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Review: ‘The Legend of Zelda: The Minish Cap/Phantom Hourglass’

Zelda Minish CapThe Legend of Zelda: The Minish Cap/Phantom Hourglass
Writer/artist: Akira Himekawa
Viz Media; $17.99
Rated A for All Ages

The latest game in Nintendo’s Legend of Zelda franchise, Breath of The Wild, was released in March, leading to the regular, periodic spike in interest of all things Zelda. That might explain why Viz has been re-publishing their still-growing library of Akira Himekawa’s Zelda comics in new “Legendary Edition” volumes. These feature dimensions that are a bit larger than the original (and typical) digest-sized format by about an inch or so, as well as containing some colored pages on nicer paper. They also collect multiple stories per volume. The first of the four legendary editions, The Ocarina of Time, was released last November. The latest, containing The Minish Cap and Phantom Hourglass, was just released in May, and there are two more currently scheduled.

Regardless of one’s particular affections for the video games, it is nigh impossible not to respect the work of Akira Himekawa, a joint pen name shared by Japanese women A. Honda and S. Nagano. They have so far created nine Legend of Zelda game adaptations, and they are currently working on their tenth, Twilight Princess, which just started being released in the U.S. More remarkable than the number of pages they have produced, however, is the fact that the Legend of Zelda games vary wildly in terms of character design, art style, and tone, often seemingly reinventing the recurring characters like Link and Zelda from whole cloth each time around. And yet Himekawa have adapted so many different games, always equally skillfully. Looking at their body of work, you might be surprised to find that the same pair is responsible for all of them, given how different many of the particular manga stories are from others.

The Minish Cap/Phantom Hourglass is a pretty good example of the range of styles they work in. Originally released by Viz in 2009 and 2010 respectively, and with another manga digest released between them, these are two of the “cute” stories, both based on games Nintendo created for hand-held game systems. The Minish Cap was for the Game Boy Advance, and the Phantom Hourglass for Nintendo DS.

The version of Link that shows up in these is a very different one than in many of the other games. He’s essentially a little kid of somewhat indeterminate youth, drawn in a simple style with a big head, big eyes, and all-around tiny stature that leaves many of the adult characters towering above him.

While the particulars of his quests still involve danger, monster-fighting, and swordplay, they are also rather gentle, with an old-school video game type of violence; when this Link kills a monster with his sword, it’s rendered not much differently than when, say, Pac-Man “kills” a ghost. They might disappear entirely or transform from a cursed form into a normal, peaceful animal of some kind. Additionally, these stories have more in the way of highly excited broad comedy mixed into the fantasy adventure formula.

In The Minish Cap, Princess Zelda is turned to stone by a wicked mage. Link, the grandson of a swordsmith and a swordsman in training, embarks on a quest to save her, receiving aid from some particularly unusual allies. These include the titular hat, a sentient bit of headwear with a talking bird head atop it, and The Picori, tiny little pixie-like creatures that only children can see. To interact with them, Link must shrink down to their size repeatedly.

The Phantom Hourglass game is a sequel to a game Himekawa haven’t adapted (The Wind Waker), but based on the visuals and this version of Link’s personality, it functions as a follow-up to the manga comic it’s paired with in this particular collection. Here Link is sailing on a ship with his friend Tetra, and when she gets turned into stone—something that seems to happen to Link’s friends a lot—he allies himself with a fairy and a shifty, greedy, cowardly pirate by the name of Captain Linebeck in order to save her.

As with Minish Cap, this involves the very arcade-logic process of defeating certain foes and recovering certain items. It will come as no surprise that Link is successful, although it is perhaps surprising to see the degree of characterization that goes into this story, as Linebeck has a backstory that explains his current, hardly heroic status, and Himekawa go to some pains to demonstrate that times spent around a brave, loyal, all-around good kid like Link can rub off even on the most callous and cynical of adults.

In that respect, the Link that appears in these two stories is a hero in another sense of the word—that is, he’s not just the protagonist, but he’s also a character worth emulating.

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J. Caleb Mozzocco About J. Caleb Mozzocco

J. Caleb Mozzocco is a way-too-busy freelance writer who has written about comics for online and print venues for a rather long time now. He currently contributes to Comic Book Resources' Robot 6 blog and ComicsAlliance, and maintains his own daily-ish blog at EveryDayIsLikeWednesday.blogspot.com. He lives in northeast Ohio, where he works as a circulation clerk at a public library by day.

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