Title: Tales of the Abyss: Asch the Bloody
Author: Hana Saitou, Rin Nijyo (script), based on the game by Namco Bandai Games Inc.
Publisher: Bandai Entertainment
Volumes: Volumes 1 and 2, $10.99 each
Vintage: 2009 and 2010 by Kadokawa Shoten Co, June and November 2011 by Bandai Entertainment
[Note: Recently I had the pleasure of being invited onto the Manga Out Loud podcast to talk about Natsume Ono for the recent Manga Moveable Feast. Please check it out! We had a great conversation and shared all the things we love (and maybe don’t love) about Ono’s manga.]
Based on the popular entry into the Tales series Tales of the Abyss, this mini-series follows Asch the Bloody in order to tell the other side of the story. Because this mini-series focuses on the viewpoint of Asch, the story here begins with events already in progress, and does not present a very good overall explanation of what’s going on in the world. The books touch on the overall story a little bit, but this is mostly a character exploration piece. The basic set up of the world, is that it is split into two major kingdoms, the northern kingdom of the Malkuth Empire, and the southern kingdom of Kimlasca Lanvaldear. These two kingdoms are constantly at war, though currently they are in a delicate time of peace watched over by the neutral Order of Lorelei. In the world of Tales of the Abyss, history follows the pattern laid out by Yulia’s Score, and old prophecy that the history of the world has always followed along. One man seeks to break the people’s dependence on the Score, and end the tragedies that it causes – the Supreme General of the Oracle Knights of the Order of Lorelei, Van. Van, who has long been a mentor to Luke fon Fabre, has encouraged this young noble of Kimlasca to become a hero for the people and help Van with his seemingly peaceful and goodly ideals. Our hero (well, anti-hero, really) Asch the Bloody is a member of the Oracle Knights and also a student of Van’s teachings. Under the orders of Grand Maestro Mohs (of the Order of Lorelei), who wants to enact the next part of the Score (which contains a war between the two kingdoms), Asch and the Six God Generals are attempting to recapture Fon Master Ion, who is currently traveling with Luke and his companions on a mission of peace. They attack a land dreadnaught under the command of Jade the Necromancer, where Asch spots a struggling Luke fighting on the ship’s deck. He immediately recognizes Luke as his Replica, a genetically engineered human made to be his exact copy, who took Asch’s place in Kimlasca when Van rescued him. Furious that his Replica is running around freely and taking over his former identity, Asch nearly kills them all, but his order is stayed by one of the other Generals. What most upsets Asch, however, is that his Replica is a weak and simpering fool, sullying his name after stealing everything from him. As the operation falls apart, Asch realizes that there is more going on than he’s been told, and that Van has clearly left him in the dark regarding the real reason behind the mission. To maintain a connection with his Replica, who has also been following Van’s orders, Asch has Dist the Demon open Luke’s matched fon slots so that he can connect with Luke’s mind. With Ion in his hands, Asch attempts to get some answers regarding Van’s actions, but even Ion can’t comprehend Van’s ultimate goal. Frustrated, Asch goads Luke into coming to take back Ion, hoping to find some answers. He learns little, however, other than seeing how useless and helpless his Replica is. Van has been forcing Ion to break open the seals at certain points around the world that are blocking access to the Sephiroth Trees which hold up the outer lands of the planet, keeping them out of a poisonous miasma below. No one, not even Ion, has been able to figure out why, since there really isn’t any apparent effect. When Luke finally arrives, the ensuing battle only serves to anger Asch, who can’t believe how incapable his Replica is. Afterwards, Sync the Tempest informs Asch that Van has been trying to keep him away from the Replica, who is being sent on a dangerous mission. Still annoyed at being kept in the dark, Asch tunes into Luke’s mind again, and learns that Luke plans to use his hyper resonance to clear out the miasma around the city of Akzeriuth. Realizing this could spell catastrophically bad news, Asch heads out to discover whatever it is that Van is planning. Even as things appear to become more confusing, Van’s apparent intention becomes more clear – he is manipulating Luke into destroying Akzeriuth. A clueless Luke has played right into Van’s hands, but Asch isn’t about to let his replacement fall for a stupid trick. To break the people’s dependence on the score, Van is willing to sacrifice many of their lives, a tactic which doesn’t sit right with Asch. Realizing that Van has been manipulating him as well, and horrified by the methods Van has chosen to use, Asch rebels and joins forces with his former enemies.
