A girl with mystery in her past goes to live in a strange place. So far, it’s a little… familiar. But what sets Wayward apart from similar coming of age tales is the attention paid to the environment: modern day Japan. This is a Japan that’s not weird or eerie or “o god you guys it’s so RANDOM”, but a regular portrayal of a place that people actually, you know, live in. As Zack Davisson says in his introduction, Wayward avoids the trap of using “Japan as decoration” that is pretty common in pop culture.
So when you have fantastic scenes like a herd of cats following our heroine Rori through a gloomy alley, it looks like a practical back alley, but one that is specifically Japanese. When demons are knocking lumps out of each other in city streets and parks, the surroundings are authentic and beautiful but not outlandish. As a result, the contrast between these backdrops and the weird supernatural goings on really stand out. If the world around you was constantly day-glo neon excite-a-rama, you’d barely bat an eyelid at yokai tussling, so this is appreciated. Going back through, the art is astonishing, really clean and clearly manga-influenced, whilst not being beholden to it: the energy and movement on the page is thrilling, but well planned page layouts keep the reader on track through the hypersonic story pace. The art team deserve recognition for such consistent and beautiful work.
The collection of the first five issues does a good job of introducing characters, giving them room to breathe and establish themselves, while at the same time introducing more and more plot threads to follow. If anything, I was left seeking more of a conclusion from this initial story arc, but I’ve got no doubt that it’ll pick up and escalate from here. Jim Zub did a tremendous job in his previous Skullkickers of consistently adding new elements while not getting swamped in unnecessary detail, and it shows here too. I’m going to sound like my Grandad here, but I did feel like the swearing didn’t really fit the story, as much as it kept cropping up. Don’t get me wrong, I’m a huge fan of bad language normally and there’s some top swearing in here, but if it wasn’t in there then it would be a book I’d have happily recommended for a 10 year old. As it stands, watch out young’uns!
A book I was expecting to be a bit run of the mill turned out to be a real pleasant surprise. Definitely worth a look.