Hiroshi Sakurazaka struck gold with All You Need is Kill. The light novel has been remade at least three times since its original publication in 2009. This past summer, Tom Cruise starred as the protagonist in the blockbuster Edge of Tomorrow, an undoubtedly Americanized but solid interpretation of the Japanese science fiction adventure. Marvel artist Lee Ferguson released a short graphic novel to accompany the film’s promotion. A superstar team created a manga serialized in Shonen Jump earlier this year. The award-winning Takeshi Obata, of Deathnote and Bakuman, adapted the original illustrations by yoshitoshi ABe, famous for his character designs in Serial Experiments Lain. Writer and storyboard artist, Ryōsuke Takeuchi, transcribed Sakurazaka’s exposition into believable dialogue.
So, what does the manga have to offer? Brilliant art aside, it’s the most faithful adaptation available. Save for small omissions, very little is changed here. Powerful aliens, drawn as fissured mouths with innumerable rows of teeth, have invaded earth. The story opens on the eve of a deadly campaign, in the barracks of the United Defense Force. Keiji Kiriya, a new recruit, idles nervously as he anticipates his first-time on the field. Keiji’s not graced with tactical talent and doesn’t seem to be driven by any ambition whatsoever. His intentions for joining the military are never directly revealed, but it’s implied that his life before the war was barely inconsequential.
"So, what does the manga have to offer? Brilliant art aside, it’s the most faithful adaptation available."
Necessity transforms Keiji’s sullen apathy to fervor when he discovers he’s trapped in a time loop that resets everytime he dies in battle. All You Need is Kill chronicles Keiji’s evolution from a rookie, barely able to hold his weapon, to a veritable assassin. He soon becomes convinced that the secret to resolving his temporal paradox lies in understanding the elusive and equally volatile Rita Vrataski, otherwise known as the Full Metal Bitch.
Rita stands out as a capable female lead that avoids the overt sexualization so common in the genre, particularly in the realm of anime and manga. Her sheer skill as a warrior is emphasized above all else, while avoiding the clutch of being immediately masculine. She’s as sharp-witted as she is modest, and manages to act consistently throughout the entire arc. The nerdy mechanic, Shasta, lacks Rita’s intensity and falls a little closer to stereotype, but still manages to be likeable. My issue lies with Rachel, the super busty vixen cook, who looks utterly out of place. She almost appears to be drawn in an entirely different style. While her general appearance follows her written description to an extent, the decision to keep her barely clothed baffles me. Sure, there’s no shortage of ample, shiny-faced babes in manga, but I don’t expect them in a war drama. Admittedly, the cook is a minor character shown in a handful of scenes, whose design panders towards the tastes of the target audience.
"Anyone who still appreciates the beauty of the printed page will want to cash in for this omnibus edition, that contains the entire comic, previously only available digitally."
Although the storyline is often labeled as a mix of Starship Troopers and Groundhog Day, I would never knock All You Need is Kill for being derivative. Originality synthesizes plot devices, characterization and most importantly perspective. Evaluating any narrative with a piecemeal approach yields, at best, an abridged response that loses sight of the details.
A master of his craft, Obata’s exceptionally detailed linework brings expressive characters to the forefront, establishing the emotional depth that gives this story substance. Whereas Edge of Tomorrow incorporated a fair amount of comic relief, the manga’s panels paint a grittier picture. The unrelenting gore is almost extravagant. Decapitated heads and severed limbs litter the pages of exposition before the battle even begins. Obata weaves grisly flesh and bloodstained steel to portray the devastation suffered at the hands of mankind’s robotic enemy. Awkward panel design occasionally detracts from the otherwise striking art. This interrupts the flow of certain fight scenes, generating unintended chaos. I imagine splitting the task of storyboarding and actual illustration creates incidental miscommunication.
Anyone who still appreciates the beauty of the printed page will want to cash in for this omnibus edition, that contains the entire comic, previously only available digitally. The first chapter includes several stunning full-color pages. Viz maintains the right-to-left orientation, so the composition is true to form and never compromised. Despite it’s length, the copy is compact enough to avoid being unwieldy. I found myself wishing for a larger format, but understand that would be impossible at the same price point.
Review by: Ameenah Salamunic | Published by: VIZ Media