Manga of the Month: Wolfsmund

Wolfsmund (狼の口 ヴォルフスムント)
by Mitsuhisa Kuji

narutaki_icon_4040 Wolfsmund spins a tale from mid-17th century Europe centering around the St. Gotthard Pass (a fortress nicknamed Wolfsmund) in the Alps and the ensuing Swiss peasant rebellions. The story takes us from the whispered words of unrest through (so far) all-out assault on the odious fortress known as Wolfsmund.

There are many character threads being pulled in different directions by the master of the fortress, Wolfram, and the hope of the peasant cause, Walter, son of Wilhelm Tell. Walter runs as hot as Wolfram runs cold and that distinction becomes more and more pronounced with each passing death. But Wolfram emerges as the more interesting character of the story despite Walter’s role as would-be hero. Wolfram is established early on as a fascinating, but truly villainous, character and nothing about the series suggests a heroic happy-ending for the rest of the cast.

Wolfsmund is incredibly violent in a hundred different ways. In an odd twist, scenes of the fortress being attacked are actually less gruesome than many earlier, smaller, attempts to snuff out rebels. Not to mention the truly vile and disturbing methods of Wolfram himself.

In the hands of Mitsuhisa Kuji, Wolfsmund’s emerges as a brutal historical fantasy with razor-sharp art. From harrowing scenes of people climbing the mountains in an attempt to skirt the pass to Wolfram’s unnerving calm as he quietly questions travelers, the reputation of Wolfsmund as a place without mercy and a master who is beguiling in how frightening he is is executed to perfection.

~ kate


Ongoing Investigations: Case #230

narutaki_icon_4040 Helter Skelter by Kyoko Okazaki is as riveting as it is bizarre. Liliko a top model is as the height of her stardom which makes it a long way to fall as the physical abuse of her body begins to take its toll on her looks as well as her mind. She tries to escape her bitter loneliness with sex, drugs, degradation of her employees, revenge, and even more procedures which all lead her further and further down a spiral. Along side this is the morally depraved and unethical practices of the clinic she and others frequent as well as a commentary on our youth- and celebrity-obsessed culture.

Ms. Okazaki’s artwork hones in perfectly on the freakish extremes of beauty. Liliko looks unlike anyone else in the book, and all characters revere her beauty, but as a reader she looks so other worldly that it is often disturbing. This is double so when we meet her little sister who she has for the most part abandoned.

I hardly found Liliko sympathetic but she was fascinating, which very much felt like the point. Just as people get caught up in the rise and fall of celebrities, so too was I caught up with Liliko much like many of the characters in the book.  I simply had to know where it would all end.

I’m very much looking forward to Ms. Okazaki’s Pink coming out in English.


hisui_icon_4040 Kaoru Mori: Anything and Something is a special little book if you a fan of Kaoru Mori. I remember asking about this book a while back on Twitter and Lazerhosen‎ said it was a fun book for established fans. That that is a great assessment of the book. It remind me a lot of the Hayate no Gotoku! no Mae book for Kenjiro Hata. Anything and Something is a collection of one-shots, failed pilots, extras, sketches, promotional materials, and anything else that would not make a full book on its own.  These types books are a bit of a hard sell but they are invaluable resources to anyone who wishes to see the development of one of their favorite artists. Since materials in these books come from all over the manga-ka’s history you really can see their style develop over the years.

Since it is a Kaoru Mori there are of course lots of maid stories. Some pieces are fairly early in the career like the Miss Claire’s stories, some maid tales are utterly goofy like Welcome to the Mansion, and there are also stories that seem much more in the vein on Emma like Maudlin Baker. All the comics in that niche have an obsessive attention to detail about the costuming and history of the time with some bending of the era for story purposes. But unlike Emma and Shirley most of the stories have a whimsical nature that make them more suited for one shots than a dramatic story that can sustain several volumes.

There is also a good deal more cheesecake than you might normally expect from Kaoru Mori. I distinctly remember sexy scenes from Emma but they were mostly little treats more than the standard fare. So it is not like her main work does not show that she can do this sort of work. But stories like the Burrow Gentleman’s club, the Fellows cover story, as well as some of the promo art shows that she can do straight up sensual quite well. But she does one to keep an air of class about her sexy material. She can do sensual, sexual, and provocative without having to cross the line into vulgar. When she adds nudity it feels like it is part of the overall seduction of the material and not just the end goal.

There are also some modern tales which show that she is not bound to working in historical settings. It is interesting to see her stories in a more contemporary setting. A historical setting adds an element of the exotic even to an otherwise mundane story. So if you wish to examine Kaoru Mori’s storytelling without a layer of the past in between you and the story than these would be the tales to focus on.

The story that stands out the most is probably Sumire’s Flowers. The fact that it was written by Satoshi Fukushima explains why it feels so different from her normal work. There is darkness and cynicism that you just don’t see in her normal work. But it does show how her working with an author sort of transforms her artistry into something else. The art is mostly the same but the tone of the story makes it take on a very different life. It is interesting to see her work exist outside its normal boundaries.

There is also just a little section on maids and Agatha Christie. So there is even something for Kate in here. But besides that there are a good deal of little asides and story notes which give you a little insight into the author herself and the research she does for her stories.  It also has a good deal of material that would normally only see if you had bought the original magazines that ran her work.

But as I said in the beginning this book can be a hard sell. It really feels like a fan book more than anything official. A somewhat scatterbrained scrapbook of the works of an artist more than a guided tour of their career. If you have enjoyed Kaoru Mori’s work in the past you can get a good deal out of this book.  If you have not it can be an interesting way to experience her but it won’t have that same hook.

But everyone should at least try Emma so there is that fundamental truth to understand before anything else. Emma and A Bride’s Story are not for everyone but they are something that everyone into historical manga should at least sample as part of their education. If you enjoy either it is worth going back to Anything and Something and seeing where it all started.

The Ongoing Investigations are little peeks into what we are watching, reading, or playing outside of our main blog posts. We each pick three things without much rhyme or reason; they are just the most interesting things since the last OI.

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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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