Of the Assassin’s Creed Chronicles trilogy, the China episode is the best out of all of them by far. I could write a bazillion reasons why, but I’ll make it quick and say it’s because of three things: solid gameplay, an amazing lead character, and beautiful art. The Assassin’s Creed: Blade of Shao Jun manga brings this brilliant character to life and deepens the story the game originally presented.
Only the first volume from Viz Media is currently available, which covers the first third of the game. The game released back in 2016, so I don’t remember the minute details of Shao Jun’s story in 2021, but it didn’t take long for things to click. The manga begins right at the beginning of the game, where Shao Jun flees China as the Emperor and the Templar Order hunts down and wipes out the Brotherhood. Shao Jun runs all the way to Florence to study under the grand master of the Brotherhood, Ezio Auditore da Firenze himself. When she returns to China, she is ready to restore the Brotherhood and avenge her fallen comrades.
So it’s a revenge story, like how most of the Assassin’s Creed stories go.
However, the Blade of Shao Jun taps into a new side of this story, one that the game didn’t mention and no one ever asks for. The manga dives into present-day life of the descendant of Shao Jun, the person in the Animus. I’m not sure why Ubisoft wants everyone to care about Abstergo and present-day Animus subjects, but they really do. Evidently manga-ka Minoji Kurata also cares, although I secretly hope that Kurata doesn’t care and this was just a requirement from Ubisoft.
But that’s really the only low point of the manga. Is it a little interesting that Abstergo is propping the Animus as an intensive behavioral therapy device? And an Assassin is about to go break up the therapy party? I’ll concede it is a little, but nothing that goes on in the present is half as interesting (or fun) as what goes on in the past.
As for what goes on in the past, it’s one thing to play the game and go through those motions, but it’s another to read and actually see the story unfold. As much as I do love the Assassin’s Creed games, it is sometimes difficult to keep up with all the names of all the people the Assassin tracks down to kill. Having it all in black and white in the manga, where it’s easy to flip back and backtrack to see information, is really the best way to keep up in an Assassin’s Creed story. Also, sometimes it’s hard to keep up with everything going on when you had to run the fire escape sequence at least three times before mastering it. Those who played the game know exactly what I’m talking about.
It’s unfortunate that only the first volume of Assassin’s Creed: Blade of Shao Jun is available, because it ends on such a cliffhanger. Even though I’ve played the game and I know what will happen next, I want to see it in the manga! And I admit I am curious how the present-day storyline will resolve. A little.