Phantom Volume 1
By Ki-Hoon Lee/Seung-Yup Cho
Reviewed by Brian Henderson
K is a mech pilot for the Neo Seoul Police, chasing down terrorists in his TC (Tactical Costume) in the near future. This is after the deadly “Meteo Rain” that showered the Earth, toppling governments and bringing about the rise of the mega-corporations that now rule the planet. K has never really given much thought to his job but when an arrest goes horribly wrong, he’s trapped in a world that wants him dead and forced to side with the terrorists against the megacorps at the helm of a new type of TC, controlled by the AI Cerebus which identifies K as it’s sole pilot.
While I’m certainly not a fan of the cyberpunk genre, Phantom doesn’t do a bad job with playing around with some of the elements. You’ve got the post-apocalyptic, mega-corporations and downtrodden populace, but it’s done well and without the typical loss of humanity that a lot of bad cyberpunk has. K finds himself in a situation that is beyond his control, his corporate bosses have turned against him and his girlfriend Yura gets seriously injured and only an experimental treatment, in the hands of the terrorists, can save her, but it’s so expensive that K finds himself drafted into their cause in order to earn their promise for her recovery. There’s nothing very original here, it’s a type of story we’ve seen many times before, but it’s done with a reasonable amount of interest that makes it a fun read.
Ultimately, Phantom is a “fish out of water” story where the main character is taken from their life of comfort and complacency and thrust into a world that is not their own. K learns that the terrorists aren’t the bad guys, it’s the mega-corporations that he needs to be fighting, yet the terrorists aren’t really the stereotypical good guys either. They’re not fighting for peace, light, democracy and the American way, they’re tough people who don’t take a lot of lip, as K finds out. Somehow, K needs to chart a middle path between the corrupt corporations with all the power and the dangerous terrorists who just might have the right idea, while trying to keep the people he cares about alive.
Phantom is for the mecha fan who isn’t too worried about a black and white world of moral absolutes, but wants to explore the gray areas. In some ways, it reminds me a lot of the 80s Area 88 anime where Shin Kazama finds himself trapped fighting for a morally ambiguous group and trying to survive until the end. There’s plenty of violence and action but nothing terribly graphic. For the tech geek, there are complete technical specs for the mecha in the back as well.