If there ever was a need for a proper outlying backstory for context, then Yaiba: Ninja Gaiden Z, Issue 1 would be the start of those auxiliary means made by “expanded universes.” With a game equivalent that chooses to rupture from its past, this three-part series seeks to lead in its audience as to how exactly we went from honorable warrior to a metallic ninja cyborg, slashing through hordes of zombies in a lolita costume, accompanied by a big-chested schoolgirl/secretary. If only any of those parts were made up. If any of it sounds strange, it’s because it is, but this interlude actually makes sense. It achieves the impossible and that is to build the persona behind this grotesque figure.
Protagonist Yaiba starts in this zombie apocalypse, sword drawn. From this modern dystopia, the story goes back to the more idyllic settings of a secluded camp, where people are in apprenticeship for the warrior lifestyle. Since this interpretation is less humble than the traditional tale, there is just a flair of fitting boorish behavior from the lead, to drive in the inexperience of youth. It’s also this carelessness that leads to the current debacle, through a conflict gone awry. In the best of intentions, trying to solve the problems at hand only grow more dire, impacted once more by the ninja’s temper. There is a humanizing aspect to the plot, as this short episode already runs the gamut of emotions, both on the positive as well as destructive scale. Together with the brief progression of not one, but several events within, it gives off the impression that Yaiba is the central piece of the arc, instead of just going through an overarching narrative. Since it’s in essence presented as a monologue, it’s commendable of the comic to stay on point.
Further rounds of applause can be attributed to the art, which exudes a comforting range of bright colors, holding the somber tone at bay a little and giving more credibility to the way it’s told. A few panels here and there may come dangerously close to simplifying the fillings to show just how digitally the comic was produced. Still, most illustrations are arranged in such a way that they distract from any glaring faults. In some extents, the simplification may work in its favor, making swiping movements look like blade extensions or having dark blood dripping down like motor oil, as a foreboding sign. Glows and hazes are present, but mostly serve to just put contrast in background elements. Foreground drawings are kept sharply penciled and detailed accordingly, only occasionally appearing lightly brushed.
Some of its more basic outlines, however, can come short of their target. Periodically, a frame would look stiller than the action taking place, breaking some of the tension. It also switches often between detailed shots and small outlines on any given page. While it can seem odd, the overall tone does provide a buffer to compensate the alterations, as most panels will look like they’re not exactly going for a detailed outlook. It’s a pity though, since there is definitely some carefully produced art that deserves more attention.
If there is anything to denote from this powerful start, it would be a few slips in character consistency. One or two illustrations would’ve best gone back to the drawing board, as their finished products just don’t match the rest of the issue. More so than just the unassisted action, these silly renditions will sort of break the otherwise tense atmosphere, though it’s a drop in a bucket, when compared to the rest.
Certainly as this comic series is available for free, Yaiba: Ninja Gaiden Z, Issue 1 is a must for those interested in the game. Onlookers can find a well-presented story in there as well, without having the need for additional resources and with almost none of the errors. Art and story bounce off each other for a consistent whole. Despite being short, this episode is high in entertainment, both comical and emotional. That’s pretty surprising for a zombie apocalypse cybernetic future story with ninjas.