Keldeo is a Pokémon with a mission. If it can defeat the mighty dragon Pokémon Kyurem, it will join its friends and mentors in an elite group of Pokémon heroes called the Swords of Justice. The three current members have been training Keldeo, but they don’t believe it’s ready yet to challenge Kyurem. Keldeo doesn’t agree. It tries to battle Kyurem, but things go disastrously wrong. The Swords of Justice intervene just in time to save Keldeo – and Kyurem freezes the three heroes in a block of ice. Keldeo barely escapes, with the angry dragon Pokémon on its trail. Their battle, Kyurem says grimly, isn’t over.
On the run, a wounded and exhausted Keldeo meets Ash and Pikachu, along with their friends Iris and Cilan. Ash and company help Keldeo escape Kyurem (for now) and get its injuries treated. When they hear the Pokémon’s story, they encourage Keldeo to follow its dream of becoming a Sword of Justice. Ash and friends even offer to help rescue the other three Swords of Justice – but that will mean returning to the lair of Kyurem, who is still spoiling for a fight.
Fans of other stand-alone Pokémon volumes, particularly those by Momota Inoue, will find a lot to like in this one. The plot follows the same basic pattern as that of Zoroark: Master of Illusions. Ash, Pikachu, and friends (different friends, though Iris and Cilan do appear in Inoue’s volume Pokémon the Movie: White — Victini and Zekrom) find a wounded rare Pokémon with the ability to speak. They decide to help the Pokémon, which in the end comes through with its own strength and courage. In both cases, the Pokémon is the real protagonist in the story, with Ash and the others acting as kindly members of the supporting cast.
The ethical lines in this volume are a bit blurrier: whereas Zoroark: Master of Illusions sees Ash and his buddies helping out an innocent Pokémon that was kidnapped in order to manipulate another Pokémon, this volume’s Keldeo kind of brings its troubles on itself by challenging Kyurem, a powerful and reclusive Pokémon chosen for no clear reason to be the proving ground for each new Sword of Justice. Still, Keldeo’s desire to rescue its friends is admirable, and it does grow as a character over the course of the story. And of course, the flawed hero working hard to fix his or her (or, in this case, its) own mistake is a classic storytelling trope.
The artwork is what you’d expect from a Pokémon manga: clear, cartoony, and expressive, with lots of action and lots of battle, but no blood. The settings are intricate, but not distracting, with a slightly futuristic feel and some neat details – scenes of people and Pokémon interacting in the backgrounds, for example.
Ash and Pikachu are straightforward characters. They’re high-energy good guys who just want to help. Iris and Cilan are much the same, with each getting a moment to shine as she or he takes action to help Keldeo. Beyond that, none of the party suffers much character development – that’s Keldeo’s prerogative. Funnily enough, the Swords of Vengeance have their characters pretty well defined, despite being frozen in ice for most of the story. Kyurem itself is interesting, too. It’s powerful and unforgiving, but ultimately willing to recognize and respect heroic action.
Readers aren’t likely to be surprised by anything in the plot of this volume, but it is an upbeat adventure sure to please fans of the Pokémon franchise. And *ahem* some of us who might just be suckers for a feel-good story where the good guys win.