This year at ACen 2015 I noticed an interesting item for sale at one of the stands: Shotaro Ishinomori’s version of “The Legend of Zelda: A Link to the Past”. If you didn’t know, Ishinomori is a fairly famous manga artist with a very iconic style, renown for his superhero series such as Cyborg 009 and Himitsu Sentai Gorenger, which later got incorporated into the Kamen Rider series. Yet amazingly enough, a manga author of such prestige was able to be tapped by none other than Nintendo Power magazine way back in 1992 for an interesting task: write a serial comic that would run within the magazine covering Nintendo’s upcoming brand new game for the brand new Super Famicom/Super Nintendo Entertainment System, “The Legend of Zelda: A Link to the Past”.
This series ran monthly, encompassing twelve installments in all or about the size of a single “manga” (technically it wasn’t one…the entire story was originally left-to-right and in English, making it, by all definitions, a “comic”…but I’ll use the term interchangeably), although this one was full page size as opposed to what one is normally used to in, say, Shonen Jump size pages. Once it was done, all twelve installments were collected and gathered together to produce a manga that was put out in 1993. However, recently the manga has been republished. Between the artist as well as the game material, it goes without saying that the manga at the con lasted all of two hours before it was sold out. But as for people like me…I was there at the “ground floor”, subscribing to Nintendo Power when it was first published and reading it along with “Super Mario Adventures”, which the Nostalgia Critic did a flattering review of. For years, that was the sole way to read a manga version of “A Link to the Past” and you’d have to hunt for the reprinted editions online or pirated versions to get a manga version of what is widely considered to possibly be the best video game ever made for the fourth console generation, if not all time.
That is…until around 2005.
That’s when manga artists A. Honda and S. Nagano, working together under the pseudonym “Akira Himekawa”, took on a rather daunting task provided by Shogokukan Inc.: take not one, not two, but eight different “Legend of Zelda” games (“Ocarina of Time”, “Majora’s Mask”, “The Minish Cap”, “Four Swords”, “Oracle of Seasons”, “Oracle of Ages”, “Phantom Hourglass”, and “A Link to the Past”) and make mangas of each. This isn’t something I would wish on too many people. The fact is most Legend of Zelda games follow a similar thread. All of them share similar plot items and attributes in common, and all of them feature essentially the same hero. So to be tasked with actually trying to tell the same story eight times and not make them all sound the same is not anything trivial.
I’ve read all of the mangas and, I have to admit, I think they did a pretty good job with it. They finished the series up with their own rendition of “The Legend of Zelda: A Link to the Past”. Now, on seeing this, my first thought is that since Ishinomori is a fairly big name in the world of manga, they had to be familiar with his version. So trying to follow in his footsteps with their own spin only added a whole new element of difficulty. Until this entry they were going mostly on entries that had no corollary. But now they not only had to make Link and Zelda “new” for the eighth time, they had a reputation to live up to.
So, now that both are out and I’ve reviewed both, you, the Zelda fan, might be asking yourself: “Which is the ‘better’ one of the two?” Well, all opinions regarding these matters are subjective. They’re both good stories if you ask me, but what else do you expect from adaptations of one of the best video games ever, and both approved by Nintendo? But is one better than the other?
Let’s break it down and find out.
Naturally, this isn’t going to change much. Both are based off of the same video game and, overall, the story is identical.
Link is a young man living a quiet life in Hyrule with his uncle when he’s awakened one night to the sound of a voice telepathically calling for help. The voice ends up belonging to Princess Zelda, locked in Hyrule Castle. He rescues her and discovers that a powerful wizard named Agahnim is trying to link Hyrule to a land called the “Dark World” and flood it with evil, and to break a seal that is keeping the two separate he’s sacrificing maidens into the Dark World of which Zelda was supposed to be the last. To defeat Agahnim, Zelda says Link will need the legendary Master’s Sword of evil’s bane, and has to journey Hyrule to collect the three pendants of virtue to get it. Link eventually acquires the sword and defeats Agahnim with it, but not before Zelda is sacrificed as well and, as a result, Link is drawn into the Dark World.
