Virtual worlds are so hot right now. As the HTC Vive and PlayStation VR peripherals make Sword Art Online a near reality, the MMO/virtual video game setting has never been more relevant. And as the technology gets more sophisticated, VR can no longer be treated like the silly, Lawnmower Man butt of a joke it once was. Death March to the Parallel World Rhapsody began life as a light novel before it was adapted into a manga (and there is an animated series planned for the future). When creating a story set inside a virtual video game, it’s difficult to look at it in a vacuum. There are already many established manga franchises set inside video games, so Death March has to make a great first impression. Unfortunately, such ambition weighs this series down and prevents it from standing alongside the genre’s heaviest hitters.
The main character, Ichirou Suzuki, is a programmer working on the latest browser-based video game. His game studio is stuck in crunch mode, the eponymous “Death March,” meaning that grueling hours are spent to squash bugs, implement various features, and develop content patches on the eve of the game’s commercial release. After seeding an online update to his company’s servers, Suzuki takes a much needed nap. Suzuki wakes up unceremoniously inside the video game world, where he is immediately attacked by an army of lizardmen. As a programmer, he’s able to interact with the world using an in-game player menu that allows him to use high level spell to defeat the army of monsters. He earns great wealth, loot, and skill points that grant him the luxury of buying all the clothes and weapons he needs.
Suzuki, going under the pseudonym Satou, heads off into the world to make sense of his plight, and stumbles upon a squad of humans fighting off a giant wyvern. During the battle, Suzuki rescues Zena (related to the Warrior Princess perhaps?), a skilled warrior who quickly ingratiates herself to Suzuki for his assistance. When the dust of the battle settles, Zena escorts Suzuki to Seiryuu City, where the remainder of the manga is set. This was also the point in which the story completely lost me. Instead of Suzuki going out of his way to get back home, he dallies about the city, giving the reader an extensive breakdown of the in-game economy, class system, and food delicacies. The city has unique sights and sounds, but the author doesn’t find a way to make it appear all that exciting or worth the amount of pages spent there. Strange as it may sound, it isn’t particularly fun watching someone negotiate currency rates or learn to haggle. Each instance of these activities is often followed up with Suzuki’s phenomenal observation skills: “So that’s what/how X or Y is done here.”
There isn’t much conflict to make Suzuki’s life interesting in this first volume, leading me to believe that author Hiro Ainana is trying too hard to build the world. The story does inject a possible plot involving the death and anticipated rebirth of a demon lord, but slave auctions, skill point allocation, and shopping trips get far more attention. My eyes (and interest) angrily glazed over as I watched Suzuki go on not one, but two walking tours of the city. To add insult to injury, both trips hit the reader over the head with the city’s class divide, in which beast-like humanoids are treated as slaves to be freely beaten, sold, and subjugated. As Suzuki shows compassion in both instances, it is clear that Ayu is trying to setup a future conflict involving the slave race.
Death March to Parallel World Rhapsody is painfully average. It’s amusing to watch a character stroll around comfortably and seemingly want for nothing despite being transported to an unfamiliar place against his will. The artwork by Shri and Ayamegumu is worth having a conversation about. I like the look of Death March because it shows a preference for realistic costumes. It’s easy to point out examples in Japanese and Western comics where the outfits worn by characters are comically inadequate for combat and designed primarily to show off skin. Shri’s costume design shows a keen eye towards fantasy costumes that are both exotic and practical. The environments are nicely realized, and even though a substantial portion is set inside the same city, it still manages to be visually interesting.
With a character who starts the adventure with enough gold to buy the best gear and a general, happy-go-lucky outlook on his situation, Death March to the Parallel World Rhapsody didn’t have enough tension to keep me interested. Everything feels like it takes way too long to get where it’s going. Not a necessary purchase if .hack//, Sword Art Online, No Game No Life, and Log Horizon are already staples of a manga collection.
Death March to the Parallel World Rhapsody, vol. 1
by Hiro Ainana
Art by Ayamegumu
Yen Press, 2017
Publisher Age Rating: Teen (13+)