I doesn't matter how many sophisticated, thought-provoking manga I read, I'm still a sucker for a good old fashioned action story. It may not be big or clever, but damn is it good fun! Because of this I was looking forward to reading this book, and it didn't let me down.
The story is set in a Final Fantasy-style world of fantasy and science. Coud van Giruet is a young member of the Red Lynx, a group of notorious Sky Pirates who get a bit more than they bargained for on their latest raid. After pillaging the home of a wealthy merchant Coud decides to have a sneaky look at their haul, but after wrestling the lid off a rusted, ancient chest he is shocked to find no gold or jewels in it, but instead a beautiful girl. At first he mistakes her for a life-size doll, but when he has a closer look she surprises him by waking up! The strange girl's name is Ren, and it turns out that Coud wasn't far off with his first impression. Ren is an Edel Raid, a rare living weapon with the power to merge with humans and grant awesome destructive powers. Edel Raids are incredibly highly sought after by those who know about them, and amongst those is the organisation known as Arc Aile, who sent agents Cisqua and Rowen to obtain Ren from Red Lynx. However, Arc Aile are only one of Coud's problems, Ren is an incredibly rare and awesomely powerful Edel Raid and there are far more nefarious enemies who want her. Can Coud really stand in the way of these enemies, particularly when many of them have Edel Raids of their own?
As I said, I'm a unashamed fan of a good flash bang action story, and Elemental Gelade is most certainly that. It starts at a run and doesn't really slow down at all, Coud comes across Ren very early on and within 40 pages Red Lynx are already under attack from Arc Aile. The pace is unrelenting, and despite the great action scenes it is far from po-faced either. Elemental Gelade is very much in the 'Shonen Jump' style of comic (think Dragon Ball, One Piece, Naruto etc...) with tonnes of action, some great story elements and good veins of drama and comedy running through it. In places it's laugh out loud funny, especially when Ren tries to leave the Red Lynx airship by walking out the door - not something you really want to do when you are several thousand feet in the air! It's this vein of humour that really makes Elemental Gelade an entertaining read, but there's plenty more to it.
The artwork is great, particularly during the action scenes, and Azuma shows a deft had with drama too. The story flits from comedy to drama with ease, and has some depth to it as well. There is a lot to learn about what the Edel Raids are, why Arc Aile is after them and why Ren is so special, and there's also the mystery of why she wants to get to a place called Edel Garden. The characters are good too, particularly the agents Cisqua and Rowen - although anyone who has seen Trigun may spot similarities between them and Meryl and Milly from that series - and most of all Ren herself. She is an enigma, powerful but out of time and prone to cutting remarks and frequent tiredness. It is her that makes the story particularly interesting as the lead character Coud is a little bit of a stereotype at the moment (a kind hearted, clumsy but secretly skilled and courageous orphan, like that's never been done before...).
The only real problem with it is that despite the pace and intriguing plot elements it still is very much by the numbers fantasy action. There's plenty of promise for the next volume, but at the moment there are a lot of things you have seen before, particularly in the evil-lord-that-kidnaps-the-girl villain Beazon. However, the story does throw up some interesting twists and the volume ends on a pretty big cliffhanger, something you don't expect from the first volume of a series like this. There are some darker moments towards the end of the book as well, but overall it is the action and comedy that really keep you entertained, so it's great that there is so much of both.
I enjoyed Elemental Gelade vol 1 a lot, yes it is pretty standard at the moment but it is great fun and a really enjoyable read. It boasts great art and great characters, and throws up a lot of possibilities for future volumes. Tokyopop seem to have been concentrating on romance and shojo (stories aimed at a young female audience) titles of late, so it's great to see them put out a strong action title that shows signs that it will get even better as it goes on. Elemental Gelade is a entertaining title with plenty to recommend it, and I for one would certainly recommend checking it out.
There are usually a few ads in the back of Tokyopop book, but there are more than usual in this one - 11 pages worth! As well as the ads there is also the standard next volume preview, but on top of this there's a nice two page spread that gives extra information on the two main characters and explains how they were designed. Good stuff!