Review

by Carlo Santos, Sep 10th 2007

Tetragrammaton Labyrinth

GN 1

Synopsis:
Tetragrammaton Labyrinth GN 1
In 19th-century London, some crimes go beyond the realm of the ordinary. That's when the detectives of Scotland Yard call on Meg Cross, a nun with a special talent in exorcism, and her mysterious young ward Angela. Exterminating demons and bringing demon summoners to justice is all in a day's work for Meg and Angela, but when one of their targets turns out to be a close friend of the local detective, it becomes an ethical and emotional battle too. Foreign relations also becomes part of their job description when a priestess from the East comes in search of a sword with dark powers. But that doesn't even begin to compare to the dark powers that Angela holds within her, especially when she goes in search of a new weapon...
Review:

Religious vocation is not an easy career choice. It requires dedication, self-sacrifice, and—if Tetragrammaton Labyrinth is to be believed—the physical strength to take on a full-grown demon. Yes, we've got ourselves another nuns-with-guns title here, spiced up with extra gore and a scythe-wielding nymphet on the side. For a supernatural action-adventure fix, this one certainly fits the bill—but it's hard to find anything that truly sets it apart. Is the first volume setting the stage for a deeper, darker story? Or are we consigned to flashy, empty displays of violence starring cute girls in fancy outfits?

The signs from the opening chapters are not encouraging. Meg and Angela's very first escapade is cookie-cutter to the core, with the obligatory young female victim, an evil scheming genius, and a final solution that involves blood, guts, and painful sacrifice. Everything is arranged so predictably that you can call the next plot point from five pages away. The two-part story after that is more of the same: another victim, another sacrifice. Things do change gears a bit in the second half, with the cursed sword storyline involving a possessed object rather than a person, although the inclusion of a miko character is awfully gimmicky. (Hey, it's a Japanese comic about a British demon hunter, so let's have a cameo featuring a Japanese person! Groan.) The one truly interesting plot point arrives in the final chapter, which provides a glimpse of the secret organization that Meg and Angela are connected to.

Still, that one hint of a deeper storyline isn't much payoff for a whole volume of mindless action. With so much focus on demon-slaying, the pace of the story takes on a very monotonous rhythm, plodding onward from one kill to the next. It doesn't help either that Meg and Angela are given just the barest form of back story; so far we only know that Angela is some kind of immortal part-demon and that Meg's "need" for her is the one thing keeping her alive. Every now and then they share a sentimental moment, but it still feels more like a logistical connection rather than an emotional one. If you want to believe there's truly something special going on between the two, that's going to take a lot more reading between the lines.

Even the series' strong emphasis on action is lacking in polish, with the battles between good and evil looking messy on the page. Sure, the graphic content results in plenty of gruesomely memorable images—Angela's immortality means she can use her disembodied body parts as weapons—but all the blood, debris, and awkward angles make for some head-scratching visuals. It wouldn't be a surprise to read a battle scene and suddenly think, "Is that an arm?" and "Who attacked whom right there?" Layouts work pretty well, though, with big panels to show off the most dramatic moments. The flavor of 19th-century London is reflected in the backgrounds and costuming, although only at a superficial level: cobbled roads and row houses establish the cityscape, and Meg and Angela's outfits look more like cosplay fantasies than historically researched material.

If there's one thing that helps in enjoying those bloody, brutal fight scenes, it's the oversize page format (which also helps in decoding some of the more confusing artwork). Overall this is a well-presented volume, with translation notes in the back and sharp print quality. Dialogue is decidedly middle-of-the-road here, neither too formal nor colloquial, and the spellcasting sequences manage to pull off the feel of Biblical English without sounding awkward. Thank goodness for writers who know how to use "thee" and "thou"! Sound effect translations are practically raised to an artform here, with a variety of sizes, fonts and styles to make them look like they'd always been there in the first place. However, this does mean that the original Japanese characters have been deleted in some cases, and other times left alone—a compromise between authenticity and readability.

Tetragrammaton Labyrinth isn't horribly bad or anything—it's just that the events of the first volume leave little to get excited about. To be fair, the story does have all the genre elements in the right place: a butt-kicking heroine, a sidekick with mysterious hidden powers, secret organizations and the occult, and hack-and-slash battles against a host of gruesome monsters. But actually using those elements well is a different matter entirely, and this series just flubs it when trying to make Meg and Angela's adventures interesting. Aside from the ramp-up near the end, each chapter is just a dreary exercise in action-adventure formula, so be warned: those who show up expecting Nuns With Guns will only get stuck with Nuns Performing Repetitive Tasks.

Grade:
Production Info:
Overall : C
Story : C-
Art : B-

+ Violent, action-packed imagery provides a strong visual impact.
Generic, by-the-numbers storyline is downright boring.

Story & Art:Ei Itou

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Tetragrammaton Labyrinth (manga)

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Tetragrammaton Labyrinth (GN 1)

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