Fortunately, on reaching this land, he sees that the two worlds haven’t instantly merged. He also discovers this area was once the Sacred Realm, the resting place of an emblem of the power of the goddesses of Hyrule: the Triforce. Years ago, the thief Ganondorf found the Triforce and, as the Triforce is raw power without morality, it obeys the wishes of anyone who claims it for themselves whether they be good or evil. He used the power to turn himself into the master of evil, Ganon, and tried to take over the world with it, but was sealed away by seven sages, of which the maidens were descendants. Fortunately, the maidens are all still alive in this world, so Link comes to their rescue, including Zelda’s, and they unite with him in order to destroy Ganon before he can destroy Hyrule. On doing so, Link wishes to restore the worlds to their original forms and peace returns to Hyrule.
Both plots are fairly the same and, to be honest, what I thought was kind of funny was that Himekawa’s version clearly knocks off of Ishinomori’s in several points. I suppose you could figure it’s just a coincidence, but…I think that’s a pretty big coincidence. Both feature Link losing his Hylian Shield early in the story. Both feature Link getting the Pendant of Courage from Sahasrahla rather than needing to beat a “dungeon” for it. Both feature a scorpion statue having the Pendant of Power. Both feature the Tower of Hera being an ever ascending set of stairs, with Link temporarily crossing in the Dark World before climbing it. Both feature an iconic ivy-covered Master’s Sword. Both feature Link failing to tag Agahnim with the Master’s Sword and ending up getting frozen in place when Zelda gets sent into the Dark World. Both versions feature a new character who gets jealous over Link’s attraction to Zelda. Trinex is given more of the “King Ghidorah” treatment in both versions rather than looking like an odd turtle critter. Ganon’s Tower is a floating spiked sphere in both versions, and Zelda “levitates” Link and herself into it in both versions. Both versions of the story drew attention for the need for Link’s desire and heart to remain “pure” in order to be able to not only defeat Ganon, but to remain human within the Dark World. The panel with Zelda becoming Queen, literally wearing the same clothes in both versions, is also similar.
Himekawa’s, in fact, gives such credit to Ishinomori’s original…that the only time it seems to really try to “stick it” to his version is in the last two pages…but we’ll get to that later.
Similarities said, one should keep in mind both versions of this story were written in very different environments. When Ishinomori did his version, “A Link to the Past” was the earliest chapter in Hyrule’s history. “Ocarina of Time” and “Skyward Sword” were both unheard of, and the entire Zelda series consisted of only three games period. What more, he was writing for a slightly more mature audience and had to get everything out in twelve issues. Himekawa, on the other hand, was finishing up their final entry out of ten mangas and had to struggle to make it “fresh” compared to the others. What more, their series was slightly more child-orientated, so they had to tone back the action a bit more. As a result of this, Ishinomori’s version is darker and ends on a “bleaker” note, while Himekawa’s version is far more cheerful and “optimistic”.
As a result of this, the only real difference plotwise is regarding the seven maidens. Ishinomori’s never mentions the number “seven” and for good reason…he only had enough time for three. Link only fully “explores” the Palace of Darkness, Swamp Palace, and Turtle Rock to rescue maidens. While he makes side trips to the Ice Palace and Misery Mire, neither the Thieves’ Town nor the Skull Woods ever show up. By comparison, Himekawa goes through all seven…kind of. She pretty much just sums up the whole journey by going through the dungeon guardians. In both cases, a lot of time focuses on acquiring the three pendants instead in both versions.
Well, that’s the overall story…now to dig down into where they differ.
Ishinomori, like most bigger manga artists, has his own signature style, and he brings that to his version in a big way. One of his biggest trademarks is to have a character’s drawn style change depending on their mood. When a character is angry for a foolish reason, for example, they grow more cartoonish and animated. When they’re more serious or going through a harder moment, their features become more detailed and realistic. He opts frequently for the “blank eyed” look for villains to accent their lack of souls or morality. Link bears some resemblance to Cyborg 009 while Zelda bears some resemblance to Cyborg 003 (although the true ripoff character will be mentioned later…), but when it comes to the monsters and villains, they’re far closer to the concept art designed for the game rather than purely original; in particular Agahnim and Ganon (note that Agahnim dresses in red like his original concept art as opposed to green as he appeared in the game). A lot of the action sequences take place with both characters in close proximity to each other, which helps add an element of realism from the “closeness”, where most other artists would separate them far from each other, and many of his panels focus on characters or individual items rather than extensive backgrounds unless the background itself is the focus for that panel. Lastly, Ishinomori is all about the “energy”. Panels like where Link draws the Master’s Sword, when he uses a spell to destroy the room in Hyrule Castle, and in the sequences involving the bombs…lots of light and energy and heat.
