generally focused on different versions of a young, light-haired boy/man in a green tunic and pointed hat, called Link in general, though typically renamed to suit each gamer’s preference. Most, but not all of the games also involve rescuing or assisting the eponymous princess, Zelda by overcoming various dungeons and foes. The series’ trademark is often paying careful attention to unique devices and powers in different games, whether magical musical instruments that can unlock doors or transport the user through time or garments that allow the wearer to change size or breathe underwater. The games are intelligent and heartfelt stories, with plenty of sword-swinging and explosions to boot. One jolting distinction between the games and every one of the manga volumes is that Link’s words are given for the first time, giving him a depth of personality that the games often glance over with facial expression. The story and art for every volume are provided by Akira Himekawa, a talented manga artist who is actually two women under one pseudonym.
The collection of ten manga volumes spans 8 of the series’ most iconic games
- Ocarina of Time (2 volumes)
- Majora’s Mask (1 volume)
- Oracle of Seasons (1 volume)
- Oracle of Ages (1 volume)
- Four Swords (2 volumes)
- The Minish Cap (1 volume)
- A Link to the Past (1 volume)
- Phantom Hourglass (1 volume)
Hero of Time – Ocarina of Time and Majora’s Mask
The first tale, The Legend of Zelda: Ocarina of Time, (OoT), comes from what many consider to be the greatest game in the franchise, originally available on the N64 and very successfully translated to the Nintendo 3DS. The manga, much like the game, starts with a young boy living in Kokiri village, a settlement of immortal children in the depths of a magical forest. Without giving too much of the story away, the boy is sent on a sacred quest to free the kingdom of Hyrule from evil, venturing across the land and time itself. From the very beginning, Link’s personality and his relationships with the people he encounter feel rich and well developed. His friendship with his best friend Saria is given enough heart to feel true to the video game while his run-ins with various people across Hyrule are given additional exposition, fleshing out the world it was so easy to love in the game.
One potential disappointment is that some relationships, particular with regard to a certain groovy Goron and a rather snobbish Zora are given no more time or emphasis than most of the other characters, so those relationships can feel a little glossed over. Dungeons and boss-fights are quick affairs, usually being resolved inside a few pages, which makes sense, given how lengthy and puzzle-filled some of those dungeons are. It’s much more satisfying in manga form to see link simply clash head on with a monster rather than spending three pages trying to figure out how to open a door by pushing blocks around. What’s more, the battles are bolstered by an additional emotional investment in the struggles, with one heart-bruising fight in particular testing Link’s spirit and resolve as much as his physical abilities. The tale holds true to the spirit of the game and the additional touches and character stories really only serve to make it more interesting and more heartfelt. The fight against evil and the nature of the trials and monsters Link faces feel perfectly organic and well balanced with humour and art reminiscent of the style of the game.
The Legend of Zelda: Majora’s Mask was also originally on the N64. While separate to the events of OoT, it follows on with the same incarnation of Link and it really is of great benefit to readers to have read OoT before moving on to this one. The art remains true to the style of OoT and there are many references to characters and events of the previous tale. While OoT took place in Hyrule, Majora’s Mask is based in the land of Termina, a small kingdom under the threat of a “little demon”, who’s causing a hell of a lot of trouble and may even bring about Termina’s destruction. The manga emphasises and elaborates on the similarities between the people of Hyrule and Termina in a way that the game never really touched upon. Like the earlier manga, character interactions are highlighted while dungeon-solving is downplayed.
A shorter game than OoT, Majora’s Mask incorporated a highly satisfying armada of time travel based side-quests, allowing players to relive the same three days over and over again but with brilliant mechanics designed to show drastic changes over those three days depending on different interactions the player had with people. This mechanic is shunted somewhat to the side in favour of a more linear storyline, though again, it’s something of a relief not to have to witness Link attempting to solve every subtle puzzle that was present through the game. A key difference between Majora’s Mask and Ocarina of Time is the use of masks which allowed Link to change into various forms with very different abilities and powers. The various powers and weapons present in the game are utilised and referenced well and each of the stories behind Link’s masks is fantastically portrayed.
The Hero of Time stories represent two of Zelda’s greatest arcs and are a truly strong foot to start the collection on.
