Sometimes you find destiny and sometimes destiny finds you. For example, I thought my destiny would be to catch up on my Otakon reporting (which was late because I was knee deep “researching” Final Fantasy 14), but Kana had other ideas. She tasked me with reviewing F.L.U.R.: Blades of the Universe, and since she’s the boss, here I am. Blades of the Universe follows one Lida Garuzo as she gets pulled from her carefree high school life into a shadowy world of mysterious powers and earth-shattering conflict.
Now it’s not an anime; it’s not a light novel, and it’s not a video game. Blades of the Universe treads the (relatively) unexplored ground of Audio Manga. It’s sort of like reading a manga, except instead of reading the words that are printed on the page, you look at the pictures while listening to a full audio track complete with voice actors saying all the character lines with background music and soundtrack. Think of it like one of those old radio dramas, but with a picture book to help illustrate the scene. It’s an American version of Manga 2.5.
While manga can be a rich garden for creative ideas to grow; it ends up playing second fiddle to anime. Anime tends to be more popular while some people are put off by the idea of reading in general. As the Under the Dog Kickstarter can tell you, making anime is really expensive and out of reach for many media companies. However, adding audio to a regular manga is much more financially feasible, meaning people can create an anime-like experience with a fraction of the budget. Do you smell what The Rock is cooking?
Hopefully, that explanation will give you a clearer picture of what’s going on. You might miss a few things if you try to figure it out using the KJC Comix website. They are the creators of Blades, but I do question their website design choices. Not everything is clearly explained, so there are a few pieces missing in the puzzle. For example, they mention needing “X-Reader” but don’t tell you what that is. It’s such a generic term that googling it yields results having nothing to do with what they mean by X-Reader. When they say “X-Reader” they mean an in-house application they’re making that plays the audio and manga together, creating the ideal way to experience their properties. However, it’s not out yet, and the website never says this. You have to go to their Youtube page, where the video about it is more about hyping it then explaining what it is.
Another thing that’s missing is that the wallpaper download section doesn’t exist yet, but I’m teased with a placeholder link. I actually would greatly enjoy a Blades of the Universe wallpaper and had my hopes dashed when the word “Wallpaper” on the website was a not a link to said wallpapers. This is clearly a case of form trumping function. The graphics are so intense, I’m actually getting a loading bar for them. Don’t even think about checking it out on a mobile device. I should like to state that their website is fairly new and will need some time to refine itself. I do have to give them credit for the sheer attitude the site emanates.
They will make it better, though. These KJC Comix guys don’t give up easily. Blades first debuted as a Kickstarter campaign during April 2012. Sadly, it flopped, but they kept working on it for over two years to finally bring Blades of the Universe into the light of day. These people truly believe in their work, and that counts for something.
Now about that review? F.L.U.R.: Blades of the Universe is an audio manga about the Hero’s Journey of Lida Garuzo. The audio track is the heart and soul of Blades, so I’ll cover that first. The voice acting is generally good. While some minor characters seem off, by and large it works. Okay, I can’t do this. Voice acting reviews are entirely imprecise and subjective, and all anyone ever offers is personal opinion of either “it sucks” or “it’s good” without any further explanation. I imagine some of you will instantly scorn it by virtue of it being done by English voice actors and not Japanese Seiyu. Just check out the samples and make your own judgments.
What I can make judgments on is the audio engineering. KLC Comix says that they posses a wealth in technical audio ability, and it shows. They know how to create a verity of sounds and know when to place them to match the moment. When one of the characters has a wresting-themed fantasy, the sound made me feel like I was ringside with them. The music tracks are also nice. They add to the mood of the situation without overpowering it. It’s like adding just the right amount of soy sauce to a nice piece of tuna roll. The cool thing is that soundtrack songs files are included as a bonus. My favorite music track is “I Love Sushi!” It’s the first song I ever can describe as being playful. I would add this stuff to my personal playlist if my smartphone had the space for them.
Blades of the Universe is also a manga, as in “done in manga style” and not “made by Japanese people.” Blades is a story that wears its inspiration on its sleeve. It’s about a high school girl with a bunch of wacky friends who ends up getting drawn into a sci-fi themed battle for the fate of the planet. She has to deal with an annoying younger brother and eats sushi after school. If that’s not manga, I don’t know what is! The voice actors even call each other baka and ask sempai to notice them as part of the gag reel! It’s like eating sushi from Wegman’s. You can tell they understand the base source.
Blades of the Universe is also a manga in the traditional sense, as in it has pictures. How do those pictures stack up? Well, honestly. Very well. It puts in a level of detail and care that can match what you find in many actual (or would “Japanese” be the better term?) manga. They even fully color the first five pages. That’s production value, folks. I don’t think digital coloring works for displaying a dark atmosphere. The black and white pages hold up well and make good use of shading. The only real flaw is that there isn’t more of it. Right now Blades is more audio then it is manga. The pictures are coming, but that’s in the future.
I really wish I could have put off reviewing Blades for a month or two to give it more time to develop. I would like to see it on X-Reader where the pictures and sound polymerize into something greater then the sum of its parts. I feel like I’ve been given some ham and cheese and have to guess how good a sandwich it would make. Then again, it’s pretty good cheese and ham. While the execution is not without flaw, they do achieve the all-important level of achieving buy-in from the reader… err, listener. In short, this can work. F.L.U.R.: Blades of the Universe can actually be a thing. KLC Comix can be a contender! Of course, they still have a lot of work to do before they get there, and I would like to check out more of their material to get a better feel for their style. Besides Blades, they also have a fantasy project called Dies Irae. Maybe I’ll get a chance to review that in the future as well, I’d love to see how they’d handle another genre.