Reviewby Theron Martin,
Agni and Luna are two of the Blessed, those born with super-human powers – in their cases remarkable regeneration abilities. Their world is nightmarish thanks to a Blessed called the Ice Witch, who has coated the world in ice and snow, pushing many areas to starvation and madness. After escaping an awful situation, these two do what they can to help their new village, only to see it raided by the newly-forming “city of freedom” Behemdorg, which is seeking both slaves and recruits to fight against the Ice Witch. When one of the raiders' Blessed kills Luna and sets Agni ablaze with a fire that will never go out, Agni eventually learns to control this curse and sets out on a quest to kill the man, picking up a young blessed named Sun as his follower.
It's hard to find a post-apocalyptic story much darker than this new offering from Viz Media. Anyone interested in checking this first volume out should be aware that the explicit content label is absolutely not an overstatement; even in its first chapter, this story goes to places so ugly that it can push tolerance limits. While that might actually be a draw in some cases, this is ultimately not a first volume that I can recommend even to those who revel in dark fare.
One of the biggest problems is the artwork, which looks fine but unremarkable in scenes that don't involve the flaming Agni. However, the attempts to portray his flaming form make the artwork less distinct, to the point that it can be difficult to tell what's actually happening in a scene. The heavy use of snow and nighttime shading also obfuscates the images, which is a shame because manga-ka Tatsuki Fujimoto shows a talent for detailed background art, especially interior shots. He's less adept at depicting action scenes though, as readers more commonly see the results of carnage rather than the action that led to them. Some readers may find the frequent imagery of charred bodies and severed limbs routinely off-putting, especially since this is taken to a horrific degree in some cases, even involving children.
That's just the tip of the iceberg when it comes to upsetting content. One flashback shows Agni and Luna being imprisoned by those who raided their home so that their limbs can be chopped off and used as literal firewood – since they will grow back, it's a renewable source. A later sequence depicts the two willfully chopping each other's limbs off to help feed the people of their new village, where many citizens have resorted to cannibalism for survival; in the most stomach-churning scene, the two are shown happily eating a soup made from Agni's muscles, making Luna's comment about how good her brother tastes all too literal. (The same sequence later turns into Luna making an incestuous plea to Agni.) Later scenes go even further, with one character demanding that an underage girl engage in bestiality with dogs as her “job.” Unsurprisingly, attempted rape also figures in at a different point in the story. Given that Behemdorg is partially driven by slavery, uses its Blessed as expendable resources, and seems awash in cruelty, I expect that we aren't even close to seeing the end of the series' shock factor.
The story doesn't have much going on so far, beyond reveling in disturbing scenes like all of the above plus little asides like a young child being forced to drink fresh urine in order to slake his thirst. At its core, Fire Punch is an old-school loner revenge tale, complete with the grizzled hero picking up a plucky young follower along the way. (Whether Sun will stay with Agni for the long term is cast in serious doubt by the way this volume ends, however.) Whether or not the leader of Behemdorg is actually serious about opposing the Ice Witch or just on a power trip to make a city built on degeneracy remains up in the air, since the first volume is more interested in world-building and violent excess. There is one big late twist involving the apparent identity of one of the Behemdorg thugs, which provides a cliffhanger for the next volume, but the narrative isn't especially compelling, with the plot being disrupted further with a strange final sequence where some new character incongruously talks about making a film.
Viz Media is releasing this title under their Viz Signature line. The production completely replaces the Japanese sound effects and offers no frills beyond a profile page about the manga-ka. Those factors are trivial compared to the other factors that could make this title unpalatable, however. Even discounting the objectionable content, Fire Punch may not be compelling enough to merit further reading.
Overall : C
Story : C
Art : B-
+ Interesting concept for a protagonist
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