Last Round Arthurs Volume 1

3 weeks ago 16

Let's take a page from Merlin's tome and start with the staff. Last Round Arthurs is a manga adaptation of the light novel of the same name. It comes to us courtesy of author Tarō Hitsuji who has written for works like Akashic Records of the Bastard Magic Instructor. The character designs are handled by Kiyotaka Haimura, known for A Certain Scientific Railgun, and the manga is storyboarded by Taisuke Umeki of Sky World Adventures fame. The art is done by Yuzuriha who did art previously for Mahou Shoujo Lilina & Miyu: Ishu Kouhai no Wana. Jan Mitsuko Cash is the translator, having also translated works such as Chi's Sweet Adventure and Happy Sugar Life. Finally, Phil Christie is the letterer, having previously lettered works like Sword Art Online: Hollow Realization and Tales of Wedding Rings.

I really tried to enjoy this one.

Nothing about the execution is inept or poorly done. The characters are written competently, the story has an obvious early hook and the team comes together naturally. The characters are well-realized in a consistent style with very clean linework, most of it tending towards a softer look but largely staying "on model" as it were. When backgrounds are present they have a good sense of density and weight without overshadowing the core focus on the characters. The translation flowed smoothly and felt natural for what was happening in the scenes. The lettering shifted to meet the mood of the scene or match a character's inflection without being overbearing or breaking immersion.

In terms of worldbuilding, all the groundwork for later shenanigans is duly laid out: a power system with a few nobs and dials, shadowy figures meeting in back alleys, other challengers mentioned but not shown, a mystery surrounding Rintarou's background with hints that he may have more of a connection to Arthur (my guess is that he is Mordred).

There are even a few interesting hooks in place with the character setup. Luna Artur being completely self-centered and out for a quick buck makes for a fun dynamic at times – particularly when she admits in the first scene that she does not have her Excalibur, having sold it off long ago. Trying to suss out how the cast members directly or indirectly correlate to their counterparts in the Arthurian mythos is part of the charm and I assume will only get better as time goes on. But even as someone who is an easy mark for Arthurian myth, I found it all rather… bland.

Last Round Arthurs at this point feels like an exercise in box-checking. School setting, servant summons, broody foil – all things I think you can find elsewhere and probably done better. I hate to bring up other series when reviewing a work unless there is an explicit connection worth mentioning, but it's hard to ignore the fact that there is currently an immensely popular multimedia juggernaut in the anime space that involves summoning historical/mythical figures to wage battle with one another that also happens to have a version of King Arthur as one of its core characters. In fact, this feels more limited by focusing solely on the Arthurian angle without seeming to do much to leverage the unique features of that specific romance cycle.

While the technical aspects are competent, they also are not doing much work to stand out from the pack either. The character designs are not poor, but if you asked me to name a distinctive feature that set them apart from the crowd I would not know what to tell you. I wouldn't go so far as to say they have that How to Draw Manga vibe, but I am struggling to come up with descriptors for them besides their hair color. There are few, if any, dynamic character acting moments or unique uses of the manga medium to tell the tale; most of it is very by-the-numbers fare, which only compounds the problem. There are some detailed flashback sequences that really wow, but the work on the whole feels rather hollow in terms of detail. The characters seldom seemed to occupy anywhere that had much sense of place; by the end of the volume I felt like I had no visual or thematic cues for the place they lived in. Sure they were "at school" or "fighting in a back alley", but the reader has little to go on beyond that in terms of location or ambience.

Rintarou is largely the focus of this first volume and I feel that is to its detriment. He is a brooding schoolboy whose major flaw is that he is – let me check my notes here – so powerful that everyone is jealous or afraid of him; it's a heavy burden to bear I'm sure. For all the time we spend with him in this volume we do not get any meaningful development other than the clue that he is from Arthur's time in some fashion. Without anything more than a hint at the villains, a touch of action, and wacky school hijinks to fill the pages, the burden of shouldering the material is apparently the one thing Rintarou is not strong enough to handle.

The action and framing also do not do much to elevate the material. As I said before, the execution is technically fine but nothing more than that. Perfectly Serviceable Manga Action is about the best way I could describe Last Round Arthurs. The framing feels very stilted, mostly being shots of characters standing around without much dynamism or visual flourish. Compounded with the aforementioned issue of dull character designs, most scenes end up carrying the same energy as standing around waiting at a bus stop.

There are attempts at comedy and fanservice as well. I wish I could say something more about these elements other than “they are present I guess” but… I can't think of anything to add to that sentence. Actually, there is one genuinely terrific joke involving Luna making Rintarou wait for her so long that it ends up being late at night, conveyed almost entirely via the magic of manga framing. It's a good use of the medium to tell a joke and got a genuine laugh from me – I only wish those moments were more frequent.

I think Last Round Arthurs might have potential down the line, but volume one does not show much of it. The skill to make something worthwhile is there, but they are barely utilized in these opening chapters. While the work doesn't feel cynical or disingenuous by any means, it also fails to do much of anything to avoid feeling generic. There is a foundation to build off of – and perhaps later volumes make good on that – but beyond competent groundwork I cannot say anything in this volume really hooked me or had me wanting more. I get the sense that this series stepped into an already-crowded ring with nothing new to bring to the table, and that unless things substantially change you can find better works elsewhere that offer similar hooks.

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