Reviewby Rebecca Silverman,
Im: Great Priest Imhotep
In life, Imhotep was one of the greatest figures Ancient Egypt had ever known, but an unnamed sin caused him to be shunned for all time. Or at least until he was needed again – when evil beings known as Magai begin preying on mortals in the guise of Egyptian gods, Imhotep is revived to deal with them. His first stop? Modern Japan, where a high school girl named Hinome has been the victim of a Magai for the past eight years. Imhotep is able to free her from it…but now she's stuck with him? Somehow this isn't seeming like a great deal for Hinome…
If there's one edge Im: Great Priest Imhotep has over its fellow supernatural action series, it's that it bases its story in Ancient Egyptian mythology. That's certainly not unheard of in manga, but the glee with which creator Makoto Morishita uses it and the obvious research put into it makes their use of the mythology especially good. While there are a few odd disconnects – given the Ancient Egyptian attitude towards clothing, Im and Anubis really shouldn't care about nudity – for the most part this volume offers an entertaining take on the genre standards.
Perhaps most relevant to any reader with an eye for ancient history is the fact that there really was a specific Imhotep that Morishita is drawing from. He was the chancellor to Pharaoh Djoser during the 2680s B.C.E. and the probable architect of the stepped pyramid at Saqqara, where Djoser is buried. In the three thousand years after Imhotep's death he was deified, and among other godly associations, he's often aligned with Thoth and Sekhmet. That's largely ignored in the manga (although Sekhmet makes an appearance) in favor of putting Imhotep with Anubis, the god of the dead and mummification, which frankly does make more sense in the context of the story. That's because the opening scenes make it clear that Imhotep has been dead for the requisite thousands of years – he's just been reanimated/revived because there's no way anyone currently living can deal with the Magai situation as it is. (It's also a nice nod to the classic horror film The Mummy and its 1990s counterpart, where Imhotep is the name of the eponymous mummy.) Thus Im's Anubis hat and the little Anubis pup who becomes his apprentice are related to his current state of being rather than his historical persona.
History aside, Im: Great Priest Imhotep does cleave fairly close to its genre standards. After Im's awakening in modern day Egypt, he turns up (naked) in a river in Tokyo, where he quickly discovers that a particular type of monster, referred to as a “Magai,” is possessing high school student Hinome. Naturally he establishes this by crashing into her on the street and landing in a compromising position (the classic face-in-crotch rather than its close cousin, grab-a-boob). It turns out that Hinome was possessed eight years ago when she opened a strange box her antiquarian father had and that Magai are demonic beings who live off of the energy of the humans they possess while trying to fool them into thinking that they're gods. In the case of Hinome's Magai, it took on the features of the Egyptian goddess Sekhmet; later we see one attempt Serket, although he gets the gender wrong. After Im frees Hinome from the false goddess, he declares his intentions of moving into her house (and bed), a development her father is only too thrilled to accept as a fan of Ancient Egyptian history. Shortly thereafter, a small Anubis puppy also joins them as Im's apprentice.
While there's not much special about that set-up (or Hinome's resentment of it, although her objections to having her room painted in hieroglyphs is a bit extreme), the fact that Im: Great Priest Imhotep doesn't wallow in these conventions after having established them works in its favor. As a character, Im is mostly concerned with getting rid of the Magai and keeping them from harming Hinome again – hence his redecoration of her room – and his setting up camp in her house is both because her father's interests make it feel familiar to him and because he seems to genuinely like her. What that liking entails is at this point up to reader interpretation. Im seems very proud of the fact that because of his removal of the fake Sekhmet Hinome can now make friends and have relationships with other people and he continually introduces himself as Hinome's “first friend” or as “friend number one,” suggesting that he values either his relationship with her or his hold on her. (Given his other actions, the former seems more likely.) Despite this, he's not massively driven to find and destroy more Magai, seeming to enjoy his time in the world for itself.
That of course is not to say that he's not ready and willing to take on any Magai he finds or that he's not going to go out looking for them. Instead the search feels like it functions as his job and he's willing to both do it and have a life at the same time, and this unwillingness to give up one in favor of the other makes the story feel a little more balanced than some others of its ilk. That Imhotep may have a very good reason for his desire to have both job and regular life rooted in his past does come up at the end of the volume, and that and the introduction of a new character both make a good case for reading volume two.
Im: Great Priest Imhotep isn't perfect or completely devoid of genre tropes, but it is a good story with an interesting use of Ancient Egyptian mythology as its base. The art's use of heavy lines and lots of gray tone work in its favor, and the hieroglyphs and other Egyptian iconography are smoothly incorporated. Hinome and Anubis can get irritating at times, but there's enough here to make this feel like a good bet, especially since it only runs to a manageable eleven volumes.
Overall : B
Story : B
Art : B+
+ Interesting base mythology and use of genre staples.
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