Story: Kevin Panetta
Art: Paulina Ganucheau
What They Say:
An elite group of teenage girls with magical powers have sworn to protect our planet against dark creatures . . . as long as they can get out of class! These high-school girls aren’t just combating math tests. They’re also battling monsters! But when an evil force infects leader Emma, she must work with her team to save herself—and the world—from the evil Diana and her mean-girl minions!
Content: (please note that content portions of a review may contain spoilers):
Anime and manga inspired comic book series from Western creators are nothing new, though some play to the source material more than others do. With Zodiac Starforce, you can certainly see all the usual plot elements brought into play here in the opening issue but it also changes it up in a pretty good way that should appeal to fans of the Japanese form while also providing a bit of a gateway for those not. It’s a rather all ages approach in general, though with a few nudges towards growing up and those that have moved up to the junior level in high school. The blending of these elements set against a backdrop of a storyline that’s talked about but not shown gives this some rather good weight. Particularly since it’s not an origin story but rather a getting the team back together story, which is something that plays better in an age of reboots and relaunches.
The series focuses around four young women that as freshmen in high school were gifted powers by Astra to become the Zodiac Starforce. With these powers they battled against an evil god named Cimmeria where they eventually managed to banish her to the otherdimensional realm of Nephos. Once that happened, the girls went back to their ordinary lives after experiencing something so extraordinary. And in that time, they’ve maintained some light friendships at most but have largely drifted apart. We see how Kim has been trying to get the team back together all along while Molly wants nothing to do with it. The whole thing is just one big bad memory for Emma though because when she went through that original fight two years prior, it came at a time when she lost her mother to illness. So while there are moments where the girls talk about the fun they had, all she remembers is the pain of loss – and the reality of the fights where others died that weren’t involved in it all. It’s some good grounding that matures it up a bit with some real world impacts.
Naturally, that otherworldly side has to impact the present at a time when most are just trying to deal with their lives. That comes with a Shade monster attacking Emma at the school, though she and Kim dispatch it easily even if it’s far larger than usual. But this sets into motion a series of of events, intermingled with the girls navigating a party thrown by their friend, which shows some of their social levels among their peers. But it also brings two other things into focus. The first is that a classmate named Diana has definitely got something else going on as the popular girl here as one girl that went missing named Alice is now part of Diana’s social circle and dismissive of others. The other is that Emma’s necklace given to her by Astra ends up being corrupted, which has them finding out from Astra that Emma herself has been infected and cannot be helped, since to help her would free Cimmeria from Nephos. Suffice to say, things get critical fast here at the start of this miniseries.
I’m always leery when Western creators tackle familiar cliches and tropes from the anime and manga world because they often do it in such a clunky or forced way that it refuses to connect well. Zodiac Starforce takes those ideas but changes the wrapper on it a bit by taking a magical girl soldier squad and saying all these events already happened and focuses on what they’re doing now. By giving them a backstory that the mind can fill in easily enough and then focusing on the drama and trauma in the present, it feels like a book with history rather than the start of the property overall. It also helps that Paulina Ganucheau nails the art style here well with the characters and movements. It has an all ages feeling to it that lets it draw in younger readers but it skews a bit older – as it should – in order to give them a glimpse into growing up a bit. At the same time, it’s accessible to older readers because it doesn’t shy away from the important things, coping with loss, difficulties in maintaining friendships and more. It’s smartly written and while it is a bit rushed as it tries to get a lot done here it largely succeeds in setting up for a number of avenues to explore amid the bigger picture. It’s certainly worth checking out for anime and manga fans but also for those looking for solid comics that are accessible across the board for men and women, boys and girls, that tells a good story.
Age Rating: 13+
Released By: Dark Horse Comics
Release Date: August 26th, 2015