Himekawa, on the other hand, follows a trend they’ve done for their Zelda series as a whole: try to make the characters match their respective games. Link and Zelda look a bit different in each game they’re in, but they didn’t get a decidedly “anime/manga vibe” until “Ocarina of Time”. Until that point, Link has larger ears, a more bulbous nose, and an almost pomp-a-dour hairstyle. Well…Himekawa didn’t go that far. Unlike Ishinomori, she had been drawing Link as he appeared in “Ocarina” and other incarnations, so while he looks a bit more “mature” in this version, he’s still very much an anime/manga character. Same with Zelda. There’s more detail in this version with more focus on emotions and sharper edges, but as this version is purely black-and-white while Ishinomori’s was colored, the shadow can’t come out as highly contrasted. Furthermore, although the overall appearance of the characters is more “mature”, the more defined and consistent styles that are always a bit on the “light” side make the characters seem far more childish and young. The Master’s Sword, for example, looks like a shortsword at times. Finally, as a whole, the monsters and characters are more sharply detailed in many panels at the price of losing the “stylized” look that Ishinomori’s work was more famous for.
What Either Version Added
“The Legend of Zelda: A Link to the Past” was a video game, not a manga or even intended to be a true narrative. Hence to make a plot out of it that wouldn’t simply be Link running around killing things and solving dungeon puzzles most of the time, both versions would have to add quite a bit in order to flesh out the actual storyline.
As I mentioned already, both stories included a thread that explained Link had to be truly pure and selfless to take on his quest, because even if he defeated Ganon his heart would have to be pure or he’d end up misusing the Triforce as well, and he also had to maintain his human form in the Dark World. If his heart was even the slightest bit unbalanced, it would transform him as it did everyone else in that world. The story also treated both as a “cascading” effect…that to lose yourself once would send you on a slippery slope until you could never change back. It differed in implementation, however. In Ishinomori’s version, it was a very dark aspect of the Dark World. Link is partially transformed once while trying to reach the Tower of Hera and, though he keeps control of his heart, he’s unable to innately turn back. It’s not until he claims the Pendant of Wisdom that he’s restored. Even then, he nearly transforms a second time when he’s first sent into the Dark World when he starts giving into despair, but that time he…um…kind of “wills himself out of it” by just telling himself not to give up. In Himekawa’s version, while Link’s purity is accented greatly as is that of the seven maidens, which is why they’re able to remain human, it’s clear that the people who entered this world changed mostly just physically, not mentally. What more, rather than let his own despair or “negative emotions” do the job, Agahnim purposely sets up a situation designed to consume Link with rage toward him so that he’ll turn into a mindless beast. In that case, rather than Link willing himself out of it, Zelda herself comes forward and helps him to restore himself.
Ishinomori’s version was big on extra characters. He fleshed out the role of Sahasrahla a bit more, along with the role of Sahasrahla’s wife. He also developed the boy from Kakariko Village into a more full-fledged character and, along with an original character, a librarian, gave the hero a “Team Link” who assisted him multiple times in the story. In the Dark World, Link got an additional ally in the form of Zora, who’s role had been translocated there rather than at the mouth of the river as in the original story, and an additional character who…I’ll get to later.
Probably the most intriguing addition in Ishinomori’s version, however, was a new character named Ephermelda; a fairy. She basically follows Link around everywhere giving him advice and pointing things out.
The thing is, remember, when Ishinomori wrote this, “Ocarina of Time” was nothing more than a twinkle in Miyamoto’s eye. Yet anyone who picks up this comic today will have a hard time distinguishing Ephermelda from Navi, especially since, just like Navi, in most panels she’s only a blip of light with a pair of two-lobed wings. To me, this is the most stunning part of Ishinomori’s version. Did Nintendo actually like this idea so much they created Navi for “Ocarina”?
