Ongoing Investigations: Case #226

narutaki_icon_4040 Wolfsmund (vol. 1) by Mitsuhisa Kuji is the latest release from Vertical. The story tells the tale of a dark period of history set in and around the Alps in the mid-17th century centered around the St. Gotthard Pass (a fortress nicknamed Wolfsmund) and ensuing unrest of the peasant population.

The art of Mitsuhisa Kuji is well suited to details adding a lot to the historical period as well as the setting. I also found her depiction of Wolfram as perfectly unnerving in his clam expressions and easy smile.

The first couple of stories feel more like one shots, but they are really there to build up the reputation of Wolfsmund as a place without mercy and a master who is charming and frightening. The running thread is a woman in town providing hospitality to travelers hoping to pass through Wolfsmund’s gates. Later in the volume, Willem Tell and his son arrive in the town and that is when the story really begins.

It was refreshing seeing a different bit of history being called on as a compelling backdrop. You really wouldn’t call it “forgotten history” but at the same time there isn’t a ton of manga-ka tackling the Swiss peasant rebellions either.

Wolfsmund is brutal historical fiction/fantasy executed with a deft artistic hand. Easily one of the best, and my favorite, new manga titles out. If you’re sitting around waiting for Vinland Saga, this should be your next purchase.

hisui_icon_4040 It is often said that a well crafted villain is more interesting than a well made hero. Wolfsmund seems to take this philosophy to heart by centering the narrative around a truly despicable villain and having him act as a thresher against a wide variety of heroes. That means that characters who would be protagonists in any other story have a very transitory feel as they are more foils there to be inevitably defeated or at least set back by Wolfram, the man in charge of Wolfsmund. So when Wolfram’s inevitable defeat comes you feel his punishment is well deserved after you have seen the number of lives he has destroyed.

Then again this is seinen. It is always a little unusual but not totally unheard of for the villain to never get their comeuppance in a series for older readers like this. Will the story end with Wolfram being taken down and Wolfsmund finally broken? Probably. But you never know. And that is what keeps the story interesting.

Willem Tell is one of those interesting characters like King Arthur and Robin Hood that might have at one time been based on a real person but whoever that person (or amalgam of people) was is nowhere near as important as the legend that sprung about around the figure that exists because of the stories. That means Mitsuhisa Kuji has a character with casts a fairly large shadow but can be worked with since he is far more legend than real man so you don’t have to worry too much about pesky sticking points of history. But as The Rose of Versailles has shown with someone like Duke du Orleans that you can have a decent amount of leeway with real people like The Duke of the Hapsburgs if you make the story compelling enough.

It is always worth pointing out that Mitsuhisa Kuji started working as an assistant for two very different mangaka. She was an assistant for Kentaro Miura of Berserk fame and Kaoru Mori best known for Emma. So you have the hyper violence and grittiness of the dark fantasy series and then soft touches and attention to historical details from the Victorian romance. As contradictory as those styles may seem at first you can see both influences clearly blending together in Wolfsmund. The characters have a gentle almost shojo feel which exacerbates their suffering when really horrible things happen to them. At the same time there is a distinct amount of research given to the details of the setting that make it feel very real. And everyone can die. And I mean anyone. And so two very different styles blend together to make a third type of story very different from its mentor’s but borrowing many of their best traits.

After one book I am curious to see where the story goes. It is a unique historical series with a very different flair. But also buy Vinland Saga. Just buy both series for different reasons ans support more historical manga in the end.

The Ongoing Investigations are little peeks into what we are watching and reading outside of our main posts on the blog. We each pick three things that we were interested in a week and talk a bit about them. There is often not much rhyme or reason to what we pick. They are just the most interesting things we saw since the last Ongoing Investigation.

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narutaki_icon_4040 I picked up the comic shorts collection Demo by Brian Wood and Becky Cloonan because those are two names that always stand out to me. This collection features various young people dealing with transitory periods in their lives with a splash of the supernatural in some.

