Kings of Nowhere’s creative premise and stellar art are bogged down by an underwhelming story.
Kings of Nowhere by Soroush Barazesh is an anthropomorphic fantasy crime series in the same vein as Snatch, Cowboy Beebop, and Samurai Champloo. In Kings of Nowhere, human/animal hybrids called Beasties date back thousands of years serving as inspiration for animal deities like Anubis, Ganesha, and the Monkey King. However, over time Beasties come to be feared rather than worshiped and are forced into the lowest levels of society. Any human who experiences trauma can transform into a Beastie and will be unable to revert back.
In Volume 1, we follow the tragic story of Bili, the son of a notorious gangster, who’s transformed into an ape and in Volume 2, we jump 25 years into the future and follow a new set of anthropomorphic characters. It’s worth noting that I’m reviewing the Kickstarter editions, not the forthcoming softcover release from Dark Horse.
Kings of Nowhere shines in its artwork. Each scene is framed and paced like a film allowing characters to live organically in the space. The character designs are top notch with a gun-toting penguin and a pirate-themed reindeer being standouts. There’s meticulous detail put into making sure every character, human or animal, is distinctive and authentic. This careful draftsmanship also applies to the exciting world of fast cars, weapons, and fashion. The fights are expertly choreographed and make the most out of the author’s manga influences.
Where Kings of Nowhere falters is in its writing. While the decompressed storytelling allows for more atmospheric pacing, both Volume 1 and Volume 2 feel like the first act in a larger narrative. It reads like the author has a bigger story in his head that we’re only seeing fractions of on the page. It would be more satisfying if each volume were treated as a stand-alone three act film within a shared universe.
What’s really lacking are compelling relationships and dynamics between characters. Barazesh cites Berserk as an influence– and that story is interesting because of the interpersonal dynamic between Guts, Griffith, and Casca. Conversely, there aren’t any emotional stakes to invest in in Kings of Nowhere.
There’s also a lack of substance to make a compelling crime story. There’s isn’t a heist or a gang war or any other genre conventions that would justify the action. The macho dialogue between gangsters sounds like characters copied from movies and rap albums rather than lived experience. These kinds of narrative flaws could be improved with the addition of an editor or writing partner and I hope that Dark Horse and Barazesh are able to work something out.
The art and world within Kings of Nowhere are rich enough to sit alongside Blacksad as a great anthropomorphic crime story. The work Barazesh has accomplished on his own is truly stunning. However, if the writing doesn’t improve the series won’t get very far.