The Legend of Zelda: a Link to the Past. Shotaro Ishinomori, Nintendo Power Magazine. VIZ Media, May 2015. The Legend of Zelda: A Link to the Past

Shotaro Ishinomori (mangaka); Dan Owsen (translation); Yukiko Whitley (cover & interior design)
VIZ Media
May 5, 2015

Disclaimer: The publisher provided a review copy in exchange for a fair and honest review. This review contains light spoilers.

So there’s this boy with blonde hair, pointy ears, and a green outfit. If you’ve ever played a Nintendo game, you probably know him: Link, who came to save the Princess Zelda (AKA Jack AKA Tom Cruise).

Not ringing any bells? Try this:

Back in January 2015, VIZ announced that they were soon to release this amazing relic of my childhood: Shotaro Ishinomori’s The Legend of Zelda: A Link to the Past. This particular comic is memorable to me because of my time spent paging through Nintendo Power magazines at the video store. Like many of my fellow WWAC writers, the Zelda franchise of video games occupies a significant place in my gaming history. My dad, who was in charge of the video game systems in our home, didn’t purchase any of the Zelda games until Ocarina of Time for N64 came out. (What can I say? He was, and still is, a Mario addict. He may have passed that addiction on to me…) No, the one who introduced me to Link and Zelda was my cousin Phill.

Phill lived eight hours away by car—up to twelve in the winter, when snowstorms often punctuated our family trips—so I didn’t get to play Zelda very often. While the adults socialized and made dinner, Phill and I would escape/ignore our younger sisters by playing video games on the NES. I would watch as he navigated Link through pixel dungeons and forests, cutting down shrubs and tossing bombs here and there. With the controller in my hands, I learned that you had to face Link toward the enemies in order for him to do any damage with his sword. I thought the enemies were scary, though, and preferred to run through the forest mazes and chop at the grass and trees. And then at night I’d dream of being lost in a hedge maze; I suppose I really took Zelda to heart.

Rose City Comic Con Retro Gaming Area (a TV with a small table and a green rug) 2015: Legend of Zelda (photo by Amanda Vail)

The retro gaming area from Rose City Comic Con 2015 almost perfectly captured my childhood gaming experiences.

I’ve never had any trouble putting myself into Link’s shoes, even though he’s a boy and I’m a girl. Maybe that says something about me, but maybe it says something about Link, too. Heck, it also says something about Zelda, who often defies the stereotype of the helpless princess. The thing is, I found it easy to identify with either of the two main characters. Plus, you know, puzzles, battles, dungeons, and the hero’s journey. It’s no wonder the games are so beloved.

Legend of Zelda a Link to the Past - Shotaro Ishinomori. Nintendo Power. VIZ Media, May 2015. A panel where Link wakes up after he hears "Link... Help me... I'm being held prisoner in the castle..." in a dream. He says. "That dream.. so real..." and then hears, "Help me... my name is Zelda..." Link says, "Am I hearing things?"All of this is the long way ’round to saying that The Legend of Zelda: A Link to the Past is absurdly well titled. Shotaro Ishinomori’s short Zelda manga originally ran in Nintendo Power from January 1992 through December 1992. Like many pop culture items from over twenty years ago, it has its fair share of moments that will likely make contemporary readers cringe. (Remember the days when so many villains affected a “Sheik” look? Yeah…)

That being said, there’s a lot to love about this manga.

Ishinomori’s A Link to the Past does not perfectly mirror the game of the same name, although it’s pretty close. In this story, Link wakes suddenly in the middle of the night as Zelda’s cry for help penetrates his dreams. He follows Zelda’s instructions and rushes out into the stormy night. Link soon reaches a tall castle, where he finds his uncle fighting the evil wizard Agahnim. Sadly for Link, his uncle is slain, but before he dies he passes on his sword and shield to Link and charges him with saving Princess Zelda.

Legend of Zelda a Link to the Past - Shotaro Ishinomori. Nintendo Power. VIZ Media, May 2015. Link peers behind a wall, saying, "What's this?" and sees his uncle. A mysterious figure strikes down the uncle and says, "You have struck your final blow, puny fool!"Thus armed, Link’s journey begins. It will take him across the land of Hyrule as he seeks the power of the legendary Master Sword so that he can defeat Agahnim and his even-more-evil master Ganon. Link will speak with a sage, collect magical pendants, acquire the help of a fairy, and venture into the foreboding Dark World.

The plot may be pretty straightforward, but it’s also a lot of fun. Intimidating monsters, epic battles, wacky plot twists, entertaining support characters, a plucky protagonist, and a strong princess—yep, that’s a recipe for success in my book. Of course, it has to be paired with an equally strong presentation, and in this case it certainly is. Ishinomori’s dynamic art, dramatic panel arrangements, and wonderful pacing keep the pages turning. It’s all full color, too, which is a total bonus for a manga. Ishinomori uses a relatively limited palette of primary colors (plus green, of course) to great effect, deftly adding depth and emotion to each panel.

But you know what my favorite part about Ishinomori’s A Link to the Past is?

[Warning: ending spoilers begin here!]

It’s that in the end, Link’s victory is not his alone; it belongs to him and to all of those who helped him along the way. And you know who fires the arrow that finally kills Ganon? No, it’s not Link. It’s Zelda. They’re partners. Equals.

And with that, Ishinomori has turned the typical hero-rescues-princess story on its head. And it’s awesome. And I love Zelda even more.

Legend of Zelda a Link to the Past - Shotaro Ishinomori - Death of Ganon. Nintendo Power. VIZ Media, May 2015. Ganon is stabbed with a spear.

P.S.: I’m so cosplaying as Link one of these years.