The Spring 2018 Manga Guide
Though You May Burn To Ash
What's It About?Son of an alleged mass murderer, Ryouma Shinomiya's only joy in life is his angelic younger sister, Yukina. Unfortunately, his sister has just one month to live—unless Ryouma can come up with one billion yen to bribe her way up a foreign organ transplant list. When a mysterious nurse in an elevator at the hospital asks if he would risk his life for a chance to secure that money, he agrees—only to get smashed to pieces by a car shortly thereafter.
He wakes up in a young woman's body in a foreboding Gothic church along with four other young women—all victims of an angel named Kroel who has brought them there to play a death game. To not only secure the money he needs but also to get a second chance at life, Ryouma must hide his true identity and play along with this sadistic angel's games to manipulate and trick the other participants—because there's likely going to only be one winner in the end.
Is It Worth Reading?Amy McNulty
Death games seems to be a more and more prolific genre in manga as of late, and Though You May Burn to Ash does add some interesting components to the formula. There's the fact that everyone is already dead and desperate for money—so their objective isn't just staying alive, they need to come back to life and secure the funds they're playing for in the first place. The first volume goes fairly fast, even though it doesn't finish a single game in Kroel's mad tournament. Though her rules are complex and it becomes clunky to have them explained and changed several times throughout the chapters, even this simple dice game manages to ooze suspense and twists. This is a plot-driven manga, which is good because none of the characters are particularly well-defined.
Solemn and angry Ryouma fighting for his generic-and-unrealistic brother-complex little sister doesn't endear him much to the reader, and that makes one of the twists about his game strategy less of a shock than might have been intended. Joushouji comes across as too over-the-top as an antagonist, though she does settle down by volume's end. Ditzy Meganeko and empathetic Yamada actually prove the most interesting so far, especially since the manga has established that even people who seem to have good intentions still can't be trusted to do anything that isn't self-serving in these circumstances. Kroel is merely sadistic, bouncing around the room with wicked expressions on her face and her body contorted into ridiculous positions to show off her entirely back-less dress. It's also a little odd to so frequently “head hop” from one character's thoughts to another. The audience doesn't even follow Ryouma the whole way, probably because then we'd know his strategy and be less surprised about it. Still, the head hopping makes it difficult to identify with one protagonist.
Oniyazu's art populates this setting with generic bishojo. There's some unfortunate overlap in design with Yamada and Kroel since they have the same face and hairstyle, and even Meganeko and Joushouji look similar enough that it's hard to keep them straight at first. The background is confined almost entirely to the one spooky setting and Oniyazu often relies on simple screentones to invoke mood during the game, but it works and the art never feels lacking. The one potential drawback—besides the fetishized and brutal Kroel—is that the gore, though not frequent, is grotesque to the point of being off-putting.
Though You May Burn to Ash volume 1 is a compulsively readable death game story, but like so many of its ilk, it's not particularly good at spending the time to make its characters compelling or memorable, at least this early on. It's not for the faint of heart, but it does have a fair amount of twists and turns to recommend it. Still, its weaknesses drag down its strengths, making it possible to only recommend to readers who enjoy the genre and don't mind the trashier elements.
I decided to err on the side of kindness, but this was a difficult decision between a 2.5 and a 3. Ultimately my decision was made because despite its more derivative elements, Though You May Turn to Ash's first volume is darkly engaging enough to allow for overlooking its more obnoxious elements. Those include the tired retread of the literal death game, the gratuitous sexualization, and the fact that Kroel is incredibly annoying.
That last is doubtless intentional, and in Oniyazu's defense, Kroel's irritating personality more than gets the point across that she's no angel, whatever she tries to sell our protagonists. Apart from the fact that I'm hard-pressed to think of a monotheistic religion where angels would be exposing their entire ass, Kroel's statement of her species should be taken with a grain of salt based on what she does much more than how she looks. (Although the fact that her wings are held on by straps around her upper arms is kind of a dead giveaway.) She claims that she's offering five desperate people a way to fix their lives via cash, but her next move is to kill all of them horribly – characters mention still feeling the crushing pain of the train that hit them, burning to death, and not wanting to remember how they fell from a building. Kroel then brutally murders (for the second time) one of those five people in front of the other four in order to show them that she means business. That she's clearly getting off on their pain and fear may make her obnoxious, but it definitely serves a purpose.
It also makes her stand in stark contrast to the main protagonist, Ryouma. After the death of his mother, it came out that his father was actually a murderer (although I'm not sure that's in the literal sense and not that he manufactured faulty goods and people died), and he and his younger sister Yukina were left alone. Now deathly ill, Yukina needs a transplant, but Ryouma doesn't have the money for it, and his uncle refuses to help. Kroel's plan is his last resort, and to that end, he's willing to do what he has to in order to save the last family he has. He's desperate enough to take her at her word and to play her vicious game with full intent to win. While there's little doubt that Kroel is doing what she does because she just like toying with people, Ryouma is going to the lengths he does because he wants to save someone important to him. In other words, he's got a selfless reason (or at least more of one) than his fellow players or the “angel” who set the whole thing up in the first place.
Though You May Burn to Ash is a gross book in some of the gore, the gratuitous pee scene, and Kroel herself, and it isn't anything we haven't seen before in terms of a death game story. But Ryouma's sense of purpose makes it intriguing, and none of the characters behave quite as you'd expect. If you're not too squeamish, it's worth giving a chance.
When I first looked at the cover of Though You May Burn to Ash, I assumed it was a gratuitous gambling manga. The central focal point is some angel maid girl's ass, after all, completely exposed as she contorts her spine into a quarter-twist, all the while winking and tossing dice into the air. It's a lot o fetishes going on at once, but it really is only the tip of the iceberg of what it is ultimately a death game plot wrapped around betting, torture, and scared girls peeing themselves.
Ryouma and four other people make a deal with the “devil” named Kroel who immediately orchestrates their death, revives them in alternate bodies (all female) and has them participate in a series of chance games to win a giant pile of cash that will solve each participant's problems in the real world. The winner will be revived with their new overflowing bank account. Ryouma (now Yuki) is initially introduced as our point of view character. His beloved little sister is dying and he needs cash quick to afford her surgery. Money is hard to come by ever since the two of them were thrown to the metaphoric wolves when their father was convicted of murder. Suffice to say, Ryouma is set-up as a sympathetic character, a victim of circumstances beyond his control, and readers are supposed to root for his survival.
This works until the midway point, but I suspect Oniyazu wrote himself into a corner. Even with Ryouma's backstory, there's no particular reason he would win at a game of chance and bluffing, especially against less morally upright opponents. Oniyazu does a bait-and-switch in a rather clumsily executed perspective switch. Suddenly Ryouma is a fearsome, no-holds-barred tactician and readers are instead placed in two other characters' shoes in hopes of defeating him. The gambling and strategy aspects are probably the most interesting part of the story and Oniyazu does a decent job of explaining the strategy process without bogging the overall narrative down or making it too complicated.
It's the manga's over-the-top “edgy” aspects that bring this volume down to the bottom. I'm not adverse to whodunnit death games starring a cast of irredeemable crooks. It's the marriage of violence and titillation that I find unappealing and it's definitely presented as a selling point here. Characters wet themselves in horror while Kroel becomes visibly aroused in each masochistic event. About 11 pages are spent solely on the detailed torture of a character having each of her fingers removed. Guts and gore abound with Kroel's sexual posing ever present in the background.
This combo is a no-go for me. Pair it with each character's slowly revealed tragic back story and this all feels like desperate attempt to shock the audience for little reason than it can.
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