Arale is the kind of graphic novel you tear through, eager to discover what happens next until you slam into a surprise finish. The story, the characters, the magic and intrigue — it’s all here and it’s epic. This is an alternate history of Russia after World War I like you’ve never seen. Rasputin and his cronies have created a hauntingly dark world of magic in order to trick the Russian people into keeping them in power. The story is wild, to say the least, but perfectly in keeping with the bizarre history of Rasputin and the unexplained events surrounding him.
A few spoilers ahead, so beware!
From a story perspective, this was just fascinating to me. The author pulls from Russian propaganda, pairing it with rustic science fiction technology to create this alternate state that continues under the Tsar. The realm of limbo is equally fascinating, filled with lost soldiers who are doomed to continue fighting the war for eternity. The concept of these machines and what they stand for is horrifying, yet it isn’t a surprise by the end. These zealots have lost any connection with human decency and are purely ruling to stay in power. The twist at the end promises a hectic and exciting second volume.
I loved the artwork. It’s a beautifully detailed comic book style that melts into an almost grotesque surrealism within limbo. The panels are extremely intricate and there’s an interesting usage of smaller panels to add to the overarching scenes. The battles are done well, and the incorporation of large, broken faces from statues adds that feeling of failed propaganda looming around every corner.
Overall, Arale is a fascinating take on what Russian history could have been (had Rasputin been magical and trapped Baba Yaga to do his bidding). The volume blends science fiction, fantasy, and alternate history into a fascinating tale that is sure to excite and shock readers.
NOTE: I was provided a free copy of this book via NetGalley in exchange for my honest, unbiased review.
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