Becky Cloonan moves between a few different styles in this collection, some more successful that others. It is no surprise that the one she is more known for now, with a thicker brushstroke, is the best throughout the book. These pieces have the right grit and weight to them giving the stories their rightful pull.

Brain Wood sets up some interesting scenarios, many dealing with strange powers, but I often felt like the stories needed one more beat to feel fully satisfying.

Becky and Brian’s stories fit into the name Demo not just in content but execution. This is a collection with many different directions and possibilities inside it.

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hisui_icon_4040 I finally finished Maoyuu Maou Yuusha. My roommate and I were enjoying the show and then Genericon completely threw off our viewing schedule and we just never got around to finishing the series after the 6th episode. It just ended an arc so we figured when we got some free time we could start watching again. It continually got placed on our list of things we should just marathon to finish off. It was shame but maybe also a blessing that we waited so long to finish the series. On one hand I had a good time with the series. It felt sort of like Spice and Wolf on a larger scale. It was not as good as Spice and Wolf (which reminds me I should really start buying those books) but I appreciate the attempt to increase the scope and play with the formula. The only problem was apparently when it came to the anime I was in the minority opinion in that regard. The series bombed and was cut short.

And that leads to my major criticism, which I assume was a popular criticism, in that the ending seems super rushed and basically just ends at an arbitrary point in the series. I’m not too hard to please when it comes to these matters. I actually liked the ending to Jellyfish Princess. I’m fairly certain that automatically puts me in the easy judge category. But the ending seemed really rushed at points and certain plot points are just dropped because there was no way there were going to get resolved in time. I mean it is not the ending of Berserk. A major baddie gets his comeuppance, the Demon King and the Hero overcome a trial, but other than that it seems like they wrap up some dangling threads in exposition and others are just left hanging. Even some of the things that did get tied up felt like they were finished by someone delivering a speech in one breath after a 10 minute sprint. After all of that talk about finding the Mage she mostly just shows up at the end to run some errands for the Demon King. It felt like they rushed to get to the end point of the first book in a two book arc. It was an end point that was merely meant to hold you over to the next book that would tightly wind up the arc not something to capstone a series.

That does not ruin the series especially after knowing that they were forced to end when they did. It is just sad to know that is how they were forced to go out. But I suppose it could have been worse.

Overall there was quite a bit to like about them series. The Crimson Scholar was a good character and not just for the reasons that made her top heavy. It was good to see a woman as being one of the primary agents of large scale social change and not just a facilitator for a leader. When she is forced away from the plot it is very obvious that while the other members of the cast are able to sort of keep things running without her they can mostly only delay the collapse of her plans but not prevent them. Big Sister Maid really comes into her own at the end and a lot of the merchants actually start to be useful. They are mostly still sort of scum but at least they are scum working for the betterment of everyone when the Crimson Scholar shows them how actually working towards peace can make them money in different ways from constant war. I also just thought Princess Fire Dragon was cute. The fact that she had the little gouts of flame when she talked were a nice touch. I’m glad they did not spend too much time with her wanting to be the Hero’s bride.

I was also really amused that the church declared that potatoes were a tool of the devil. That seems incredibly moronic until you realize that actually historically happened. And then the real world just seems a slightly sillier place instead.

Speaking of which is the downside. A little too much time spent of the harem of the Hero. Female Knight was cool when she was not being the love struck sycophant for the Hero. The romantic comedy angle sort of made the story a little groan worthy. Also the lack of proper names I think is something that works a bit more when the story was originally chat logs. It does give the story a bit of a unique feel but it is really easy to see it as a horrible gimmick as well.

I think I really just enjoy the idea of taking real politics and a more realistic economy and adding it to a otherwise completely fantastical world. It was not exactly Game of Thrones (if it were the Hero and the Demon king would have had sex in the first episode) but it was more than enjoyable enough.

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narutaki_icon_4040 The first story arc of Five Ghosts: The Haunting of Fabian Gray by Frank Barbiere, Christopher Mooneyham, and Lauren Affe just finished up. Originally funded through Kickstarter then picked up by Image, this pulpy adventure was what got me to pick up monthly comics again.

