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I'm pretty choosy when it comes to reading manga and would probably class myself in the casual fan category. That said I will probably read anything if I like the look of it and have chosen independent artist's material on a number of occasions. Such work is categorised as "Dojinshi" and personally I feel it's good enough to rival any big publishing company. I picked up this hidden gem on the website MangaKakalot and was pleasantly surprised with what I found. Published by author Bai Chen Guang and 'The Iron Scales Group, Iron Ladies tells the futuristic story of a university graduate who is recruited by an Intergalactic paramilitary group.
A Dark Universe
This first issue lays the groundwork for this dark tale of how war is merely a business to help humanity survive. You get an overview of how poverty is a big issue as Mu Siyan is a graduate and still can't find work. His desperation is poorly influenced by the internet live streams of soldiers known as "Goddesses."
These emphatically named soldiers undergo a painful process which make them into shape shifting super soldiers. They can literally create weapons, wings, or whatever else they can think of from their own matter.
The battles in the first issue can be hard to follow at times but it's only due to the sheer scale of what's going on. In the initial pages, pink haired Iron Buddha is dismantling some type of titan aliens. The style kind of reminds me of those revamped "Durham Red" comics from 2000 A.D. Humans seem to be interwoven with machinery and tech in a grim looking future. The main protagonist is likeable and it's clear that his poor decision making is due to his dire situation. The state of the universe is pretty bad as well because the military immediately act on his application. His favourite soldier turns up at his door to offer him an admiral position. It's a bit of a comedy at times as you can imagine; I don't think your favourite internet personality would literally process your application in 20 seconds. If you can get past that, the bulk of the story is quality and offers some drama with Mu Siyan's ex-girlfriend.
A Harem Tale...
I did a bit of research and found that this sort of manga is categorised a "Harem" story, which means that the main character often has relationships with multiple women throughout the story. I suppose that was always going to be the case when the male protagonist is about to a head a fleet of 3000 female soldiers. Don't get me wrong, I don't mind that and especially when these super female soldiers are decked out in skin tight uniforms. The other main protagonist Iron Buddha is unexpectedly sexy and is drawn with a style where she kind of has fangs. I think it's just there to show that she is "other worldly" in her abilities. It's always a good read when she's part of the panels, put it that way.
It's polished artwork for an independent manga and surprisingly done in full colour. It even looks better than some of the more mainstream publisher's work. The author has a page at the back of the issue where he gives you a window into the world he's creating on the page. I have to give Bai Chen Guang credit here as he does sound passionate about his creation. The fact that he's published this work for free is also commendable and shows how compassionate these artists are. I was specifically looking for a military story when I picked this up and luckily I wasn't disappointed. I give this first issue 4 out of 5 because I was hooked from beginning to end. It's a well decorated window into a dark possible future.
4 out of 5.