PhD: Phantasy Degree vol 1 (Ongoing series)

UK Distributor:  Tokyopop

Author:  Son Hee-Joon

Suggested Retail Price (SRP):  £6.99

Number of Pages:  192

ISBN:  1-5953-2319-8

Reviewed:  25th August 2006

Reviewer:  Rich (Webmaster)


I read a chapter of PhD: Phantasy Degree in Tokyopop Sneaks, and was immediately taken by its bold, cartoony artwork.  It looked like it would be a fantasy comedy in the style of Slayers, and as a fan of that series I was looking forward to something along those lines.

The book starts with the self-serving redhead Sang searching for the Demon school known as Hades in order to obtain the legendary Satanís Ring that is rumoured to be held there.  However, she soon winds up in more trouble than she expected when she comes across a group of the schoolís students Ė Dev the Demon, Mordicus the Vampire, Lukan the Werewolf and Pannus Tyrannus the Mummy.  All appear to be playing truant from school and once she realises that none of them are particularly threatening Sang easily persuades them to take her to Hades.  Unfortunately this motley crew are the least of her worries, the schoolís bullies Ė a group of demons led by the dangerous Katana Ė are out to deliver a world of hurt to Dev and pals, and Sang is stuck in the middle!  If this wasnít enough, Notra the Demoness and the mighty Demon Lord Fatalis also have things to say, but all of this may have to wait.  Two deadly humans have appeared outside the school and begin to attack the students, their target is the Maegve Ė the doorway to Hell that exists in the school.  With these hugely powerful invaders clashing with the demons of the school Sang is going to have her work cut out to get her hands on her goalÖif she can live long enough that is!

You may think from that description that this is a pretty serious story, but to start with itís not.  At the start it is very much in the Slayers mould, with Sangís snide remarks and the inept B movie monsters of Devís gang providing a great deal of humour.  The cartoony visuals and a hefty dollop of slapstick keep things funny but towards the end of the book things start to get a bit more serious.  A fight between Dev and Katana shifts the story from comedy to action but itís when the agents of the Madosa Guild arrive that things start to take a decidedly darker turn.

After this point the humour is pretty much entirely ejected in favour of action and horror, and the story gets quite gripping and ends on a decent cliffhanger.  There is a bit more depth towards the end of the volume than the opening chapters suggest, and there are a lot of secrets to be revealed about Sang.  She seems to know more than she is letting on, particularly about Satanís Ring and the arrival of the Madosa Guild, but her true motives remain unclear.  Unusually the story casts the demons and monsters of Hades in the role of the good guys, whilst the humans characters are either vicious or manipulative.  Itís a bit of an unusual premise and it works quite well but the change in style is a bit jarring it must be said.

Everything about PhD hints at a fun fantasy comedy series, particularly the bold art style and large cartoony characters, and the first half of the book entertainingly lives up to this.  However, the tone of the story changes in just a few pages, and the art stays the same.  Itís a bit odd to read a story with these bouncy cheerful visuals when the characters are being maimed and killed, but I found it a surprisingly refreshing change.  The art is clear and stylish, and avoids being too detailed without being too simplistic.  The action is fast paced and more serious than you may expect, and the comedy at the start is fun and enjoyable.  The characters are good too, although it is a shame there are only a handful in a supposedly huge demon school, and the story gets quite tense towards the end with plenty of surprises and shocks.

PhDís problem is that itís a book of two halves, and many fans of the comedy it starts with may be put off when the darker elements take over.  The artwork is great, but itís unusual for an action drama and in places it does detract from the seriousness of whatís going on.  Dev is a bit of an annoying character too.  However, most of the characters are good Ė particularly the self-serving Sang Ė and the story gets a lot more interesting towards the end of the volume than it probably would have done if it had stuck with the comedy.  PhD: Phantasy Degree vol 1 starts off as a fun but average comedy and draws you in with drama and action as it progresses.  The change in styles may put off some readers but it feels like it has found its feet at the end and will only get more interesting from here on in.  If you like the art itís well worth a look.


Explanations of the character names, a preview of volume 2 and plenty of splash page images between chapters join the usual adverts.  The splash pages are great, not only from an art point of view but also for humour, although Iím sure Ash from Pokťmon wouldnít find it very funnyÖ


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