By comparison, Himekawa doesn’t have much in the way of “new blood”. They do have one certain additional character who I’ll also get to later…but, again, that’s it. Like Ishinomori, they flesh out existing characters such as the boy with a flute and Sahasrahla, and further adds that the Sanctuary had an entire team of ex-Hyrulian guards there taking refuge. It also focuses a lot more on the population of both Hyrule and the Dark World, actually giving personalities to a lot of the townsfolk and even some of the Dark World guardians. But aside from that and the one character, there’s nothing too new on her end.
Both versions of the story try not to make Link this totally unstoppable hero either, but focus on his more average mortality. Both versions have Zelda getting kidnapped by Agahnim in the Sanctuary in front of Link, and he fails to stop him both times. Both feature times where Link needs to be rescued too. In Ishinomori’s version, Link is tricked by a Wizrobe into entering Misery Mire and choked into unconsciousness by parasitic vines before nearly being fed to Sir Vitreous, but thanks to Ephermelda running to tell Zora where he was, he shows up and saves him. In Himekawa’s version, Link is stung by a fatally poisonous scorpion and is paralyzed and left for dead in the middle of a burning desert, but is rescued by the other character I haven’t brought up just yet.
Ishinomori’s version also focuses more on the physical toll Link has to go through. He draws attention to the fact that Link is running around Hyrule continuously without a moment to even get a good night’s sleep or a decent meal and needs to find times to get in rest where he can. Also, in a rather unique turn for the series, Link does the unimaginable when he heads out to the Ice Palace… Get this. He actually has to change his clothes into something warmer.
:O Knock me over with a feather. Link actually dressing appropriately.
Himekawa, on the other hand, adds something to who Link “is” other than just a destined knight of Hyrule to save the Princess and destroy Ganon. And remarkably enough, they do something most probably never thought to do: they make Link an apple farmer. Yeah, they could be drawing attention to the fact that in the game you can dash into trees and sometimes apples will come out for you to fill your health up with and using that, but the bottom line is Link would rather be a simple farmer making good food for people to eat rather than a hero. In that sense, Link is almost more like a “Samwise Gamgee” character in this version. A simple individual at heart with simple desires that he sees the greater importance in, but also someone who can drive himself to do extraordinary things when he knows he needs to. I know a lot of people don’t really see their favorite video game human being a simple apple farmer, but…I thought it was an interesting take. He wants to do something that brings other people happiness and life with his life rather than just “slay monsters and rescue MacGuffin princesses”.
On that note, both versions try to make Zelda a bit more than a MacGuffin. Not a whole lot more, mind you, but that goes with the plot. Zelda only really has a chance to do something at the beginning and at the end. In Ishinomori’s version, in which Zelda seems a bit younger and more emotional. She screams in fear, panics, and cringes in many points. That said…Zelda is the one who kills Ganon, imbuing the power of the knights of Hyrule and the seven sages into a certain someone’s arrow to turn it into the Enchanted Arrow needed to destroy him. In Himekawa’s version, Zelda seems older, more reserved, and more mature. She doesn’t cry out nearly as much but seems more sagacious and reserved. As I said, she helps Link return to human form, but also helps another certain someone realize her own true destiny…
Both versions also include Link’s parents and make it a subplot that he wants to reunite with them. Ishinomori’s version doesn’t devote as much time to it as Himekawa’s version, but the funny part is that both versions kind of “forget about it”. Himekawa’s version uses it toward the ending, but…really, both versions seem to forget the fact that Link’s parents aren’t supposed to be “dead”; just stuck in the Dark World. So, ideally, they should have been freed at the end. Still, whereas in Ishinomori’s version all you ever see is ghostly visions and flashbacks of them, in Himekawa’s version Link actually goes to the house they built in the Dark World at one point and finds a shirt his mother had been making for him.
Lastly, one of the big changes in the Himekawa version is to Agahnim’s character. Both versions feature a moment in which Agahnim talks to Ganon within the Dark World, implying the two are separate individuals. This is somewhat at odds with the game, but…the game itself is kind of mucked up in that regard. The idea was supposed to be that Ganon couldn’t leave the Dark World after making his wish…not unless the seven maidens were used to break the seal. Hence, he sent out Agahnim as a proxy to handle that. But eventually, the game reveals that Agahnim was nothing more than some sort of alter-ego or flesh-puppet representation of Ganon all along. It’s actually kind of confusing. Even in the game, at some points Agahnim seems separate. At others Ganon makes comments to Link like “I never expected…to look down on his battered body”.
