Wayward (Vol.1)

Editor's Note: This article here is a guest post from a good friend of mine, Hylke Langhout. You can find him on his Twitter and his blog. Enjoy something a little different! If you're interested in submitting a guest post, feel free to email me at jonathanjameskaharl@yahoo.com


There is a tendency in media produced in the West to view Asia as some kind of mystical land of personal and spiritual enlightenment. A place where (usually white) people go to “find themselves.” Combining this Orientalism with the still surprisingly prevalent Otaku culture, makes Japan one of the most fundamentally misunderstood countries in the world. People look at Japan and see anime, mochi, and vending machines with panties. In reality, it is of course its own country with its own culture and history. However, finding a piece of Western-made media that understands that is unfortunately rare. But recently, a comic came out that not only doesn’t orientalize Japan, but uses the setting to its advantage as a powerful storytelling tool as well.

Image Comics’ Wayward, created by Jim Zub (Pathfinder, Samurai Jack, Skullkickers) and Steve Cummings is a supernatural action comic about a half-Irish, half-Japanese girl named Rori Lane who moves to Tokyo to live with her Japanese mother. While there, she attends school, meets lots of new people, and discovers an organization of creatures from Japanese mythology that threatens the lives of her, her friends, and her family.

The setting of Tokyo is portrayed as a proper city, with its own values, flaws, and small quirks that make it unique. But most importantly, it is not romanticized. On Rori’s first day of school, the teacher tells her that her red hair might be interpreted as rebellious, and that’s not something they can particularly stand. When Rori meets a bubbly blue-haired girl named Ayane who can turn into a group of cats, people on the street look at the two of them with surprise and suspicion. People walking past in the background wear muted clothes and go about their day. There are abandoned construction sites, urban decay, and wrecked buildings all over the city. It is, for all intents and purposes, a normal city.

The designs and personalities of the creatures that Rori and her friends fight are a combination of recognizable, like kitsune and kappa, and the obscure, like the nurarihyon and akaname. To make sure they are using the Japanese folklore correctly, Zub and Cummings consult with Zack Davisson, who is a translator, writer, and scholar of Japanese culture. He signed on immediately when he realized that, in his own words, “they got Japan right.” The creatures are all part of some sort of organization with, in this volume, relatively undefined but undeniably sinister goals.

Wayward is a compelling story about being an outsider, adapting to situations, visceral monster combat, and a mysterious alliance of monsters. As a character, Rori feels like a real person in a strange world because she not only has to adjust to her new life in Japan, but she also gets thrown headfirst into a war happening right under the nose of the Japanese public. She has a sort of mystical ability to find patterns and manipulate reality. But she also keeps secrets, she gets scared, and runs away. Akane, the girl who turns into cats, Shirai, the cursed classmate who is forced to eats souls to survive, and Nikaido, the girl whose negative emotions can cause her to do some amazing things, all get enough development to feel like unique characters in their own right. Their personalities bounce off each other well enough to even create some moments of levity in what is an otherwise dark and frequently violent story.

Special attention should go to the art as well. Steve Cummings and his team breathed life into the world and characters that he created with Zub. Colors are as vibrant or as muted as they need to be for the scene and tone. Character all look distinctive and their designs are all evocative of their personalities. You can tell a lot about them just by looking at them. Yokai look appropriately gruesome and threatening. The fight scenes have a certain gravitas behind them, not only because of what they represent in terms of the story, but also because of the generous amount of destruction that happens every time a fight breaks out.

It should be noted that this comic is not for the faint of heart. The violence is, albeit appropriately, visceral and gory. Skin gets ripped off, bodies get exploded, and souls get devoured. But the violence never feels like it’s excessive, because there’s a lot at stake in the story. It’s a desperate struggle for survival in a dangerous world. The fight scenes make a nice contrast to Rori’s daily life, where nobody seems to have noticed what happened to her.

Really, what makes Wayward such a generally great book is because everything about it just fits together so well to make a fantastic cohesive whole. The well-researched and represented setting of Tokyo enhances the already great writing, and the art complements some stellar worldbuilding. It combines teenage insecurities with engaging lore and well-rounded characters. It’s really just an overall great comic that definitely deserves all of the praise it’s already received.

Wayward is available from Image Comics


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