83-coverRoxas just woke up with no memories, and he’s got a lot to learn. He’s told that he is now a part of Organization XIII, a group that travels to different worlds to defeat monsters called Heartless. Strangely enough, it’s actually the Organization members who lack hearts—once they were human, but are now creatures called Nobodies who don’t feel emotions the way regular humans do. When the Heartless are destroyed by a magical weapon called a keyblade, they release hearts—the stylized kind you see on valentines, not the organ kind—which are added to a collection known as Kingdom Hearts. It’s said that when Kingdom Hearts grows strong enough, it will bestow hearts upon all the members of Organization XIII.

Roxas is one of only two members of the Organization who can wield a keyblade. He befriends the other keyblade user, a girl called Xion, as well as the rowdy-but-caring Axel. They’re living the good life, traveling between fascinating worlds, taking down Heartless, and hanging out together during their free time. But Roxas is catching flashes of memory that suggest that he and Xion were connected in their human days, and something’s wrong with Xion—she’s having fainting spells and problems with her keyblade. Without hearts, Roxas and Xion have trouble understanding friendship, but they know they want to keep their trio safe from harm. Can they manage to do so and still complete Kingdom Hearts?

I’ve never played the Kingdom Hearts games or read the previous manga series, so I’m a newcomer to this franchise. In my opinion, this series can stand alone, though it includes some of the same characters and settings as the other manga. One immediately intriguing thing about Kingdom Hearts is the worlds to which the characters travel, each set in the universe of a different Disney movie. Organization XIII is supposed to work behind the scenes without alarming the occupants of the places it visits, and our heroes meet with varying degrees of success in doing so. We see Roxas and friends sneaking around Aladdin and Jasmine in Agrabah, fighting Heartless in the Beast’s castle, being captured by the Queen of Hearts in Wonderland, and touring Neverland with Peter Pan.

Members of the Organization are drawn in a simplified manga style: Roxas and Xion are small and young-looking, with wide eyes and a tendency toward cute, bewildered expressions. Some Organization members have exaggerated features, and comically extreme expressions are common. The Organization’s headquarters appear to be high-tech, but they’re also decorated with swirling motifs that suggest magic. The Disney characters, on the other hand, are depicted just as they appear in their own movies (sans color). As they are drawn in wildly different styles, it’s funny to see Organization members and Disney characters interacting on the page.

The plot is mission-driven with plenty of Heartless-bashing, but there’s also a fair amount of reflection. Characters puzzle over the nature of their own existence, memories, and relationships. Friendship is a big theme, while romance is a non-starter. Though the series doesn’t lack for humor, the mysterious backgrounds of Roxas and Xion add another layer to the story. There’s a lot of action and adventure, but there’s no scary peril and absolutely no gore. When the Heartless are destroyed, they vanish with a pop and leave behind floating heart-shaped trophies; it’s not hard to see that this manga was based on a video game.

Kingdom Hearts: 358/2 Days is a fun read with unexpected depth. I would suggest this series to fans of the Pokémon manga. Both based on video games, they each feature non-scary battles, humor, and a focus on friendship and teamwork.

Kingdom Hearts 358/2 Days, Vols. 1-3
by Shiro Amano
Vol 1. ISBN: 9780316401180
Vol. 2 ISBN: 9780316401197
Vol. 3 ISBN: 9780316401203
Yen Press, 2013-2014
Publisher Age Rating: All Ages

  • Nic

    | She/Her Youth Services Librarian, Wake County Public Libraries

    Reviewer

    The child of two artists, Nic grew up loving art, reading, and those oh-so-special books that combine the two. Nic got her MLS from the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill. Her thesis was on the best shelving scheme for graphic novels in public libraries; the proposal won an Elfreda Chatman Research Award. She spends her free time reading, drawing, blogging, and writing fiction. She is a Youth Services Librarian at the Wake County Public Libraries in Raleigh, NC.

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