Written by Brett Reistroffer
Writer/Artist – Yoshitaka Amano
Although an extremely prolific illustrator, Yoshitaka Amano of Final Fantasy and Vampire Hunter D fame is only just now getting around to publishing a full length book that he both wrote and illustrated. Not that he hasn’t been working on it, the soon to be released Deva Zan published by Dark Horse had been in the works for more than a decade. He has had other, more short-form projects in the past, like Tales of the Genji, and Mateki: The Magic Flute, where he interpreted classic stories through his unique trademark art style, but Deva Zan will be his first foray into composing a book using his own long-form storytelling as the foundation for the art. Both of which are featured equally in the book; many passages are accompanied by one or two paintings, ranging from small to full-page, and other times there will be two pages of written story or a two page spread of art. Of course, as artist first and foremost, Mr. Amano’s beautiful and often striking imagery is the main attraction in this mythology inspired modern folk tale.
The paintings and charcoal sketches are Amano at his best, ranging from the chaotic minimalist to the lush, page sweeping scenery. The art embodies the surreal fantasy of the story, appearing dreamlike and ethereal. The artist’s use of color many times falls into his trademark three techniques; the absence of any at all, the dynamic use of a single contrasting color, or a near-overpowering array of textured hues cascading across the page. While they offer a diverse range of aesthetic, all three styles serve to create a stark and captivating aspect to the pieces. Ever the student of traditional Japanese art, Amano paints and draws with a distinctly Eastern appearance, but with his own chaotic and poignant flair. In other words, if you’ve been an appreciator of the iconic Japanese artist, or want a good introduction to his style, you will find everything you need in this book.
As for the story, it is of a samurai warrior, in the final period of his profession’s era, being led through a mystical gate by the mysterious voice of a young woman, only to find that his real identity in the grand scheme of things is one of the twelve Buddhist generals, tasked to defend the cosmos against the chaos that spawned it. Awakened to his true purpose, he must travel across many strange dimensions and worlds, including our own, to reassemble his brotherhood of generals to keep the encroaching darkness from swallowing the universe as it is known. Given Mr. Amano’s penchant for traditional folk-lore, it is no surprise that the voicing in this story is poetic and saga-esque, feeling like less of a modern fantasy fiction and more like an epic of old. For the most part this works, except for a few areas where the inclusion of a modern touch feels tacky and out of place, such as the moments in the tale that concern the present day when forced American slang are used, or the guitar-wielding god. While not deal breakers by any means, they do stand out for their corniness and only detract from attaining the appropriate level of suspension of disbelief needed to fully enrapture oneself in the fantasy.
The only other issue with the literature of Deva Zan is the transition of language. As many readers of other Japanese work know (those interested in this book are most likely familiar with Hideyuki Kikuchi’s Vampire Hunter D series, among his other work) sometimes a certain level of elegance is unfortunately lost in translation. This is not a glaring issue here, but some grammatical clumsiness and coarse equivalent language is definitely noticeable. That said, much credit is due to translator John Thomas for maintaining a poetic articulation of the original text, since much Asian literature suffers from an inherent clunkiness in transition to the more straightforward English language.
By creating a world that is just as fantastical to look at as it is to read, Yoshitaka Amano has developed a worthy addition to any fantasy art and fiction appreciator’s shelf. While the script does not always capture the raw, otherworldly beauty of the art, it is nonetheless an interesting read that evokes traditional Japanese folk tales with a modern touch. For any collector of the artist’s work, this should be a must have, as it features some stunning and provoking pieces, and having an original story behind them gives the renderings a dimension that is all that much deeper for it. Deva Zan offers an all around fantasy experience that finds the prolific artist at his best and should not be overlooked.