Ultimo, Vol. 1 – Manga Review

Review by: Eduardo Zacarias

Publisher: VIZ Media
Author: Hiroyuki Takei, Stan Lee (Original Concept)
Genre: Graphic Novel (Shonen Jump Manga)
MSRP: $9.99 US
Rating: T (Teen)
Release Date: Available Now

It’s not the ultimate battle against Good versus Evil but it’s close.

If you ever wondered what it would be like if Stan Lee – the creator of Marvel Comics heroes like the X-Men, the Incredible Hulk and Spider-Man to name just a few – decided to work on a manga title then you’re in for an interesting surprise. In an interesting collaboration between Lee and Shaman King author Hiroyuki Takei, two dolls fight to answer the question if Good can triumph over Evil in Volume 1 of Ultimo.

In 12th century Japan, an old man that looks suspiciously like Stan Lee (with cooler hair) is pushing a cart when a most unusual group of bandits appear out of nowhere. Their leader is a tall young man named Yamato who carries old men and children on his raids for loot … especially loot that belongs to the greedy nobles that had taken their lands. The old man calls himself Dunstan and he’s carrying unusual and valuable cargo.

You see, inside each crate are what Yamato thinks are two dolls of unusual design and it isn’t until the dolls wake up that he realizes that these aren’t dolls nor are they children. These mechanical boys, as Dunstan calls them, are Karakuri Doji. The one with the fiery red hair is called Ultimo who is the embodiment of all that is good while the other, named Vice is evil personified. You see, Ultimo and Vice were created by Dunstan as an experiment to see which one is stronger. Yet, as Vice is unleashed, he shows how dangerous pure evil can be as he attacks the bandits.

Fast-forward several centuries later in the 21st century; a tall and lanky High school boy named Yamato is heading for school wondering what to get the girl of his dream for her birthday. Stepping into an antique shop with the intention of pawning his leather school bag, the boy that looks a lot like the leader of the bandits that encountered Dunstan so many centuries back, recognizes the doll on display. It’s Ultimo and somehow the boy named Yamato knows it.

As Ultimo wakes up, he embraces the boy thinking he’s his old master but Yamato doesn’t want anything do to with the antique shop or the living doll. Unfortunately, Vice also wakes up in this century and begins hunting down Yamato as the evil Karakuri Doji attacks the bus that Yamato and his friend Rune are riding. Once again, Ultimo steps in to save the young man as all around them onlookers are shocked to see the two using their powers and unusual gauntlets during the battle. A few classmates even recognize Yamato as they get in the way of Vice and Ultimo.

Unfortunately for the two mechanical boys, the battle nearly destroys them both as Yamato learns that for every Karakuro Doji there is a master that is bound to the doll. While Yamato isn’t yet bound to Ultimo, Vice has a master and Yamato meets him when he finally steps out to pick up the shattered remains of Vice. Calling himself only K, this master is an unusual fellow who we will most certainly see again.

While Rune goes back to class, Yamato doesn’t and tries to make sense of Ultimo and why certain people strike him as familiar. Ultimo does tell him a most baffling and startling fact that might explain why he has vivid dreams of a warrior who uses Ultimo to carry out his mission to put nobles in their place. One such dream even reveals a new master with a Karakuro Doji that’s far different from both Ultimo and Vice. When a man that looks like the master in his dream, Yamato gets a most unusual offer from this man.

Volume 1 of Ultimo certainly has its fun and charming side that makes this a fast-paced manga that isn’t bad at all. In fact, it’s actually a very enjoyable manga, although it is far from an original work considering the fact that the art and story is handled by a talented mangaka. While it remains to be seen if the series moves in an interesting and original direction in the next volume, I can look past the fact that the mechanical boys can be confused for girls or the unusual villain that is K. Yes, it’s just that fun a read and yes we will be waiting for the next volume with much anticipation. Until then, make mine … manga.

MANGA REVIEW BREAKDOWN

STORY: B
A group of bandits lead by their leader, Yamato, comes across an old man who happens to be the creator of two dolls that are the embodiment of Good (Ultimo) and Evil (Vice). As the dolls awaken, the battle between Ultimo and Vice begins. Yet several centuries later, a young High school student named Yamato also discovers Ultimo in an antique shop and memories of a life in the 12th century.

ART: A
Takei-sensei’s art still doesn’t fail to impress and it just seems to be getting better as we can see from this series. He pays homage to Stan “the man” Lee by making Dunstan look like a cooler version of the real deal.

OVERALL: B
Fast-paced, exciting and fun to read, Volume 1 of Ultimo is one of those good reads you can expect from Stan Lee. However, this isn’t the most original work tied to a master storyteller like Takei and that’s what makes this just a fun time that isn’t as brilliant as it could have been considering the talent involved. Still, this series has potential and we will definitely continue to keep our eye on it.

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