The team of Tsugumi Ohba and Takeshi Obata seems pretty much invincible when it comes to dialogue-led manga. Death Note came out and gained legions of fans and Bakuman pretty much did the same again, but what happens when that team is broken up? RalΩGrad (we’re informed not to pronounce that omega) has the same artist, but the impact of a different writer is interesting to read.
Ral is a prince possessed by a shadow at birth which has the power to assimilate and consume its host. With the threat of his transformation imminent, Ral is locked into a prison without light before he can attack his father’s kingdom. Over the years Ral forms a pact with his shadow (Grad) to work together as equals, and when asked to defend their home from invasion, they fight together against a common enemy.
RalΩGrad’s biggest problem is its dumping too much information on its readers. The unnecessarily convoluted descriptions on shadow classes (who basically range from possessed humans to full-blown monsters) and the endless world-building starts to take its toll on story progression. The fights could’ve acted as a break to even things out, but they are tactical in nature with an equal emphasis on dialogue as much as action. Also working against it are overly-complicated monster designs that are squeezed onto the pages. Even at the end of the final volume I still couldn’t really tell you what Grad looks like as we never get a proper look at him. Essentially the comic’s trying too hard to impress and doesn’t find much time to relax.
It’s not quite as bad as I’m making out though. The artwork is amazingly detailed and Obata’s clearly gone all out after his stint on the more internally dramatic Death Note (great manga, but for an artist drawing a guy writing in a note book it’s not much to play with). I also really enjoyed the crude sense of humour of Ral and his penchant for ‘boobies’. For a shonen manga this contains a lot more nudity than you’d expect as he nuzzles in on many a nearby cleavage. It’s really stupid, and helps things from becoming too po-faced in an otherwise typical and straight-laced manga.
With only a 4 volume run, this is a brief and rushed affair. Far be it from me to give a manga a bad review, but I found it difficult to read at time due to its sheer density. Most manga can be read in a matter of minutes, but it took several attempt to fight through. This is stodgy stuff and perhaps only really worth checking out for curious Death Note fans.