Review: Fan Dan Go / Written by: Kate Holden/ Art by: Kate Holden / Format: Hardcover / Published by: IndieManga / Release date: Out Now
This vibrant first collection of webcomic Fan Dan Go features an eclectic range of characters in what creator Kate Holden calls a Retropunk Fantasy setting. Setting the story in a northern English town in an alternative version of 1975 imbues the series with a strong voice and identity, just as the rich use of colour sets Fan Dan Go apart from other heavily manga-influenced comics.
Protagonist Rekki Lune is a noble Knight charged with keeping the peace in a world subtly different to our own. Her backstory echoes Nobuhiro Watsuki’s Rurouni Kenshin but thankfully the similarities end there, because despite the horrors of war that she experienced at an early age Rekki cuts through life with all the grace of a wrecking ball, being predisposed to act upon impulse and solve problems with pyrokinesis. Each of the characters is equally well-defined and the cast is definitely one of Fan Dan Go’s strongest selling points. The plot pits imperial rebels against the class of ruling nobility, though in this first collection that concept never evolves far beyond acting as a vehicle for conflict. Better developed are Holden’s ideas of how her fantasy world works. In combat the characters draw upon a sphere of magic based on combinations of runes that I found reminiscent of the way that Japanese language is constructed. These runes manifest visually as symbols that act as recurring motifs throughout the comic, a nice touch that adds another layer to the fictional world.
Just as notable as the personalities of Holden’s creations are their intricate, original costumes, blending 1970s fashion trends with the kinds of outfit more commonly seen in series like Masashi Kishimoto’s Naruto. The detail of these costumes makes them incredibly well-suited for cosplay, rounding out the character designs and lending an authenticity to this period world. The rich palette of colours used ties all of the elements of Fan Dan Go into more than the sum of its parts, and thankfully the colours have not only survived the transition to the printed page but have also acquired a new depth and solidity, making the collected edition my preferred version of the comic.
At times the bright colours become a substitute for backgrounds, detracting from the reader’s overall immersion in the world, but my overall impression from Fan Dan Go was of an artist that had assimilated many influences and was using them to forge something unique and very much her own. Kate Holden has created a cast that it’s impossible not to like and if she continues to build tension in the conflict between the different classes then Fan Dan Go has the potential to become a truly compelling series.