The winds of fate are blowing through the realm of Midgard. Ragnarok, the prophesised fall of the gods, is at hand, and the age of Man is set to begin. But the ancient gods are not about to resign themselves to fate. They have sent their elite warriors, the Valkyries, to scour the land for those destined to bring about Ragnarok. If the event can be prevented, the reign of the gods will continue for another 1,000 years.
Fenris Fenrir knows Ragnarok must happen. She is on a desperate search to find the reincarnation of Balder, the fallen god, with whose help she can change the world. But if the Valkyries find him first, Fenris’s quest may be over before it even begins.
Ragnarok takes me back. It’s one of the first series that I started buying manga for (ones that were available in the UK and that I didn’t have to order from the US) and reading whilst still at high school. As you might already be aware, the concept of Ragnarok itself is from Norse mythology and this story does a lot of borrowing from Norse stories and legends as the basis of its concept. As a result, a little knowledge of the gods and the lore will go a long way to enjoying the story. Myung-jin Lee does help you with providing main character profiles and small text boxes describing who characters are, but a basic knowledge is helpful.
It doesn’t take you long to realise that Ragnarok is very much a shounen manga set in a fantasy world. It only take a few pages for the explosions to start and see the entrances of kitted-out characters wielding weapons charging into the fray. At first we see Fenris going full-throttle on a group of gargoyles and then with Sara Irene, one of the 12 valkyries of Valhalla. Then there’s a quick switch to Chaos and Iris battling a giant worm and then a jump to Lidia (who definitely isn’t a thief) and then another jump to another valkyrie. There’s a lot of jumping around in this story (literally and figuratively), which has to be expected in an action/adventure manga with lots of different characters. It keeps things dynamic, but it can also get a little confusing. Time seem to get a bit skewed. One character can seem to do a lot in half a chapter, whilst others are stuck still fighting the same monster, all the while chatting conversationally. You’re never quite sure if things are happening simultaneously, or if there’s a passage of time involved. With all the different characters, you see a lot of drastically shifting tones – to the extent that it sometimes seems like you’re reading two different manga. One one side you have Fenris, who’s journey is decidedly darker and grittier that that of, say, Chaos and Iris and their lighthearted banter and Lidia’s shenanigans.
I had a bit of a love/hate relationship with the art style. Things started off really well, with great character designs that were unique in their details, particularly in character costume, hairstyle and eyes. The panel lighting and shading added another dimension to backgrounds that looked particularly good at the beginning of chapters and whilst scene-setting. The architecture and city landscapes that we see really contribute to the world-building. They’re not generic, they’re detailed and striking without detracting from the main focuses. However, I couldn’t help but notice the inconsistencies in the character artwork. You don’t see it right away because the characters’ expressions are often changing from normal to chibi, where their facial features are exaggerated for comic effect. But as I gradually got through the series, I was noticing that the shape of Lidia’s face was changing from one panel to the next, another character’s hair was changing, another one suddenly had bigger eyes and some lipstick, and so on. And once I started noticing, I couldn’t ignore it.
Out of everything, my biggest bugbear with Ragnarok is the fact that it went on indefinite hiatus after the tenth volume. This was because Myung-jin Lee went on to help develop the MMORPG based on the Ragnarok universe titled Ragnarok Online and never returned to the manga. Since it’s now well over 20 years since the first volume was published, it seems highly unlikely that this story will ever reach a final conclusion, which is disappointing. It’s for this reason that I wouldn’t recommend getting invested in the story and the characters.
Ragnarok was fun while it lasted, and it will always carry a bit of nostalgia for me as one of the first manga series’ that I started collecting. It’s fun, action-packed and intriguing, but with no real finish on the horizon, it’s too frustrating to get committed to.