Archaia Entertainments' Okko: The Cycle of Air is a really interesting concept. It takes a story that is usually told via Japanese manga and gives it the comic book treatment. Does the concept benefit from the medium?
The comic tells the story of Okko a demon hunting Ronin and his companions Noburo, a mysterious giant who hides his face behind a red oni mask; Noshin, a monk with the power to summon the spirits of nature; and the fisherman Tikku. Two cycles have come before The Cycle of Air, The Cycle of Water and The Cycle of Earth. It all takes place in the fictional Empire of Pajan which has many similarities with medieval Japan from its belief in demons to its samurai warriors. Archaia's Okko is an English translation of the Delcourt series of the same name.
To read this issue you really need to be a fan of the series and have a good understanding of what's already happened. It jumps straight into a new and dangerous story, and it doesn't leave any time to really explain what's happened beforehand. If you're a new reader to the series, you'll find yourself missing out and not fully understanding what's going on. For instance, I did not understand the significance of the child and the old monk rebuilding a kite, so it seemed random and pointless. That being said the way the story is told is quite good.
The story focuses on a showdown between Okko and the legendary demon hunter Kubban Kiritsu. We are introduced to Kiritsu through the telling of one of his legendary hunts. It establishes the fact that storytelling is an important part of the culture and this is reinforced by Noshin being told what happened to his master by a passing official. At this point in time the reader is also unaware of Okko's fate in the duel, so the official is also informing you. It creates a real sense of wanting to find out what actually happened in the duel and what is exaggeration.
As I said this is a story that could easily be the focus of a manga series. Its focus on demon hunting and its comparatively medieval Japan setting creates parallels between manga like InuYasha, but Okko really benefits from being portrayed in full color. It's almost like the fact that there is so much color in the issue emphasizes the fact that it needs to be in color. It feels like it would lose some of its life and energy if it was presented in black and white as there's such a wide spectrum of colors used.
There's also an interesting contrast between the world and the character designs. The world seems so real, so natural, so very medieval Japanese with every color carefully chosen to create a sense of authenticity. For instance, the leaves of trees are a slightly darker green than that of the grass, which has a yellow tinge to it, while a variety of different colored and styled Kimonos are seen.
If the world looks very real the characters have certain abstract features. Okko has an elongated chin and a square jaw that would put Captain America to shame. The swordsman who confronts Okko before he meets Kiritsu has a similarly elongated chin and jaw, but it's more rounded with quite prominent cheek bones. The abstract designs make the characters really stand out from the rest of the crowd. Similarly the design of Kiritsu, with his bunraku armor, and Noburo, with his red oni mask, make them standout from the many people in the background of the story.
Finally if you've ever seen a movie or cartoon with samurai in it then you'll know Okko captures the form and style of a samurai duel perfectly. Everything seems so graceful yet deadly, and it was a really well drawn fight.
To fans of the Okko series this issue should be a delight. The duel between Okko and Kiritsu is really well done, and it sets up what is sure to be an action packed third issue. It's hard to recommend this particular issue to non-fans, as there's nothing that really lets them know what's happening and why. Still, there's probably enough in the swordplay and artwork to send you hunting for the first few issues.