When Animal Crossing: New Horizons launched on Nintendo Switch last year, it could not have come at a more opportune time. March 2020 was a confusing and oftentimes scary time for many people. Every day there were new rules and a changing status quo as the Covid-19 pandemic ramped up. So, while a lot of folks found themselves working from home for the first time and unable to see friends and family, there came Animal Crossing as a beacon of pure goodness in a dark time.
New Horizons went on to sell tens of millions of copies worldwide, a massive hit for Nintendo. It also became an awards contender towards the end of 2020, even being nominated for Game of the Year at the Game Awards. But more important than either of those, New Horizons instantly became a way for players to share joy, creativity and connect with one another. For a time, Animal Crossing was the zeitgeist. If you weren’t playing, you knew someone who was or your timeline was littered with screenshots and memes.
Now, nearly a year and a half later, the Animal Crossing: New Horizons manga adaptation hopes to bring back some of the joy and camaraderie the game brought to so many people.
At its heart, Animal Crossing is an all-ages gag manga that recreates scenarios from the game in a hyperactive style by writer/artist Kokonasu☆Rumba. The premise also doesn’t stray far from the game; four human characters, each with a distinct personality, arrive on the deserted island to start a new life. Coroyuki loves catching and eating fish, Benben is smart but apprehensive, Himepoyo is obsessed with money, and Guchan is always asleep. On the surface these four characters seem one dimensional, but as I read on they pretty accurately represent different archetypes of Animal Crossing players.
The primary “conflict” is between the rowdy residents and Tom Nook, who just wants to build a “dream island” where other animals want to come live. Often this leads to gags where the four newcomers do something unconventional and Nook reacts in an over-the-top manner. In one panel, Coroyuki eats a fish whole right off the hook, and Tom Nook yells back that he should cook the fish first. As you go down the page, Coroyuki’s outlandish act is one-upped over and over by his friends, reflecting each of their personalities.
Each of this volume’s five chapters has the residents interacting with new and equally over-the-top characters from the game. They meet Blathers, the owl who runs the museum, Gulliver, the seagull who washes ashore, and Wisp, a ghost who is afraid of people. It’s fun to see the heroes’ energy met by these other characters and it often leads to great gags.
One gag in particular that really got me was after meeting Wisp when the four are terrified by Lucky, a dog who looks like a mummy and has a Halloween themed house. Lucky is kind and offers them a hot bath, but aesthetically he comes off as murderous as the bath is a boiling cauldron. The tension builds up and up until finally the doorbell rings and they all scream. It may not recapture the magic of the 2020 Animal Crossing zeitgeist, but it does bring back the jolly vibes of the game. It definitely set off a spark in me to want to return to my deserted island in the coming months.
Animal Crossing: New Horizons, Vol. 1 is consistently funny and nails the frantic energy of a Saturday morning cartoon while still honoring the game and its beloved cast of characters. And if your favorite villager isn’t featured in any of the chapters, the back half of the book is filled with one-off comic strips with even more clever gags. Rumba herself even makes a cameo at the end to celebrate the release of the manga and show off her own personal style and decor. Even Rumba’s author photo is a screenshot of her Animal Crossing character, committed to the bit from start to finish.
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