Since their launch, Square Enix Manga have succeeded in offering a range of titles from different genres. Their latest addition is the dark fantasy series Ragna Crimson, but does it deliver a good read? Let’s find out!
The story follows Ragna, a young boy working for genius dragon hunter Leonica. Ragna’s family were killed in dragon attacks, leaving only Ragna alive but Leonica promised to be strong enough never to perish and to protect him forever.
Ragna wants to become powerful enough to stand by Leonica’s side, instead of always being protected by her, but his abilities leave him as one of the lowest rankings among dragon hunters. The most he can do is help Leonica out in her daily life, making sure she eats a balanced diet and gets plenty of sleep to recover from fighting their powerful enemies.
While our protagonist hopes these days will continue forever, the reality isn’t so kind. Ragna begins to have prophetic dreams which show Leonica dying in a fight against a particularly strong opponent. Knowing he can’t let this future come to pass, Ragna begins training in earnest and on the day of the attack, finds himself wielding an all-new power…
The power Ragna is granted has been sent to him from his future self, someone who couldn’t protect Leonica or those he holds dear. He sends his power into the past hoping that his old self will be able to make use of it and change the future (which you’d think would cause some sort of paradox, but that goes unaddressed).
While the premise of Ragna Crimson is an interesting one, this first volume fails to deliver on it. One of the biggest issues for me was Leonica’s design which is small, rounded and cute. She’s completely at odds with the setting of the world and the idea of dark fantasy. It’s not just her design either, as many of her mannerisms are also befitting of a cutesy personality, instead of the genius warrior she’s supposed to be.
The other problem is that Ragna has very little appeal as a protagonist. Even if you can sympathise with his plight, he’s not very likeable, made worse once he gains his powers. Instead of proceeding to team up and travel with Leonica, he decides to leave her behind, telling her that she’s too weak to be by his side! This bugged me the most since Leonica started as the most powerful character in the setting and then gets tossed aside as soon as the protagonist can replace her.
I think if the writing was stronger it would be easier to get on-board with Ragna Crimson’s plot, but as it stands, it feels like the author Daiki Kobayashi (Sky Blue) is just trying to make these characters suffer for no real justifiable reason. It’s almost as though this wasn’t supposed to be a dark fantasy, to begin with, and that got tacked on later in the creative process. Maybe if there was more worldbuilding it would have alleviated some of these concerns, but the majority of the focus is stuck on Ragna.
As far as the artwork goes, I’ve already complained about Leonica’s design but beyond that, the rest of the cast fares better. Kobayashi draws some convincingly menacing dragons and enemies for our cast to fight, but I think that’s the only real positive for the artwork. Action scenes are messy and difficult to follow and I find the series needs more shading instead of leaning into flat colours.
As previously mentioned, Ragna Crimson comes to the West thanks to Square Enix Manga and has been translated by Stephen Paul. The translation reads well with no issues to note. Square Enix has released the series in one of their bigger formats, which will be familiar to many as the size of Kodansha’s trade paperbacks. The release also includes colour pages, which is a nice extra. Ragna Crimson is on-going in Japan at 8 volumes and Volume 2 of the English releases is currently scheduled for May.
Overall, Ragna Crimson is a series that would be far more interesting if it wasn’t centred on Ragna. It throws away a lot of its potential by writing out one of the more interesting members of the cast. This, combined with some less than stellar artwork, leads to a disappointing read that’s hard to become invested in.
A free preview of Ragna Crimson Volume 1 can be found on the publisher’s website here.