Mythical Detective Loki Ragnarok Vol. 1

When it comes to resurrecting ancient heroes and casting them into the modern world, perhaps nobody has done it better than Matt Wagner, comic book author extraordinaire. In his series "Mage: The Hero Discovered" and "Mage: The Hero Defined," Wagner creates a mythos by which the essence of the Pendragon (i.e. King Arthur) is incarnated in the form of Kevin Matchstick, an aimless young man who cannot believe that he is the re-embodiment of this fabled character. Over the course of the story, Kevin runs into a variety of fantastical creatures both brave and villainous, comes to a point of faith, and eventually becomes a legend himself. Many of us are long awaiting the final installment, "Mage: The Hero Denied." If you've never read any of the series, you owe it to yourself to pick up the graphic novel compilations that are available. Trust me, it's well worth your dime.

Mythical Detective Loki Ragnarok, on the other hand, feels for all the world like the concepts of "Mage" reconnoitered for the Japanese mindset, aimed for the young teen market, and rewritten by committee. The first three episodes on the check disc sent to me by ADV Films have the hallmarks of a show that's trying to appeal too hard. It's as if they were trying to strike a perfect balance of elements -- horror (but not too scary), comedy (but not too many laughs), and mythology (but nothing too deep or distinctly flavored). I don't know if Sakura Kinoshita's manga (from which the show is based) felt pulled in twenty different directions, but the show sure does. Ultimately, just like its balance of flavors, the show turns out to be fair (but not too good).

Mayura is a gal with the spirit world on the brain. Her dad's a seer without faith (even though he can see phantoms when they really exist). She's all into mysteries...well, she would be if she weren't such a dingbat. But as she gets into a situation with a bizarre little doll, she calls on the help of Loki, a supernatural detective. Loki appears to be a prepubescent kid -- not the trapped incarnation of a Norse god -- but he's smart and can help Mayura get out of her fix. They become friends, not because Loki finds her that appealing but because she's such an airhead he winds up stuck with her. As the story progresses, other members of the Norse pantheon start showing up as Japanese teenagers, and they all want a piece of Loki. Why does Loki inhabit the body of an apparent 11-year-old instead of staying up in Asgard with Odin? And why are all these dangerous deities showing up? That's a good question, one that won't be answered in the first volume.

Watching the first few episodes, I couldn't help but think that the creators of this show had the blessings of a major backer expecting this to be a hit. The animation and look are excellent, first-rate as far as the genre goes, on par with Fullmetal Alchemist. (It's easy to forget that shows that aren't shooting for older audiences like Cowboy Bebop or Ghost in the Shell can look great in their own way.) Although it's not even close to jaw-dropping, as a fan of animation in and of itself, it's easy on the eyes.

Loki has a few things going for it. Besides the animation being none too shabby, the idea of Norse mythology popping into things is an intriguing concept. There are all sorts of things I could imagine one doing with such a background. There's also a lack of true horror television programs, and when Loki wants to do so, it does "creepy" well. It's clear to me that this vein would have been the one easiest to tap and could have made this a better show than what it is. And, for those who appreciate such things, this show is very clean in terms of content -- no profanity so far, no fan service, and just fantasy violence. (There are a lot of spiritual possession and supernatural happenings, though, which may turn off readers searching for clean material. Just be aware.)

But Loki also fails on several points. For one, the Norse mythology is dang screwy. Whatever happened to Loki being the trickster god? Here, he's a gothic little putz who can barely appreciate other people's gags. Heimdall, when he appears, seems out for blood, very different from the powerful, intelligent watchman of lore. Other than the names, the characters are virtually unrecognizable. It would be one thing if, like "Mage," a character wasn't sure of his or her own identity and acted accordingly. But in the world of Loki, the players are very aware of their status as fallen deities. It's as if the writers didn't think the audience could appreciate Norse mythology, so they turned the characters into derivatives instead. That's very disappointing.

Also an affront is the character of Mayura. She's the show's attempt at humor, and it doesn't work. She's an idiot through and through, completely oblivious to the facts right around here. She's such a ditz that I hoped for her to be possessed by some Norse spirit just so her personality wouldn't be so annoying. It wasn't the case this time around, but there's always hope for volume 2.

But the hardest part for me was in the "why do I care" department. Aside from Loki's lovably goofy assistant, none of the characters exhibit any personality. There's no emotional attachment...if Thor were suddenly to wallop off Loki's head, I'd shrug and move on. If I were to watch any more of Loki, it'd be to see if it gets any better, not because the hook worked. I've continued to watch shows I've liked less (i.e. Gantz) because they were so intriguing; Loki, to me, is a good idea with little follow-through, and the lack of it makes me doubt there's anything really here.

Loki looks to be an attempt to gain a large, young audience by covering the numbers with all the anime cliches. If you like great looking (but re-used) transformation/summoning sequences, you'll find them here. If you like cute bishonen boys, you'll find them here. Trusty sidekick? Check. Cute little creature that's useful at the last minute? Check. Mystery characters with a past to be revealed? Check. On and on it goes. In fact, the only unique thing Loki has going for it is the Norse mythology, and it's been put through the cultural filter so thoroughly that the characters don't remotely resemble their origins.

I don't doubt that this show might be a hit; it looks great, and unless you know better, it appears to have all the hallmarks of a good anime. But ultimately, I don't care...about the show, about the characters, about any of it. I found myself amazingly disinterested in the whole thing when I was done. So it's getting my highest "not recommended" rating; perhaps I'm wrong, and you will find something better than I did. But I'll read "Mage" again when I want some mythological heroes returning to the modern world, thank you very much.

Mythical Detective Loki Ragnarok Vol. 1 -- mild violence, supernatural themes -- C+