KING OF WOLVES
Time travel, kendo swordsmanship, gladiatorial combat, and historical drama come to shores of Manga Island in the form of Kentaro Miura's and Buronson's "King of Wolves." This one volume tale from two of manga's most well known action/adventure manga writers is cool escapist fantasy with some nice historical trappings that add a little meat to combat and bloodshed that are par for the course in their other works.
I have to admit that my expectations were pretty high for this book. Buronson's "Fist of the North Star" and Miura's "Berserk" are two of my favorites. The book itself is an interesting combination of both of their talents that stretches each of them a little bit, while still retaining the character that these two creators bring to the table.
"King of Wolves" begins with the disappearance of championship kendo swordsman and historical scholar Kengo Iba, who disappears while researching the Silk Road. His distraught fiancée Kyoko goes hunting for Iba and not only discovers evidence of his passage through the area, but also the time portal that took him away. Kyoko awakens in the ancient province of XiXia and quickly realizes she is has been whisked back in time to the thirteenth century. After being noticed and captured by an important general, Kyoko is amazed to find out that Iba has survived as a gladiator for over ten months. When it comes to light that they are betrothed Kendo is sent to the wilderness to die on the battlefield, while the General holds Kyoko hostage in attempt to have his way with her. A fierce combatant, Iba eventually encounters Genghis Kahn, The King of Wolves. Japanese and Chinese history mix when Iba finds out Kahn and his right hand man's true identity. Recognizing Iba's sword style and swordplay, Genghis Kahn invites Iba into his army and his quest to build his own empire.
When Iba finally gets Kyoko back, the true battle and time travel aspects of the manga really come together. Iba must fight for Kahn but also strive to not change the future. In his mind he knows there must be a way to get back to 1989 Japan, and he wants it to be as close to the 1989 he knew as possible. This involves some hard choices and sets up some interesting twists and turns that build to the interesting and tragic climax.
Fans of Kentaro Miura's art won't be disappointed. His penchant for big swords and full on battlefield scenes carries on in "King of Wolves." Kengo Iba's signature katana is rendered at least as large as [Berserk's] Guts' sword and there are numerous pole arms that seem to go me right out of "Berserk." No one does large bloody battle scenes quite like Miura. From the long shots full of combatants, to the close shots showing the chaos and bloodiness of ancient combat. A few of Miura's signature charcoal-like rendered pages are also included in the book, a style I've always liked in "Berserk." The setting provides a chance for Miura to branch out from European castles and landscapes, and he seems equally adept at rendering landscapes and buildings from ancient Japan and China, as well as modern Tokyo. I would love to see Miura team up with other writers for more modern dramas as well as shogun stories (as long as he keeps putting out "Berserk" as well). The fact he is able to adapt to another writer's style and subject matter and still keep his own style recognizable and consistent truly shows off Miura's talent.
In previous comics Buronson has proven he can write apocalyptic battles ("Fist of the North Star") and early 20th century ("Fist of the Blue Sky"), his foray into ancient China and Japan and time travel epics is interesting indeed. The historical notes throughout the book are a neat touch for those of us who aren't as familiar with the subject matter of 13th century China, and help to bridge any historical gaps that we might encounter. Buronson also has come up with an interesting spin on combining Japanese and Chinese legends and historical facts. After reading "King of Wolves," I am motivated to go out and read more about Genghis Kahn and his successors, as well as historical figures in Japan.
Being a one-shot manga, the story of "King of Wolves" flows pretty quickly. To me this is the story's biggest strength as well as its biggest weakness. I enjoyed it because I was able to breeze through it and marvel at the awesome battles and all of the typical cool Miura artwork, but when all was said and done, I wish I could have spent more time immersed in the historical aspects of the story. At the risk of making it a more typical sports or combat manga, I would have also liked to have seen more about the Kendo Iba's kendo prowess, with some more detail on his style and kendo in general. It's a cool bit that I think could have been brought out more in the book.
"King of Wolves" OVA and should be of interest to anyone who likes a little history with their shonen manga. While not as epic or expansive as some Chinese comics and certainly not as in depth as "Romance of the Three Kingdoms", "King of Wolves" is a cool combo of manga-ka heavyweights. It definitely left me wanting more (it would make a great animated one shot as well). I would love to see this team produce more work, if only someone would create an anthology teams up two manga-ka for original stories. If you are looking for great battles, quick pacing, signature artwork and interesting twists and turns, 'King of Wolves" should be right up your alley. It's also a great manga to read between releases of "Berserk", which I can never get enough of here on Manga Island.
King of Wolves
Publisher: Dark Horse
Volume 1 (of 1)
Rating: Mature 18+ (Violence, Nudity)
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Tony Salvaggio has been a fan of anime and manga from an early age. He has been an animator in the video games industry and is currently co-writing an original graphic novel for Tokyopop, PSY-COMM. He regularly hosts anime and Japanese related shows in Austin and his passion for all things anime and manga related is only excelled by his quest to become King of the Monsters.