I’m a bit of an odd duck when it comes to spoilers. Where most of my friends will plug their ears and cover their eyes anytime a potential plot twist or massive story event is being discussed, I will make no effort to avoid these conversations. If a piece of media is strong enough to be worth my time, then no amount of prior knowledge should be able to ruin the experience. I feel that this sentiment is quite valuable in the world of video games, where constant media coverage barrages players with previews until there is nothing left to the imagination.
Of course, the average player would prefer to avoid any sort of spoilers for upcoming games. This is particularly true for the more story-heavy titles of today. (WARNING: NOT REAL SPOILER ALERT) Few people want to go into The Last of Us knowing that the entire game is a dream of a giant whale, or play Bioshock Infinite and find out that the cast of characters are all dinosaur people in disguise (END OF FAKE SPOILERS). So when a video game that relies on a strong narrative is adapted into a comic book, most writers will create side stories or new adventures to avoid ruining the experience of play for uninitiated gamers. Of course, some writers choose to adapt the game’s story directly onto the printed page, spoilers be damned, which happens to be the case for the Disgaea manga.
Disgaea (originally titled Makai Senki Disgaea, or Netherworld Battle Chronicle Disgaea) was released in the US in September 2006 by the now-defunct Broccoli Books. The book was written and illustrated by Arashi Shindo, an accomplished mangaka with several titles to her name (Leader’s High, Gakuran). The manga follows the basic storyline of the source material, with additional bits of humor added and some flourishes to many of the characters. The demon prince Laharl has woken up from an accidental two-year nap to find that his father has died, leaving the Underworld without a proper ruler. Wasting no time on mourning, Laharl decides to take back his kingdom from the upstart monsters that have tried to rule during his slumber.
Even though this comic takes much of its story details from the video game, the book reads more like a shojo-manga retelling of Disgaea. The darker, more serious plot twists from the game have made their way onto the page, but humorous details have been added to further flesh out character interactions. For example, during Laharl’s intense battle with the would-be King Maderas, cross-dressing jokes and goofy villain gloating keep the mood light in spite of the situation. So even though the reader is encountering major spoilers from the video game, the experience becomes unique to the manga thanks to these little additions.
The artwork also contributes to the different mood of the comic book. Instead of the squat, chibi-style drawings of Takehito Harada (the iconic artist of the Disgaea video games), characters take on forms that resemble more traditional shojo manga. Heavier shading, extra details on hair and make-up, and languid builds replace the soft edges and wide color palette of the video game. While I really love the art style of the Disgaea games, seeing a similar plot presented with such a different look makes for an interesting revisit to the Underworld.
When I first read the Disgaea manga, I had only dabbled with the game for a handful of hours; not enough time to encounter the major plot events presented in the comic. My friends who had previously played (and loved) the game were surprised that I would so willingly have the story ruined by reading the manga first. When I finally took the time to play through Disgaea and watch the story unfold on the screen, the game world and characters were already endeared to me thanks to reading the manga. It reminded me of a time from my gaming past, when reading comics in Nintendo Power was my favorite way to learn about a game I had yet to play. Knowing the game events before I played them didn’t spoil anything; it merely enriched the experience.
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