Reviewby Rebecca Silverman,
Demon from Afar
GN 1 - 3
In the Imperial Capital during the Taisho Era, a young boy is found chained beneath the ruins of a building after an earthquake. All he remembers is the name Sorath, and his rescuer, the young lord Garan, takes it to be his name. Garan is the son of Baron Kamichika, a dangerously twisted man who thirsts for power, and his corrupt plans have terrible impacts on not only Garan and Sorath's friendship, but also on Kiyora, Garan's fiancée, and her relationship with both boys. Only Sorath survives the Baron's madness, and he flees to the future...where Baron Kamichika's powers still crawl the earth, seeking to fulfill their mission.
Children's tales are deceptive. Many people know that “Ring Around the Rosy” is about the bubonic plague, that “Rock-a-Bye Baby” involves the death of an infant, or that “Little Red Riding Hood” is thought to be a rape allegory. Kaori Yuki herself is no stranger to using the darker side of so-called children's stories and songs in her manga; look no farther than her “Solomon Grundy” story in Count Cain or Ludwig Revolution, her reimagining of fairy tales. In her latest series to receive an English-language release, Demon from Afar, she mixes the dark history of children's rhymes with the same angels and demons mythology from her best-known series, Angel Sanctuary, to create a story that, while it isn't always easy to follow, draws on our fears of the unknown.
The first three volumes of Demon from Afar take place across two time periods. The first arc, which makes up all of volume one and the first chapter of volume two, takes place in the 1920s, opening with what looks to be the Great Kanto Earthquake of 1923. Baron Kamichika and his son Garan are wandering the city after the quake, and the baron appears to have plans for the newly cleared land, as well as to have caused the earthquake in the first place. Garan, a much kinder soul than his father, is more concerned with finding survivors, and he's the one who hears the weak cry for help in the rubble of the city. Upon his insistence, the baron and his servants find a boy who had apparently been chained up in one of the ruined houses, wearing a demon mask and with the Hebrew letter tav tattooed on his hand. The boy can only remember the word “Sorath,” and that becomes his name. Flashing forward a few years (girls' clothing suggests about 1926 or 27), Garan and Sorath have become best friends and share a friendship with Kiyora, the girl specially selected to be Garan's affianced. They swear to always be together, “cross my heart and hope to die, stick a needle in my eye,” and since this is a story by Kaori Yuki, you know things are going downhill from here.
Like Angel Sanctuary, Demon from Afar relies on Judeo-Christian mythology, and “Sorath” is a sun demon said to be more powerful than even Lucifer. The Hebrew letter “tav” has its origins in the words “cross” or “mark,” and given Sorath's sun tattoo encircling the letter, that makes a certain amount of sense – to say nothing of the chant the children swear by. In western society the promise originates in the 19th century; in Japan the idea of a pinky promise (which the kids also swear) is much older, but both call a power down upon those who do not keep their promises. While Yuki hasn't yet shown what the consequences will be for Sorath, his own guilt and fear do prey upon him, and we do see what seems to have befallen Garan and Kiyora for their roles.
The present day arc, which looks like where the story will settle, is a little more convoluted than the first, and also has a slightly less engaging cast of characters thus far. This is largely due to the carry-over of Mephistopheles from the past. While one of the major players, Nonoha, would not exist without her (yes, Mephistopheles is a woman in this series), she herself has gone from “seductively evil” to “really annoying” with the time shift. There is some humor in watching Nonoha try to figure out the relationship between her “parents” and in seeing Sorath freak out at ninety percent of Mephistopheles' actions, but she really drags the story down, which is a shame.
Of these three books, volume two is the weakest as it shifts the story from Baron Kamichika's plots in the 1920s to the residue of his evil actions in the 2010s, but it does introduce an interesting plotline about how the Internet can make people revel in the actions they can pull off while “anonymous.” It also uses themes of people who want so desperately to believe that they are doing good that they can overlook the actual consequences of their actions. Things get a little confusing when the book then shifts back to the moment when Sorath arrived in the future, which yes, we do need to know, but would have been better given to us chronologically.
Demon from Afar's first three volumes are dark and gripping as they chart the spread of one man's evil actions (but decent intentions?) across time. With the underlying chant about promises lurking in the hero's heart and the terror of confused good and evil, Yuki's story isn't always easy to follow but still keeps your eyes on the page. The art is very dark with very little white space, but Yen Press' hardcover editions actually make this one of the easiest Yuki series to read with their larger pages keeping details from getting lost. Fans of Angel Sanctuary should enjoy this (although please note that it lacks in incest, which is likely a draw for some readers), and even if you've never read Kaori Yuki's work, this is a Gothic manga that just might pique your interest.
Overall : B
Story : B
Art : B+
+ Intriguing use of people thinking they're doing “good” because it suits them, Sorath is an interesting hero. Use of two time periods works, first arc is especially strong.
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