Late last month, Hitoshi Ariga released the third and final volume of his new Rockman Gigamix manga series, and faithful fan Rock Miyabi has written up a nice review for us, as well as provide a detailed recap on the forum. It should be noted both the review and recap will contain tons of spoilers, though at this point there's no word yet on an English localization (but I wouldn't be surprised if UDON has their eyes on it). At any rate, be sure to give Rock Miyabi your thanks! And now without further ado...
When You Wish Upon a Stardroid
Your body-swapping, electronic dreams come true...
Hitoshi Ariga's climactic third volume of his Rockman Gigamix series released in mid-September. For those unfamiliar with Ariga's work, the Gigamix series is his third major manga adaptation focusing on the Blue Bomber, following 1996's Rockman Remix and Rockman Megamix, which was initially completed in 1998. While Ariga tweaked and reworked his artwork for a re-release of Megamix earlier this decade, Gigamix represents the first major new Rockman manga from Ariga in over a decade. Volume 3 picks up where the second volume began, concluding the tale of the alien Stardroids, who are running amok on Earth. While the first volume of Gigamix is essentially comprised of two standalone episodes (one focusing on the events of Rockman 3, and the other Rockman: Battle and Chase), there are some connections and key images from the Rockman 3 tale that make their way into the Stardroid storyline. Where as most of Ariga's work is broken up into numerous chapters or multiple stories in one volume, Volume 3 of Gigamix completely breaks that mold and is solely it's own 230+ page tale. Even though Volume 2 was arguably the same way, it actually was broken into 5 chapters.
As you would expect with otherworldly baddies, the battles with the most focus in this book take place in space. The cover image is pretty fitting, showing an almost lifeless, battle-damaged Rockman floating peacefully above the Earth. His arms are outstretched, almost as if he needs a big hug from the world to get him through this ordeal.
There is a little bonus imagery to begin the book. Ariga has included a smaller version of his R20 tribute artwork, which has a menacing Wily surrounded by the dark, shadowy figures of his own Robot Masters and boss creatures. Also included is a black and white bust sketch of the Stardroids surrounding Terra.
When we last saw Rock and crew in Volume 2, the Stardroid leader Terra had summoned his ultimate weapon, Dark Moon, in order to destroy the planet. Dark Moon's powers were causing the people of the world to go crazy, and despite their best efforts, neither Light nor Wily's robots were able to do much damage to the alien bots. On top of that, Blues had been mostly out of action due to his power generator issues, which have been causing him nothing but pain. But when things were looking bleak, suddenly a new robot made a flashy entrance...by crushing his fist right through the chest of Venus. And that robot we all know as Duo.
Despite the early tease, Earth's heroes of course can't lean solely on Duo to save them from the alien menace. And to be honest, I'm glad he doesn't play too key of a role in the heat of the battle. As is common with Ariga, there is a lot of focus on teamwork and camaraderie between the Robot Masters. Of course the bosses from each respective game generally have more of a connection with one another in Ariga's world, but in Gigamix, Wily, Light and Cossack's bots are all forced to work together. There is a wonderful scene where we get a glimpse into Rock's mind after he's been knocked out of commission. A voice begins to chastise him for his constant battles, and eventually it's the words of Cut Man that remind him what he's been fighting for. We see all the Robot Masters are working together and laughing and enjoying each other's company. And eventually they all use their powers together to fix and utilize Wily's Skull Castle to power a team into space for the final battle.
While Ariga has always been able to balance humor with a more serious tone to his stories, Gigamix has definitely felt a little darker and mature compared to his previous works. There are a few examples that stand out. While exploding robots are nothing new to the Rockman series, the addition of "blood" (or oil if you'd prefer) coming out of wounds or a character's mouth add to the grittier feel. In terms of character design, Dr. Cossack's daughter Kalinka has definitely matured during Gigamix. Throughout Megamix, she was always just a little shorter than Roll and looked the part of a 9-year-old, as she was in Rockman 4. But as time has moved forward both in the world of the characters and in real life, Gigamix Kalinka is becoming a mature young woman. She now rides a motorcycle and is tall enough that she is basically at Shadow Man's height. And she's not afraid to get in his face, either. Artistically, Ariga has come a long way since Rockman Remix, but small details like that in his art that are constantly refined help add to the overall vibe of his tales.
