KH:358/2 Days Manga
I’ve been collecting a lot of KH manga recently, and I finally managed to get the last book I needed for the 358/2 Days series. As an avid lover of the game, I am aware of its many weaknesses. It is very stagnant, drawn out, and lonely. A lot of what you do is busy work, which makes sense in context but it makes for a very boring game. So I’m always eager to find alternate ways to tell this game’s amazing, beautiful story.
In 2013, when KH 1.5 was released, I was more excited for the 358 movie than anything else. Though the HD cutscenes were gorgeous, it really fell short in terms of storytelling. Boss fights were alluded to at best. Scenes were strung together with on-screen text blocks. Side-characters were practically nonexistent (no pun intended!). It took my favorite thing about the game and trivialized it. A recent patch in KH 1.5+2.5 on PS4 added a more elaborate scene with the final boss, so that the final moments of the movie have context. But I still don’t think the 358/2 Days movie is a good medium for the emotion and impact of the game. It just isn’t… right. It’s just not all there.
So I went into the five-book manga with skepticism. I had already read the KH1 and Chain of Memories manga, so I knew what to expect; they are silly and over the top. I came out of them thinking: “These were fun to read, but they definitely don’t replace the games.” They were supplemental. And with how dramatic and desperate the 358 game is compared to the upbeat optimism of KH1 and CoM, I didn’t think it would translate well to manga.
But wow. I was wrong.
These books were great. They were impactful and suspenseful and dramatic, but they were also silly and funny and they had the cutest non-canon art on the opening page! It addresses things you didn’t even know you wanted. And I know that it’s technically not canon, but it fills in gaps in the series in such casual, unobtrusive ways. For example, one of the end-of-book comics is about a dusk that cleans up the castle, and… ugh, it’s just great.
My first point of comparison is the Disney worlds. As a member of the Organization, you aren’t supposed to be seen or influence the worlds. In the game, they handle this by dropping you in a Disney world with an objective that doesn’t really culminate in anything. A means to an end. In the manga, you spend a few chapters in each world only once. Roxas always has another Organization member with him and their interactions help shape Roxas’s beliefs and identity. It’s a much better way of handling the “can’t impact the Disney worlds” trope.
Next is the characters. One of the things I really loved about the game was how it fleshed out all the Organization members through small interactions and missions. It made them side-characters instead of background noise. The movie really failed at highlighting this, but the manga took it above and beyond. Each organization member had quirks and personality, from Xaldin’s interest in nutritional health to Saïx’s irritation when people know words he doesn’t. Demyx is my favorite! And though these traits aren’t exactly “canon”, they fill in the characters in interesting and believable ways. Like in Chain of Memories manga, we learned that Lexaeus likes to solve puzzles. In the game, we don’t learn anything about him or Zexion at all! It’s nice to be able to imagine these characters as real people, and the manga nails that perfectly.
My biggest worry that the manga would be too silly to address serious issues, and I wasn’t completely wrong. The manga is very silly. But they had this weird way of interweaving silly happy scenes with a panel of a character’s expression that really brings gravity and tone to the moment. There are a lot of “secrets” being kept and you can plainly see the weight of those secrets. But even more surprisingly, I found that the silly moments made me enjoy this story even more! 358 has always been about friendship and belonging, but in the game most of what you see is eating ice cream and some nice gestures. In the manga, the characters joke around. They do stupid stuff together. Their friendship is so much richer because of the silly stuff. You know what’s at risk. You know how important it is.
The end was very impactful. I couldn’t put the fifth book down. I knew what was going to happen and I had to keep reading anyway. There is very little humor in that last volume. They sort of “simplify” the final battle the same way the CoM manga did, but I didn’t mind it as much in this. It really changes the tone of the fight. In the game, the final battle is about survival, but in the manga it’s almost… a plea. Begging. I don’t know which version I like more, but I definitely appreciate the manga’s portrayal. I can’t even explain this in words.
There were a couple non-canon things that I loved. Oathkeeper happening was amazing. The Moogle shop was great! Roxas going to “level up” was funny. They really play into it being a video game and I like that. Chain of Memories did the same thing with the vending machine at the end. I’m also glad that the manga not only used the “memorable quotes” from 358, but kept them mostly word for word.
One big difference between the manga and the game: the manga really focuses on Axel’s perspective. You learn things a lot earlier than you do in the game. I thought this sort of ruined the suspense and mystery, but at the same time I like that they tell you this big “secret” even before the main characters learn about it. It builds a lot of tension and you really appreciate Axel in a way that you don’t in the game.
There was one omission from the manga that I thought was very important: what Xigbar sees. This is a lead in for a later game. The cutscene is in Day 353 and can be watched here.
As I’ve said in my Beginner’s Guide, I wholeheartedly recommend this manga. Actually, it’s the only manga I consider a suitable replacement for the game. It isn’t entirely canon - especially the more silly parts - but it covers everything important that you need to know (with one exception). If the game is too much for you, please consider the KH:358/2 Days manga required reading for the series.