You really can’t beat a bit of 80’s manga, and this… “imaginative” interpretation of Falcom’s record-breaking, genre-pushing, RPG is probably the most 80’s thing I’ll ever come across and is all the better for it.
You might recognise the cover of this 1987 manga from the MSX version of the game, released in the same year. Kazuhiko Tsuzuki’s art promises some proper fantasy action with spikey-haired heroes and a lady with her buttocks almost on display, and you may or may not be pleased to hear that the story within delivers on both counts.
Like 1988’s Romancia manga, also published by Dragon Comics, this interpretation plays fast and loose with the source material – which is a damned good thing because when you really look at Xanadu’s plot… well, it’s just not there is it? Still, the author’s managed to get in all the really relevant stuff which in Xanadu’s case is a fantasy setting, Falcom’s multipurpose Dragon Slayer sword, and, uh, the game’s logo. After that we’re firmly into 80’s manga territory, which includes lots of pretty gorey fighting, the odd boob shot, more fighting (this time on motorbikes), cool lo-fi mechs, and tentacle monsters. In the hands of a lesser author this checklist could have turned out to be a real mess of disconnected ideas, but Xanadu is such an energetic tale that you find yourself happily whisked along for a simplistic but spectacular ride that starts with NATO soldier Fieg on earth in the year 2035 and ends with Dragon Slayer-weilding Fieg bashing an evil man with a spider-crab-beard on his face. The story is quite happy to mix up the ultraviolence with a bit of comedy, the relentless pace of the story stopping you from thinking too hard about what would otherwise be a jarring shift in tone.
This lack of thought applies equally to the characters too, with the entire plot hinging on what amounts to “Ooh cool vision! Fancy an adventure?” and then before you know it there’s airships and squirrelbirds and people getting shot/kidnapped/rescued and a million other things in this breakneck 250-ish page story. This style of storytelling is absolutely fine, and a lot of fun. Xanadu Dragon Slayer Densetsu is a triumph of style with just enough of substance to keep you hooked from beginning to end, with every last panel showing you something that is directly relevant to current events. There’s no real depth to the characters or the world they inhabit, but at the same time there’s no filler either.
The giant “1” on the cover and the two page MAYBE A NEW PERSON WILL BE EVIL NOW loose thread at the end of the tale would imply that Dragon Comics intended for this to be the start of an ongoing series, but sadly no further issues were ever produced. Don’t let that put you off though (as it did me), as the story here is entirely self-contained and has a definite beginning, middle, and a satisfying end.
If all this reading malarkey seems like too much hassle you might want to check out the 1988 OVA adaptation which follows the manga very closely but isn’t half as pretty (not that it ever could be, considering the detail on display here). It was released officially on VHS and apparently VCD in Japan, which means that a quick trip to YouTube is probably best for pretty much everyone that’s not a hyper-nerd with a direct neural link to Yahoo! Japan’s auction site.
I’d highly recommend this Xanadu manga to anyone who can get their grubby mitts on it – it’s a gorgeous book and a lightweight but enthralling read that makes for a fantastic hour or so’s entertainment. It’s the sort of story you can read again on a whim just for the fun of it, which is something I’m looking forward to doing again soon!