Leviathan Review

By | Monday, November 07, 2022 Leave a Comment
Back in 2010, Jason Shiga released his printer's nightmare of a book: Meanwhile... It was a choose-your-own-adventure style of comic with nearly 4,000 possible story combinations. What was perhaps unique about it, though, was that Shiga incoporated the notion of following the reader's path rather literally and instead "turn to page X" for each choice, the reader followed a visible path to the next panel which, when that required going to another page, was accompanied by a unique tab system Shiga had developed. Honestly, it's probably not nearly as "printer's nightmare" as any pop-up book, but it's certainly a more complicated printing process than your typical graphic novel. (Well, at least the original printing was. I seem to recall reading at some point that later versions had a simplified/non-die-cut version of the tabs.) Shiga's latest book, Leviathan, is something of a spiritual follow-up.

In Leviathan, you follow Ko Momon and navigate her through the town of Cloud Harbor. In the classic Dungeons & Dragons style, she encounters a stranger in the local tavern who gets her to embark on a quest to find the Starlight Wand and defeat the Leviathan. The story then unfolds as the reader makes choices about where to go, who to talk to, and what to say. Whether Ko finds either the Wand and/or the monster, and succeeds is up to the reader.

The story here is much more structured than in Meanwhile... in that there's more of a game element to it. While Meanwhile... had seemingly more random set of directions and outcomes, Leviathan is more concise and directed in where the story should be headed. As far as I can tell, there's ultimately only two possible endings here. (Or three, I suppose, if you consider just closing the book with the story unfinished as one of the outcomes.) But what's also different here is that Shiga includes several puzzles the reader has to figure out in order to move forward. In Meanwhile... you could just follow one decision to the next and eventually, you hit some kind of ending. Without solving some of the puzzles here, the reader would be left just taking the character through an endless series of loops. The puzzles aren't especially hard, but most require finding the answers elsewhere before you can come back to the puzzle location to solve it and there is at least one puzzle that requires a little out-of-the-box thinking as is noted in the text of the book itself.

Another notable difference from Meanwhile... is that Shiga has "solved" the printer's nightmare aspect of his storytelling. Instead of exclusively following a visual pathway, he borrows from the original Choose-Your-Own-Adventure books and relies on page number references. To be fair, he makes it much more visually interesting than simply "turn to page..." and incorporates the entire numbering into the page layouts and storytelling design of the book. This does make it a tad more cumbersome on the reader -- the tabs in Meanwhile... allow the reader to phyiscally thumb directly to the necessary page instead of checking page numbers -- but no moreso than any of those older CYOA books used to be.

What the page numbering also does is making navigating Ko to different locations very interesting visually. Each area Ko can travel to is represented on a series of maps and instead of presenting cardinal directions, the paths refer to different page numbers. It's kind of like a print version of those point-and-click adventure games. Just instead of clicking on the exit towards the right side of the screen, you turn to page 115.

I suppose Leviathan reminds me more of those point-and-click games than it reminds of Meanwhile... even though visually the two books are very similar. (Even beyond just Shiga's illustration style.) There's a very clear and linear -- if sometimes circuitously so -- story path, with concisely spelled-out objectives. This does mean that Levithan is probably less re-readable than Meanwhile... although I can't find any mention of how many paths and options there are. There seem to be far fewer choices than in Meanwhile... but I have no intention of counting!

It's an excellent use of the comic medium and far improves upon the reading experience relative to any other CYOA-style books I've seen. Since this also solves the printing concerns that might be present in something like Meanwhile... I'd be curious to see if other creators are able to pick up this idea so we can get more of these types of books. I don't doubt that they're more complex to structure and plan out than a typical comic, but it makes for a much more engaging reading experience.

Leviathan came out in September from Amulet Books and should be available from any regular book retailer for $14.99 US.
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