Zhang Fei is a drifter trying to keep his head down and survive during the turmoil of China in 184 A.D. While looking for food in a village torn to bits by the murderous Yellow Turban Rebellion, he falls in with the all-volunteer army run by General Liu Bei and his Deputy General Guan Yu. But Zhang Fei isn’t sure he’s cut out for the hero’s life…that is, until he ends up saving the life of a young girl and takes an arrow through the neck for his troubles. Two Xian—mystical beings—find his dying body and make a wager over whether to save him or not, but their method of saving his life turns him into an unparalleled warrior. Is their gift worth the cost of his soul, though?
The politics Yoshinaga is dealing with here are complex and could bog down a story for readers who don’t know their ancient Chinese history, but explanatory passages are skillfully inserted into the tale to keep everyone on track. These passages don’t sound forced or awkward, and they greatly help clear up details. The various characters are still hard to keep straight in the beginning, but as readers plow through, everyone begins to slot into place. There’s plenty of action to keep things moving quickly, too, along with just a touch of fantasy and folklore. Since this is just the first volume, characters are only roughly sketched out, without too much backstory to add depth, but Yoshinaga does begin to hint at problems and secrets from the past that have shaped these characters. One character in particular is not who he seems to be at first, which was an unexpected twist.
Yoshinaga’s art has a great amount of detail. Characters’ outfits, village buildings, and mountain scenes are all given close attention. Battles are rendered in full, gruesome detail, with heads being sliced open and blood spurting everywhere. The only aspect where details are not sharp is when a female character is shown nude and her private parts seem unfinished, but this is common in manga and so not a weakness. Though this first volume is merely to set the stage for the story to come, Yoshinaga is off to a decent start. The story is engaging and flows smoothly even with a lot of characters and complicated politics. Adult readers looking for historical action stories with a paranormal twist should be interested in this one, especially if they like titles such as Samurai Deeper Kyo, though Rampage’s level of violence and sexuality is much greater.
Reviewed by Snow Wildsmith on July 13, 2012