I Read The New Viz Originals One-Shots So You Don’t Have To

In a not-so-surprising announcement, manga publisher Viz Media announced the release of four Viz Originals one-shots today- all created by Western mangaka. The four titles: Cinematic Certitude, Ancient Melody, Skin & Bone, and The Stranger have all appeared on Viz Media’s website and are currently available to read for free– alongside comments from once Weekly Shounen Jump (now Viz Originals) editor-in-chief Hisashi Sasaki. They aren’t necessarily much of a time commitment to read in their entirety- there is only four after all- but many aren’t interested in reading something they might not like or enjoy. With that in mind, this post is all about breaking down the four Viz Originals one-shots, and which you should definitely be keeping an eye on.

Cinematic Certitude

A crossover between mystic and military, Cinematic Certitude provides a tight narrative structure that points readers towards dark corridors of a world that mirror the building that our two soldiers wander down in search of a beast. The first of the Viz Originals one-shots, I’ll readily admit I was rather harsh on Naf’s execution. Without much of a measuring stick- and with the potential in the work- I found it all too easy to point out issues and critiques within. I think that sentiment still remains, but with a clearer head. Cinematic Certitude tightly holds the reigns on scope while presenting a somewhat familiar experience with the slow sweeping search for an unknown horror lurking in the dark. Naf’s artwork may lack flow and impact at times, making that more methodic pace weigh heavy on the reader, but it’s incredibly hard to discount the value brought to this one-shot through the fidelity of the art. Stronger boards that don’t rely on panels filled to the brim with exclusively characters is important to make the most of that art, however.

As a counter point to the feeling of familiarity however, Naf intelligently drags the content closer towards parody and melodrama- but doesn’t quite make it across the finish line. Stuck straddling humor and horror, Cinematic Certitude‘s narrative can feel equally as stiff as the visuals can. Hearty laughs easily pierce the tense air of the operation, but they aren’t able to pervade the atmosphere, for example. I really love the panel of Spinner throwing out a heavy laugh at the captain, but it struggles to find its place within the work. In similar fashion, the horror feels like it narrowly misses the mark as honest-to-goodness horror, instead landing closer to the parody and B-list-esque atmosphere of other areas. Whether that’s the intention or not though, I can’t quite say.

The last piece to the puzzle of critique is the world. The intersection of two seemingly incompatible concepts is always something that catches my attention, so the core idea behind Cinematic Certitude certainly tickles my fancy. The mixing of occult and military is done in an interesting way that keeps them as identifiable separate entities but has them reaching out for one another all the same. My biggest issue is the dialogue. The occult’s allure is its inscrutable nature, allowing the captain such a lengthy monologue to demystify their involvement feels like revealing a magic trick all too easily.

Struck by growing pains and challenges you might expect to see in a one-shot of this nature, Naf’s Cinematic Certitude provides a strong start to the suite of Viz Originals one-shots. Certainly though, there’s still worlds of room for Naf to grow within the world of manga, so I’m hopeful to see that happen- as well as to see others read this fresh one-shot.

Ancient Melody

A story weaving together several origins and inspirations, Ancient Melody finds main character Olan struggling to make it to a floating city in the sky to save his mother. Number two of the Viz Originals one-shots, Ancient Melody helped me see the light in Cinematic Certitude. Of course still doing far more than I could hope to with a pen and pencil, Ancient Melody struggles to find weight and meaning in its narrative meandering around the magic of music. The visuals are nothing to write home about which really opens the reader to the floaty feeling of this story. There’s something to be said about filling a world to the brim, but a delicate balance is required that doesn’t have a home in Ancient Melody.

Stripping away all the extraneous material though, you can still find good ideas beneath it. Bearing striking similarities to Disney’s Atlantis: The Lost Empire, Ancient Melody brings together the wonder of ancient Atlantian technology with music. It’s an undoubtedly fun idea, but lacks refinement as valuable narrative exposition is spent on extraneous content that pulls together a Jack and The Bean Stalk plot beneath the gaze of a criminal underworld. It’s far too much to explore in the 50 odd pages present in the one-shot. In that sense, it has a lot to learn form Cinematic Certitude, its sibling that was able to produce a world that feels wide without forcing it down the reader’s throat.

If you doubled, or even tripled the page count for Ancient Melody, it would probably come out as a solid enough one-shot for the Viz Originals lineup, truthfully. In its current form though it remains a little tone deaf, very uncertain about where it aims to go, and feels devoid of consequence or risk- largely because of the mountain of value it attempts to cram into a single chapter of a far greater story. You could split off several independent stories from this single one-shot- an impressive feat for the space, but one that only serves to be problematic. Out of the bunch, this is the read that I would recommend the least.

