When you look at Sonata, flip through the pages, and read the premise, you are thrust into an expansive sci-fi narrative where two alien races committed to exploring neighboring planets meet and clash over conflicting ideologies while a third race just wants to preserve their homeland. The premise is a fascinating one. It sounds like it may have a lot to say about ideologies and the limitations we have because of our own stubbornness, hubris, and unwillingness to listen. Perhaps it will teach us lessons about acceptance and understanding, or that promoting peace and embracing other cultures can make two societies greater than if they were isolated. The art will bring one in to a very open steampunk sci-fi world. These alien races are technologically advanced in very different ways. One has an impressive command over beautifully drawn beasts, and they make aircraft that mimics their behavior. Another has impressive weaponry and other, very aggressive technologies. The world, despite seaming very arid and populated largely with rock, sand, and desert, still is somehow able to pull off a natural, rustic beauty. The colors make the locations feel lived-in but polished. This should be a world that you’re drawn to, and, in some ways it is… until you reach the end of the first issue and realize you’ve seen this before. All of it.
Can you name one part of the paragraph above that doesn’t feel at least a little bit familiar? I sure can’t, and that’s the main problem with Sonata Vol. 1. You feel like you know where the story is going, and you feel like you’ve seen it all before. The pacing and direction are very loose, only held together by a single motivation or imminent danger at a time. Even when there are two things happening in two locations, you can tell when they’re going to converge. The art is phenomenally rendered but is found lacking because all of the elements seem so familiar. There’s no layout or spread that really took me back in surprise. The lettering too had some impressive placements, but also contained strange green and orange captions that obscured the text a little too much. A comic is supposed to immerse you in a new world, but if you’ve ever read a sci-fi, steampunk, or even a war comic or novel before, you’ve already met the Rans and the Tayans under a different name. The story never lingers or gives you a taste or something new but rather continues forward as though taking place in a videogame. There’s just enough flexibility to make you think you’re in an open world, but really there’s only one direction to go in.
Sonata can still be digested for mild entertainment. Any comic is bound to feel familiar during some parts, and there’s merit to reabsorbing lessons you’ve heard before under a new creative team. The comic isn’t too preachy and makes some good points about humanity’s stubbornness and the importance of listening to one another, although it could be less heavy-handed. The Tayans are almost exclusively viewed in a negative light which makes them seem objectively bad and lessens the argument about the necessity of reaching an understanding. If we saw positive qualities from the war-like race, we could have scene two sides, neither of which was wrong but that had different philosophies, come to a mutual understanding. Instead, there is a wrong side as Pau continuously makes mistakes while Treen is always there to correct him, as she should. Whether it be about trust, consent, or violence, the Ran are almost always going to be viewed as right, even if the Tayans have an understandable viewpoint, which makes the story less compelling.
There are threads in the distance that I hope are explored upon during the second arc. The sleeping Gods and some of the ancestral teachings have a lot of merit and drew me back into the story when I was feeling a bit distant. There are also some specific and important details that don’t get a lot of attention that I’d like to see explore more. The Ran are a matriarchy which is super interesting but isn’t touched upon. The Lumani are a noble and traditional race that experience both genders. Beyond the tropes of spunky protagonists and star-crossed lovers, Treen is in touch with nature and especially animals in really unique ways. She befriends a wild animal she’s never encountered anymore very quickly but this aspect of her character isn’t really explored in any meaningful way. Pau has a love and a gift with technology but it’s only shown at the surface level.
Sonata Vol. 1 is a book that’s solid across the board. The story is entertaining, the characters have clear motivations and there is enough substance to make you care. The world is gorgeously rendered and beautifully shaped and created to every minute detail. The messages about acceptance and ideologies are important ones and the history and lore are well thought out. The colors are illuminating even with a fairly rustic palette, and while the letterer could use some work Takenaga seemed to show progress with every issue. All of the ingredients are there, but David Hine, Brian Haberlin, Geirrod Van Dyke, and Francis Takenaga need to mix them together in a way that makes their audience get invested rather than a way that feels familiar.