Guin Saga (#2-5): The Marches Episode, Hungry like the leopard.

Well done serial adventures like Flash Gordan and the Lone Ranger work best if they are addictive. They should engage the audience in a way that even after giving you some amount of resolution keeps you coming back again and again. Guin Saga is no exception to this rule, the first book tells a complete story but it is a very small piece in the grandiose epic of Guin discovering who he is, what he was meant to do, and being totally awesome while he does it. The next four books keeps up the constant forward momentum of Guin and his companions in the next leg of the journey. When you finish one book you will often be surprised how quickly you find yourself wanting to move on to the next.

Once I got my hands on the rest of the Guin books released from Vertical, it was a short time before I was finished and wanting more. We decided to review the rest of the Marches Episode of Guin together because a lot that is going on is very transitional especially in the second and third installments. This is by no means a complaint or a determent to the series, it is just a fact in a multiple volume story that some books will fall into this section of moving the story along without having any huge incidents. However, Kaoru Kurimoto is able to keep you on your toes the entire time with a rapid pace and varying points of view.

Like an good serial adventure we ended with our heroes in mortal peril (i.e. jumping into the churning waters of the deadly Kes River) after escaping the castle of the Black Count. They obviously survive the fall and soon find themselves with Istavan Spellsword running into the twisted wasteland known as Nospherus. Guin and company soon find themselves between the monstrous denizens of Nospherus and a large contingent of Mongauli soldiers led by the beautiful Lady Amnelis. Guin must find a way to marshal the inhabitants of Nospherus to drive off the army intent on killing them all, taking the twins of Parros, and annexing the wastelands. Guin is outnumbered and outgunned but he’s Guin, fate would not have it any other way.

It becomes quite clear as our band of heroes makes their escape from the Monguali army that Nospherus is a hellish place. However, as they start to understand it, they begin to use it to their distinct advantage with the help of the Sem barbarian tribes. Even though Guin is on the side of the Sem (and really all the inhabitants of Nospherus) it is always an uphill battle that requires cunning, supreme strategy, and a bit of fate’s guidance. The final battle still had a lot of surprises in store and while the overall outcome was what I expected, getting there and what was sacrificed was not. Once again the storytelling of Guin Saga really shines when it can lead you to understand characters but not predict the entire story to follow.

These books clearly confirm that the series is called Guin Saga for a reason: Guin gets the most screen time and the most character development. In the first book we learned that Guin was more than just a simple power brawler, he was a warrior with a brain. In these books we discover that Guin is truly a jack of all trades. We get Guin the survivalist, Guin the strategist, Guin the orator, Guin the diplomat, and Guin the leader. All of these skills seem to come naturally to Guin which often seems to worry him because he is never sure if they are his old memories coming to the surface or memories someone planted in his head for some sinister purpose. Guin grows into his role as a warrior king as the series goes on further showing the series resemblance to Conan.

Oh Guin, how you never fail to cause incredible feats that are nothing short of godly. In these books we don’t get much closer to uncovering who exactly Guin is or what is guiding him along the way. And he is being guided to some great destiny, that much is clear. This is not used to let anything at all happen (though much happens), Guin still has to get there, to overcome, and to think on his feet but along the way he is pushed by a greater force. Guin’s leadership skills start to come through in these books, even if not everyone is happy about it or believes in him. He also starts to get more comfortable in his situation and sometimes let’s it take him into the unknown. I’m not so sure we got a lot more personality development in these books, but Guin continues to impress, it’s almost unbelievable how Kurimoto is able to continually make him an even more compelling figure with each new step taken.

Rinda and Remus don’t do a great deal in these books, they are mostly there for Istavan and Guin to either protect or rescue most of the time. They are clearly going to be more important when they get back to more civilized lands but that is not the current situation. Istavan gets the lion share of the character development in these four books which is helped along by us hardly seeing him in the first installment. Istavan if it was not already clear is a charming and self-centered rouge much like Han Solo. And much like Han Solo he starts off only looking out for number one and gets ready to flee whenever the going gets tough but rather quickly he is attracted to Rinda and also realizes that she might be a key part to his destiny. This leads to some major flirting/fighting between Istavan and Rinda sealing their Han and Leia like relationship. As the books go on Istavan does not become a selfless martyr but he does slowly show he is willing to put himself on the line for his comrades.

