A reimagining of the Japanese fairy tale of Issun-bōshi, this successful Kickstarter project by concept artist and production designer Ryan Lang is a fun and beautifully illustrated al-ages fantasy story. It feels like a big budget animation studio project, and Lang has worked on a host of films such as Big Hero 6, Raya and the Last Dragon, and Moana to name a few. So as expected from that body of experience, Lang offers a richly realized world and a strong sense of visual storytelling.
The plot revolves around a myth of a heavenly spear used by the Gods to create the lands. Realizing it too powerful a weapon, the Gods split the spear into different segments and then disguise and hide them across the lands. An Oni (demon) stumbles across a segment and then begins searching for the other pieces so as to unleash hell and the usual quest for power shenanigans. The spirit of the spear attempts to hide, and coming across an elderly couple wishing for a child it takes the form of a tiny baby no bigger than the size of a thumb. And so starts the path of our tiny warrior.
The story feels very much like a Pixar or Disney animated production in its pacing and storytelling, setting a solid foundation at the start and following very likable characters. I will say though that besides our hero they are fairly thinly developed characters, with the story depending on the strength of Lang's facial emoting and world development to carry more of the personality. Which it generously does as it goes a long way in allowing you to not care too much about certain details.
By the end of the book I was questioning my own memory as to the villain's name, because I'm a villain-centric reader and I like my well developed antagonists. I was thinking that he probably couldn't just be known as the Oni, and my memory is terrible so I most likely just lost it at some point. After breezing through it again though I couldn't catch a name, so yeah, the story depended a bit more on great looking character design and the main push of the plot, which is totally fine for this sort of cinematic type of project. Plus I don't think the Oni was named in the original tales either, so my nitpick is minor at best.
Or perhaps oni just don't need names, and when you look as cool as this that's just fine.
As a fan of different types of mythology this was also a treat to see some really nicely designed monsters based off of spirits and creatures from Japanese folk lore. We get great representations of kappa, bakeneko, ogres, and more. I'm actually a little surprised that there isn't an extra bestiary or guide in the back, because this book would act as a nice gateway for younger readers to want to learn more about these entities.
There's enough to tease you into this world and to keep you wanting more, which is always great but also makes you wish that this was more of a series and less of a self contained story. I would love to have spent more time with the tengu, or with the incredibly bad ass Noboru. I mean I get that this is the tiny warrior's story, but seriously, a hardcore blind demon hunter with enhanced mystical senses wandering around feudal Japan is sort of my jam.
This project checked a lot of boxes for me so I definitely would recommend it for a number of reasons. If you're into general fantasy, Japanese folktales, great action, and beautifully stylized art then this should hit the spot for you well. I would also say that while this does have violence in it it's a very mainstream 'Disney' approach to violence. The most violent bits are more inferred, there's only the tiniest amount of blood, and any real killing is of supernatural entities in very non-gory ways. Plus it's chock full of cool monsters, so yeah your kids are going to like it.
On the downside, I'm not entirely sure about its accessibility outside of getting it on the initial Kickstarter. Lang does have a Gumroad page and there is a digital version through the Kickstarter, so I would assume that he'll eventually make it available for purchase that way. If you can get a physical copy though I would recommend it as it is a really nicely done package. I would recommend following Lang's twitter and keeping an eye out for future announcements. After the initial shipping efforts have been made then they'll most likely have news on additional copy availability.