Manga Analysis - The Legend of Zelda: Ocarina of Time
Note that because this is an analysis which compares the narratives of the game and its manga counterpart, there may be some minor spoilers involved. There is a caption warning before some later examples though; besides that it's written like a review.
I hope you enjoy reading my blog post none the less! Thanks again for giving it a look!
Near the end of 1998, a groundbreaking entry in the realm of video games was released to the world in the form of The Legend of Zelda: Ocarina of Time. Created for the Nintendo 64 hardware, this action-adventure title is often ranked near the top on most video game journalism lists, and most people generally agree that the game is filled with creative leaps that push the limits of what an interactive experience is capable of reaching. The game introduced context sensitive actions in addition to a new targeting system which allowed the player to actively lock onto objects like enemies in three-dimensional real time. Ocarina of Time also included an advanced combat system with an arsenal of varied items, a graphics engine which greatly pushed the limits of the Nintendo 64 hardware, an atmosphere which evoked certain emotions depending on the current location and time of day, a fantastic soundtrack with instrumental variety, and a large deal of linear quest exploration, some containing puzzle elements. It's a generally loved game, which despite some occasional gameplay problems and what I personally feel to be a somewhat simplistic narrative, I consider it a gaming classic.
More than a year after its release, a manga adaptation of The Legend of Zelda series began to see releases, with North American regions not seeing translated versions until around an unbelievable eight years later. The art and writing for the books were done by Akira Himekawa; the name is actually a combination of two other pen names: A. Honda and S. Nagano. Manga of course refers to a form of Japanese comics which shares large similarities to graphic novels. The art form relies heavily on a detailed art style combined with heavy amounts of dialog. There is also some text which indicates sound effects and omniscient narration when necessary.
I am pleased to say that not only was Ocarina of Time successfully adapted into a manga series, but that the story presentation actually has some advantages of the game's main plot as well. Even with the game being illustrated in only two volumes, there is an incredible focus on strong narrative, including two bonus stories and a very wise retelling of certain events. How can so many characters receive dialog including the previously silent protagonist Link? What are some examples of narrative comparison? And how is the overall art style?
The manga editions of The Legend of Zelda series are done in black and white, with the exception of some wonderfully detailed colored covers. Large varieties of shading are used for the story drawings, and the very fluid shading also illustrates surrounding environments. Time of day is accurately portrayed, landscape effects like rock avalanches are appropriately vivified, and mood is well manipulated ranging from comedy relief to combat intensity to tragic despair. Facial animations for the individual characters are effectively used to represent very specific emotions, and these are for the most part accurate to the surrounding story of the manga; in fact they often add to the characterization. Perhaps I'm being a bit vague in describing the art, but I can assure you that it's not only faithful to the game's environments, but that it also stands out very well from a handwritten perspective. It creates emotional atmosphere, illustrates fierce combat animation when necessary, and enhances the emotional presentation of certain characters.
For the large part, the manga manages to hold true to the central plot of the video game, but does take artistic liberties to restructure several moments of the narrative. It seems like the manga is specifically targeted toward fans of the video game, and this is noticeable with a few segments where the dungeon areas are rapidly ran through; bosses are encountered almost right away. While this may be slightly disorienting to readers not familiar with the Nintendo 64 title, it instead allows for a larger amount of focus on individual characterization, relationship exploration, and character presentation. The manga can be thought of as an impressive supplement to the game, and its liberties as I mentioned earlier are almost always done for the better.
Remember in an older post of mine where I argued that Ocarina of Time itself had a decent main plot but with mostly limited side characters? Well in the manga, characters throughout the land of Hyrule are spread out evenly over the course of the two volumes. Side characters such as members of the Romani Ranch, Nabooru of the Gerudo tribe, and numerous others make appearances several times across Hyrule; in fact many of the dungeon segments usually involve a second character traveling with Link during his boss encounters. Most of the world's characters almost never stationary in a single location, and they each have detailed personalities of their own! I would say this is actually an improvement in character presentation! Well done Akira Himekawa!
