REVIEW: ‘Assassin’s Creed: Blade of Shai Jun,’ Volume 1

Reading Time: 4 minutes

Assassin's Creed: Blade of Shao

Assassin’s Creed: Blade of Shao Jun Volume 1 is a manga adaptation of the Assassin’s Creed spinoff game Assassin’s Creed Chronicles: China by mangaka Minoji Kurata. Originally serialized in Monthly Sunday Gene-X, the English translation by Caleb Cook with retouches and lettering by Brandon Bovia is published by VIZ Media.

I love everything Assassin’s Creed, spinoffs and tie-in media and all. So a piece of tie-in media tied to a spin-off really satiates my persistent desire for more expansion to this universe. For those who missed or skipped the Assassin’s Creed Chronicles games, I absolutely implore you to go back and play them. They are very good 2D stealth games that integrate a lot of the most classic elements of Assassin’s Creed gameplay into games with plenty of challenge and a good story arching across all three games.

Assassin’s Creed Chronicles: China, and the in-animus story of Assassin’s Creed: Blade of Shao Jun is the story of a Chinese Assassin Shao Jun who, in 1526, returns home after two years in exile and training for the legendary Ezio Auditore to exact revenge for her family and her brotherhood against the Eight Tigers of the Templar Order. However, upon return, Shao is immediately captured and the precursor artifact she brought with her is stolen. Now she must recover the Precursor Box and slay the Tigers.

Mostly, the manga adaptation does a good job of taking the original story and relaying it in a fashion possibly even more clear than the game did. While the opening is very abrupt and several flashbacks in the first few chapters are slightly confusing, it’s easy to quickly surmise who Shao is and what she is after. Specifically, the whole first chapter helps illustrate the background to the story going forward that, in the game, was summarized in one or two blocks of text.

I only wish the manga spent more time giving Shao more emotion. What Shao has gone through, having her entire brotherhood and family wiped out and being exiled is a lot, and she never really gets to express much emotion. Even her rage, her primary emotion, is somewhat masked underneath the quick but excellently drawn fight sequences. However, some of the added elements from her childhood at least flesh out her motivation and disposition as a character.

As far as translating the gameplay elements into a new format, I really appreciated the way the manga implements some of Shao’s signature weapons, especially her hidden foot blade and her rope dart. I do wish though that she spent more time in stealth mode. As a major aspect of the game is completing levels without being seen or killing any enemies, it’s a tad jarring to see Shao just getting into constant fights. However, the art in these fight scenes is swell and if I’m looking it them on their own rather than as an adaptation, I’m all for the emphasis on action.

I also love the way the manga takes the game’s secondary objectives and makes them into full plot points. It’s a smart way to expand the story without having to reach too far for new material. However, the new material Assassin’s Creed: Blade of Shao Jun Volume 1 does provide is some of the best parts of the volume. The original game contained no modern-day plotline, unlike every main series Assassin’s Creed title. The manga adds one to the story in the form of Lisa, a teenager who falls into a trap set by Abstergo, the modern incarnation of the Templar Order. She thinks she is attending some type of therapy to help her cope with her violent tendencies. In reality, Abstergo’s Dr. Kagami is manipulating her into using an Animus to relive her ancestor Shao’s memories in an attempt to locate the Precursor Box for themselves. There’s also an Assassin lurking outside hoping to run interception.

I’m a big sucker for the modern stuff in Assassin’s Creed, so any tidbits like this that add more layers to the complexity of the eternal war between Assassin’s and Templars gets me excited. It doesn’t appear in every chapter though in this volume, so it’s too early to tell whether it will be a really cheesy aspect with shoehorned romance or a well-developed new component to this story. From what we have so far though, I’m intrigued. And, it gives me hope that perhaps the other Assassin’s Creed Chronicles games will receive manga adaptations as well, since the three games all tell one larger story about this same precursor artifact. It’s not entirely likely, given both the India and Russia titles were themselves derived from comic books, but I can dream.

Assassin’s Creed: Blad of Shao Jun Volume 1 is simultaneously a good adaptation of an under-appreciated video game and a good manga in its own right. The story expands upon the game in engaging ways and helps impart the main character’s stakes more clearly, even if she is not as well-expressed as I could hope for. This is only the beginning of Shao’s story though and there is a lot of evidence already that over time, it will only continue to be more fulfilling to read.

Assassin’s Creed: Blad of Shao Jun Volume 1 is available February 16th.

Assassin's Creed: Blade of Shao Jun Volume 1
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TL;DR

Assassin’s Creed: Blad of Shao Jun Volume 1 is simultaneously a good adaptation of an under-appreciated video game and a good manga in its own right. The story expands upon the game in engaging ways and helps impart the main character’s stakes more clearly, even if she is not as well-expressed as I could hope for. This is only the beginning of Shao’s story though and there is a lot of evidence already that over time, it will only continue to be more fulfilling to read.