by Carlo Santos,


GN 6

Kurozakuro GN 6
Mikito Sakurai thought his days of being picked on at school were over when Zakuro, a mysterious child, appeared to him in a dream and offered him a seed of superhuman strength. What Mikito didn't realize was that the seed would also turn him into a ogre, and now Mikito has joined a band of ogre hunters in hopes of recovering his humanity. However, new foes have emerged along the way: fellow ogre hunters who would rather use Mikito as a specimen, and most dangerous of all, godlike "ogre makers" who plant the seeds of these monsters. The ogre makers are after Zakuro because he has rebelled against their master plan—but Mikito has sworn to fight the ogre makers, not only out of loyalty to Zakuro, but because of his sheer human will. Helping Zakuro may be the key to Mikito's own survival.

In Volume 5 of Kurozakuro, the back-story explaining just about everything was revealed: the origins and intentions of Zakuro, the ogre makers, the ogre hunters, and the purpose of the monsters themselves. But that feat of world-building arrived a little too soon, as there were still some loose plot threads (mostly a bunch of clamorous fight scenes between minor characters) that needed to be cleaned up. In this volume, however, all that heavy-hitting exposition finally pays off: Mikito takes matters into his own hands, Zakuro steps into the ring, and the opponents are not mere grunts but supposedly undefeatable "higher beings." It's the difference between an undercard boxing match and the headliner that people will pay hundreds of dollars to see. As this volume shows, sometimes that hype is worth every penny.

The fight in the first half of the book, between Mikito and ogre-maker Lacey, is where Yoshinori Natsume really pours in his personal philosophy as a creator. From the very start of the series, one of the key themes has been about the conflict between good and evil that rages in all of us, and this battle brings it to life by having the antagonist literally split into two. The imagery is somewhat ham-handed, but it drives the point home—and forces the reader to think about whether to root for the "good" bad guy or the "bad" bad guy. And since Zakuro himself has proven to be morally ambiguous, once he steps in and chooses which target to go after, it blurs those lines even further. Of course, just being an exciting, well-paced fight scene doesn't hurt either—but being framed as part of the eternal debate between good and evil is what really completes the scenario.

By comparison, the second battle is more straightforward in scope: Mikito must defeat Akebi, who commands a veritable army of homegrown ogres. But where the previous fight was mostly a meditation on the series' overall philosophy, this one adds some concrete details to the plot. It's here that things start to look like yet another linear battle manga: defeat a sequence of mid-level bosses, then go after the head villain and save the world. But sometimes that sense of structure can be a good thing; the previous volumes showed that "Random Guy A fights Random Guy B" obviously wasn't working. At least now Mikito now has a goal to work towards, and Zakuro himself continues to seek the power that he lost to the ogre makers. Meanwhile, a number of brief behind-the-scenes interludes—just enough to be tantalizing—promises new twists that will keep readers on their toes, even with the linear progression.

Still, none of these clashes would be nearly as convincing without the dense, shadowy artwork. It is in the deep blacks and spiky angles of Yoshinori Natsume's style that we see how good and evil are intertwined: a heroic character like Mikito can quickly become a terrifying monster, and even baby-faced Zakuro (arguably the cutest character in the series) can wield menacing, destructive forms of sorcery. Furthermore, the powers on display in this volume bring a whole new level of spectacle to the series: the difference between mere weapons and supernatural blasts of magic. Speedlines, explosions and other special effects are often rendered in a harsh, raw style, showing how the thrill of adventure also has its dark side. Because the artwork is so angular—even geometric, some might say—it's no surprise that the page layouts also rely on fairly basic rectangular patterns. However, there are enough full-page spreads to show that Natsume can demonstrate artistic flair when he wants to; it's just that murky shadows, brutal fistfights, and monstrous creations are where he feels most at home.

For all its accomplishments in the action genre, however, this series still ranks pretty low on eloquence. Most of the dialogue consists of the usual range of taunts, battle cries, and declarations of Fighting Spirit, although there's also a significant amount of exposition in the writing. Even the most complex discussions still use a fairly limited vocabulary, though, and while this is helpful in some ways—like keeping the pace of the story brisk—it can also be infuriating when Mikito and company seem to be the recycling the same five sentences over and over. (Try having a conversation about the nature of good and evil in this manner and see how far that gets in real life.) Because of this simplicity, though, the English translation is a breeze to follow. Sound effects have all been edited from Japanese into English, and while some of the lettering looks conspiciously out of place, the overall visual flow of the artwork is not lost.

This coming-together of various story elements in Kurozakuro couldn't have come at a better time. The previous volume may have had the big revelation, but this is where the planning and plotting comes through, with grand, superpowered fights between the main characters and dramatic advancements in the story. (Even better, the amount of time spent on superfluous subplots and behind-the-scenes action is proportionately reduced.) The series has always been about action, adventure, and boldly drawn fight scenes, but Volume 6 adds new depth to it all: ruminations on good versus evil, new layers of plot, and never-before-seen displays of power. This may be the most focused that Kurozakuro has been since Mikito's high school days, which by now seems like forever ago. If the series can maintain that level of focus and intensity, then things are definitely looking up.

Overall : B
Story : B+
Art : B

+ Fresh revelations, fascinating villains, and visually captivating fight scenes make up a solid story arc.
Could be in danger of lapsing into a "fight a series of increasingly tough guys" formula.

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Story & Art: Yoshinori Natsume

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