by Nick Chidgey
“A manga version of Ender’s Game, aimed at girls.”
Laddertop could easily be dismissed as such at first glance. And, despite Card’s merits as an author over the past thirty years, I’m not sure such a dismissal is totally unwarranted. Laddertop is essentially Ender’s Game, adapted for the manga crowd, with a shared writing credit between Orson Scott Card and his daughter, Emily Janice Card. In actuality, it is not a literal manga version of Ender’s Game, but in spirit and story, it often feels that way.
That’s not to say that the book is bad. It’s just… nothing spectacular. The biggest draw to the book, among the stacks of countless mangas at the bookstore, is that it has Card’s name on it. But this could also be more hindrance than benefit as Card’s name and previous work usually appeals to a different demographic than what Laddertop seems to be aiming for. At least I know I agreed to review this book because I am Card fan, and I was largely unimpressed.
The story is about several space stations (called “ladders”) tethered to Earth, created by a mysterious group of aliens, that provide clean energy to the planet. But, due to the unique extraterrestrial architecture, it is necessary to recruit and train children through an elite academy to operate the ladders. This book follows one reluctant recruit on her journey to “Laddertop” (you can possibly see the similarities with Ender’s Game here).
Anyone familiar with sci-fi manga will probably not find anything new here, though even the most generic of stories can seem fresh and new if told the right way. Unfortunately, this is not one of those times. But even then, a bland story can be saved, if it has a great ending. Again, this is not one of those times. Instead we’re left with an seemingly tacked on and unimportant cliffhanger that makes me feel I’m in danger of rolling down a small hill rather than dangling off the edge of Mt. Everest.
As far as the art is concerned, it manages to do its job and tell the story–most of the time, although there is a proliferation of vague cutaway shots and often the only distinction between some of the characters is their style of hair (which proves to be quite a hindrance when they’re all wearing helmets, even if they are numbered). It’s not that the art is bad, it just doesn’t seem very well-thought-out. When the art begins to interfere with following the action without having to do a double take to really figure out what you’re looking at, it may be time to reconsider your choices as an artist, even if only for the sake of a smooth reading experience.
I had high hopes for this book as an Orson Scott Card fan, even though I’m not a manga fan. But overall, I was wildly disappointed. So unless you’re an Orson Scott Card completist, or a fan of generic and seemingly derivative science-fiction manga, I’d pass on this. I won’t be reading volume 2.
TL;DR Laddertop, Vol. 1 could be dismissed as a manga version of Ender’s Game with a female protagonist and possibly should be. This book will appeal to a younger and likely female audience, but fans of more sophisticated manga or Orson Scott Card will be left disappointed.
Laddertop, Vol. 1 is written by Orson Scott Card and his daughter, Emily Janice Card with art by Honoel A. Ibardolaza and published by Tor/Seven Seas. You can find it at your local comic book shop, bookstore, or on Amazon. If you’d like to read an excerpt before you buy, you can see the first few pages on Tor.com.
A review copy of Laddertop was graciously provided to Spandexless by the publisher.
Nick Chidgey has yet to submit a bio, but when he does you’ll see it here.