Quick Take – Featuring shadows of Megalobox and Battle Angel Alita, the adaptation of Haruhisa Nakata’s Levius is an ambitious and fantastic title. With a superb art style, terrific action sequences, and the foundation for a broad and captivating universe, this release will undoubtedly bring in a new wave of Levius fans.
Levius takes place in a (not-so) alternate universe where the culmination of the 19th century is a great and terrible war that devastates the broader continent. Conflict is brought to an end after the advent of mechanical augmentation of human bodies, making an army of devastating part-man, part-machine super soldiers.
In the years that have followed, this technology has found its way into the broader population, and now a sampling of it is offered in the form of Mechanical Martial Arts, or the M.M.A. With over 3 million contestants worldwide, our story focuses on a young man named Levius, currently ranked #7 within the prestigious Grade II of M.M.A. fighters.
Navigating feelings of personal loss, and clinging to a need to survive in a harsh and uncaring world, Levius maintains the single remaining familial bond he has left with his uncle Zack.
When an opportunity to ascend into Grade I takes a dramatic and unexpected turn, Levius finds himself pitted against powerful forces, eager to make him into their personal weapon.
Every once in a while I come across a series that grabs me by the throat and says “Come on kid, we’re going for a ride.”
Golden Kamuy, Battle Angel Alita, Akira, and Saikano are a few of the series that stand out in the last 20 years, and now I’m going to be adding Levius to that short list.
Despite having an initial run from 2012-2015, Levius remained a title that flew under many peoples’ radar until Netflix announced its anime adaptation in March of this year (You can check out the trailer here).
Giving the series a once-over, you might think it’s borrowing a page (or 5) from Megalobox – the mechanical boxing series that garnered a lot of attention last year. With its initial run starting over 5 years before Megalobox, however, it’s important to note that Haruhisa Nakata started this journey with Levius first.
When it comes to the series itself, you’ll find that the hook comes in early – namely the art. Levius features some positively breathtaking work. What was particularly striking to me was the level of emotional affect in the facial expressions throughout the volume.
Indeed, many of Levius’ longtime fans credit Nakata’s superb style – and this omnibus release lays out his gorgeous handiwork for more future fans to discover and enjoy.
Aside from the stunning artwork, however, is a well-crafted narrative that manages to deliver a solid beginning, middle, and end. Sometimes I wonder if we’re too often caught up in the long-running shonen series that we’ve forgotten what a contained narrative looks like. Thankfully, Levius delivers.
This 666-page monster of a story deftly navigates a tragic backstory for our protagonist, as well as his delicate balance between stubborn survival and surrendering to the hopelessness of his surroundings. Levius has one thing that sets him apart from others – his strength. With the help of his uncle Zack, who awkwardly takes him in after his mother is gravely injured during the war, he carves meaning out of the world he lives in with his mechanical arm, and keen battle sense.
Where the story really demonstrates its strength is the major narrative shift that happens in the 2nd act. While some stories have difficulty re-centering the readers attention on a new “target”, Levius effortlessly ties in the connection to the broader story, and uses it as an impetus for Levius to grow as a character.
The pacing is astonishingly good, with very little waste or fluff. Nearly every interaction, reaction, dialogue and conflict is tied into one of many moving parts in the broader story. Complementary characters are expanded when necessary, and even elements of the world that you would expect to be laid out in the first chapter aren’t unveiled until halfway through the story. In this way, the pacing is well executed in both the narrative, and the world-building process.
My only critique in terms of pacing comes in the conclusion. After building up the antagonist to be a thoroughly intimidating and frightening force, the formal introduction of the faction known as the “Grand Thirteen” provides a conclusion that’s almost too clean. On the one hand, I can appreciate the revelation that this tier of power is what we can expect in future volumes. On the other hand, it might strike some readers as a bit too much like deus ex machina. Then again, if Stephen King can set off a nuke in a football stadium to tidy up what’s considered one of his greatest works ever, why shouldn’t Haruhisa Nakata be able to summon a Grim Reaper named Ted to handle things?
That one gripe aside, man Levius is amazing. If you have been looking to fill a void left behind by Battle Angel Alita, this will definitely be able to scratch that itch. Do yourself a favor and get the physical copy – it’s an impressive work, and deserves the hardcover treatment that VIZ gave it.
The next installment in the series, Levius Est, will also be coming out from VIZ. It’s teased in the final pages of Levius – so make sure to keep an eye out for it. And of course, if you’re interested in seeing the anime, it will be landing on Netflix sometime this winter.
Go forth. Enjoy this amazing manga – and tell us about it in the comments!