For his version, Ishinomori did his best to replicate the game. Agahnim “dies” in Hyrule Castle while fighting Link and turns into vapor. Later, in Ganon’s Tower, he reappears along with images of the monsters Link killed in Hyrule, kind of like in the game. The only difference is while the monsters are just ghosts who die on being touched, Agahnim seems to genuinely be tangible, and on being killed again Ganon arises from the smoke of his “corpse”.
Himekawa’s version handled the version a bit better. Link defeats Agahnim in Hyrule Castle but doesn’t deliver the final blow. Agahnim escapes after drawing Link into the Dark World, so later when he meets him at Ganon’s Tower it’s clear he’s still kicking. However, most of all, they threw the whole idea of him being Ganon’s alter-ego or aspect out the window. Agahnim is a completely separate individual. Not only that, it turns out he’s a former knight of Hyrule who used to serve alongside Link’s own father. Although he used to be noble and wanted to help people like Link’s father, he eventually grew greedy for the Triforce like so many others and found a way to break the seal. When Link’s father tried to intervene, he banished both him and Link’s mother into the Dark World. After that, he put curses and plagues on Hyrule for a time; all so he could appear and break them, thereby earning the trust of the king, and using that position of trust to usurp the throne. That’s a pretty good addition to me, and I think it fits well with the story. It makes Agahnim more than some soulless arbitrary plot-kick-starting bad guy.
What Either Version Omitted
The game was too long as-is in order to hit every detail in the span of a single manga. Hence, both versions had to leave quite a bit by the wayside in order to fit everything. Most notably, one of the biggest features of the original game, namely collecting various items, was left by the wayside. Again, in a show of irony, one of the few items included from the game, the Book of Mudora, is used in both versions, but little else. Both versions omit most of the “gimmick” characters as well such as Kiki the Monkey, the Dwarven Smiths, and the Mad Batter.
The biggest changes were how the Dark World was handled, as mentioned earlier. While both versions featured Link going after the three pendants, having him rescue seven maidens was not only a stretch but would be repetitive. So they had to do something to speed that up. Like I said, in Ishinomori’s version, Link only ends up exploring three dungeons and rescuing three maidens, of which Zelda is one of them. The thing is that it doesn’t necessarily imply that there aren’t more still trapped in the Dark World… You see, Link was only trying to rescue Zelda in that version. He keeps ending up rescuing the wrong maiden. He also goes through the Ice Palace and Misery Mire, but they don’t have maidens in those. Like I said, he’s tricked into entering Misery Mire. As for the Ice Palace, he goes there to try and find the one and only map of the Dark World so he can find Turtle Rock, where he knows Zelda is being held.
Himekawa, on the other hand, pretty much just plain “sums up” the trek through the Dark World. Although Link goes to every dungeon, each one is given just a few panel synopsis. It’s kind of nicer that way. If there’s not time or ideas to flesh out a story too much, it’s probably better just to gloss it over, especially if you can do so in a way that doesn’t distract from most of the story. Of course, it makes pretty much the Dark World as a whole seem nearly an afterthought in this version. Whereas it figured pretty heavily in Ishinomori’s, the bulk of everything in Himekawa’s focuses on Hyrule.
The “Original” Character
In yet another item that both versions did…both included a brand new character who was another descendant of the knights of Hyrule, both ended up assisting Link, both ultimately became the source for the Silver/Enchanted Arrow, and both only had “semi-pure hearts” in that they could keep their human forms most of the time in the Dark World but turned into monsters whenever they went into combat; losing control of their negative emotions at that time. Yet that’s where the similarities ended.
In Ishinomori’s version, the new character was Cyborg 002. …I’m only half-kidding with that one. The character was named Roam but anyone who’s ever watched/read “Cyborg 009” isn’t going to look at him and not immediately realize Ishinomori simply glanced at his art for Cyborg 002 and made his hair slightly more light colored. He’s a descendant of the knights of Hyrule and both a swordsman and an archer who ended up trapped in the Dark World, and is searching for the Enchanted Arrow so he can destroy Ganon once and for all. Other than that, little is known about his background, or even how old he’s supposed to be. It’s implied individuals trapped in the Dark World don’t age, so it’s unknown if he’s close to Link and Zelda in age or if he’s been there for years. It’s also implied in a comment by Zora that he once wielded the Master’s Sword although it’s never shown how he lost it, and Roam himself talks as if there should be more knights of Hyrule, but at the same time he also mentions Zelda specifically. Of course…as anyone who plays the series knows…every princess of Hyrule is always named “Zelda”, so he could have been mentioning any of them. When he goes into battle, he turns into a humanoid eagle capable of flight.
