Trigger Warning: contains references to emotional abuse and suicide
Zero Game is written and illustrated by Zelbasen. After losing her parents everything began to fall apart for Hanna. Now, being made fun of by her peers, and told she is unwanted by family, Hanna has come to view her life as a zero. That’s when she receives an invitation. Her chance to play a game that could give her back everything she lost. But if she fails to win, her life will be forfeit.
Zero Game wastes no time showing just how hard Hanna has it in life. The very first two scenes in the book involve her being humiliated by her classmates and then being told she is no longer welcome by her uncle and aunt. The scene with her relatives grows even darker. After Hanna leaves the room she lingers by the door. While there she hears her aunt exclaim, “I hope she just gets hit by a car or something.”. Furthermore, Zero Game piles on the hurt even more through Hanna’s response to these events. It is one of virtual indifference. As if they are to be expected. She has fully accepted this is what life is.
These scenes culminate in the revelation that Hanna, seeing no way in which her life could improve, is contemplating suicide. However, these thoughts are held off when she receives a mysterious invitation: an invitation to the “Zero Game.”
The Zero Game functions much like a video game. The players, upon passing through a nondescript door, find themselves in the world of Zero Game. As a result of joining the Zero Game, each player is granted life points and a passive power. In order to complete it, the players must complete the various levels of the game. While they try to overcome the challenges of the game, they must also beware the other players. After all, there can be only one winner.
Between the introduction of Hanna and her arrival in the game, a lot of ground has already been covered in Zero Game through the first three installments. And I feel like that is the series biggest weakness. Zero Game feels like it is in such a huge rush to get to where it’s going, that it can’t let the reader really get to know anyone.
For example, let’s look at Hanna. We know she has had a tough life. Her parents are gone and nobody cares about her. And while that’s enough to make me feel bad for her, as I would anyone that found themselves in that situation, I find it hard to feel for Hanna herself. This is due simply to the fact that, with three issues down, I know nothing about her beyond her trauma. This lack of knowledge becomes even more jarring when she begins confronting others in the Zero Game.
For an individual that hasn’t had any special training or talent, even so much as hinted at, she adapts to her fantastical situation remarkably well. She manages to keep her head and begin strategizing plans on the fly with an amazing deftness. It makes one suspect that maybe she is something special. Which could be the author’s intent. But it feels just as likely that it’s simply the author granting their creation the tools to do whatever she needs, warranted or not.
This isn’t to say that I think the writing in Zero Game is bad. The scenes that are there show solid skill and style. It just feels like, in a desire to get to the exciting moments, the reader is left without even so much as a hint of things they need to know. Without at least reason to suspect something more may be involved, the reader is left feeling like the story is just hastily written.
However, one area I can happily praise, without reservations, is the art of Zero Game. Zelbasen has honed their art into an exceptional example of the manga style. Everything from character designs to settings radiates that classic look. I especially love how pronounced eyes are in these panels. This is particularly true of Hanna. Her yellow eyes demand to be looked at. It’s incredibly striking. Even more than the art itself though, I loved the way they formatted the story taking full advantage of the digital medium.
Since each issue of Zero Game is made for a website in a straight horizontal from top to bottom format, there are no limitations on how far down the story can scroll. Zelbasen uses this to excellent effect with their text placement. Often time thought boxes and dialogue bubbles will be kept between the panels. This serves to both free up the image from clutter, as well as giving the presentation a fluidity I hadn’t experienced before. While scrolling I would often get to read the text before the image fully appeared. This made it easier for me to just take in the art having already been given the written context for it. As a result Zero Game has a very unique feel to it that made the experience of reading it stand out in my mind.
Thus far, the first three episodes serve as a solid beginning to an interesting story. It’s high quality visual and unique presentation help keep the interest up as the story picks up steam. If it can just take a little time to flesh out the characters in the coming installments, Zero Game could easily go from a good read to something truly exceptional.
All episodes of Zero Game are available for reading here.
Rating: 3.5/5 quests for a better life
Thus far, the first three episodes serve as a solid beginning to an interesting story.