A tale of a demon hunting samurai unfolds in this first issue of a comic book epic
The Book of Silent Sky No. 1
Writer/Artist: M.A. Del Rosario
Publisher: Paper Drawing Studio
What You Need to Know:
The Book of Silent Sky is a comic book adaptation of the novel of the same name by M.A. Del Rosario. It is one of three works he created under Paper Drawing Studio, a publishing company from the Philippines.
What You’ll Find Out:
Nalada is a region known for its countless duels waged by warriors around the world of Soraya. Demons known as the Yashari now occupy Nalada, causing terror among its few remaining inhabitants. A swordsman named Silent Sky wanders across Nalada, seeking and killing the Yashari to avenge the death of his master.
What Just Happened:
When I first started reading this comic, what popped out of my head are all the ‘Chanbara’ (Samurai films) of old that I used to watch when I was younger – Seven Samurai; Yojimbo; Zatoichi; Lone Wolf and Cub; 47 Ronin, and others. By extension, Silent Sky reminded me also of Stan Sakai’s Usagi Yojimbo, one of the most critically acclaimed samurai-themed comics ever made (I’m still waiting for a proper adaptation of that, rather than making cameo appearances within the Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles franchise). These nostalgic callbacks gave me high expectations on how The Book of Silent Sky performs.
I probably shouldn’t have done that.
Although the comic is done in black and white, much of Del Rosario’s art focuses mainly on shadowing, resulting in panels that are mostly just plain dark. There’s almost nothing to see in terms of backgrounds, and there’s hardly any action save in the final pages. And when the action does happen, it’s so stiff-looking. What I mean is that when you read an action sequence from either Marvel, DC, or even in manga, you get to see a number of panels that provide movement among the combatants, complete with drawing lines and speech effects that give the illusion of a moving scenery. Del Rosario provides no such effects, so it appears that his characters are just posing as mannequins when fighting.
Full Disclosure: I have actually read comics from the Philippines in the past, so I am very much familiar with how they are presented overall. If you are so used to reading American comics or Japanese manga, you may be turned off by the presentation Silent Sky brings, as Del Rosario kept aspects of Philippine comics from character design to the narrative. “Art is in the Eye of the Beholder”, they say. Ergo, your mileage may vary with regards to Del Rosario’s art style.
Another problem with this first issue is that it is chock full of dialogue. The conversation between characters lack emotion and when there is, it feels forced. There’s so much of this that it covers virtually the entire comic. I get that Del Rosario is trying to explain the world and lore of Silent Sky and its main character, but cramming all of that into one issue is not the best approach. Take Kentaro Miura’s Berserk manga, for example. We don’t know much about Guts for much of the Black Swordsman arc other than he’s a guy with a giant sword killing demons. We do get some bits of his past and it’s only on the Golden Age arc that we get to know about his story in full detail.
And speaking of the main protagonist, I struggle to reason why I would get behind the main protagonist, Silent Sky. The first half of the comic explains Silent Sky as this super-skilled warrior who took control of a kingdom, became power hungry, got kicked out, trained by his now-dead master, and is now seeking out the demon responsible for the murder. In the second half, Silent Sky visits a village where the locals still address him as a lord, despite his past history, and that he is just as much a commoner as everyone else. Characters like Kenshiro from Fist of The North Star, Clint Eastwood’s ‘The Man with No Name’ from A Fistful of Dollars, and the titular Samurai Jack are all stoic in their persona, yet their design and presence adds plenty of charm that makes them likable and memorable. Silent Sky has none of that.
What made my skin crawl the most was near the end when Silent Sky slew the Yashari demon by shouting out the name of his technique as though it a Street Fighter-style Super Move. For lack of a better way to say it, I called that as ‘character assassination’, because Silent Sky is supposed to be portrayed as this stoic, dark and serious Demon Slayer and that scene made me take him far less seriously, when it’s already hard enough for me to like the protagonist as is.
The Book of Silent Sky incorporates many elements of the Samurai fiction genre, among others from East Asian fiction and beyond…perhaps a bit too much. With lots of long and weak dialogues and very stiff visuals, the comic itself is very hard to read unless you have the patience of Buddha himself to go through the whole thing in one sitting. This comic would be far better if it does a lot less.
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