The Metroid series made history when they decided to make their lone, warrior-esque main character a woman. Up to that point, no other game series had had a female protagonist as prominent as Samus Aran. Nintendo had created another legendary character to fight alongside Mario, Link, and various other characters in their video game hierarchy. With this new character came added pressure to give her a backstory worthy of her base appearance as a silent hunter. An attempt to make her more human, despite her robotic appearance. An official manga was created almost twenty years after her first appearance to reveal the tale of Samus
Aran's past and upbringing into the hero that she is now. Almost twenty years later, and fans would finally get to know the whole story behind their favorite female space warrior.
One other thing to note is Nintendo's insistence on making Samus more human. Ever since the manga was released, the main games in the Metroid franchise have slowly and progressively shown Samus outside of her suit, and even has her talking regularly in the latest installment: Other M. Some fans feel that Nintendo's attempts to make her more vulnerable is unnecessary, and Samus's personality should forever remain whatever the player makes of it. One thing that most Metroid games have in common is great ambiance, and Samus's hesitance to speak only further enhances the experience of her games. Despite these complaints, Nintendo seems intent on making Samus a tragic hero worthy of pity and empathy.
One thing that is apparent immediately with the Metroid manga is that the story is not very unique. Samus is a normal three year-old girl, living on a planet with her mother and father, who serve as commanders for an unexplained federation within the population. One day, an enemy species called the space pirates invade Samus's planet and attack everything in site, with the help of their commander: Ridley. Through a series of events, the entire population is wiped out, leaving only Samus alive after the entire incident. This leads to another alien race, the Chozo, adopting Samus and taking her under their care for the time being.
Samus's upbringing screams typical shounen. The entire story can be wrapped up in a cliche mess of different scenarios that can be found in multiple other sources. Her mindset is the usual "righteousness and justice" that plagues the characters in Japanese media. If they truly wanted to make Samus a tragic hero, it may have been more enticing to make her question the events that had happened to her, rather than accept everything and fight to ensure it doesn't happen to others. Sure, she suffers from anxiety and post-traumatic stress disorder, but it's only touched upon once throughout the entire story, and is resolved in one of the most unnaturally rushed situations I have ever read in any story. It seems that no matter what bad happens in Samus's life, she's able to shrug it off in a matter of minutes, or in due part to some random character's ramblings.
What's more cliche than Samus herself is the characters around her. Ridley as a character is laughably absurd. Everything with him is mass murder and insults. Nothing more. He's not an interesting character; he's evil to be evil. The space pirates are even worse. Not only are they uninteresting, but they're treated as if they were ants. No single space pirate is given more than a few panels' worth of attention, and are mostly there to showcase Samus's righteous well-being. The chozo seem well enough, but are mostly just given the role of Samus's adoptive family. Not a lot is shown of their wise and philosophical nature. However, with the logic that this manga has, I'd rather not see it. One other character worth mentioning is Adam Malcovich (as spelled in the manga), who is a high-ranking general in the galactic federation later on in Samus's life. His face, for whatever reason, is the most hilarious thing about the manga. He always looks as if his insides are being gripped by a slimy tentacle, crushing his ribs, his heart, and his ability to make facial expressions. He says next to nothing and is basically shoehorned in because he plays a role in the Metroid game that came before the manga.
Mentioned above, I touched on how the Metroid games had a great sense of ambiance. The design of the games helped that immensely. Metroid's manga has trivial art. For its time, it looks almost like standard shoujo. The humor is on par with it, too. Samus's eyes arc in a way that could only be described as the shape of topaz. Perhaps that's symbolic of her pure nature. Her body is contorted in the sexiest way possible. Even when she's (assumed) in her mid-twenties, she looks as if she's no older than sixteen. The image that this manga paints of Samus fails both anatomically and emotionally. Even with her power suit on, she still looks sexy. Everyone else comes off as hilariously misshapen or unintentionally absurd. The only saving grace? The main antagonists. Ridley, Kraid, and Mother Brain all look menacing and deranged, like a lot of time and effort were put into crafting their design perfectly. If only this showed with the rest of the story.