Personality-wise, he’s far more arrogant, egotistical, brash, and judgmental than Link. He insults Link continuously even though Link defeats him in their first battle, and seems to be out to prove himself the better knight than him as much as save the world. It’s further implied he’s so temperamental and brash that he wounded Zora for no other reason than he “looked like a monster to him”.
In Himekawa’s version, the new character is a girl named Ghanti. She’s more original in style and obviously doesn’t have a corollary in the game, but that makes sense as most other original characters Himekawa had come up with had already been used from existing characters in the rest of the series. She’s a swordswoman and a bandit, allegedly the daughter of bandits, although she has standards…only robbing from rich people. She hates Hylian knights of Hyrule because she was told her parents were murdered by them. At first she helps Link because she sees his good nature as easy to exploit, and she hopes he’ll lead her to the Triforce. Yet on finding he’s a descendant of the knights of Hyrule, she wants to kill him…at least at first. She eventually can’t bring herself to do it on seeing Link as a friend, and even accompanies him into the Dark World. Once there, she too manages to keep her human form most of time, showing in spite of her occupation her heart is “mostly pure”, but turns into a beast when she goes into battle.
Eventually, Agahnim uses her by bringing out her jealousy for Link’s attachment to Zelda (by the way, in Ishinomori’s version, Ephermelda was likewise jealous of Link being attached to Zelda) to turn her into Trinex, with the multiple heads revealing her clash between the desire to help Link, the desire to have Zelda out of the way so she can have him to herself, and the desire for revenge. Eventually, Zelda reveals that she’s actually a knight of Hyrule herself and it was the bandits that killed her parents, not the other way around. Furthermore, her earrings are actually the arrowheads of the Enchanted Arrow, which I thought was a nice touch.
The really funny thing is what Ghanti turns into in order to help Link throughout the Dark World: a wolf. This manga came out in Japan a year before “Twilight Princess” would…although, unlike the situation with Ephermelda/Navi, concept art and screenshots were already out highlighting that Link would turn into a wolf in this version. So…yeah, it would have been yet another interesting chapter in the history of these mangas, but I’ll chalk this one up to coincidence.
Aside from these, the two works have a different “feel” about them. Ishinomori’s comic definitely emphasizes more of the action and power of the monsters in them. Link is portrayed as somewhat dimwitted or goofy at points to increase humor and there’s a lot of gorgeous detail when he clashes with monsters. Definitely lots of big, epic panels and fighting. Heck, when he blows up the Palace of Darkness, it takes up two full pages.
Himekawa’s version, by comparison, is drawn looking much younger and more “child-like”, but…in all honesty, it’s more “mature” in many regards. Link and Zelda both have a younger look to them but they’re both more mature. Link is more emotionally stable and braver with a kinder heart. Zelda has an older and more knowledgeable “feel” to her too. A huge difference here is the monsters of the Dark World aren’t…well…really “monsters”. Just regular people who succumbed to their own weaknesses and negative feelings. And that’s really a change. People who were “innocent” were mentioned in Ishinomori’s version as was how they were restored by Link getting the Triforce, but it wasn’t really emphasized until this version. The guardians that Link has to fight in the Dark World aren’t really so much to be feared as big ugly monsters but to be pitied for finding themselves trapped in their certain situation. In fact, Link’s own defeat of them is implied to be “rescuing” them from being controlled by their own negative emotions rather than just “monster-go-dead”.