The characters in general are just much better expressive in these two manga volumes than they usually are in the game. Zelda spends an entire day hanging out with Link in Castle Town before the young hero first visits the castle, Link's first journey across Hyrule Field involves catching a carriage ride with Talon of the Romani Ranch, Impa shows a much greater concern over the safety of the princess and is seen protecting her while Ganondorf invades Hyrule Castle, the entire Kokiri townsfolk are in the Great Deku Tree area during the initial forest crisis... there are numerous more examples I could cite, but I don't want to give away too many specifics in order to avoid major plot spoilers. And yes, Link does have an active speaking role in the manga, but it never feels particularly out of place; he reacts realistically to scenarios depending on his current age in the game, he reflects on lost time and how the seven year leap negatively impacts relationships he once held, and while heroically overpowered at times during battle segments, he's ultimately presented in a very positive light.
For the most part, dungeon segments are rushed through in the manga adaptation of Ocarina of Time. An ally usually accompanies Link into each lair, and rather than going through all of the puzzles that the player would otherwise experience during the gameplay, boss encounters are come across pretty quickly. This may be a bit disorientating for people not familiar with the game, but it also allows for there to be a consistent narrative flow. Some of the items like the Mirror Shield are instead acquired through story elements, such as the Deku Shield being personally carved from the Great Deku Tree, or the slingshot being a personal craft that child Link initially made to shoot down forest fruits. Besides, the manga is only two volumes, so focusing more on individual characters and emotion was likely the more desirable priority. It's a supplement to the game.
Now that we've gotten any possible criticism out of the way, I would like to mention something unique that the manga version of this adventure tale does. Changes in story presentation are not only limited to stronger characters, additional dialog, and more vivid emotional presentation. There are also some areas with additional or revised story sequences, many of which in my opinion are for the better. Keep in mind that I'm only going over three examples, and mostly of the conceptual ideas so as to not give away too many spoilers.
Ocarina of Time, that is the video game, begins with a brief narration of Link being a child in the Kokiri Forest living without a fairy. The player observes a foreshadowing nightmare about Ganondorf before eventually being summoned to assist the Great Deku Tree with his parasitic curse. After that, Link has the story of the three goddesses explained to him before being sent off on a quest to help the Hylian princess prevent a future filled with despair and conflict. Some characters in the Kokiri Forest are presented to illustrate Link's past relationships with the forest citizens, including outcast bullying by Milo's gang, a childhood attachment with Saria, and a few other inhabitants the young hero grew up with. But how about even more exploration?
I think the Kokiri Forest holds some of the better components of the game's main plot, so if it's expanded on even further, then the more the merrier. In particular, something I love about the manga is that the story does not begin strictly in the middle of the tree's conflict. The manga begins with some brief panels illustrating, not simply describing like later in the game, Link's initial arrival in the forest as a young child with the mother having retreated from the hostilities of war (the actual civil conflicts are shown in more detail later in the story). It then goes through a normal day of child Link's life in the forest before the Great Deku Tree is infected by Gohma, including better illustrated cases of social alienation, the Great Deku Tree's comforting of Link which involves the child questioning why he lacks a fairy and what the outside world is like, and some examples of activities the child shares with his best friend Saria. This prologue may seem minor, but it's a small addition I like, specifically showing life outside the combat, something which is repeated at Castle Town with Zelda.
About a third through Ocarina of Time in the video game, Zelda has to retreat the castle grounds with Impa since Ganondorf apparently attacked the castle grounds in order to recover the Ocarina of Time. Canonically the king was killed, local devastation was caused, and some knights were attacked. Here's a potential problem I have with that section of the story... it's very implied and not complimented with enough physical evidence, not that it didn't happen of course, but that the presentation beyond that bridge cutscene is weak. The townsfolk remain perfectly happy, and apart from observing a single soldier in an alleyway die after telling child Link about the incident, which by the way is very possible to miss, there's not much physical evidence of the drama.