Giving Samus her own backstory is sure to cause some debate. And it has. Other M was panned by most fans as a pitiful attempt to make Samus into a more believable and emotional hero, even when chronologically, it wouldn't make sense for all of her past symptoms to crop up again. Such is the case of the Metroid manga. It's along the same lines; an attempt to make Samus human. The only issue here is that Nintendo can't seem to make sense of the whole thing. They rely on cliches and the usual tropes that embody modern shounen stories, and they just come off as lazy. If this is what Samus is like as a character, I'd rather be hidden behind the shadows of ignorance. If this is what the story of Metroid comes down to, I'd rather watch the Alien movies.
Metroid’s story is typical for a space marine style series. Samus grew up on a peaceful planet that contained a prized energy source. The resources caught the space pirates’ attention, and they raided the planet. As the sole survivor, the Chozo took her in and began training her to become a warrior and protector of peace. As a teenager, she leaves the planet and enters the Federation. Her unit manages to capture a space pirate, alive, and the interrogation leads her back to her home planet. She returns to find the space pirates seizing control of the planet, under
the directive of the Chozo’s own computer, Mother Brain. She flees the planet, but years later, fate requires her to venture once again into the twisted world she once called home. The last few chapters cover events you can actually play in the game, Metroid Zero Mission, up to but not including the final encounter with the biocomputer.
Metroid historically relies on the environment to tell a story, so while this two-volume series is light on progression, it is good for adding personality to the already established characters. Samus starts as a traumatized girl whom the Chozo protect. Over time, she fights out of an obligation she feels to defend the galaxy. Of course, “obligation” only gets you so far, and when forced to stare down her past, she breaks down completely. After the experience, she becomes a free-spirited bounty hunter who can fight for causes in which she truly believes. The Chozo, who only show up in the games through their remaining technology, strive for peace in the galaxy. Despite high hopes for their special projects, they fell woefully short and, in the end, set into motion all the events in the Metroid canon.
On the antagonistic side, the series reveals that the space pirates respond only to the strong, in a sort of hive-mind mentality. Ridley, Samus’ nemesis and the leader of the space pirates, is portrayed as constantly sadistic. He enjoys killing people, and even eats the corpses of his victims to regain his strength. Mother Brain, however, starts the manga as a docile biological computer for the Chozo. As time goes on, she develops a sense of fear, that the Chozo will leave her behind as they focus their efforts on Samus. This eventually evolves into an egocentric god-complex that causes her to rebel against the galaxy.
From an artistic standpoint, the manga is simply sufficient. Most of the problem rests on Samus, who has a disproportionate feel. That’s a problem when she’s the main character. I realize this manga occurs before the sexualization of Samus, but her body just looks too stocky for an acrobatic and agile bounty hunter. It might just be me, but it seems like the artist made her head too big in some places and too small in others. It has a weird rubber-band effect that steals your attention. The space pirates lack detail, and Ridley looks kind of like a convoluted caricature of a demonic dragon. The backgrounds also suffer from this same unpolished feel. For a series that prizes detail in the environment, this is an unfortunate letdown. On the other hand, I really liked the design of the Chozo. Their avian features are a bit exaggerated, but they still look distinguished in their simple, formal robes. The Metroids also have their traditionally interesting character design, and seeing Mother Brain’s slow but steady design progression is a nice addition. In addition, the sci-fi space setting lends itself to many battle sequences, with the focus on firearms and explosions. I found these enjoyable.
Your enjoyment of the Metroid manga will largely depend on how much interest you have in the accompanying franchise. If you have never played the games but have thought about trying them, these volumes are the obvious starting point. If you love the franchise already, then the story will shed some light on the characters and their backgrounds that will enhance your playing experience. However, if you fall into the third group that has no real interest in the games, much of this will be lost on you. The Metroid manga’s prominent weakness is its inability to stand alone as a single work. You might enjoy the battle sequences, or the progression Samus makes, but there just isn’t enough here for a real recommendation. I see it as a lost opportunity from Nintendo to explore the story in a different perspective.
