Calling Manga Island: Issue #36

Thu, April 20th, 2006 at 12:00am PDT

Comic Books
Tony Salvaggio, Columnist

Possessed heroes and villains and plenty of undead mayhem are the order of the day this week on Manga Island as two brand new books washed up on the shore recently. "Claymore" by Norihiro Yagi and the highly anticipated "D. Gray-Man" by Katsura Hoshino each have their own take on monsters, possession and the souls of the living and the dead. Viz's Shonen Jump line hits home again with these two solid books.

Norihiro Yagi's "Claymore" is one for those fans of "Berserk" who are looking for their sword, sorcery and monsters fix, in between Dark Horse's releases. In fact, as I read "Claymore," I kept coming back to how much it has in common with "Berserk" and how a manga can have such similar themes and style, and yet be fresh, original and enjoyable. Although it even starts in a manner that reminded me of the beginning of "Berserk," it soon develops in different and unexpected ways.

Named by humans for their signature swords, the Claymores of the title are sanctioned bounty hunters. They are shadowed by official money collectors, dressed in almost priest-like attire that collect their fee and give them their next missions. Half monster and half human, the Claymores can detect the monsters called Yoma that can disguise as humans, often infiltrating villages and slaughtering as many victims as possible before they move on or are found out. The way they possess bodies while still retaining some of the characteristics of the host's psyche is particularly chilling. The Claymores are the only hope to end the slaughter of the villagers, as no human can possibly stand up to the power of the Yoma. In actuality the Claymores (as they are called by humans, their real organization has no name) are seen as more monster than human, easily spotted by their silver eyes, in addition to their uniform and the quasi religious symbol that adorns their armor and weapons. It seems that only women can become half Yoma, and so the Claymores have often been nicknamed the "Silver Eyed Witches." This name which reflects the public's unease with the Claymores, even as they must hire the "witches" for protection.

Clare, the Claymore protagonist is a stoic anti-hero. She is extremely quick with her sword in order to take out the most Yoma in order to move on to the next. Her actions are dictated by the fact that the more she uses her abilities the more of her humanity she loses. Thus, she feels that she must kill as many Yoma as possible before she succumbs to the darker side of her being. Only the boy she saves, Raki is unafraid of her. The bond of losing family to the Yoma brings them closer together, despite her stoic nature outside of battle.

The art for Claymore is clean and very concise, with solid character design and lots of dramatic action. Norihiro Yagi is very adept at rendering gory battle scenes with a minimum amount of gore. The backgrounds are solid and well rendered; however, the artist is also a minimalist in many sections of the book, eschewing the hyper rendered style that is often seen in books like "Berserk" for clean lines and very little toning, especially during actions scenes. The art is top notch, and the character designs and expressions are rendered with care and precision. My only complaint about the book is the fact that as a serialized work, "Claymore" often has to reintroduce the themes of the world and the traits of the characters. We are constantly reminded that the Claymores are called "Silver Eyed Witches," their beastly origins, and the fact that only humans call them Claymores. This is one of the few books I've read recently where I was painfully aware of this storytelling device, much like re-reading older western comics in collected volumes (in my mind I was constantly reminded of "Curse these ruby goggles, and curse these eyes! These eyes!!" For anyone who grew up with a certain team of superheroes, you'll know what I mean). This however doesn't detract from the otherwise super cool action and some very nice plot twists here and there.

Fans of Devilman and the like, as well as fans of hack and slash adventure, especially those involving tough as nails female protagonists should enjoy "Claymore." Those manga fans who want a taut story and nice art, but without the nastier elements of a book like the thickly shrink-wrapped "Berserk" would do well to pick up this series as well. After reading it cover to cover, I'm really intrigued by the characters and the world that Norihiro Yagi has set up. I can't wait to read more of Clare and Raki's adventures, and learn more about the Yoma, the Claymores and the mysteries of their organization.