Skin & Bone

A dark fantasy of flesh vs frames, Skin & Bone is the most “typically” styled manga of the Viz Originals one-shots, playing to the crowd with its approach. A necrotic army that runs rampant across the world, a guild established to keep them in check, and a very unique set of characters- it’s about as “manga-like” as you could possibly get. In a sense, that really works for it- but it lacks sensibility. With a world that feels like it’s at the reader’s fingertips, you can feel Josh Tierney’s story for Skin & Bone slowly slipping out of his grasp. Emotions run out of control within our main character Marr, resulting in flashbacks that number far too many for a single one-shot and drag the reader further away from a narrative and closer to a guided tour of a world that exists in Tierney’s mind.

Interestingly enough though, Tierney’s world is separated into story and art as Valentin Serber delivers the other half of this one-shot. In truth, there’s not all too much to state in regards to the art. You could certainly say it’s a very “Western” looking manga, but that’s neither here nor there. A more worthwhile critique is the readability of some pages. Some layouts and panels can have you squinting to figure out if that really is a motorcycle or not. Others can have awkwardly superimposed art, and so on and so forth. It’s far from the worst offenders that I’ve seen, but it remains a fact that it isn’t always the easiest to follow.

Putting the pairing of story and art together, you get a somewhat contrasting image to Ancient Melody. Mostly in the fact that despite the incredibly clear ambition of both, Skin & Bone dives too deep instead of spreading itself too thin. Of the two, I’d much rather the former, but it’s also something that can turn readers away from the work. Information is too valuable to be doled out from an endless well of knowledge. If Skin & Bone can learn that lesson, it could certainly stand to find a crowd in the West. Because of that then, I’d say that it’s an interesting read that’s above Ancient Melody, but quite comfortably beneath Cinematic Certitude.

The Stranger

If I were to pick a winner from this bunch of Viz Originals one-shots, The Stranger would take that pole position hands down. Unfortunately, its presentation is very disparate to the general consensus of Western Manga fans. Because of that though, I have to give credit where credit is due for Liam Naughton’s provocative and melodramatic one-shot. Much like Cinematic Certitude, The Stranger expertly presents a world far greater than what its pages deliver to the reader. Full of loneliness and a search for connection, The Stranger eludes an easily describable synopsis in favor of a far more emotional and evocative experience.

A lot of that, in all honestly, comes from the art. Covered head to toe in shadows and darker tones, Naughton’s more simplistic character designs convey a great deal of emotion and impact with their poses and expressions. Further accentuated by the weight of a departing sun and some great panelling and layouts, the tension and drama as the manga finds its legs is just wonderfully delivered. If you were to tell me this was a one-shot of one of manga’s historic greats, I honestly wouldn’t bat an eye. There is truly a great deal of latent talent in art alone, bringing such a wildly strong style to the forefront alongside a story that slots right into it.

In all honestly, I could probably point out more than a dozen things about how expertly Naughton has put together The Stranger. The part where Grace “loses” their sense of self after forgoing their relationship with Louise is very sharp, and having Louise express love to another character prior to Grace’s reappearance is perfect for setting up the awkward tension of their first meeting in five years. The physical manifestation of isolation as insatiable rage that sees them lash out at things they should love, things they should cherish, is just sublime. It’s a story that connects the reality of emotional distance and emptiness to the supernatural and science fiction creatures that radiate the depths of those feelings.

The Stranger immediately catapults Liam Naughton to the forefront of this Western industry (in my eyes), and presents Western created manga as a serious and passionate affair rather than the “we can do it too!” that it can easily come off as. It’s a treat of a read that I highly recommend to everyone and anyone- even if it might be a bit jarring to some.

So, everything considered, this (first) suite of Viz Originals one-shots was quite interesting to read. A very wild, and probably intended as such, range of work appears through these 4 one-shots as Viz searches for its new series. Not everything can succeed of course, but important lessons appear from failures- both for those who have failed, and those who wish to learn. If there’s anything that’s truly surprising about this, it’s how quick Viz was to let up on the secret. Having only one day to build hype (and then releasing 4 one-shots in one go) is a very easy way to divide and conquer- especially when Anime Expo was just around the corner. It’s all very curious work from the publisher’s end, so it has me wondering what other tricks they might have up their sleeve at this point in time. Currently however, we only have these four one-shots- with more to come in a month’s time. With all of that in mind, if you’re a real fan of manga you could easily read all 4, but I think Cinematic Certitude will be the most well-received of the bunch- so of course it’s the one I’ll recommend if you could only read one (though I desperately wish I could get people to read The Stranger).

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.