Honkai Impact 3rd Volume 1 Manga Review
Honkai Impact 3rd:
Synopsis: 2013: The 3rd Honkai War started in eastern Nagazora. 3 young girls survived the incident. After being rescued by the Schicksal Far East Branch, these girls were found to hold immense powers that may very well help the human race survive the Honkai onslaught. This is their story. (Official Crunchyroll Synopsis)
Review (Warning: Spoilers to Follow):
Honkai Impact 3rd is the companion and world building manga to the mobile game of the same title. It seeks to explore the origin story of the mobile game’s main characters, Kiana, Mei and Bronya along with several others. That said, as someone with no knowledge or interest in the mobile game, is this still a title worth diving into? Let’s find out.
Honkai Impact 3rd wastes no time brazenly displaying its desire to titillate the straight young male gaze. The first few pages feature a prominent female character, Murata Himeko dressed in a provocative dress complete with bosom tint sparkles. In the same chapter, Kiana, seemingly one of the main characters happily kisses and licks the wounds of her friend, Mei with a clear hint of sexual playfulness. We are even ‘treated’ to an upskirt angle two page spread of Kiana and Mei a few pages later. You even get to see an almost completely uncensored view of Himeko’s nude body from the back. While there aren’t any outright and extremely Ecchi imagery, and most of the fan service is limited to what most would consider modest fan service, it’s definitely present in a tone and pace that’s hard to ignore. If you aren’t a fan of such content, you’ll probably find yourself tuning out rather early on.
Moving past that, the first few chapters of Honkai Impact actually read well, especially compared to the more brief side stories series like Elan Palatinus, which explored the life of another character from the game. This is likely due to other series being short and quick forays into fleshing out one or two less significant characters and thus likely forced to be more compact or not given as much time and resources as Honkai Impact 3rd itself has been, due to its more significant relation to the game. To be clear though, it’s not that Honkai Impact 3rd is worth lauding as a exceptionally well written piece of work by any means. It’s absolutely not, but for anyone wishing to learn about the world and setting of the game before playing it or a player wishing to dive deeper into the game’s world, Honkai Impact 3rd isn’t a chore to read. The information and back stories of the various characters are dished out in a manner that’s easy to follow and absorb. Their introductions are dynamic and attention grabbing even if they aren’t always the most well laid out. And the combat between our heroines and the monsters they battle provide enough spectacle to distract and amuse anyone looking for a fun read. Even someone with no interest in the game could still find some enjoyment, provided they’re in the mood for visually appealing female characters taking down all kinds of monsters and opponents. Pair that with well illustrated art and plenty of fully coloured panels and it only becomes easier to see why Honkai Impact 3rd might charm the average straight young male reader.
However, there’s plenty to turn others off Honkai Impact 3rd, especially as you dig deeper. Once you look past the spectacle, a lot of the characters and storylines of Honkai Impact 3rd feel like very basic iterations of extremely popular tropes; Kiana is a typical brawns over brains lead, Mei is the shy saint like girl with a dark side and Bronya is the super genius robot like trope, complete with loli like appearance. Murata Himeko is the bad ass older female character who’s also an alcoholic and has a devil may care attitude to almost everything, yet is very affectionate towards the three girls she welcomes into her house. Oh and whenever she gets drunk, she ends up sleeping in the same bed with Kiana…for the lolz and the fan service of course. And let us not forget the calculating and cold Theresa who looks like a child but is actually soooo much older, one of the tropes that anime and manga has been lambasted over for so long. So if you’re looking for revolutionary new characters or more nuanced handling of popular tropes, this isn’t the manga for you.
Then there’s the fact that Honkai Impact 3rd does what I consider one of the most contrived method of convincing audiences that the lead has a heart of gold…by making the protagonist care deeply for someone or something that isn’t real and making them come off as an idiot who cannot even differentiate between reality and fantasy. In this specific case, after Kiana fails her history exam, Bronya inserts them into a virtual reality reenactment of an important historical event to help her learn about it by experiencing it. Despite Bronya pointing out that they are in a virtual reality reenactment of an event that occurred several centuries ago and thus have zero reasons or abilities to change matters to have actual consequences, Kiana insists on aiding the wrongly imprisoned and punished person they meet in said reenactment. But that isn’t the only bone I have to pick.
At some point, this virtual reenactment becomes actually dangerous to Kiana and Bronya as for some reason, Bronya discovers she is no longer in control of the simulation and Kiana puts them in danger’s path by refusing to stay away from the oncoming disaster. All of this is then resolved by the mysterious appearance of some ‘random’ character who apparently is the ‘owner’ of this simulation and who points out that the girls could apparently die in real life from the hyper realistic sensory feedback for added drama and tension. He then proceeds to clad Kiana in some virtual armor that then helps her take down rampaging beasts in the simulation and ultimately saves them. In today’s anime and manga scene where VR is often given the ability to kill story characters, it isn’t surprising to find it make its way into this story but considering the crux of the story is the battle against powerful creatures that are set to wipe out humanity, this random venture into isekai/video game-like territory feels a bit out of place and badly executed.
But wait, there’s more! We then learn that the heroine of the story in the simulation is apparently fully aware that she is just a VR character trapped in a never ending loop where she is doomed to repeat and experience her heroic death over and over again. But seeing how much Kiana cared for her fate even as a VR character amazes her and has her pass on a message for someone in the real world related to the historical character she is a copy of. All of these various attempts at delivering emotional gut punches one after the other through a virtual reality story segment feels too rushed and unconvincing so early on. When viewing it through the eyes of someone picking up the manga as their literal first contact and knowledge with the world of Honkai Impact, it fails to leave a mark all the more as the characters in the VR simulation are more or less total strangers to the reader.
Lastly, while I would think what is being offered here by Crunchyroll is an officially translated copy, it has strong fan translation vibes with there being several panels/ pages where we get these little conversations between the editor, the texter and someone named Apple Beetle, presumably the translator commenting about what’s going on in the story. Sometimes they seem to be notes for the texter (?) who I assume refers to the person doing the typesetting. I’ve even included an image below as an example. The dialogue itself can be rather ‘unique’ using phrases like ‘hardcore gangsta font’, ‘amahgod’, ‘G-nius’ and so on. This series does not read like your typical professionally translated and edited manga and if that’s what you’re used to or were expecting, you’re in for a surprise and could find all the random conversations and comments distracting.
When taken as a whole, the trope heavy nature of the characters and story of Honkai Impact 3rd continues to be unsurprising considering their origin/tie in to a mobile game yet remains just as disappointing. While Honkai Impact 3rd definitely reads better than some of the other materials, it’s still got enough flaws that make it hard to wholeheartedly recommend to anyone who wants to approach it like a stand alone manga. A lot of it still feels and reads like media created to support or promote something else, which isn’t a sin but does not help its solo appeal. Unless all you’re really interested in is lots of action and fighting involving straight male fantasy female characters along with a side of fan service lite, Honkai Impact 3rd remains another must read only for the fans of the mobile game.
Honkai Impact 3rd is available digitally via Crunchyroll.com.