Manga of the Month: Lucifer and the Biscuit Hammer

Lucifer and the Biscuit Hammer (パ惑星のさみだれ) by Satoshi Mizukami

hisui_icon_4040_round The title of manga is often the series first foot forward. Much like a beautiful cover or a striking character design the title has the ability to catch a reader’s imagination in an instant. Most titles are functional with maybe a little hook. Just looking at the top manga on My Anime List you find titles like Berserk,  Fullmetal Alchemist,  Monster, One Piece, Slam Dunk that are all slightly descriptive and mildly intriguing but rely much more on their art work and plot description to draw people in. None of those titles hurt their respective series but they also don’t do any sort of heavy lifting. Then you have the infamous super lengthy light novel title that spells out the premise in almost press release levels of detail. I just linked to an article about some of the longer ones because body has time for a list of four of them. Those titles are the very essence of does exactly what is on the tin.

 In contrast Jojo’s Bizarre Adventure almost demands that you pick up the series just to see what it is about. It only gives you the vaguest idea what the series is about and piques all but the dullest curiosity. Lucifer and the Biscuit Hammer is one of those titles as well. You have a Judeo-Christian fallen angel and a device for making mochi. Not two things you normally associate with each other. It is a title that invites anyone who see a volume at least a reason to give it a second glance. You probably want to at least know the general plot if nothing else.

I had actually heard about Lucifer and the Biscuit Hammer several years back. It was generally one of those titles that had a small but vocal fanbase that usually would throw it out as a series that needed to get licensed. The passion of the fans mixed with the memorable title definitely kept it as something I should remember. When I saw that my local library had the complete series I felt it was finally time to see what everyone had been talking about. I truly think that if the title has been less memorable I might have not had anywhere as strong an inclination to read this series which would have been quite the shame.

Amamiya Yuuhi has reluctantly embraced his newfound powers and talking animal sidekick in the service of the magical princess Asahina Samidare. They wish to gather a band of heroic magical warriors to defeat an evil wizard who is threatening to destroy the planet with a giant biscuit hammer. These destined warriors must defeat the wizard’s deadly golems in increasingly desperate battles. The twist is Amamiya and Asahina have a secret. They plan to betray their fellow warriors and destroy the planet themselves after they save the world.

At first glance Lucifer and the Biscuit Hammer has a very standard shonen action formula. There is a villain who has increasingly powerful lieutenants opposed by a team of warriors. The main character is similar to the team but clearly also a step beyond them. At the same time the manga goes out of its way to subvert and toy with the formula with Amamiya and Asahina. Amamiya’s backstory and surprisingly pure devotion to Asahina twisted ideals give the series an unusual feel. It is not full on Bokurano but in my humble opinion you never want to go full Bokurano.

Beyond that the foundational story is solid. Amamiya and Asahina have a strong dynamic and the rest of the cast holds their own. The other Beast Knights are interesting twists on the standard archetypes you finds in fight based adventures stories. The golems and fairly unsettling and the fights against them have a nice power curve. They also go from simply getting more powerful to actually having some more complex gimmicks. The wizard and his motivations add a good layer of mystery to the story as well. There are also some powerful emotional moments in the series that will stand out as very well done.

The only criticism is the series is 10 books and it feels like it was originally planned to be 20. The first books have a darkness and complexity that some of the middle books are lacking. In the middle a lot of the more complex ideas seem to move to the background and the series feels like it get a little more standard shonen fighting to drive itself to the ending. It feels like an editor pushed the series to speed up some parts where the darker twists would have taken much more time. Also some of the later Beast Knights feel like they might have had originally had longer story lines that were truncated.

In my opinion it seems that the beginning and the opening were always supposed to be the way they were. This was a series that had an ending that was planned out from the beginning. The middle just was just sped up and made a little more conventional. There is nothing missing from the middle it just feels a little more streamlined. In the end it finishes well which is always the most important thing.

I’m mostly recommending this series because it is a great look at how to spice in some original twists on a very well worn formula to make something that feels very different from the genre it comes from while stilling retaining the structures and strengths of its template. If you want to really understand that dynamic just compare the begging and the end to the middle. It is a series worth reading not only for entertainment value but it also has distinct value as examination of narrative form.

Plus that title really just demands you find out what the hack it is all about.

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