The manga significantly changes the presentation of this, rewriting the castle invasion using different character locations, dialog, and more vivid illustrations. In other words, shown and not just briefly implied. On his way back to the castle after acquiring the third pendant, Link sees in the distance that Hyrule Castle is ablaze in flames, and some of the townsfolk react to this as well. The young hero physically fights his way through the castle, combating and running past skeleton enemies while the background is filled with drama and intensity; there's even some occasional blood in the drawings! Link also visually expresses a sense of urgency while he runs up the castle, Impa combatively protects Zelda while a very taunting Ganondorf has the two cornered, and Link's younger age plays a role in some of his physical limitations. One of the enemies Link encounters also appears in the adult section of the narrative, and that age difference comes into play there.
Another example of an excellent story modification in the manga, at least in my opinion, is with what the manga did to the dragon character Volvagia. In the game, Volvagia was a villainous monster resurrected by Ganondorf in order to devour members of the Goron race; this would have served as an example to create a dictatorship type of fear across the remaining land of Hyrule. And while on its own that's certainly not a bad idea for a narrative conflict, I absolutely love the different direction the manga decided to follow.
Link as an adult encounters Volvagia multiple times outside the Fire Temple. He hears about the Gorons being attacked by the dragon, and there are even some illustrations to show the physical damage, but Link hesitates in attacking the dragon; in fact he shows distress and claims that the dragon is not an evil being. So wait a second, what's going on here? Well Volvagia actually appears in a memory sequence involving Link as a child during an early visit to Castle Town. The innocent Link finds a caged pet dragon being sold, and out of a desire to help the little creature, Link ends up paying money to free him. That same creature (Volvagia) later saves child Link from an enemy sneak attack, and the two end up being close friends for a short amount of time.
So now we're in an emotionally uncomfortable situation... because Volvagia over the course of Link's seven sleeping years became brainwashed by Ganondorf. Link has to fight for the protection of the Goron folk in order to prevent further destruction across Hyrule, but this adds a hesitation in adult Link's attacks. Without going too large into detail, it creates a more sympathetic villain which hurts Link on an emotional level, and this also creates a stronger animosity toward the big bad Ganondorf. I personally prefer this take on the story.
Also included in the two manga volumes are two additional stories which are not present in the game. The first one which spans two chapters is titled The Skull Kid and the Mask, which provides some character presentation and back story for the Skull Kid, a character who plays a minor role in Ocarina of Time and a much larger role in Majora's Mask. It takes place earlier in Link's Kokiri childhood and helps to even further explore the characters in the land. We see the back story of how the Skull Kid turned into the creature he was, and we also see a conflict which involves a dark rival of the Great Deku Tree. It's a fun filler story with character exploration.
The second story is only a chapter long, and it takes place during the middle of Adult Link's adventures. Largely occurring in the Lake Hylia area, this tale involves the fictional Watarara species, a group of bird-like creatures which share some similarities to the Rito species found in Wind Waker. This section of the manga covers themes of envy, coming of age, and although in a rather clichéd way, also looks at Link's relationship with Navi. It's unique to the manga, but once again, it's illustrated well enough and provides some presentation variety.
So there's my overview of the Ocarina of Time manga volumes. There are numerous other examples of character exploration and art illustrations that I didn't cover, largely because the combined volumes have over 400 pages in total. The books serve more as a supplement or deluxe retelling of the narrative sections of the game, as gameplay elements like dungeon exploring and item quests are often sacrificed for the sake of prioritizing the story. Character presentations are strong, the illustrations show detailed expressions, and artistic liberties are taken at times to improve side characters and some of the more intense aspects of the main story. Both Ocarina of Time and its manga adaptation are fantastic, but I personally believe the latter improves on areas where the original could have used revision. Either way, both are worth experiencing, so go buy the game if you haven't, and go find a copy of the manga for sale if you haven't either! Thanks for reading!