Otaku Obsession: Laddertop Vol. 1 review

It's not unusual for American writers to write OEL manga. James Patterson has been doing it for awhile, and now Orson Scott Card is the latest to get into the mix with his new series Laddertop. Co-written with his daughters Emily and Zina, the series is illustrated by Honoel Ibardolaza. Laddertop's story is set in the future, 25 years after mysterious aliens called the Givers came to Earth with a "gift": four space elevators called Ladders that power all the planet's energy needs. But just as mysteriously as they appeared, so too have they mysteriously disappeared.

Humans don't quite understand how the Giver technology works, but they maintain the system at the space stations known as the Laddertops. But there's a catch to the maintenance - the tubes in the Laddertop are so small that only young children are small enough to fit in them. Thus we have the creation of the Laddertop Academy, an elite school where only the best are picked to serve as Laddertop maintenance workers. The first volume opens by focusing on the main character, an 11-year-old girl named Robbi Holten and her best friend, the infinitely energetic Azure Miles. At the start of the story, Robbi and Azure are selected to leave behind their middle school to join Laddertop Academy. It's not an ideal situation for Robbi, who was signed up for the Academy without consent by her mother, who is essentially getting rid of Robbi instead of confronting her abusive husband. At the Academy, Robbi and Azure befriend some other kids, including the precocious Tariq and uptight Nine. After taking tests and training in zero gravity, the kids are all put through a scanner to determine their eligibility - a test Azure doesn't pass. What's more, Robbi has a strange encounter with the scanner after being bitten in the shower by a metal bug that wrote alien glyphs on her arm. The first volume ends shortly after Robbi and her friends reach their assigned Laddertop.

Given that this OEL manga is by Orson Scott Card, it's no surprise that the story is somewhat evocative of his classic novel Ender's Game. You have some similar elements, including young children being selected for special tasks that adults can't do, zero gravity training, behind the scenes politicking and mysterious aliens. Of course, there are also major differences, since humanity isn't at war with any aliens. The first volume certainly generates many mysterious, and of course we won't get any answers at this early stage. Who are the Givers, and why did they give their technology to humans? What are their intentions, and why did they design it so that only young children can maintain Ladders? What do the scans mean, and what do the symbols on Robbi's arm mean? I expect these mysteries will be addressed as the story unfolds. In the sum of things, Laddertop is definitely targeted at a younger audience (especially with its youthful art style), but the story has captured my interest. Card is no stranger to this medium, having written for Marvel Comics in the past, so I know he can crank out a good story. I'd like to see where this story goes.

Overall Rating: 3.5 out of 5 stars

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