~by Yoshitaka Amano
~translated by John Thomas
Deva Zan: The Chosen Path is Yoshitaka Amano's debut novel. Amano is known across the globe for his illustrative work and character designs, and in the West particularly for his involvement with Final Fantasy, Vampire Hunter D, and Neil Gaiman's The Sandman: The Dream Hunters. At one time or another, Amano has lent his skills to novels, comics and manga, video games, and animation. Deva Zan is a project that he has been working on for more than a decade. The novel, which includes more than two hundred previously unpublished illustrations and paintings, is the first incarnation of the story to be released. Deva Zan was first and originally published in English by Dark Horse with a translation by John Thomas in 2013. Deva Zan is the first time that Amano has been completely responsible for both a work's story and art.
At the end of the Edo period lived a hero, a young samurai by the name of Yoshitsugu Kamishiro. While engaged in battle he slips into another world where he discovers his true identity. Though he has no memory of it he is Zan, one of the Twelve Divine Generals and servant to Lady Mariu, the guardian deity of light. The Army of Light fights for creation against the forces of darkness--the Dark Corp--lead by the demon Moma. While Zan was warring in Japan, the battle between darkness and light, order and chaos continued without him. But now that Zan is aware of who he is, he embarks upon a journey of self-discovery through space and time, searching for the other lost generals in an attempt to remember his past. As the Army of Light gathers again, so does the Dark Corps--two sides of an endless conflict which will determine the fate of the world and universe.
Deva Zan isn't so much an illustrated novel as it is an artbook with accompanying text. The narrative and writing style is impressionistic, consisting of dream-like sequences. Amano seems to have focused on creating an atmosphere rather than establishing a detailed or overly coherent plot. While the story of Deva Zan is interesting, incorporating Hindu and Buddhist elements with philosophical and cosmological implications, on its own it doesn't leave much of a lasting impression. However, alongside Amano's illustrations, it does create a nice effect overall. But even so, the story always feels secondary to the artwork. And in fact that was how Amano approached the Deva Zan novel--developing the textual narrative to fit the themes of the artwork rather than the other way around.
For me, Deva Zan works much better as an artbook than as a novel. I'll admit, I have always enjoyed Amano's illustrations. Deva Zan is a great and varied collection presented nicely as an oversized, hardcover volume. The individual pieces exhibit a range of styles and techniques. Some are complete, finished works while others, though no less arresting, seem to be concept sketches and designs. Amano is just as skilled working in vibrant, almost garish color palettes as he is in more muted and monochromatic schemes. His illustrations are striking and ethereal, whether he is portraying a stylized fantasy world or dealing in the abstract. Although reading Deva Zan was intriguing and I appreciate Amano's involvement in all aspects of the work, I find that I'm just as happy flipping through the volume to linger on the artwork alone.