Oracle Saga- Oracle of Seasons and Oracle of Ages
The Legend of Zelda: Oracle of Seasons and Oracle of Ages were both originally released for the Nintendo Gameboy. Designed to be played in any order, or indeed simultaneously, the games tell of two separate adventures, one concerned with the changing of the seasons and the effect this has on the land and therefore Link’s ability to navigate it, while the other deals with travelling between distant times, with actions that occur in the past having effects on the world of the present. It’s definitely worth noting that the manga volumes, unlike the games, were written with a specific order in mind.
Oracle of Seasons presents us with a new Link, growing up on a farm with his grandparents. Link, unsure of what he wants to do with his life, is sent to Hyrule to take the knight’s test in order to become a knight of the realm. Accidentally wandering into the wrong place, Link touches a strange marking of the Triforce (used in Zelda games as a symbol of the forces of Wisdom, Courage and Power and the emblem of the royal family) and wakes up in Holodrum, a land quite distant from Hyrule. Here, he meets Din, a beautiful dancer with a travelling troupe of performers. When Din is revealed to be the Oracle of Seasons and is kidnapped by the general of darkness, Onox, Link must overcome many powerful foes to free Din, while the seasons fall into chaos around him.
Oracle of Seasons has a cartoonier feel than the books in the Hero of Time stories, with talking animals abounding and even being significant plot details in the case of a boxing penguin and kangaroo. While this story arc does feel less epic in scale than OoT, there is a well-told tale of good vs. evil within its pages as an uncertain Link learns what it means to be a hero. The more innocent style of the story is matched well by the style of the illustrations, quite different to the rendering of the Hero of Time stories. One drawback is that the main device of the game, the ever changing seasons and the effect it has on Link’s journey, is scaled back somewhat in the manga, though there’s a good chance that the charm of the story and its characters will more than make up for this in reader’s minds.
Oracle of Ages, unlike in the video games, is a direct sequel to Oracle of Seasons, where once again, Link is called to come to the rescue of yet another oracle, Nayru, this time under the threat of Veran, a shadowy being with the power to possess and control people. Controlling Nayru, the oracle of ages, Veran is able to travel to the past and begin erasing Link from history. Link must find a way to confront her in the past to repair the damage caused across history and ensure his own existence.
Darker than Seasons, Oracle of Ages is a fitting second half to the saga and, despite the similarities in the premise of the two stories, manages to feel fresh and very enjoyable.
The Oracle stories make for a well-wielded pair of tales and flesh out the adventures well beyond their 8-bit origins.
The Legend of Zelda: Four Swords was originally for the Nintendo Game Cube and also playable on Gameboy Advance. The game focused on playing as four separate versions of Link and emphasised multiplayer combat and puzzle-solving.
Four Swords sees us again introduced to a new version of Link, this time a knight of Hyrule under his father’s command. Link is an impetuous youth, preferring to charge in headfirst rather than work as a team with the other knights. This attitude is put to the test when evil forces gather and a sinister shadowy version of Link brings chaos and destruction to Hyrule. Link is forced to draw the legendary Four Sword to defend Princess Zelda, his childhood friend. Upon drawing the sword, Link is split into four different bodies, distinguished only by the colours of their tunics (not easily, given the monochrome of manga) and their personality traits. Green, (presumably the original) is courageous and determined in his goals, Blue is hot-tempered and impatient, Red is timid and innocent in his world view and Violet is calm and logical. Each version of Link is initially against the idea of teamwork, but they soon find out that the Four Sword’s power is dependent on their being together and they most co-ordinate their quest to save Zelda.
The game made excellent use of multiplayer game play, emphasising the use of different weapons and objects together and this aspect of the game is brought seamlessly into the narrative, with the focus on teamwork working beautifully. The illustrations again have their own style, not appearing quite as cartoony as in the Oracle series, though with plenty of the comic exaggeration which is the trademark of manga. As is typical throughout the collection, boss battles and dungeon treks are quick affairs, opting instead to focus on characterisation, embellishing somewhat on the narrative of the game, but to great effect. It’s a true pleasure to see the different versions of Link interacting together and their disagreements and quarrels are humourous without feeling overused.
Stretched across two volumes, the tale is expansive with feeling like a chore. A great blend of light humour, epic adventure and just enough heart to make you care. Truly fine manga.
The Minish Cap
The Legend of Zelda: The Minish Cap was originally released for the Gameboy Advance and the plot was the setting for the events of Four Swords, though this has little impact on the manga version and Minish Cap doesn’t have to be read before it. As expected of the innovative Zelda series, Minish Cap employed a new device for exploring Hyrule: Shrinking down to the size of a thumb and exploring environments that are suddenly much more threatening and full of obstacles.
