Nintendo’s Splatoon videogames, including the first Splatoon game on the Wii U and Splatoon 2 on the Switch, represent a shift in how online shooters work. The goal is not to blast other players, though battles break out all the time. Two teams of four “squid kids” have three minutes to paint the floor of the arena in their team’s color of ink. The team with the higher percentage wins. Players are equipped with automatic guns, sniper rifles, rollers, brushes, grenades, bazookas, missile strikes, and more that all splash ink everywhere. Players can walk as kids or swim in their own ink as squids. Teamwork and flexibility carry more weight than headshots and military tactics. Abilities are dependent upon one’s wardrobe, including shoes, headgear, and shirt (everyone wears bicycle shorts).
However, the central character of the Splatoon manga, Goggles, has a tendency to show up naked. He, like his teammates Specs, Bobble Hat, and Headphones, is named after his headgear. Nintendo isn’t telling a story about people who play Splatoon; here, the characters are the players. The manga kicks off directly into its central premise of all the squid kids in Inkopolis competing in a team tournament, and Googles and Friends are in Team Blue. Other teams represent other ink colors as well as unifying styles, from military uniforms to Hawaiian shirts to black shoes.
Each chapter represents another of Team Blue’s battles, usually including competing philosophies about how best to play Splatoon. Readers will likely appreciate the manga’s cooperation-friendly messaging. A lone-wolf leader declares, “You work as a team and someone is bound to mess up. You only need one good player to win a turf war,” only to lose to Team Blue. A rival team asks how the low-ranked Blue coordinates so well and they respond, “We practice together every day, so we just know!” [Don’t just play Splatoon every day because Nintendo wants you to; do it because of the power of friendship! …Or something like that.]
The manga’s aesthetic is utterly grounded in the first Splatoon videogame. Squid kids’ outfits are pulled directly from the clothing available in the game, with a bonus gallery in the back detailing exactly what everyone is wielding and wearing. Each turf war battle takes place in a different level from the game, with accurate depictions of scenarios players will know all too well. One antagonist wields a large roller and blocks the enemy team by standing atop a large ramp in Arowana Mall. Goggles flanks this opponent by running along a high side platform and dodging ink strikes that explode around him. As in the Splatoon games, this manga is bright, action-packed, and doesn’t take itself too seriously. “It’s not worth battling if we don’t win,” says the strictly strategic enemy Army. Goggles rebuts him, “I thought battles were all about having fun.” None of the kids want to lose, but they tend to be gracious about it when it happens.
Another aspect of the game that translates well to manga is the relative diversity of the character pool. Splatoon players can play as male or female squid kids, and in a variety of skin tones. These options are reflected in the manga’s cast, with each team consisting of two girls and two boys, and a variety of skin tones visible (many of them are illustrated in the color white, a default of sorts that doesn’t intentionally translate to “white people” in manga). Action on the battlefield often takes the form of players getting splashed in the face with ink or knocked over by a roller, sent to respawn on their team’s side of the map. You don’t get the sense that anyone gets hurt in turf wars, and that the format is akin to a well-armed water fight. Sankichi Hinodeya’s fidelity to the source material, in this case the first Splatoon game, recreates its “Nickelodeon meets water park” feeling.
There are a couple issues of continuity that might confuse brand new readers. The Squid Sisters Callie and Marie, the TV hosts of all the turf wars taking place, are not introduced until their second appearance, and even then they just kind of pop up for a panel to comment on what’s happening, and are only named Squid Sisters. The two of them are not indispensable to the plot, but they’re kind of a random element without any proper setup. Also, the book ends with a one-shot originally published first but collected at the end as Chapter #0. This chapter goes over a lot of the basic premise of Splatoon, and seems like it would have made more sense as an opening segment.
Content-wise, this manga is fairly tame, but remember that nudity gag mentioned at the beginning? It’s a running joke, with Goggles often emerging from ink in front of his friends having forgotten to put on any clothes (a squid icon covers his privates). In one battle, Goggles slides down a ramp on his back, tearing the backside of his entire outfit and distracting the enemy with his bare bottom. Another kid, Specs, accidentally has his zipper open. An enemy has his pants pulled down a couple of times. These moments are placed strictly for laughs (and consistently involve boys), but should be weighed in readers advisory to younger patrons. Otherwise, this manga could easily land on the children’s graphic novel shelf. Gamers and non-gamers alike will likely have a blast visiting Inkopolis in print.
by Sankichi Hinodeya
Publisher Age Rating: A (All Ages)