As volume 2 opens, Luke has slipped into a sort of coma, and Asch is having a rather heated argument with him through their connected fon slots. To stop Van from destroying the planet, Asch decides to temporarily join forces with Jade, Tear, and the others, as their goals are essentially the same. The group (minus Tear, who stays behind with the sleeping Luke) returns to the outer surface of the planet and goes after Van’s trail. As they travel to Belkend, Guy and Natalia struggle with their feelings as Asch’s childhood friends turned Luke’s friends. Guy has clearly sided with Luke, but Natalia’s heart pities Asch, who was abandoned and forgotten. In Belkend, the group tracks down a formicry (the science that creates Replicas) scientist who sheds some light on Van’s plans. The attempt to head Van off again by next traveling to the Ortion Cavern. At night, Asch dreams of the day he escaped and ran back home, only to find that a Replica had replaced him and was playing with his friends, and living with his family. Through their fonic connected, Luke also sees this dream, and begins to understand Asch better. At the Cavern, Asch starts experiencing what turns into a series of worsening severe headaches. He has little time to find their source, however, as on a computer int he Cavern they find evidence of Replica information for an entire island. As the pieces of Van’s plan seem to be coming together, an earthquake reminds them that they need to pick up the pace, and they start heading for Binah. After another headache, this time in front of the others, Jade makes some remarks about formicry side effects, and suggests that Asch may be experiencing them, but assumes that since the experiment occurred seven years ago, they should no longer be life threatening. Fed up with Luke’s constant presence in his mind, he shoves the young man out, and Luke awakens with a new perspective on life thanks to seeing things through Asch’s eyes. Luke realizes that his ignorance was self-imposed by his selfishness, and that Asch has overcome much to become who he is, so he decides to change from that moment on into someone people can respect. As the gang puts rescue operations for the people of Binah into motion, the other Six God Generals are orchestrating the impetus for a war between Kimlasca and Malkuth. A chance encounter with Dist gives Asch some horrifying news about his possible condition, and he resolves to move forward on his own despite his ill fate. Unfortunately, war does erupt at this time, so Natalia heads off to Kimlasca to talk with her father, and Jade goes to Malkuth to talk with Emperor Peony. However, when Natalia arrives, Grand Maestro Mohs appears and announces that she is a fraud and a traitor. When Asch learns of this, he rushes to her rescue, leaving his hired men to rally the people in the city to her aid. Content that Natalia’s heart is in the right place, and finally putting some trust in Luke, Asch officially betrays the Six God Generals and Van to aid in their escape. Luke, Jade, and everyone else decide on a massive undertaking that they hope will save the outer lands from plummeting into the miasma below. Using Luke’s hyper resonance, they plan to carefully lower the outer layer themselves and set it down on the sea below which they plan to turn solid. By once again tapping into Luke’s mind, Asch learns of their plan and sets out to help however he can with the last of his strength.
Hana Saitou worked closely with Namco Bandai, and it shows. For anyone who has played the video game or watched the anime series, it is easy to place the events of this series into the time line of the original story. For those unfamiliar, however, it could get confusing. The manga does show things in context of the main story, but those scenes may only be recognizable by those who are already fans. As someone already familiar with the story, it’s easy for me to follow. About the most poignant thing I can say in this regard, is that for those unfamiliar with Luke’s progress throughout the story, the character is completely unbearable here. He’s not really very likable in the game or anime, either, but at least there the story is told from his point of view so we can see what’s going on in his mind, and watch his progression from annoying brat to mature young man more closely. One of the best parts of this entry into the Tales series is watching one of the few and greatest examples of true character growth in the genre through Luke. There is some of that here, but again, we’re seeing everything through Asch’s eyes, and Asch hates him about as much as the reader is likely to. Luke is cowardly, spoiled, weak, self-centered, naive, and ignorant; not exactly quality traits for a hero. Those familiar know that he pretty much does a 180 in the story by the end of things (as he does in volume 2), and Asch is a good example of Luke’s potential. They clearly share some personality traits, like their obstinate nature and inability to express emotions. But Asch is a warrior, willing to do whatever it takes to uphold his ideals, even if it means going against the one person he has ever trusted and owes his life to. Where Luke blindly follows Van, Asch has learned that his former mentor has his own secrets and motivations, and doesn’t hesitate to seek out the truth on his own. While Luke is clumsy and afraid of the consequences of battle, Asch is a finely honed, near fearless fighter. Luke is extremely dependent on his friends and afraid of being ostracized, but Asch…well, actually Asch is very dependent on Van, he just realizes it sooner and breaks away. Asch’s loathing of Luke comes from several places. He is angry that such a weak person has so taken over what should have been his life. However, I also think he sees in Luke what he would have been had he remained in that lifestyle, and he doesn’t like it. Which is all why it’s a little strange that Asch seeks to rescue his replica, until you realize that a pathetic death is something he won’t accept for someone who is supposed to be representing him. It’s a bit of a warped relationship. Asch can’t stand how weak his replica has turned out, so he admonishes Luke, rescues him, and even tries to knock some sense into him. Although, he also tries to wipe him from existence at least once. It’s not easy to watch another person, especially someone you view as a lesser person, living your life, befriending your friends, failing to protect your former fiancée who has now become his fiancée.
Now, due to the fact that this story is told through Asch’s viewpoint, the pacing can feel a little choppy. There’s obviously a lot going on where Asch can’t see, and these other events affect those he is directly involved in. Saitou hints at these events quite well, but again, for those unfamiliar with Tales of the Abyss, it may seem a bit strange and disjointed. The little snippets of things jogged my own memory to an extent, but other times I struggled to recall the time line of events. That’s not to say that I don’t think people who aren’t already fans can’t enjoy it, but it’s clearly written with the fans in mind. It also doesn’t have a real ending. If I’m understanding the creator notes at the back correctly, this mini-series is just these two volumes, and it does not encompass the entire story; it doesn’t even finish Asch’s role (although I think it comes close). What it does do is follow Asch’s journey from a young man struggling to find truth and purpose, to a young man who comes to terms with what’s become of his life and who decides how to make the most of what is left of it. It probably fits in well with the main Tales of the Abyss manga, but that’s not available here. The video game is (released in 2006 for the PS2, and it looks like it will come out for the 3DS next year), and the anime is currently being released by Bandai Entertainment. The artwork in this manga is a near perfect representation of the style of the game and anime, which makes it even easier for this story to feel like it can slip right into the main story. Tales of the Abyssfans shouldn’t miss it. As for everyone else…all I can really say is that Tales of the Abyss has a great story. Maybe checking out this short series will pique your interest for the game or anime.