Once again, Minish Cap presents us with new incarnation of Link, this time a young boy, eager to learn the ways of sword-fighting and close friends with Princess Zelda. When the annual Picori festival comes, celebrating the Picori, a race of tiny and charitable people said to be only visible to children, Link is disappointed to find out that he won’t be a part of the sword-fighting contest. When the sinister mage Vaati intervenes and unleashes a plague of demons upon the land and, worse still, turns Zelda to stone, Link is charged with repairing the Picori Blade, the only item capable of sealing away the evil forces once more. As a child and Zelda’s closest friend, Link is deemed to be the most appropriate candidate for the quest and leaves alone to travel the world. This is perhaps the weakest starting point for any of the series as a group of adults seem to have no problem in sending a child deemed unworthy of a sword-fighting contest into the wilderness suddenly filled with monsters. Although children are the only ones capable of seeing the Picori, it still feels like Link could have had a few guardians to help him on his way. Nonetheless, Link sets out on his quest and rather conveniently stumbles across a talking cap which allows him to change size and shrink down a more Picori-appropriate state.
Despite any weakness in the beginning of the story, Minish Cap is a warm and well developed tale, with the challenges and opportunities of Link’s new miniscule form conveyed in a humourous way which feels completely organic to the story itself. Link’s interactions with the many different Picori settlements is engaging and entertaining. The final confrontation with Vaati is one of the more humanizing conflicts within the collection and the overall adventure is a fun and refreshing read.
A Link to the Past
The Legend of Zelda: A Link to the Past is the third instalment of the franchise, was originally launched on the Super Nintendo Entertainment System (SNES) and remains one of the most iconic titles of the series to this day.
The plot is relatively straightforward for this tale, with Link traversing the land to seal away the evil of Ganon by freeing seven descendants of the sages who first imprisoned him. The illustrations for this volume take a distinct turn away from the light-hearted style of the previous arcs and take a more realistic approach. The story similarly moves away from humour, substituting it with darker tones and a greater emphasis on action. This version of Link lives with his uncle and across the tale discovers the answers to many questions about his own past.
A Link to the Past is a sterling example of not just a Zelda manga, but of action, adventure or even fairy tale genres in general. The graver tone and more seriously wielded storyline should keep any reader’s interest and it won’t be difficult to become emotionally invested in the characters or their exploits. The tale focuses on one of the most recognisable pieces of Zelda mythology: the triforce. Something of the origins of the eternal nemesis, Ganon, is revealed and in many ways this feels like the definitive Zelda story arc. Without mincing words, this is a great story and a great manga.
The Legend of Zelda: Phantom Hourglass was launched for the Nintendo DS as a direct sequel to Wind Waker, a Zelda title for the Game Cube. In this manga, the events of Wind Waker are more or less ignored entirely, but this doesn’t really detract from the story itself.
Set largely on the seas, searching for the ghost pirate ship which kidnapped Tetra, this Link’s captain and the reincarnation of Princess Zelda. Link must team up with Ciela, an amnesiac fairy and Linebeck, a cowardly, covetous sailor, to track down Tetra and rescue her from the cursed ship.
Overall, the humour and personality throughout this volume is phenomenal. Linebeck in particular provides a great balance of comic relief and characterisation. Link’s journeys and boss battles are scaled down, thankfully, as the actual game made travelling from point A to point B something of a chore. A Link to the Past is a tough act to follow in terms of heart and drama and Phantom Hourglass seems to choose not to try, instead embodying the comedy and animated style that was the hallmark of the game.
The Legend of Zelda manga collection comprises ten volumes of some of Nintendo’s most iconic games to date. Akira Himekawa does a superb job in matching the tone of each volume to its corresponding game in terms of characterisation, world-building, illustration and tone. There was clearly a lot of effort devoted to making sure that each tale would be able to introduce newcomers to the setting and its characters, while also providing all the winks and nods that existing fans of each game would expect.
A delightful gathering and reimagining of tales which won over millions of people in video game form, this manga collection is truly a treasure for fans of Zelda or manga or just great stories.
The Legend of Zelda Manga Collection is available from Viz Media.
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Final Scores are calculated on an average for the overall series.
87% – “A True Treasure”
The Legend of Zelda Manga Collection is a rare example of storytelling at its finest, born out of one of video gaming’s true dynasties. Not worth missing.