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The Spring 2022 Manga Guide

What's It About? 

The world is suddenly overrun by monsters called “shojo,” and anyone who is bit by one is infected with a mysterious virus that turns them into the same being. To defeat the shojo, humans live in “aerial cities” and formed units called “guards.” Nanao Minami, also known as the Blackguard, fights but without regard for his own life. What is his motivation and why does he want to die so readily?

Blackguard has story and art by Ryo Hanada and English translation by Melissa Tanaka. Vertical Comics released its first volume both digitally and physically for $10.99 and $12.95 respectively.

Content Warning: Suicide Ideation

Is It Worth Reading?

Christopher Farris


OW the EDGE! From the first moment the dour, dark-cloaked, main character of this story appears wielding his black sword as a one-man-army against today's iteration of I-Can't-Believe-They're-Not-Zombies, you can tell what kind of a time you're in for with Blackguard. Ryo Hanada has got a single stylistic concept carrying this manga, and that's a fascination and idealization with death so encompassing that Kodansha specifically included a warning and reference to the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline on the table of contents. Despite this, however, the idea of death as approached by both the story and characters was never explored deeply enough. Miserable main man Minami is defined by his desire to die, but when he only partway through this first volume realizes he could potentially kill himself instead of seeking to die in battle, it comes off like the author hadn't really considered that angle until that point either. Similarly, the antagonistic Kawakami, who put that idea in his head in the first place, leaps straight to complex orchestrations of cruelty to draw out Minami for that purpose of killing him, somehow missing his own arguments on the subject of such overly-complicated idealized murder.

Blackguard is the kind of shallow excess that seems to consider its own ideas on a page-by-page basis. When Minami isn't spending every waking moment demonstrating his suicidal idealization as defined by a conveniently-attributed chronic medical condition, he's listing alongside his assigned partner Miyaji. Miyaji, for his part, is probably the most interesting element of this story so far. He's abrasive to Minami in his babysitting of him, but as it goes on you get the sense that Miyaji really does value life, even the one he's charged with. There's a sense of him trying to bring Minami out of his death-seeking depression, even as his own obligatory edgelord tendencies lend the whole affair a little too much sniping for the sake of the attitude the whole book is trying to have.

When basically the only thing trying to carry a story is how cool it is, it doesn't help if the presentation isn't actually up to that task. The look of Blackguard is stark, with its pointed (albeit acknowledged in-story) focal design on blank, smoke-filled backgrounds and cityscapes barely providing anything for the minimalist and uniform character designs to be layered on top of. About the only point of visual interest is when it's upending that philosophy on purpose, like when we see Miyaji's apartment and all its little elements of designs and personality he'd previously noted Minami's quarters were lacking. Character designs, especially as the models get further away from the camera, can feel awkward and inconsistent even from the very first full-color pages that you'd think were meant to grab our interest. Every now and then there's a moment of true kineticism to the action scenes, but even those don't get much to distinguish their brand of high-jumping slashy-slicey action from countless other titles that have more of that in service of a more interesting story. As-is, Blackguard doesn't have terribly much going on in this first volume, nor does it do what is there terribly well.

Rebecca Silverman


In one of its archaic usages, the word “blackguard” refers to a soldier or guard wearing black, but according to a perusal of the word's entry in the OED, this definition has become a blip in usage; more contemporarily, “blackguard” has almost always been used to describe someone who at least appears criminal. I'm not sure if that's something the creator of this manga was aware of, but it does add a bit of nuance to this post-apocalyptic science fiction piece about Minami, a young soldier with unparalleled prowess…because his suicide ideation means that he isn't averse to dying. Lest you think that this is a minor piece of the story, be warned: Minami's constantly thinking about how he wouldn't mind dying, even if something (possibly his meds) keeps him from actually doing the deed.

That the security force he works for would be in serious trouble if they lost him is also definitely a major factor in the story. Minami's a force to be reckoned with, and they absolutely don't want him to die. That's where Chris, the other protagonist, comes in – he's basically the insurance to make sure that Minami sticks around, fighting the beasts known as shojo for the mythical long-tailed ape, so that the rest of humanity has a fighting chance. In some ways that makes this a psychological study masquerading as an action series. There are plenty of scenes of fighting the monsters and lots of blood, but the focus of the art is much more on close shots of characters' faces, while the beasts take a backseat to the interiority of the characters. The introduction of Chihaya, a young teen who manages to give Minami a good enough reason for why he hasn't died yet, adds another layer of what at times feels like pop psychology to the piece, and while there's a sense that everything will come together in a way that makes sense, the various psychoses of the characters right now feel overwhelming. It's one of those books that I can't quite say I like, but it is interesting enough that it's worth giving the old two-volume try – the story is growing into itself, but whether it will be something monstrous or not remains to be seen.

Jean-Karlo Lemus


Blackguard starts with a content warning; I wish I could say the series at least does something interesting given the heavy subject matter, but after reading it I struggle to come up with any enthusiasm for it. Taking place in the year 2070, the story is set in a world overrun by the shojo: ape-like creatures born of humans infected by an alien virus. Protagonist Nanao Minami, the titular Blackguard, is the sole member of Reserve Unit 1, tasked with rescuing soldiers who venture into Old Tokyo and find themselves beset by the shojo. He has more than four times as many kills as any other soldier, and all with a katana... but Nanao is fueled not by skill or a desire to help, but the desire to end his life. A chronic condition called Morbus Si renders him suicidal. Given his effectivity he is assigned a partner, Chris Miyagi, to monitor him and keep him alive.

I give Blackguard credit for acknowledging mental health as a factor in suicide, but the story seemingly doesn't have anything interesting to say about Nanao's condition. There is some interesting friction with the presence of Sajo Kawakami, whose brother took his own life because of Morbus Si, and a young student named Chihaya who somehow makes friends with Nanao. The shojo are uninteresting as threats, and Nanao's condition is presented as just an oddity to be monitored. It is disheartening to see so many people puzzle over Nanao but so few attempt to understand him. The art is similarly simple and sparce, with much of the action taking place in white voids. It would be nice to see this series pick up, but as far as beginnings go Blackguard is off to a very middling start.



I have definitely not read everything that is being published here for the Manga Guide, but I don't think it's an exaggeration to say that Blackguard is definitely up there as one of the edgier titles that I have seen. The story focuses on a post-apocalyptic, almost zombie-infested world where special task forces are sent out to take care of these threats, but one guard stands out amongst the others in the form of Nanao. This man works alone and stands out thanks to the black hood that he wears. You might be thinking that's a terrible idea in a zombie-infested world, but turns out that's exactly what our rather depressing lead wants, since the majority of his dialogue is spent reflecting on the fact that he desperately wants to die. A majority of Blackguard's story revolves around the idea of suicide in a depressing sci-fi setting, but with this first volume, I honestly can't tell you with confidence whether it is handled with the care that such a subject matter deserves. Suicide ideation is always complicated, and while in a lot of ways I find myself relating to the side characters who are perplexed by Nanao's behavior, I do feel a bit of sympathy towards him despite not knowing his full story. However, the story feels like it's trying to have its cake and eat it too by presenting a very sensitive psychological dilemma while also being an edgy over-the-top sci-fi series. None of this is helped by the artwork, which comes off as rather bland and uninteresting with very little shading or distinct artwork, while also introducing a lot of different characters to fluff up the narrative. The violence on display can be fun, but I must admit, I didn't end up walking away from this book intrigued enough to want to continue to see if those handful of ideas actually go anywhere.

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