Korea seems to be a creative hotbed for fantasy comics at the moment. The majority of 'manwa' (Korean manga) titles released in the UK have been fantasy, from PhD: Phantasy Degree to Chronicles of the Cursed Sword. Swords and sorcery computer 'role playing games' (RPGs) are very popular in Korea and this influence comes through strongly, especially in Last Fantasy.
As you have probably guessed, the title is a pretty obvious play on the name of the popular game franchise Final Fantasy. And trust me this is about as subtle as it gets.
The story follows the sorcerer Tien and swordsman Drei von Richenstein as they quest around a fantasy land fighting monsters and searching for treasure. Nothing unusual about that you may think. Unfortunately Tien dropped out of sorcerer college as he couldn't pay the tuition fees and Drei is near terminally stupid. Despite these setbacks (Tien's truncated education has left him with just one spell - fireball) the duo battle their way through dungeons and take on any quest as long as the pay's good! However, Tien's incessant money-grabbing and Drei's simple-mindedness keep getting them into a heap of trouble, not only with the monsters they fight but also with the people that hire them...
There are quite a lot of fantasy comedies around these days, anime, manga and otherwise. It's hard to be a bit original, but RPG computer game parodies are not that common. This means that Last Fantasy should have a lot going for it, and at first glance that certainly seems the case. The artwork is absolutely superb throughout, with great character designs and a huge amount of detail packed into every panel. Visually it's faultless, handling comedy, action and drama with aplomb and really building a convincing fantasy world. The characters are better than you may expect too, especially some of the peripheral ones that turn up, but the problem comes when you look beyond this.
Whilst it is a fun and enjoyable read with some laughs to be had, it is pretty shallow too. The stupidity of Drei is taken a bit too far, and this actually makes what is going to happen pretty predictable in nearly every one of the duo's quests. He always does the opposite of what he is supposed to, which takes away any suspense or surprise the story may otherwise have had. The stories are pretty standard, and plot twists are rare. It's a shame considering how good the art is that the story lets it down, especially considering the book was the result of a team of writers working together to come up with the best ideas. There's nothing that wrong with what they have done but it's all very superficial, the gags are very simple and the lack of a central narrative leaves it feeling aimless. There are signs that there may be a story on the horizon following the appearance of a Skelator rip-off, but at the moment it doesn't really go anywhere.
Last Fantasy may be stylish as hell but the substance
isn't there to back it up. It's good dumb fun (with the emphasis on the
'dumb') but has about as much depth as a puddle. A perfect example of
style over substance, Last Fantasy vol 1 isn't bad but it never really
goes anywhere, and the only impression it leaves is indifference. It had
the potential to be a lot better, and in a competitive fantasy market it's only
the art that makes it worth a look.
A surprising amount. The usual Tokyopop ads are joined by a cheerfully po-faced next volume preview, a poem and a lengthy 'making of' showing how the the book developed from the writing team's initial meeting to the final publication. Pretty good stuff.