“The Final Battle” (part 1)
At last Sabrina – and readers! – learn the truth about the original Four Blades’ movement from the lips of Queen Seles herself. As a result of the Queen’s confession, Shinji must make a decision about the new Blades’ future, Sabrina must deal with her aunts, and a search for new allies begins. Meanwhile, the evil Vosblanc sets his own plans for taking over the Magic Realm into motion. And a character not seen since issue #59 makes an appearance. All this and a major plot twist!
As the final battle for the Magic Realm draws near -- and the end of the manga-style Sabrina experiment nears its end -- Tania Del Rio keeps adding jaw-dropping revelations. Her plotting is incredible. Little things that happened 39 issues ago are suddenly taking on new meaning and relevance. While it’s not necessary to have followed the story since the beginning to enjoy these later issues that background knowledge does give readers some hint of what might be coming up. For instance, Hemlock’s reveal last issue, combined with the Queen’s this issue and a tidbit dropped back in issue fifty-nine all suggest a possible outcome for one character. But again, it’s not necessary to know these things to enjoy this issue. Even this far into the overall storyline, the first part of “The Final Battle” still works as a jumping on point. Del Rio clearly establishes the major conflict and the characters’ relationships. Newbies could pick this up and not be totally lost.
Two of the highlights this issue are Sabrina dealing with her aunts and with her friend/former boyfriend Shinji. While the context sets them up as important turning points in this issue’s plot, they’re also turning points in the overall arc. The Sabrina of issue #58 couldn’t have confronted the confused and disbelieving Hilda with “Forget what the Magic Council says is the right thing’! You know, deep inside, that what I’m saying is true!” and make her believe it. Likewise, she wouldn’t have been able to comfort Shinji with, “I know how it feels to lose someone you care about. I still miss Harvey…even now. I’m sorry Shinji.” Del Rio has taken Sabrina on a journey of maturation from teen-ager to young woman that rings true despite its fantasy setting.
But this issue isn’t all drama. Del Rio provides some light moments as well. Zelda and especially Salem’s reaction to news that war is coming to the Magic Realm makes me chuckle every time I read it. As they leap high into the air like cheerleaders as their team’s made a touchdown, Salem exclaims “Yeah! It’s been so long since we’ve been in a good, old-fashioned, down-home magical battle!” Then there’s Narayan, the merman Sabrina gave legs to. When confronted by trouble in the Wasteland his response is, “I may not have had my legs for very long, but I think I know the best thing to do in a situation like this…Runnnn!”
Artist Lindsay Cibos seems to be channeling Sailor Moon creator Naoko Takeuchi in her rendition of Shinji. There are several panels in which the young wizard looks strikingly like Sailor Moon’s lover Darien -- or Prince Endymion if you prefer the Japanese original. It’s something in his expression and the way Cibos tilts his head and flares out his jacket in a way that suggests a cape that brings to mind the dashing Darien. In another bit of Sailor Moon déjà vu, in the issue’s early pages, Sabrina wears her hair meatball style -- just like Sailor Moon.
One of my favorite scenes is the four panel montage showing the four friends heading across the desert. Each character gets their own panel, their poses indicating their mind set: Sabrina, fearful, but not afraid; Shinji, angrily determined; Narayan, wondering; and Llandra, determined, but blocking out the sight of the barren land around her -- as a witch with an affinity of plants would do. You can almost hear the battle theme swelling behind them.
Cibos’s art isn’t entirely perfect. The scene showing the four running from an angry witch is poorly rendered. The proportions are off. The legs are too long and the characters look too flat. If Cibos was going for a comic “super-deformed” look, she missed.
As always Jason Jensen’s colors are beautiful. Without being washed-out, the flashback scenes seem to have a lighter color to them than the present day ones. It’s a helpful visual clue for readers that allows them to keep track of where they are in time.
Sabrina #98 is an issue that Sabrina fans and shojo manga fans in general shouldn’t miss.
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