Drifters, Vol. 1

By Kohta Hirano. Released in Japan by Shonen Gahosha, serialization ongoing in the magazine Young King OURS. Released in North America by Dark Horse.

Drifters is the newest title from the author of Hellsing and is spanking brand new – even Japan doesn’t quite have Volume 2 yet. That said, it does *not* have vampires. Which means it loses a lot of North America’s strong “I will buy anything with vampires in it” market. Can it get past this obvious handicap and manage to find its own voice?

Yes indeed it can, even though that voice most of the time is a big guy with a sword going “FUCK YEAH!!” Drifters is not particularly a manga for those who want subtle, intricate displays of emotion or great attention to historical detail. It takes famous soldiers from all over earth’s history and plants them in a fantasy world with elves, then watches them simply roll up and start to do battle. And the battle is the main draw of the manga. If you’ve seen Hellsing, you know how much Hirano loves to draw melee combat. This is all about that.

There is, of course, a bit of a plot. Our hero is Shimazu Toyohisa, who is real life was believed to have died in the Battle of Sekigahara in 1600. In this manga, he wanders off the battlefield, wounded, and ends up in a modern-looking hallway, where a mysterious man signs his name onto a sheet and teleports him through a gate to another world, where he’s found by some very Lodoss Wars-looking teens. He’s apparently not the first stranger to be found in these parts, so they dutifully take him off to a ruined castle, where he meets Oda Nobunaga, the Sengoku warlord, and Nasu Yoichi, a famous samurai from 400 years earlier.

They have apparently been brought there to try to stop a great evil from destroying the land (which appears to be controlled by a woman with the amusing name of Easy, who confronts Hallway Guy in a brief scene). What’s more, it would appear they will be joining up with Hannibal and Scipio, both seen here at a different castle that is being laid siege to, as well as Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid. Opposing them? Oh, just Hijitaka Toshizo, Joan of Arc, and Anastasia Romanov, all of whom are on the side of the bad guys, and also seem to have supernatural powers.

As you can see, this reads like a fanfiction written by a 12-year-old boy. Luckily, Hirano is mature and has a number of manga series under his best, so the execution is far more interesting. Provided you just turn off your brain and roll with events, this is a hell of a lot of fun. Shimazu makes a good “Who wants strategy, just point me at the enemy!” type hero, and the Black King, although seemingly a straight rip from Lord of the Rings, is a satisfyingly scary villain. And there’s sword fights, and battles, and people saying “Who can possibly save us now?” It is essentially Hirano having a ball every week, drawing whatever the hell he wants. And oddly, it works.

Admittedly, it has anime-style elves, who I normally avoid like the plague. But if you can get past the fantasy setting, what we have here is a bunch of historical soldiers fighting each other wile laughing and making trash talk. It almost reads like something Marvel or DC would put out. Definitely recommended to anyone who likes this sort of thing.

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Comments

  1. Fanfiction. That’s the first thing I thought when I heard the premise. All those notable Japanese warriors going against notable Western & Japanese historical figures. The Black King looks interesting though.

    Also, don’t the vampires have to be good-looking to succeed in North America? :P


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