Globe-trotting treasure hunter Fabian Gray has been possessed by five literary ghosts: Robin Hood, Sherlock, Merlin, Dracula, and Mushashi. He is grappling with these powers which he has little control over and it only gets worse as the story goes on. During the story he has to over come his past mistakes and accept the spirits into him.

Crazy wizards and giant beasts litter the exotic locales of the book, at times if feels like Mooneyham is harnessing madness in the pages with his frantic lines and range of facial expressions. Affe’s colors are essential to the pulpy experience with a muted but still colorful palette which changes from page to page and scene to scene.

I’m excited for the next installment in the series and look forward to the ongoing adventures.

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hisui_icon_4040  When a franchise has been running for several iterations it is sometimes better for the shows to be very good more than extremely excellent. The problem is when one of those rare near perfect series rolls around it sort of makes the surrounding shows seem weaker in comparison because now every iteration will be compared to this high water mark. A really good show can foster debate when compared to other series but a fantastic show will just make all the series around it look a bit lacking.

The thing about any new Batman cartoon series is it has some big shoes to fill. Batman: The Animated Series is just this show that sort of sets itself apart in overall quality. Everyone basically compares everything and anything to Batman: The Animated Series now. If you try to compete with that series on the same level your just going to fall flat. Even Batman Beyond suffered from continually getting compared to is predecessor. Beyond eventually gained a bit of good will in reflection when people realized the show was pretty solid after they had some distance. So now most of the new Batman series go out of their way to have some major differences from the baseline Batman: The Animated Series.

The last Batman series was Batman: Brave and the Bold that was the marvelous tongue in cheek show that I really have to see more on now that it is streaming (but that is a OI for another day). But in response the new Beware the Batman has gone back to a much more seriously toned Caped Crusader. But before any discussion of the shows content can be made a very important fact has to be discussed. This is an all CG cartoon.

It is clear that CG is better than it has been in the past but it still always looks … undercooked? It reminds me of almost looking like claymation but does not have the warm flow of that technique. It does not look horrible or unwatchable. It is just a sign that CG animation is still a few steps from being reliably good when on TV. It looks like it will be a few more years until CG cartoons are a bit more seamless on a small screen.

That aside the first major change is Jason Statham as Alfred. TECHNICALLY J. B. Blanc is playing Alfred but all in all he is doing his best “Jason Statham as Alfred” as he can. Alfred also has a larger role than he has ever had. He is still a supporting character but as an ex-MI-6 agent he is distinctly present and important in any of the first seven episodes. He is simultaneously Batman’s sidekick and mentor rather than guy who answers his phone and lays out his clothing.

The second is they have Katana as opposed to Robin. So far she is actually a little less important than Alfred but she is poised to be Batman’s partner. They are just building up that relationship. If nothing else it is nice to see a female character in the secondary role in a Batman series. They have had Batgirl before but she always seems like second fiddle to Robin. Katana is primed to be a primary character if the show will let her take that position. It all depends on what happens when she officially becomes a part of the Batman team and is not just this driver and bodyguard attached to Bruce Wayne.

Side note: You can tell I am a fake geek because I had to look up the history of the Soultaker sword.

The third is the attack of the minor villains. So far the show has not had anyone like the Joker, Riddler, Penguin, Mr. Freeze, or Catwoman. Instead it has all been really minor almost forgotten rouges like Humpty Dumpty, Magpie, and Professor Pyg. Apparently Anarky of all people is going to be the major antagonist of the show. They have all been changed so they are a bit more modern vibe and have the feeling of finally being first tier villains. While everyone loves the classic Batman villains it is nice to get some fresh faces on the scene.

Also the chance that they will never have the Joker is roughly the same odds of me winning the lottery.

Overall it is not Batman: The Animated Series. But what is? I have to say that the changes they have made are interesting enough that I am curious to see how they pan out.

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