Story & Art by Yukito Kishiro
English Adaptation – Fred Burke & Toshifumi Yoshida.
Publisher – Viz.
“Do not fear the ashes…for you were born to victory!”
Sport can be fun, right? Ice hockey, basketball or rugby, there’s something for everyone. An there’s undeniably a certain level of controlled violence within sport. Ashen Victor, or perhaps I should say Motorball as it was first introduced in the legendary Battle Angel Alita mangas, looks at the way sport works and throws a few specific ones such as Rugby, Ice Hockey and your preferred racing sport such as Formula 1 into a room, bludgeons them half to death with some healthy cyborg amalgamation and lets them loose into a land where death and violence is a simple way of life.
Voila you have Motorball where cybernetically altered players blaze around a circuit on what’s basically skates though they move at about 300km/h chasing…the Motorball no less. It doesn’t matter who has the ball for the longest but who crosses the finish line on the appointed lap with it that matters. The ball’s a round thing with holes for gripping and little stumps that rotate to dislodge the players grasp. Putting fingers in the bowling ball-esque holes disables the stumps, though does nothing to the lethally minded competitors behind and in front of the ball carrier. There are no real rules on use of violence in Motorball perhaps other than the more the better, fans sure like it, but if there was any rules there would be no real way to enforce them as anyone stupid enough to try and stop what’s more often than not basically a razorblade sprouting tank moving at 300+ km/h should at least know they’d end up as a minor speed bump, paintjob for the player and spectacle for the crowd. Besides which the crowd, especially those in the special seats that show the game from a specific Motorballers field of vision, violence and crashing is what it’s all about.
That little explanation was for anyone not familiar with the world of Motorball as it holds a central role in what’s essentially a very…very violent sports drama. As I had said previously Motorball was first introduced through the Battle Angel Alita mangas created by the same author. Through “Killing Angel” and “Angel of Victory” Kishiro focused on the bloody world of Motorball and the sort of characters that compete in it though the focus was always Alita’s struggle to find herself. For love of what he had created in those mangas, Kishiro set out to expand on the gritty, lethal world of Motorball through another’s eyes, long before Alita came to race through the ranks. And so, Snev, amongst many other characters, were born.
Ashen Victor is a story about overcoming your demons and accepting who, what and where you are. Snev lives in ‘The Scrapyard’ of Battle Angel Alita saga’s creation, though long before the rusty angel is found and resurrected. Down here snuff films about hookers getting vivisected is common street fare and small crying children are silenced with a swift kick to the head which everyone else just walks around the mess it creates. In Snev’s own words “This…this is a frightening place…” an he’s not joking around. That’s one of the things that makes Kishiro’s art so sadistically beautiful but I’ll comment on that goodness later.
As you may have guessed, (or did I already say?) Snev is a Motorballer though a very unique one as he’s titled the Crash King. In his six months of play he hasn’t finished one race though not through lack of talent, in his tryout he had exceptional talent, just that his inner demons force him into the circuit floor for the sheer ecstasy of crashing. One of the useful things about being almost completely cybernetic is the body can be smashed into a beautifully drawn oblivion without killing the actual player, which Kishiro and Snev have made excellent use of in Ashen Victor.
Aswell as Snev overcoming his demons and struggling to survive in The Scrapyard, there is an intricately weaved story of deception, murder and corruption behind the Motorball circuit as after the ball crosses the line and the people go home, the team managers have to deal with the politics, profits and losses which was one of the main things that wasn’t dealt with in the two Battle Angel Alita mangas that covered Motorball. How this conspiracy spills out into the lives of others is what makes Ashen Victor so interesting over the simpler battles held on the Motorball circuit, though they all play an integral part in the stories development, bringing it all to a whole singular piece.
No manga review would really be complete without discussing the artistic style and that’s especially true for any manga created by Yukito Kishiro. I’d really like to add some more images but if I wait to find the cables I need in boxes having recently moved and such, this’ll never get posted so you’ll have to take my word on it. As I’ve already noted on, Kishiro’s style is very dark, and in that he holds power in the realm it‘s used. Except for a few small exceptions such as light shadow and skin under metal, Kishiro’s style is to use a harsh contrasting black and white form throughout Ashen Victor, giving it an appropriately dark outlook. Other facets of Kishiro’s art is that of the abstract figurative kind, such as one moment where the Motorball actually grows a mouth and starts giving Snev a pep-talk. The ball bitching at him is a representative of his realisation and will to succeed instead of crash and burn. Being hounded by the ecstasy of crashing, his crash demon is represented by a strange figure that bears a sharp, nearly demonic contrast in that his skin is pure black and his running vest white. With jagged teeth and some sort of mist flowing from his mouth, it taunts Snev into what he wants him to believe is the only truth – burning along the circuit floor. At one point the characters are shown as insanely scribbled stick figures rushing along on an equally jagged backdrop of just black scratched lines, followed by the form of two black hounds attacking one another. The symbolism or sensation gained from this and so much more that I really shouldn’t comment on fills in on the effect to convey the adrenaline rush and madness that truly is Motorball.
On the subject of the characters I’m kind of in two minds as to my feelings. Not in that the characters that are used are bad, just it’s a shame that none from Battle Angel Alita were used. Ajukutty for instance was labelled the Crash King of the circuits there but his story was that he goes more for making others crash, taking everyone down with his martial arts rather than getting the ball over the finish line. When I first heard about Ashen Victor I’d thought it was actually his history, which would have been interesting though that it isn’t far from detracts from the quality of the story. It would have just been fun to see some of those familiar characters on the Motorball circuit in their prime, maybe the champ Jashugan before he had perfected his Machine Klatsch. On the other hand it’s nice that Kishiro didn’t pick up any of his old characters as without them Ashen Victor is for one free from any possible loopholes or little things that people with nothing better to would find and point out. An whereas it would have been cool to see a side-story of how Jashugan competed with Ed to the point of where he was damaged so bad that as in the Battle Angel mangas he needs constant medicine to keep his arms stable, that none of this is touched on gives it a nice detached feeling. It holds the Motorball circuit true to it’s name, though after that all is new and fresh for the reader. Maybe even just a cameo from one of the motorballers on the circuit would have been neat but that’s no big loss.
On having read another short review regarding this manga, I can understand better why Kishiro broke it away from any small connection to the Battle Angel’s saga or characters as the reviewer said some could have wondered just what it really had to do with Battle Angel Alita. The distinction is that Motorball was created within the Battle Angel’s series of mangas. In Ashen Victor, it’s that same sport from that same excellent writer and artist, though otherwise, right down to the players and teams, it is a completely self-sufficient manga and not just milking a popular character liscence.
Due to all this, Ashen Victor becomes a nice short manga that gives itself out equally to those who don’t know who Alita is or what Motorball is as it does to those who are – like me – waiting with baited breath and quick delivery for Battle Angel Alita – Last Order vol. 04 – Angel of Protest, and everyone in-between that’s perhaps not as raving a fan. Anything you need to know is given to you as the story opens up, and if there’s something you don’t know, neither did I as you’re not supposed to until the time is right, which could well be when the book finishes up as it‘ll give something to carry to the next page for.
Recommended for anyone looking for some quick, dark and violent sci-fi action with wonderfully gritty artwork and a full, involved plot development. Especially for those who were taken in by the enthralling Motorball days of the Killing Angel though readers should be aware that the sport itself is the only connection held to the Killing Angel.