by Mitsuhisa Kuji
published by Vertical; $12.95 US
When I started reading Wolfsmund, I thought I was in for a medieval adventure focusing on spirited rebels attempting to reclaim their land (14th century Switzerland) from a harsh occupying regime. By the end of the first chapter, I was disabused of my assumptions in shocking fashion. Given the usual formulaic structure of many manga, it was a pleasure to be so surprised by a change in direction.
This series is titled after the location, a militarized pass in the rugged Alps overseen by Bailiff Wolfram. He’s nearly supernatural in his ability to see through disguises and ruses, preventing enemies of the state from leaving to reach the safety of Italy. He’s also a sadist, enjoying crushing hope and killing those who try to elude his masters.
The second chapter, particularly, interested me, as it featured a badass fighter named Johanna. Unfortunately, the artist seemingly has a fascination with the lack of underwear worn in the Middle Ages, as she had the character chop off her long skirt to battle more easily and then kept framing upskirt shots.
The third chapter features Wilheim Tell and his son Walter fighting the elements in attempting an icy trail, allowing for some stunning mountain scenery.
There are plenty of questions to be dealt with in volumes yet to come. Who is the innkeeper, a cleavage-bearing wench who recurs in the different stories? What is behind Wolfram’s abilities and dedication? What is his history? I hope we see more — otherwise this risks becoming a collection of action scenes with ultimately hopeless resolutions. However, there’s potential to play out the setting into deeper plotting and conspiracy.
This will appeal to fans of brutal historical fantasy, since getting attached to any one character is futile. There’s a good amount of blood, violence, and nudity, so the 16+ rating seems about right. The theme, of struggle and sacrifice perhaps coming to naught, also requires an older reader to comprehend and appreciate.
This review translates the German on the cover and has more on the historical setting. (The publisher provided a review copy.)