Ultimo Volume 1 (Manga)
Publisher: VIZ Media
Release Date: February 2010
Price: $9.99
Creator: Hiroyuki Takei (story/art), based on an original concept by Stan Lee
Format: 218 pgs.; B&W
ISBN: 978-1-4215-3132-8
Age Rating: Young Adult
ICv2 Rating: 3.5 Stars out of 5

Partly historical fantasy, partly modern urban fantasy, this manga’s story is about an experiment in the nature of good and evil.  In 12th century Japan, a fine craftsman [portrayed as Stan Lee] created a set of human-sized dolls, but made them in pairs of moral and emotional opposites, containing spiritual energy and great power.  These dolls were to fight it out, to determine once and for all which is more powerful, good or evil.  While skirmishes in this great fight took place as planned, for a variety of reasons the real battle never got completed, and the dolls went dormant until nine centuries later, when many of the human characters from the 12th century were reincarnated.  And that’s the simple part of the story.

If you simply accept the supernaturally-talented craftsman, who leaves several clues that he’s not really human, then the story quickly becomes interesting, and challenges the wits and the morality of the reader. Is stealing from someone evil a good or an evil act?  That and other moral and philosophical issues quickly become the focus, but there is plenty of action and fighting.

Like many manga, the creator has included levity at peculiar times, by American standards.  The title character Ultimo, while repeatedly described as a boy, is dressed in a very feminine tank top outfit throughout the story.  These are very minor issues in an interesting story.

--Nick Smith: Librarian Technician, Community Services, for the Pasadena Public Library in California.