As a game, Disgaea and its sequel were great fun, but the less said about that awful anime adaptation, the better. With that in mind, I didn’t have a great deal of interest in the series’ manga incarnation, but given that my brother did, I decided not to pass up the opportunity to do a bit of free reading of his books.
So far, three Disgaea manga volumes have been released in English- a one-off for the original Disgaea game, and two volumes of the ongoing Disgaea 2 series. Each series is handled by a different mangaka, but both have that somewhat inferior “cash-in adaptation done by an inexperienced artist” feel. Nonetheless, for real fans of the series, there may be some worth in them.
A single volume, Disgaea covers Laharl’s quest to become Overlord after his two year nap, concluding with the visit to Celestia from the later chapters of the game, and happily missing out the whole Captain Gordon and Earth scenario that never really sat well with the game. A few other things have been missed out, but overall the story is still coherent, and unlike the anime, the humour hasn’t been dumbed down to two year old level. The jokes won’t have you splitting your sides with laughter (especially if you’ve already encountered them in the game), but they’re decent enough, and will certainly satisfy younger readers and major Disgaea fans.
Visually, Disgaea isn’t as bad as you might expect- generic tone is liberally applied and backgrounds are pretty much nonexistent, but the characters have had some effort put into them. Whilst the designs lack the polish and sharpness of their game counterparts, the ‘shoujo’ soft, wavy hair style isn’t too bad- Laharl never looks quite right, but Etna is oddly attractive in her new form.
Unlike its predecessor, Disgaea 2 is an ongoing series, with two volumes published so far, but at least several more to come. Like the game, each chapter (or ‘episode’ as they are counter-intuitively named) ends with a humorous preview of what’s coming next, and for the most part, the series is basically a paper summary of the game’s cut scenes. The only exceptions to this rule are the first few chapters, which attempt to bridge the gap between the two games by explaining how Etna left Laharl and became a Demon Lord/Beauty Queen in her own right. As new material, this is really the best part of the manga so far- everything else is just recap for anyone who’s played the game (and I can’t see anyone who hasn’t reaching for this manga adaptation in a hurry).
With the content not being a great draw, then, it is also disappointing to reveal that the artwork doesn’t bring much to the table either. Where the original Disgaea wasn’t too bad, Disgaea 2’s artwork seems a lot weaker, with an almost caricature style used for characters, and backgrounds just as nonexistent as before. One thing’s for certain- no one will be picking up this series for the eye candy, because you’ll get a much better experience from just looking at artwork from the original game.
It’s hard to see that there’s anyone to really recommend this manga to- Disgaea fanboys will buy this regardless of quality of content, but as far as everyone else goes, there’s not much point in investing in it. It might be a good option for getting younger readers into manga, but for more mature manga fans there are a wealth of series to spend time on before they even need to think of resorting to this.