“Mech Cadet Yu” was originally going to be a four-part miniseries, but got promoted to an ongoing book. Thus this fourth issue is not the end of little mech cadet Stanford Yu’s story, but the start of something bigger. (There are slight spoilers in this review.)
Written by Greg Pak
Illustrated by Takeshi Miyazawa
Coloured by Triona Farrel
Lettered by Simon Bowland
Series finale! Stanford and his team are the only ones standing between the Sharg and Earth!
The attack of the hostile Sharg aliens is in full blow and the young mech cadets are put to a real test that is no training excercise. The designs for the Sharg are pretty unimaginative, they’re the typical spikey giant alien invaders that look like a cross between a crab and a Pacific Rim kaiju. This is not that big of a fault since it conveys that the Sharg aren’t really important even though they’re the big enemy. The focus is on the kids, their mechs and their relationships. The whole series has been built on character relationships, but this issue is mostly action. The action is good but the charming little dialogue moments after the battle feel like the most important scenes.
Takeshi Miyazawa proves to handle fast-paced action nearly as well as scenes in the training center’s corridors and yard. Some places the story just doesn’t progress very clearly from panel to panel, but mostly Miyazawa handles it well and manages to convey the feeling of the battle to the reader. At its fiercest the fight is so intense that you can almost hear the thooms and booms of the massive aliens and giant robots hitting the ground. The full-page panel of Captain Tanaka and the other adult pilots arriving is an especially stunning one. Miyazawa’s child characters look mostly adorably innocent but there is a darker edge to cadet Park’s face after the battle. Dad’s smug little girl turns into an anguished and exhausted cadet who has to face the consequences of her actions. The layouts aren’t very varied but the reading order is clear even when the panels are crammed full. Triona Farrel’s colouring is much darker here than in the previous parts of the series, emphasizing the seriousness of the threat the cadets-in-training who are really only children are now facing. Letterer Simon Bowland uses coloured fonts to clearly identify at all times who is speaking on the communicator line inside the mechs. The sound effect fonts are varied and all fit the situation in question.
Greg Pak is a great action writer and really builds up the tension throughout the issue. The fight is of a good length but some things like Stanford fixing the other cadets’ mechs happen unrealistically fast. On the first page a woman says a badly battered mech can take a minimum of ten to twelve hours to fix, but Stanford then manages to fix Thunderwrecker and Hero Force in what seems like under a minute which seems very disproportionate. The stakes feel real but the story doesn’t feel hopeless at any point, even when the cadets’ careers seem to be at threat of ending just after they started. Pak’s dialogue almost never feels forced and every character has a distinct voice. The series’s themes of privilege and repairing things are present here too, especially repairing both in a concrete and a more abstract sense.
The underdog main character Stanford really gets to shine and show his repairing skills that are unique among the mech pilots. He saves two fellow cadets’ lives by fixing their robots in the middle of battle, and in midair in both cases. He’s a scrawny underprivileged boy who shows great courage and could be a big inspiration especially for many younger readers. Park is interesting and multilayered. Out of the two other cadets Olivetti is sympathetic, while Sanchez remains as a less distinct character. Stanford’s mother only makes a short appearance but demonstrates her intense caring for her son.
This issue is the darkest one the series has seen yet, but it’s nowhere near hopeless or grim. In a heartfelt little speech Stanford expresses his wish to cross the bridge between him and Park, which could be the start of a new friendship. The issue ends on an exciting note that promises big changes in the story and might take it into a new setting. Stanford Yu’s story is everything but over, so it’s nice that the comic doesn’t end here with an enmity just starting to change shape into something less hostile and the creative team giving these sympathetic kids a new direction in their adventure, with a larger scope and even higher stakes without forgetting the little personal moments that are the force that holds up this series.Continued below
Final verdict: 6.8 – The series getting to continue past this issue feels well justified thanks to the new direction of the plot and the neat artwork.