When Marvel announced a film adaptation of Guardians of the Galaxy, a lot of people scratched their heads and uttered a collective “huh?” The film was a bit of a gamble for Marvel because it introduced the Marvel Cinematic Universe audience to a superhero team that was created in 1969 and only saw sporadic publications through 2008. The commercial and critical success of the film inspired a new line of Guardians comics starring the movie cast and allowed a new legion of fans to follow the adventures of Star Lord and his crew. Marvel would see if lightning could strike twice by announcing Disney’s role in creating a film based on another obscure comic series, Big Hero 6. Audiences once again went “huh?” and the movie proved to be a rousing success for Disney, making their mark in Marvel cinema.
Like the new Guardians of the Galaxy comics, Big Hero 6 gets its comic adaptation in the form of a manga by Haruki Ueno. The manga genre makes the most sense, given the significant influence Japanese film, media, and comics had on Disney’s production. While I all but expected a comic version of the animated film, I was not expecting it to be such a significant departure from the source material. Big Hero 6 has the major story beats, but the situations that spur the characters into action couldn’t be more different.
Hiro and Tadashi Hamada are brothers who have been given the gift of technological genius. To encourage his younger brother and to let his talent flourish, Tadashi convinces his college to admit fourteen-year-old Hiro into its tech program. Hiro quickly establishes that college doesn’t move fast enough, as he routinely humiliates his teachers, looks down on those he believes to not be on his level, and thinks very little of Tadashi’s friends Wasabi, Gogo Tomago, Honey Lemon, and Fred. Where Movie Hiro was depicted as an intelligent and misunderstood youth, Manga Hiro is an insufferable brat who could easily stand to be brought down a peg or two. Hiro is constantly preoccupied by creating inventions for the sake of keeping himself busy, instead of building robots in order to hustle people in underground robot battles.
After Hiro causes chaos in the classroom and nearly gets his brother expelled, Tadashi convinces Hiro to sign up for the school’s science showcase. There Hiro unveils his self-designed nanobot technology that is capable of great things, and it easily trumps Tadashi’s creation of an inflatable robot nurse, Baymax. The night of the presentation, Hiro follows Tadashi to the school lab, where he finds a man wearing a kabuki mask operating a massive portal device. Hiro’s surprise visit causes confusion and, in the fracas, Tadashi gets pulled into the massive dimensional whirpool, presumably lost forever. Fans of the film will immediately recognize the difference between the manga and the movie, where Tadashi was killed in a violent lab explosion. Fueled by grief, anger, and a need for vengeance, Hiro enlists the aid of Baymax and Tadashi’s friends to track down the person responsible for causing the accident.
Ueno’s manga is a noticeably truncated version of the movie and that is likely to put off readers looking for a 1-to-1 adaptation. Readers may pick up Big Hero 6 and grow confused (and slightly disheartened) by the changes made to the story—which I say because I experienced these emotions. What really put me off was Hiro’s characterization towards other people: he’s far more selfish and self-centered, and to see him lash out and put down Tadashi’s crew made me want to knock some sense into him.
Haruki Ueno’s Big Hero 6 is an alternate take on the Disney film. The manga works best with those who have not yet seen the film or have no affinity with Disney’s treatment. It really is its own work. Furthermore, Tadashi’s disappearance leaves room for the possibility that the two boys will be reunited at the end of the story. A mostly happy ending, but it lessens the impact of loss that helps Film Hiro become a better person than he once was. Taking the end of the movie into consideration (in which the villain is able to rescue his daughter from the same portal accident) if Tadashi can be brought back, Manga Hiro won’t suffer and learn the same lessons Film Hiro was forced to endure and overcome. Lab explosions tend to have that air of unquestionable finality.
Big Hero 6, vol. 1
by Haruki Ueno
Disney, Yen Press, 2015
Publisher Age Rating: All ages