Wayward Volume One: String Theory by Zub, Cummings, Rauch, Bonvillain, Dillon

String Theory Volume 1, collecting issues 1-5 of Wayward, is a very interesting  prelude to what looks to be a fantastic story. Most of the volume is dedicated to rich and intricate worldbuilding; it should be noted that is at the expense of characterization. I loved the story but I didn’t invest as much as I had expected by the end simply because we don’t get a real feel for any of the people yet.

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Story: Rori is half Irish/half Japan and is moving to Japan (for the first time) to live with her divorced mother. But she hasn’t been there for long before odd occurrences start happening around her; she sees mystical red ribbons. Those ribbons lead to encounters with a feisty girl-cat, a classmate who eats ghosts, and a mysterious homeless NEET boy. It is hinted that Rori’s power is helping her build a team – a team she will need as she soon learns that Japan’s supernatural world fears and wants her kind dead.

Traditional Japanese folklore is the basis of the story: from the fabled ‘red string of fate’ (usually related to marriage) to kappa and kitsune. Those versed in manga or anime will already know and appreciate the supernatural aspect of the story. But those new to Japan’s mythology will also have a lot to explore – there is even an explanation of the various creatures encountered in these first five chapers/issues.

The author does a great job of setting up a mystery and letting it unfold. There are several surprises and certainly the book is very engaging. But the lack of character information is a frustration. We typically get a lot of showy overtell personalities in this type of supernatural manga; a more Westernized low-key approach to organically growing the characters unfortunately leaves a somewhat hollow core to the story – the heart that hooks a reader and makes them cheer for the characters.  All of the characters were either inscrutable (why does Rori cut herself? Why does Ayane ingratiate herself with “red” so quickly?) to complete ciphers (Nikaido?). It’s really problematic considering Rori comes into all her powers suddenly and without preamble; she doesn’t seem to surprised about it and there isn’t any soul searching.

The art is quite successful and we really get a sense of every-day Japan above all the supernatural. The action scenes are fluid and the story very easy to follow. I really liked the color schemes used – and only wish I looked that hip when I was in high school.

Wayward was definitely interesting, a comfortable blend of Western and Japanese and I am looking forward to continuing with the story. I only hope we focus more on the people in the future.

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