Heck, it even puts a huge emphasis on Ganon’s alternate form. Most people think Ganon turning into a monstrous pig creature means he just turned “ugly” or into a “brute” to emphasize his true nature. But in Himekawa’s version, they really emphasize what he became: a creature who now has all the power he ever wanted and is still not satisfied…greedily wanting ever more. Having nothing but a mindless desire for more. In one sense, that might be “dumbing down” Ganon compared to Ishinomori’s version, but keep in mind Ishinomori’s own version was so one-dimensional for a “dark lord” standard that his expression pretty much never changed. After all, it wouldn’t be until “Ocarina of Time” that Ganon would normally be depicted in his humanoid form rather than his “demon pig” one. But also keep in mind this was Himekawa’s eighth outing with Zelda. By this point, they were trying to mix things up and make the villains different, especially since Ganondorf had already been depicted as a generic dark lord back in their “Ocarina of Time” installment.
As a result of all of this, one might say that Ishinomori’s version is “more mature” than Himekawa’s as a whole. But…honestly, I don’t see that. I think Himekawa tried to make Link more rounded. Tried to put more into him and the world than just “the quest”. Tried to give more to the monsters than just “being monsters”. And while Himekawa’s version had its share of more childish silliness, keep in mind so did Ishinomori’s. And often it was at Link’s expense.
Of course…the real reason people may dislike Himekawa’s version over Ishinomori’s by virtue of being more “childish” has to do with how it was all wrapped up…
With the exception of the new characters, how the story concluded was the biggest difference and what stuck the most with me. Both stories are somewhat identical up until the point in which Link, Zelda, and Roam/Ghanti enter Ganon’s Tower, which, just to remind you, looks nothing like it does in the game but is similar in both manga versions. That’s where things differ…
Ishinomori’s Ending: On arriving in the tower, “Phantom” versions of monsters Link killed earlier, including Agahnim, attack. While most end up being nothing but vapor, Agahnim is tangible and goes for Zelda. Roam stabs him but (as anyone who played the game can tell you happens when you stab Agahnim directly) he is violently electrocuted by the discharge and both end up destroying each other. From the vapors of his body, Ganon arises and attacks Link. He gets the upper hand at first until he’s distracted by Zelda, who has gone for Roam’s crossbow, at which point Link inflicts a serious wound with the Master’s Sword, which (just as in the game) paralyzes Ganon. Unable to move out of the way, he can only stand as Zelda lines up a shot and prays to the other maidens, sages, and even to Roam for assistance, and their spirits turn the shot she fires into the Enchanted Arrow which destroys Ganon. The Triforce arises from his body and tells Link to touch it and have his wish granted. Ephermelda bids a tearful goodbye to Link before the Dark World disappears on him touching it. Hyrule is restored along with those who were trapped in the Dark World, Zelda becomes Queen of Hyrule, and Link becomes both the guardian of the Triforce (getting the emblem on his hand…yet ANOTHER thing that became game canon possibly as a result of this comic) and is dubbed the new leader of the Hylian Knights. However, as a result of his new status, Link becomes cold, detached, and distant from all others, including Zelda. Years later, she rides out to him on horseback and comments how she’s now alone because of his abandonment, and that she actually longs for the days when she was still a prisoner of Ganon because she actually felt closer to Link then than she does now. Link looks affected by these words but says nothing to her as she rides off. The Master’s Sword is returned to the Lost Woods and is overgrown, waiting for a new bearer. (NOTE: It’s interesting to note Himekawa’s version starts with the sword already overgrown…almost as if hinting that their version took place after this one.)
Himekawa’s Ending: On arriving at the tower, Agahnim has already been defeated a second time, and Zelda exposes him to the power of Link’s own light to reveal his past misdeeds: about how he betrayed Hyrule and Link’s parents. However, Agahnim expresses no remorse and begs Ganon for more power to destroy Link with. Ganon, however, is tired of his failure and destroys him before manifesting himself to attack. During the fight, both he and Link are injured, but Link is also able to finally let go of his one remaining “selfish” desire, namely his want to see his parents to find out who he really is, and decides to make his own future rather than looking to the past, which enables him to get the upper hand on Ganon and wound him enough to immobilize him. Ghanti, now “pure” enough to maintain her own human form, shoots him with the Enchanted Arrow and finishes him. The Triforce arises from his body and tells Link to touch it to have his wish granted. The Dark World disappears on him touching it. Hyrule is restored along with those who were trapped in the Dark World, Zelda becomes Queen of Hyrule, and Link becomes the guardian of the Triforce and is praised by the spirits of his parents and uncle. Zelda commends Link personally on realizing he gave up his own wish to see his parents again in exchange for restoring peace to Hyrule. Link resumes his life as an apple farmer and Ghanti joins him, but he also remains at Zelda’s side, with the story ending noting he never abandoned her for the rest of his life.
