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.
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.