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Sunday, February 14, 2010

Ultimo vol 1. Impression

Ultimo volume 1
Sometimes the old dog has the best new tricks under his sleeve. Stan Lee’s latest concept, Karakuridoji Ultimo from Viz, Ultimo for short, is a story about pure vice, pure virtue and the various shades of gray in between. A unique collaboration between Lee and the very talented Hiroyuki Takei has led to a manga that bridges the gap between East and West and should be embraced by both sides. What’s it all about …

Karakuri Doji, mechanical dolls that embody the purest of good as well as evil. Without human emotion the Karakuri Doji’s creator Dr. Dunstan hopes to find out which is more powerful. To accomplish this each Doji is paired with a human partner that shares some traits and will form a bond with the Doji in the battles to come. As a group of bandits in ancient Japan assault a lone man travelling with two boxes it’s the bandit Yamato who is first exposed to Ultimo and Vice. The fight begins as Vice slaughters Yamato’s friends only to see Ultimo step in and … Dunstan vanishes and we are thrown into modern day Japan. We now meet a more modern Yamato and friend Rune with normal school issues such as Yamato’s crush on Sayama. Of course he forgets her birthday and must rush to buy a present, is drawn to a unique story and faced with a face from what seems to be a past life, the face of Ultimo. A new fight begins as Vice makes an appearance and all hell breaks loose and … we are thrown back into ancient Japan. This Yamato has teamed with Ultimo on a mission of justice against an unjust lord but the lord has his own Doji and another battle begins which fast forwards to modern times, again, where the lord also is reincarnated and makes Yamato an offer he can’t refuse. Is money worth the ultimate good?

So readers of Shonen Jump already know where this story goes but fans of the manga will have to wait for volume 2. While Stan Lee is the big name attached to this title what’s significant is he was never too … flattering of anime/manga in the past but now he’s engaging in a very good manga that is very Japanese in its feel. If the art feels familiar, it should as Hiroyuki Takei is the creator and artist for the excellent Shaman King (sadly messed up and made kid friendly here in the states, the anime that is but check out the sweet manga). Takei has taken an idea from Lee and infused it with life, with character designs that are unique yet familiar feeling and pacing that spans different eras but all ties together. The art is fantastic as I’ve always been a fan of Shaman King and style in Ultimo is so refined, benefiting from all the work on Shaman King. The action is fast paced, over the top and easy to follow and Dunstan is a great tribute to Stan the Man. The overall concept of good vs. evil is not new nor is the pairing of the Doji with human partners; again this feels very Shaman King-ish.

Bottom line; Ultimo has fantastic art a fun (if not familiar) story and great action. Stan Lee’s involvement is a boon to the manga business as he is exposed to a medium not too unlike American comics yet so unique in their base and creation. If Stan Lee can grow to learn and love a new medium then traditional comic fans can so it’s to you I plead. Give Ultimo a try. The art is not Jim Lee, the story is not Bruce Wayne’s but it’s not all big eye stereotypes either. For good or bad Ultimo is here to stay.

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