The prevailing theme in this story seems to be sacrifice. Mostly sacrifice for the greater good, although in the case of Terra dismembering Saturn by pulling out his eye and devouring it, just to gain his Black Hole powers, maybe not so good. While Rock has always put himself on the line to save the world and his friends, many other characters get their moment to shine in the spotlight. The most notable:
- Shadow Man, who not only dutifully protects Wily, but also is resigned to giving up his life up in order to give Blues a fighting chance at survival.
- Blues, who has kept going in and out of consciousness, but leaves his trademark scarf wrapped around the wound of his pet Tango as he jettisons into space, only to get caught in his own kamikaze mission against Mars.
- Cut Man, who literally gave both his body and robotic soul up in order to save Rockman by downloading all the data from Rock's electronic brain and letting Dr. Wily and Dr. Light overwrite it onto him.
- Dr. Wily, who has to swallow his pride and work side-by-side with Dr. Light once again, not only for his own safety, but to also repair and save the one creation of Light's that he most wants to destroy.
Underneath the cover jacket, the front cover has a creepy, oozing Mercury as the central image behind the title. Surrounding that central image are single, full-body concept sketches for each Stardroid, along with Sunstar; similar to the character file sketches provided in Megamix. The back cover has a chibi doodle of Ariga himself, along with Wily and one of his favorite Robot Masters, Heat Man (who's lid has closed on his head). But the most wonderful part of the back cover is that Ariga gives special thanks to each and every person who participated in his contest to create "throwaway characters" that were used in the second volume. Around 200 fans submitted at least one idea, and the total number of entries was just under 300 in total. While a whopping 100 fan-created characters were drawn by Ariga...and immediately obliterated by Terra..., obviously not every idea could make the final cut. So for people like me who tried their best, but whose character wasn't picked, it was a wonderful gesture on Ariga's part to thank us and acknowledge our efforts in that way. I was totally surprised to see my alias printed on an real, published manga, and I kinda doubt that will ever happen again in my life. Like many of the people who love his artwork, creativity, and devotion to Rockman, I'm definitely thankful Mr. Ariga even gave fans like us the chance to be a part of his work.
In an entry on his blog on September 27th, Ariga mentioned that he wasn't able to fit in everything he wanted due to page-limit restrictions, but even if it feels incomplete, he felt it was his best work. I definitely would second that thought. His art in this volume is very polished, with plenty of dynamic action and chock full of details. I love the larger-sized A-5 format that has been used for throughout Gigamix and the most recent Megamix releases. It's not too large, and allows you to appreciate the art even more. Sure, there are plenty of images I'd love to see on 8x10-sized paper, but the A-5 format works well. Even though we all know in the end, Wily will be Wily, the story has enough twists and turns, with the stronger depth and characterizations lots of us would love to see used in the games for a change.
Even if this was the last volume of Gigamix, there are enough hints that Ariga isn't done 'Mix-ing' quite yet. After the final battle, as Light's bots work on rebuilding after all the destruction, Wily appears on a screen in his Rockman 8 attire. Of course he's back at it again. 8 beams of light are seen teleporting out of the newly remodeled Skull Castle and Rockman 8 Robot Masters, along with Forte and Gospel, appear in the credits. And many of us were left wanting more after his mini manga for the Rockman 9 Arranged Soundtrack, so we can all hope that Ariga will be able to craft at one more series to cover the games and characters he hasn't fully touched on yet.
For a more image-detailed summary of what goes down in Volume 3, you can read my rundown and take a peek at a bunch of sample scans in this thread on the forums. The book has been a little harder to find on the usual import sites, but keep an eye out at YesAsia for its availability if you're having a tough time finding it on eBay. Get ahold of it if you can! You won't be disappointed.