The Fall 2017 Manga Guide
Spirit Circle

What's It About? 

Fuuta Okeya is an 8th-grade boy like many others, even if he's been gifted with the ability to see the spirits of the lingering dead. For him it's more an impediment to his main interests: his schooling, his art, his circle of longtime friend, and, now, his romantic interest in new classmate Kouko Ishigami provide more than enough to keep him content. Kouko, unfortunately, is less than interested in returning his affections, or in letting him keep his peace of mind. He's the latest reincarnation of her mortal enemy, after all, a fact she quickly exposes him to with a whack from a kind of spiritual-chakram she calls a Spirit Circle. Now forced to confront the truth of his past lives and to harness his own Spirit Circle if he wants to preserve the life he's currently living, Fuuta finds himself fighting through a coming-of-age experience he'd rather not be having…

The latest series from Satoshi Mizukami, creator of Lucifer and the Biscuit Hammer, Spirit Circle volume 1 (10/10/17) is available for $12.99 courtesy of Seven Seas Entertainment.


Is It Worth Reading?

Austin Price

Rating: 4

At a quick glance, Spirit Circle, Satoshi Mizukami's latest work, seems less thrilling than the immensely lovable Lucifer and the Biscuit Hammer if only because it comes off as a mere retread of its forerunner. The characters are still teenagers propelled into a generational conflict they don't quite understand by spirits who grant them fantastical abilities; their conflict will, as the fight against the Magus in Biscuit Hammer, play out in discrete stages. Certain supporting characters even look as if they were lifted wholesale from its predecessor's pages.

Closer reading reveals that as much as Circle may at first feel like a rehash of Mizukami's last work, these similarities are surface level at best. If anything it's a development, a deepening. Nowhere is this more apparent than in this introductory volume's mastery of pacing. A story that shifts restlessly between the present and the distant past, changing the cast and setting entirely every time, could easily end up hobbling along or wasting its energy exploring narrative cul-de-sacs. Not so Spirit Circles, which doesn't only move back and forth between Fuuta's past and his present lives with confidence and ease, but which also manages to tell stories that are individually powerful.

The tale of Fone and Rei is a short and predictably tragic vision of star-crossed lovers, but in the span of a few dozen pages Mizukami taps into stores of anger so convincing they sell the idea that Fone's rage could give rise to this kind of millennia spanning conflict. Longer and more detailed, the history of the banished knight Van is richer still, with a cast of characters that allows Mizukami to once again couple his own deep understanding of the ambiguities of emotion and desire and loneliness with his totally particular brand of wry humor to tell a story authentic and revealing.

What truly elevates this volume, though, and instills the series with so much promise is that these stories are so confidently threaded together. They do not exist in a vacuum but bolster each other. The irony that Fone's wish to be a warrior would subconsciously spur on Van -- a knight who wants only “that sense of having protected someone” but for no reason he can explain -- to senselessly slaughter his era's incarnation of Kouko, or that the little ditty he sings after murdering her would pass down even to Fuuta through coincidence, lends each action here purpose, suggests Mizukami knows exactly where this story is going and how best to get there.

It's unfortunate that his soft, round art style Mizukami favors has not evolved as well. While the last two volumes of Biscuit Hammer showed a maturing in his approach, the stripped down and straightforward work here suggests that if he hasn't gotten less artistically talented he has for the moment become less artistically ambitious. It's certainly not enough to discourage any further reading – this will be one of my series to watch -- but when the art so often falls just short of rendering those emotions he's earned everywhere else, it makes one wish he was as gifted an illustrator as a storyteller.


Lynzee Loveridge

Rating:

Can you escape the sins from your past life? Spirit Circle offers a sincere look at three souls' trajectory throughout the several lives each have inhabited as they continue to cross, usually with tragic results. Fuuta Okeya is all around average teen. He likes to talk about girls with his male buddies, joke around with his female classmates, and lives an otherwise carefree life with the exception of his ability to see spirits. This doesn't interfere with his life much until the new transfer student discovers that the two of them have been at odds for at least seven previous reincarnations, and she's going to make sure he relives each and every one of them so he understands what a completely awful person he really is.

Initially the premise seems like it has the same romantic blueprints as Twin Star Exorcists, where two kids who don't really like each other are destined to be together anyway and eventually they warm up to one another as well. I still think Spirit Circle is following that route, but in its own unique way as it becomes apparent that creator Satoshi Mizukami is interested in offering a deep level of complexity to each of Fuuta and Kouko's reincarnations. The best example of this is the chapters dedicated to Van, the one-time noble knight that murdered the local “witch” and led a life of drunken loathing until his later years. He dies in a tragically ironic manner, but there's valid arguments as to whether he did or didn't deserve is end.

