I am a Hero came as a surprise to me. It was marketed as the best zombie manga ever made, it was getting critical attention, and no matter what people said about it they always associated the story with zombies. As somebody who hates zombies I couldn’t find any reason to pick this up, but alas I did, and I’m very grateful for that blind buy.
What people don’t talk enough about in I am a Hero is the fact that zombies are not what’s important, and they don’t even show up until the middle of this first omnibus. There are nice hints and little scenes that show the world slowly diving into the zombie apocalypse, but at its core the beginning of I am a Hero is about how Hideo survives his daily life. He’s constantly scared, has delusions, and above all just doesn’t have the best life he could have, but there are rays of sunshine in his dour world. For one he has a girlfriend.
His girlfriend shocked me, in a way that I fell in love with her character the first chapter she was introduced. You can tell right away that they really help each other out, and their relationship is built upon together, and not just a one sided fantasy. Whenever Hideo is in company with his girlfriend he just changes, becomes a better person, and when he slips into his scared state she’s there to sooth it. If this whole manga was about them I wouldn’t mind, they have to be the cutest couple in all of manga.
Side characters are introduced in chapter one, and to my surprise by the middle of the first omnibus they all had some form of character development, where they weren’t the same characters from chapter one, and that’s just astounding. I haven’t read any manga that does character development this well in a long time. The side characters get more dimensionality to them so that they can stand with the main character, and once the zombie apocalypse is in full swing you actually care about some of these deaths that occur. I remember reading one particular scene and just whispering “No,” because it would devastate a certain character.
As much as I love the humanness of this manga, it does have to evolve into a zombie story, and that’s where it started to lose me. Just like every other zombie property out there it seems like the characters live on an Earth where there is no concept of zombies, and so once they meet these animated corpses they are first confused, and then eaten. I’m disappointed that it had to end up this way, because everything except the introduction to the zombies was great. The second half of the omnibus is basically Hideo understanding that the zombie apocalypse is here. Because the first half was all about setting up these characters, the second half was more like the payoff, and that means more action, less dialogue, and faster paced panels. I found myself flying through the second half, wanting desperately to get back to what the first half showed me, but sadly it never did.
With that said, I loved this first omnibus, and think that people should check this out. It starts off really strong, and starts to wane off towards the end, but I have enough hope in it to pick up the next one. This author, Kengo Hanazawa, has showed me that he understands character, and he can do fantastic character development, and knowing that only makes me excited for what’s to come.