Reviewed by: aoi_aka
Published in print by: Vertical, Inc.
Read it or Pass It: Read it! Please read this. This is seinen and you won’t get angsty teenagers dealing with stuff or magical girls saving the world. Here be adult stuff.
Summary for volume 1: In early modern Europe, the cantons that will one day comprise Switzerland are suffering brutal oppression under Habsburg Austria. Once a source of trade wealth for the people of the Alps, Sankt Gotthard Pass now hems them in, straddled by a barrier station overseen by a heartless bailiff and feared as the Wolf’s Maw. Even as a legendary hero takes up the cause of freedom, hope comes too dear. Clenched teeth, meet cruel smile. — taken from the back of volume 1
Review: Imagine the first page of chapter one-a man only in trousers, hands tied behind his back. He seems to be accused of being a rebel and that immediately makes you think he’s a bad guy. He asks to be beheaded by a sword because he was a soldier who fought for freedom.
You flip the page and the man is forced to kneel in front of a block, the executioner raises a mallet and in the next page, the prisoner loses his head. This man wasn’t the main protagonist. This man was the father of this chapter’s main protagonist, Lady Lieselotte. She’s on the run with Sir Georg and they’re both accused of treason.
Wolfsmund is a historical manga. It’s based on the history of the Old Swiss Confederacy some time during the 14th century. Lieselotte’s and Georg’s goal is to arrive in Milan and formally join the rebellion.
Enter Wolfsmund. It’s a fortress our brave heroes have to cross in order to leave the area and get to safety. The titular character is a garrison fortress which is held by a man named Wolfram and he is a man with great acuity and an unforgiving heart. He has been given orders to stop Lady Lieselotte. And stop her he does, quite brutally.
All of this in the first chapter; the next two chapters deal with more efforts to pass the garrison to the other side.
There isn’t one good guy in this story so far that we can pin our hopes to. In the first volume there’s Lieselotte, Georg, Johanna, Klaus, Wilhelm, and Walter, and they all get defeated in one way or another. By the time you get to the last page, Wolfram has won every single effort to stop the rebellion, at least on the surface.
In the last chapter we encounter Wilhelm and Walter Tell. They have an ingenious plan to get on the other side, but it also fails. At least partially. Wolfram still stretches his powerful and omniscient power and catches them, only to lose them again.
Wolfram’s loyalty is questioned. His silver tongue saves him, but he is warned that any more failures will not be tolerated. Wolfram’s eyes seem to be hiding something. It sparks the hope that he’s with the rebellion, waiting the right time to strike.
The only other constant, aside from the death; torture; Wolfsmund; and Wolfram, is a mysterious woman. She’s the owner of an inn in the outskirts of Wolfsmund. We never learn her name, but she helps all the rebellion’s spies with lodging, food, and advice. Maybe in the next volume we’ll learn who she is and what her final role is.
I think these first three chapters set up Wolfsmund and Wolfram for what’s to come. They have to be defeated at all costs. All we can do is root for the good guys to triumph and turn the tide of history. You could do a Wiki search and get confused by all the detailed history dished out (Maker knows I tried simply because I wanted to find out how “accurate” this manga is). The way Wolfram behaves is curious. He’s not suspected of treason for nothing. There’s gotta be something else behind the scenes that we haven’t been shown yet. Personally I can’t wait for that moment.
Art: This is a medieval story with all the gory details that were alive and present back in the day. Nothing is softened or sugar-coated for the reader. The only thing you’re missing from this experience is the smell and noise of the time.
This manga is by Mitsuhisa Kuji who was an assistant to Kentaro Miura, famous for Berserk, and Kaoru Mori, famous for Emma. Her art reflects both masters. From Miura she takes the sense of overwhelming action and violence. And from Mori she takes the beauty of lines and their simplicity to tell a story. There’s nudity, but it serves a purpose; this is a seinen manga after all. If you wanted panty shots and jiggly boobs, you should read something else.
But this art is not all crotch and boob shots.
The blood flies. It seems to take a life of its own when it sprays out. It’s as if it were controlled by magic, but it’s not. You can feel the characters’ anger in their eyes through the page. Their desperation and willingness to sacrifice themselves for the cause is felt in every line and screentone.
I noticed a discrepancy and I don’t know if this is due to something the mangaka has planned or an honest mistake. In the first chapter Wolfram’s look is different. His hair is dark. In the next two chapters, his hair is light. The face still has the creepy smile, so it’s hard to tell if the face changes. It would seem as if we have two different Wolfram in the garrison going under the same name. This could be intentional, but this early in the game, it’s hard to tell.
Localization: I don’t know what the Japanese original says, but I hope Kuji didn’t use the usual Japanese honorifics. It’s a pet peeve of mine when authors use that when the setting is not Japanese. I know they’re conforming to the norm in Japan because it’s a product created by a Japanese person for a Japanese audience. I get all that.
Vertical did a great job with the localization. No Japanese honorifics, only your usual ‘sir,’ ‘lady,’ or ‘liege’ which in English make sense to us. Japanese honorifics in a setting like Wolfsmund would be very distracting to the flow of the story.
Conclusion: Read this. I can only say that with certainty that something mind blowing is going to happen down the road. This is only the first volume in a currently running manga. It has a lot of promise. It is a mature title, so it will have nudity, violence, blood, gore, and humans being ugly to other humans.
It may take you more than one read-through to get everything straight. Manga licensed in English that doesn’t have one main human character, out to save the day (or be a total jerk while doing it) are rare. There isn’t one character you root for. You root for the characters who rebel against oppression and die fighting for freedom. It’s their every day struggle that keeps you hooked to Wolfsmund. I hope Kuji doesn’t fail to deliver the promise she’s making with this great beginning.
Disclaimer: I pre-ordered this copy of Wolfsmund, volume 1 after I attended a Vertical panel at ACEN. It now sits quietly on my shelf waiting for volume 2.