Again, the fact that several panels look the same in both versions, and even that Zelda as a Queen dresses the same in both versions, leads me to think that not only was Himekawa mindful of Ishinomori’s version but, in the end, gave it a proverbial “kick in the pants”. That last line actually seems to be taking a direct stab at it, finally showing what is likely true “hate” for the ending of Ishinomori’s version. Let’s be honest…that version ended rather bleakly. While game fans have thought for years it’s “Zelda who keeps Link in the friend zone”, and, in fact, that’s the idea Himekawa pushes in their own “Ocarina of Time” manga, in that comic Link abandoned Zelda completely; not only avoiding what fans had hoped for for years, namely that he would finally pair with Zelda, but outright distancing himself from her on purpose. Some people like that ending simply because it’s sad; possibly because they believe drama can’t be “real drama” unless there’s bittersweetness in it. That it’s better to have an ending with coldness and darkness ending rather than a purely happy one because that’s the world we live in and/or it leaves a greater emotional impact. But…people like me, on the other hand, feel conned by that. What would be so wrong with a happy ending? After going through all this toil and strife, why do something to make the rest of their lives bad as well? It makes you wonder what all of this was even for. Himekawa’s version seemed to hate that concept, and not just presented an alternate ending but, with that last line, countered it specifically.
So there we have it. Two versions of the same story in the same genre and format. One heavily inspired by the other but both ultimately distinct tales.
So…the big question…which was better?
Let’s get a few things straight…first and foremost being that both stories are good. Both have beautiful artwork. Both have humor and action. Both have heart and darkness. Both tried to bring even more to one of the greatest video games of all time and both succeeded in most ways.
But, in my personal opinion…
(Looks between the two for a long time, going from one to the other…and finally puts my hand on Himekawa’s)
The manga was the better of the two.
No disrespect to Ishinomori-san. He’s a legend. He’s fantastic. And his version of “A Link to the Past” will go down in history. If anything, the Himekawa version made that abundantly clear by knocking off of it so often. But in the end, it was just a bit too much about the action. A bit too much about the darkness. A bit too much about being bittersweet. Most of all, it was a bit too much about focusing on the struggles happening external to Link without getting too deeply into him or the world in which he was finding these struggles. It focused almost entirely on Link, but when it did it showed only all of his negative traits: his exhaustion, his self-doubt, his complaints, his obsessions, and even the parts where he was goofy. By comparison, Himekawa’s version drew attention to the fact that Link isn’t simply the hero because the story’s title says “A Link to the Past”, but because while he may be an inexperienced apple farmer he has a pure, good heart…one so potent it leaves an impact on the people around him through his presence, his gestures…hell, even in things seemingly as mundane as him growing apples. Ishinomori’s version focused on what deeds a person does to make them a hero. Himekawa’s version focused on what makes a person heroic and leads to the deeds they do.
And if you still think I’m dismissing Ishinomori’s version, which I’m sure many, if not most, people will say is the superior work, consider the following…
Both endings leave it a bit “up in the air”. In all fairness, although it implies it, Ishinomori’s version doesn’t directly state that’s where it ended between Link and Zelda. Maybe he “woke up” after that. Maybe he ran after her. There’s that possibility there even if it’s only a very dim one. By comparison, Himekawa doesn’t exactly say what it meant for Link that he was always “by Zelda’s side” after that. Was he a guard? A friend (as the story implies)? Something more than that? We don’t know…and, really, it doesn’t seem to matter. Even if Link remains in Zelda’s “friend zone”, what Ishinomori’s version helped point out was that even if Link and Zelda only remained lifelong friends after that…that would have been enough. It would have been better than abandonment. Better than aloofness and loneliness. Heck, there’s even a sense that both of them appreciate each other better as friends than they would as lovers.
So…really, even if I like Himekawa’s version better, it’s because I read Ishinomori’s version first. So in a sense, you need to read the first one to fully appreciate the second. And in that sense…well…that kind of makes them “both winners”. And that’s why you should try to read both if you get the chance rather than take this as a recommendation for one over the other.