"D Gray-Man" is a very different take on the undead and the supernatural. In a fictional version of 19th century England, a secret order of Exorcists battles the demonic weapons known as Akuma. Truly one of the more original takes on demon fighting; Katsura Hoshino's "D. Gray-man" is a book that truly lives up to the hype and the accolades fans have heaped on it.

In "D Gray-Man" we follow the path of the unlikely Exorcist Allen Walker, whose hand has become a symbiotic weapon against the Akuma. He was cursed by his foster father, who he unwittingly turned into an Akuma and no has the ability to see the Akuma even when they are in disguise as a human. This curse makes him almost an outcast to other Exorcists but also give him an advantage as well. In the world of "D Gray-Man," Akuma are demon weapons created by the Millennium Earl. This large, smiling, top-hatted specter is out to destroy humanity, as he almost did with the biblical flood over 7,000 years ago. Except, this time he seems to want to do it one soul at a time. The Akuma are called when someone experiences a tragedy, the Millennium Earl comes and then bonds a soul to an Akuma and that soul can hide in a corpse for disguise. These Akuma are evolved demonic weapons, whose bullets infect the living with a fast acting supernatural virus that crumbles them away and explodes them into pieces that can harm those around them. A dangerous device indeed!

Allen Walker's struggle to destroy the Akuma is aided by his fellow Black Order operatives. By the end of book one, we meet the supporting cast of Black Order Operatives as he is sent to the Black Order headquarters by his mentor General Cross. It seems that Allen and the other operatives are tasked with recovering the 109 pieces of Innocence, a substance of great power for good that bonds with humans to form anti-Akuma weapons.

The art in "D Gray-Man" is top notch and has some of the most original takes on demonic forces that I have seen as of late. There are some great touches here and with things like having the Millennium Earl create Akuma on sprues (those plastic trees that hold plastic model parts until you pop them off) like they are unassembled models, and the bizarre forms of the weapon forms of the Akuma. The action scenes are well paced and flow very well, with each battle being even more kinetic than the last. One of the most original thins about "D Gray-Man" is that Katsura Hoshino renders his characters in such a cute style, but the world is dark and chilling. The trapped souls retain remnants of their former selves, although chained to their Akuma bodies. Even the Millennium Earl is more imp like, yet his power and his motives are more evil than the average super evil demon in other more realistically rendered books. This dichotomy of cuter characters juxtaposed with chilling situations and horrible supernatural events is a big part of the draw of the book.

Katsura Hoshino's knack for creating likeable supporting casts and characters for Allen to save can be seen throughout the book. I was instantly drawn in by Allen's first appearance and first mission in the book and kept turning pages until the end, I couldn't put it down. The tragedy of the events of each Akuma outbreak is very emotional indeed, and the over the top evil of the Millennium Earl and his grinning iconic visage definitely had me hooked to see how this battle plays out. Unfortunately for readers both here and Japan there have been reports that the manga-ka has been ill several times during the run of "D Gray Man" in "Shonen Jump." He certainly has talent, and I hope he is able to continue the book (Please get better Mr. Hoshino, You Are Awesome!!), once he is better. I am looking forward to reading the continuing adventures of Allen Walker and the Black Order.

For fans of undead battling action, you can hardly go wrong with either of these books. The Shonen Jump line of books is definitely one of my favorites here on Manga Island, the price point and the awesome stories in the line are big draws for me. For both "Claymore" and "D Gray-Man" all of the translated character notes, and interstitial elements are included and add a nice touch to the presentation. Although the sound effects are translated, they blend nicely and are well done. I know that I'll be hanging out in this area of the Island a lot in the future. I hope to see you there!

Claymore
Publisher: Viz


Volumes: 1 (of 9+)


Rating: Older Teen (for Violence, Partial Nudity, and Gore)

D Gray-Man
Publisher: Viz


Volumes: 1 (of 7+ volumes)


Rating: Older Teen (for Violence and disturbing visuals)

Links of interest:
Claymore Viz Page
D Gray-man Viz Page
Wikipedia link (possible spoilers)

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 Volume 1 is out RIGHT NOW!!. 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.

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