The narrative does have its hiccups, namely Fuuta's spirit companion Rune. The magical girlfriend stand-in drops in early in the volume and lingers in the background during any current time period scenes. She adds nothing to the story other than to hand over Fuuta's Spirit Circle weapon and otherwise be obnoxiously air-headed. I think Mizukami's intention was to have Rune serve as the comedy relief to lighten things up in between dark past revelations but the character fell flat for me. Mizukami's artwork can also seem overly childish at times, especially when it comes to drawing older characters. It takes a bit to get used to, but the writing is engaging enough that it's worth looking past the rather flat artwork.

The initially bland set-up quickly gives way to emotionally fulfilling experience. If you're unsure if Spirit Circle is right for you, Crunchyroll is also distributing the manga digitally if you want to check out a few chapters.


Amy McNulty

Rating:

Spirit Circle volume 1 has the strange distinction of being both ordinary and inspired, of seeming like a run-of-the-mill contemporary paranormal high school story but also hiding so much more within its pages. While the majority of the book takes place in modern Japan, the central theme of reincarnation ensures that the story flashes back to ancient and medieval civilizations. The bitter rivalry that's the crux of the series means these past lives are tragic and full of complex emotions. It's fascinating that so far, there isn't a clear hero and villain when it comes to Fuuta and Kouko's conflict. Yes, Fuuta's a nice, innocent kid now and Kouko seems unreasonable in her quest for vengeance, and in one life, it's true that Fuuta was in the right and Kouko, though likely well-meaning in her intentions, was in the wrong. However, in the next life, the roles were reversed—though Fuuta's past self then was far from evil incarnate even so.

The shades of gray to these characters is engrossing, though their modern lives are dull in comparison, despite the fact that Fuuta can see ghosts and they each have guardian spirits hanging out with them. In time, the multiple past lives will inform the current relationship between Kouko and Fuuta and better explain her prejudice toward him, as there are still many questions left unanswered, not least of which is why Kouko waited until this set of lives to show Fuuta his past existences and to exact her revenge. There's also Rei, Fuuta's lover in his first past life, who reappears in the second past life he remembers. The mystery behind where she may be now and what else happened between them in other lives will also drive the story forward.

Mizukami's character designs, though distinct, are too cute for the more serious themes in this piece, but they're not unattractive and the round faces and wide eyes suit optimistic, bubbly characters like Rei and Rune just fine. However, when it comes to a character like bitter Kouka, her anger is more difficult to convey with a soft, circular face. This first volume is often limited on the background art, especially in the modern setting, but when it does appear, the art is adequate. In the past settings, the backgrounds grow more detailed, as they play a larger role in setting the stage for these historical locations.

Spirit Circle volume 1 is a surprisingly compelling tale of reincarnation and revenge masquerading as a tired modern urban paranormal story. Though some of this first volume is weak, the strong parts more than make up for its flaws. Readers looking for a paranormal story that's more than surface deep will fly through this first installment and eagerly await more.


Rebecca Silverman

Rating:

I strongly suspect that there's religious metaphor lurking in this story. In part that's because of the whole “reincarnation” theme, but it's also due to the relatively high incidence of religious leaders in the two past lives we've seen thus far – an ancient Aztec-ish priestess and a Medieval Christian priest. Both play significant roles in the stories of Fone and Van (our hero's past existences), either for better or for worse; in fact, I'd argue that the priestess' devotion to her duty is what essentially started the entire tragic cycle that the characters now find themselves in. It was her rage at Fone's sacrilegious actions that caused her to kill him, when that was arguably not necessary. It set she and her victim up to follow each other through time and lives in an attempt to…well, that part depends on who you ask. Kouko, the present version of the priestess, would say that it was to get revenge for that first blasphemy. I suspect that it's more about making amends and coming to an amicable resolution that will eventually allow them to move on from the wheel of reincarnation.

What's interesting is that they've apparently been at that point of near resolution in one life – the one that ghosts East and Rune come from. When Fortuna and Kooko, now our modern-day eighth graders, apparently really loved each other and got along. Obviously something happened to ruin that, though whether it was Fortuna killing Kooko or Kooko killing Fortuna (as seems to be the pattern) isn't yet known. But it feels more like there was a screw-up in that life than things happened “as they were supposed to,” and that's a realization that Kouko is going to have to come to. It's clear from both Fone's and Van's lives that his motivations were only ever good and for the sake of people he loved. That holds true now, and if Kouko can get over her centuries of fury and stop being so damn pigheaded, she might be able to see it in his interactions with his friends.

Given that she's starting to see it in this volume, there's a real chance that they can resolve this. Of course, she clearly doesn't want to see it, and there's always the chance that something will go wrong. We also either haven't met or don't know who the lover who was behind Fone's initial attack, Rei, is in the present, which could change everything. (Could the priestess have been secretly in love with Fone? That might explain a few things.)

It won't be hard to keep reading this story. It's sad, but there's definitely hope, and I'm particularly curious to see what the author's endgame is, because it seems clear that he's making a point. I'm not a huge fan of the art – I didn't care for it in Lucifer and the Biscuit Hammer either; it's just a bit too simple to fully get its points across – but with a strong enough story, I can overlook it. Do give this series a try – I think it's going to be worth it.


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