Istavan easily becomes the character to watch, after Guin, as this epic continues. Just as Guin, Istavan has some amount of divine destiny guiding his way. When combining this with his cocky personality and his deep belief in fate, he gets himself in to many scrapes and close calls only to be pulled back. So with Istavan and Guin around, there is no telling what might occur which makes for plenty of nail-biting action which keeps the adrenaline rising and the other characters on constant edge. Rinda finds herself often moving between complete unfailing belief in Guin and a desperate need to somehow carve a way out of Nospherus and survive. Thrown in the thick of this is an obvious attraction to Istavan whom she also wishes to believe in. Rinda seems to change little in these books, but that could be because she is much less seen here. Even Remus sees a bit more growth in these books while also back peddling once and again. However, for the most part he is showing his attention to detail and the understanding of battle even if he isn’t in the fray. Once again I find that I am indeed curious the most about where Remus’s future lies because it seems to fraught with possibilities.

The biggest addition to the cast is Lady Amnelis who is the young general of the Elite White Knights of Mongaul. She has a cold and distant beauty that for various reasons draws all of her subordinates to her; some want to protect her while others wish to win her favor. She has several goals in Nospherus including clearing a path in Nospherus, claiming a powerful artifact, and capturing the twins and Guin. As she realizes Guin is the main obstacle between her and her goals, she becomes more and more obsessed with him. In turn her subordinates also become obsessed with defeating Guin with Astrias more than anyone else as he hopes he will win Lady Amnelis favor and maybe even her love. We get a lot of looks into what the armies large number of soldiers are thinking and doing even if they are against our protagonists. We seem them move through confidence when they come into Nospherus to truly doubting their superiors and their mission as Guin and the horrible conditions in Nospherus wear down on them. It gives a little humanity to those who would otherwise be faceless soldiers for Guin and company to mow down.

It’s worth noting that while the opposing side gets plenty of character studies and even sympathy, that isn’t really seen for the Sem. Perhaps it is unnecessary since we will inevitably root for Guin’s side. This is a nice contrast actually since many of the soldiers aren’t inherently bad, which also came across in the first book. This is no truer than when we start to learn about Marus, captain of the Blue Knights. His ultimate fate and who puts him there are some standout moments that make the viewer rethink things as well as some of the characters. In the case of Lady Amnelis I’m not sure what we are supposed to think. We are constantly being told how amazingly beautiful she is and how much respect she is given as a general but she is incredibly ineffectual in these books. This may just be a case of being good when not facing Guin who is stupendous! Amnelis’s retinue garners plenty of heartfelt struggle for the reader, but she herself has less of an effect. New characters are added to this series slowly but consistently and sometimes you don’t even realize what their importance will be.

Book five is a good stopping point but with the words “for now” inserted on to the end of that statement. Sure Guin has defeated the Mongaul soldiers but there are still dozen of plot threads unresolved, numerous new allies as well as many new enemies have joined the fray, and while he is closer to finding out who he is and getting the twins to their relatives, he is also no where near close to accomplishing either. If Guin was doing blockbuster numbers like it does in Japan this would be fine. We would all just eagerly await the next book and the further adventures of our leopard-headed hero but it seems for the time being this is all the Guin we are going to get. And that is a crying shame becuase Guin is one of the best adventure fantasy series on the market, bar none. As LeVar Burton used to say, “But you don’t have to take my word for it.”

What more is there to say about Guin Saga? Every moment is entertaining and it even has politics and moral dilemmas thrown in making it not just any bloody pulp fantasy. If you enjoy fantasy at all, there is no reason not to pick up these novels. These installments in Guin’s ongoing journey are full of boundless adventure, thrilling drama, and intense violence. I weep thinking that Guin Saga has a very low chance of continuing to see an English release.

Top 5 favorite fantasy anime:
5. Claymore
4. Slayers
3. Guin Saga
2. Berserk
1. Record of Lodoss War

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