Reviewby Theron Martin,
To The Abandoned Sacred Beasts
As the Civil War between North and South dragged on, the outnumbered and outgunned North resorted to forbidden techniques to turn some of its soldiers into Incarnates, monsters with legendary powers (Minotaur, Behemoth, Spriggan, etc.) who still retained human minds. Their efforts turned the tide and forced a peace with the South. However, in the years since the war, the need for the Incarnates has faded, and public opinion of them has gradually shifted to denigrating them as “Beasts.” With their purpose gone, many of the Incarnates have gone insane or otherwise becomes threats to the populace, so Beast Hunters have arisen to deal with them. Nancy Schaal Bancroft, the daughter of one of the Incarnates, has tracked down Hank, the Beast Hunter who killed her father, and tries to take him out herself. She soon discovers that there is much more to Hank than meets the eye, and that his actions may actually be part of a promise made between monsters back during the war.
Manga-ka duo Maybe has seen their first effort adapted into an anime licensed in English (Dusk maiden of Amnesia) and their second picked up by Crunchyroll Manga (Tales of Wedding Rings), so it's no wonder that their newest effort got enough attention to warrant an official English release from Vertical. Based on the first tankoubon and the creator duo's past track record, an anime adaptation is probably inevitable once enough material is out to support it. (This first volume covers enough ground for about three animated episodes, and three volumes have been released in Japan so far.)
The setting for the story is an interesting choice for a Japanese production: it borrows distinctly from the United States circa the late 1860s or early 1870s, with the technology, naming conventions, and war references fully in line with that period. (Aside from the existence of the Incarnates, the major twist seems to be that the North made peace with the South rather than actually beating them.) The geography doesn't match up too well to anything in the actual USA, as the setting has a Wild West flavor and yet one scene takes place in sight of the ocean, so this is more of a mishmash of elements than a consistent alternate history.
However, the themes it seems intent on exploring are consistent and timeless, and they give the content more depth than the actual writing and characterization. For all of its supernatural trappings, this is a story about soldiers who (literally!) sacrificed their humanity for the good of their country in a war, then struggle to deal with life after the war without any apparent support mechanism. Only in isolated cases do citizens actually want them around, and many struggle with mental problems resulting from their experiences. In other cases, the transformed soldiers turn bad because they simply don't know what else to do with themselves. Sure, the Spriggan fellow is helping his hometown, but he's doing so by becoming a bandit-like menace to other populations. Take out the “physically transformed into a monster” part, and you have a scenario which has played out countless times in every part of the world over the millennia of human warfare. Another common theme is the soldier who just can't let go of the war, falling into post-traumatic delusions that he is still beset by enemies. The first volume also takes a page from superhero stories by using the case of a superpowered individual who isn't actually a threat to anyone, just perceived as one by others.
The protagonist we explore this story through is Schaal, a ponytailed teenager who carries around a double-shot elephant gun that seems too powerful for her petite physique. Though she comes across as tough and angry, she actually has a deep place in her heart for Incarnates due to her father – so much so that it blinds her to the dangers they can pose. Hank, who is one of the few Incarnates who can maintain a human form, spends much of the first volume opening her eyes to the reality of the situation. Because there's so much emphasis on the cases of Incarnates who must be stopped, neither of the two main characters gets much development yet, and what we do see is not terribly interesting. (Neither is the busty woman Liz, who is apparently an old associate of Hank's and appears mainly to bounce off of Schaal, whether through holding her back or being jealous of her.) Unless future volumes do better, the story will have to carry itself entirely on the cases of the Incarnates. Based on the first three cases, it's quite capable of doing that well.
The artistry heavily emphasizes the expressiveness of the characters. I don't think there's a single panel in the volume where Schaal has a neutral expression. It even does a remarkable job with expression on its monster characters, albeit in more subtle ways. The art otherwise provides a satisfying amount of detail, particularly in explosion scenes. Graphic content is intense at times, and beyond Liz's cleavage-baring blouse, fanservice is limited to one shower scene featuring Schaal. The production by Vertical Comics retains the original Japanese sound effects, accompanied by innocuous English translations. It includes a two-page Appendix detailing the main Incarnates in this volume and Hanks' “bomb-lance,” a one-page Afterword by Maybe, and a Next Volume preview.
The final pages at the end of these five chapters indicate that there's more to the story than just hunting down rogue Incarnates or Hank dreaming about being shot by a former loved one, eventually taking this beyond its current “monster of the week” format. I'll have to reserve judgment on the overall story until we see more. For now, its exploration into the stories of former soldiers who have lost their purpose is enough to merit a recommendation.
Overall : B
Story : B
Art : B+
+ Deals pointedly and symbolically with the struggles of former soldiers, good artistry.
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