I have a special fondness for the Metroid franchise and basically every game in it, except for that one atrocity committed by Team Ninja in 2010. Why Nintendo thought that the group known for their jiggle physics would write a female character respectfully is beyond me. Getting back on topic, in the early 2000s, before that thing stained the franchise, there was a sixteen chapter manga written by Tazawa Kouji and drawn by Ishikawa Kenji. Was it a preview of the horrible thing that was to come to the franchise or is it a worthy part of the lore?
We open with chibi Samus on a
mining colony with her parents. The Chozo come seeking the rare material they're gathering but they get turned down because all they have has already been scheduled to be delivered. The Chozo leave peaceably, but the space pirates promptly show up, led by Ridley. The Chozo return seeing that everything has been razed and everyone is dead save one small child, Samus. They decide to take her to their world, Zebes, and infuse her with Chozo DNA for science. Actually, it's because her frail human body won't be able to survive on Zebes for long. As she gets older they help her hone her superhuman abilities and train her to protect the peace in their stead. They also gift her with her iconic power suit. Eventually, she separates from them at their urging and works with the federation, at least for a time.
There are some plot details in this that Team Ninja re-purposed for their pile of excrement. The difference is that in here they're interesting and handled pretty well, whereas in that it was the exact opposite. Honestly, the biggest problem in this manga is the pacing. They skip over and rush through quite a bit. There are times where they really do have to for the story and towards the end they skim over a lot just because they're covering material from Super Metroid but there are other times where it feels like a lazy way to change Samus' character without actually having to show her develop. To be fair, there aren't many moments like that and they do show the impetuses behind her changes even if they don't show the changes themselves, but there are a couple. On the positive side, the narrative is really compelling and there are a lot of good moments. The world building is superb. The story also manages to keep its dramatic tension well in spite of the fact that you know basically how things are going to go down if you're familiar with the games.
One thing this manga does spectacularly is fleshing out Samus' character. They also show her development out of naivete and into a true warrior and all around badass. There are some cool side characters too. Particularly Samus' former partners from when she was in the federation, Kreatz & Mauk. You also get some insight into Mother Brain and Ridley.
Ishikawa's artwork is mostly really good. There are some points where the action doesn't flow all that smoothly (not many but some) and there are moments where the federation ships look like boots for some reason but it's mostly well done with good action sequences, expressive faces and really interesting character designs. The artwork on the various Metroid creatures is really good and you can tell that he either knows the games well or at least did his research so that he could make them mesh with their game portrayals.
There's a young girl who acts a bit like she has a one-sided crush on Samus but there's really not any romance in this manga. Which is good since Metroid doesn't need any of that.
This manga is actually really good. Whether you're a fan of the games it's based off of or not, it's a compelling sci-fi story with interesting characters, and strong action sequences. It is better if you're a fan of the games, but it's not required. For myself, I give this one a solid 8/10.
With atrocious pacing and empty characters, a lot of what encompasses Metroid's story is hackneyed and wasted on 16 chapters. It's not a science-fiction, and it's not a drama, it's something in between that fails to get either thing right. I found this rather arduous to finish, counting down the chapters until the ending since it was so annoying to read at times.
Certain events that take place don't seem to add up, others seem to be over-charged to emphasize certain aspects of the story, and then there's this shining small percentage of downright ridiculousness that makes me wonder why this manga even existed.
Everything looks alright
I guess, but since there are terrible pacing issues, the artwork needs to at least be able to carry the motions of the narrative without making things confusing. This simple request isn't even fulfilled, as both action sequences and basic conversation pieces are cluttered and messy.
There's a lot of repetitive panels that make pages boring and recognizable. It's not that the artist copy/pasted, rather they drew things in a similar fashion and made things seem uninspired and lazy.
I don't know anything about anyone except Samus, and everything I know about Samus is mostly stuff I had acquired from the games. There's enough in the manga to get things going, but it's not enough to carry the story as things progress.
Boring and uninteresting. I didn't really care to finish this manga, but I trudged through to get it over with. I wish I didn't.
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