It's been a while for Kingdom Hearts II Volume 4 to come out, but it's finally here, and it is an excellent conclusion to the series.

Title: Kingdom Hearts II
Genre: Adventure
Publisher: Square-Enix (JP), Yen Press (US)
Artist: Shiro Amano
Original Concept: Tetsuya Nomura
Serialized in: Shounen Gangan
Translation: Alethea and Athena Nibley
Original Release Date: May 30, 2017
Review copy provided by Yen Press

Man, it feels like it’s been such a long time since I’ve last seen a Kingdom Hearts manga. When did the last Kingdom Hearts II volume come out anyway?

*checks*

December 2014?! Holy cow!! No wonder I can’t remember if I’ve read the previous volumes or not.

Fortunately, I know the game well enough to pick up right where this volume starts: Twilight Town III. Game players know this starts the chain of events that lead up to the ending, so it’s no surprise that Kingdom Hearts II Volume 4 finishes up the manga adaptation.

Now, if it’s one thing I think most Kingdom Hearts player can agree on, it’s that Kingdom Hearts II is weighted too heavily toward the ending. Sora reunites with several of his friends, faces off the remaining Organization members in rapid succession, and some story aspects are muddled through with little explanation. Meanwhile, I remember thinking the Kingdom Hearts manga was too gag-heavy.

Somewhat surprisingly, this 3-in-1 omnibus manages to dodges many of the issues that haunted its predecessors and actually finds ways to make the story better. Plus it also showcases how far Amano has come as an artist. Hooray!

As I mentioned, this volume picks up as Sora finds Hayner and friends collapsed outside the Old Mansion. The gang was trying to get more info on the kidnapped Kairi but were attacked by Nobodies. Sora once again meets up with the King, and together, the two of them, Donald, and Goofy prepare to storm the stronghold of Organization XIII. (Or, as Demyx correctly points out, “Organization V”.)

Yes, Demyx is still around, and his presence helps lighten up some of the tension of these final battles. Amano includes many little in-jokes in Kingdom Hearts, and I can’t think it’s a coincidence that Demyx — whose Japanese voice actor also plays the role of Zack “How About One Date” Fair — is the one who is sneaking Kairi food while she’s imprisoned. Pence’s geek side is also on full display at the beginning, begging Sora to let him explore the other Twilight Town. A few other laughs are found throughout the volume (Luxord basically admits he isn’t strong enough to be one of the last remaining members of the Organization), but gags aren’t stuffed into every corner. Thank goodness!

And while I don’t want to spoil every change this volume makes, here are a couple of highlights:

  • Jiminy makes a stand.
  • The Sora, Riku, Kairi reunion flows much better.
  • Axel redeems himself earlier than in the game.

All in all, I think the Kingdom Hearts II manga really hammers home the fact that Sora’s friends are his power. The battles against Xigbar, Saix, Luxord, and Xemnas prove to be well worth the wait as it isn’t just Sora taking down one after the other. Sora truly isn’t fighting alone, and it really feels like the defenders of light versus beings of darkness that the upcoming Kingdom Hearts III is hinting at. Plenty of scrapes and bruises are shown on the characters to remind readers at how difficult this journey has been on everyone. The Xemnas battle could have been a little longer, and some readers may not fully understand the battle without knowing the reaction commands from the game, but the spirit still comes through.

After the battle, we get some bonus scenes that roughly correspond to the ending credits, and although I love Utada’s music as much as the next Kingdom Hearts fan, I do really like how the manga’s peeks are actual mini-scenes complete with dialogue.

As for the art, a few times I couldn’t help but think Sora has been getting duck-lips practice from Bossun of Sket Dance. But the combination of less comedy and the seriousness of the final battles means a lot more clear, determined shots of Sora and friends instead of angry or silly faces. Sora may be known for his large smiles, but he is also pretty emotional person in general. I found the slight blushes and tears Amano added fit very well into the story: they reminded readers at how awkward the characters can be while also adding a bit of subdued but genuine emotion. In addition, the omnibus concludes with a beautiful double-sided color insert:

Amano has stated that this was (his? the?) final Kingdom Hearts manga volume, so it feels like he put in his full effort as a thank you to the fans.

All in all, Kingdom Hearts II Volume 4 is an excellent conclusion to the series. In some aspects, I like it better than the game. Hopefully Sora is using his Keyblade to unlock your wallet so you can go buy the manga adaptation’s swan song.