by Rebecca Silverman,


GN 1 & 2

Murciélago GN 1 & 2
Kuroko Koumori is a mass murderer who has been killing since she was a child. She was supposed to be executed for her crimes, but instead was offered a reprieve – work for the police taking down killers they can't touch and they'll let her live. Now Kuroko and her teenage companion Hinako take on the worst of the worst – and if Kuroko can find some sexy ladies to sleep with along the way, so much the better!

Murciélago, which is Spanish for “bat,” is definitely one of the darker stories to come out recently. It follows the gruesome, and occasionally sexy, adventures of Kuroko Koumori, a slightly-reformed mass murderer as she works for the Metropolitan Police in her city of Ruruie (one of many Lovecraftian references), taking on the killers who are too dangerous, deranged, or otherwise beyond the capabilities or touch of the regular cops. It's a job that suits her particular talents – the woman is incredibly good at killing and at figuring out how the bad guys think. That's doubtless what made her such a dangerous criminal herself back in the day. But she also has her own version of a moral compass, and she can be compassionate and caring as well, as we see in her care of Hinako, the (middle?) high school student she lives with. In volume two we find out that Hinako's parents were the victims of a murderer, and Kuroko too her in. She genuinely cares about the girl, and when they're at home acts like a parent or guardian, making her meals, getting her up for school, and hassling her about her grades. It's an interesting contradiction in Kuroko's personality, and one that makes us really wonder about her backstory. In the opening pages of volume one, we see her as a child killing two adults, which might imply abuse of some kind. That would actually make a lot of sense in her attitude towards men (which goes beyond a simple lesbian disinterest in them sexually) and her treatment of Hinako and another little girl she kidnaps at the end of volume two – she may ultimately see herself not as a killer, but as a protector.

All of that is mostly under the surface of these two volumes. The story is far more interested in being loudly violent and sexual, which isn't a problem from a storytelling perspective; however, if seeing yards of intestine and fairly graphic lesbian sex scenes aren't your cup of tea, this won't be the series for you. Kuroko never does things by halves – and in the case of her work, she really can't afford to. The first baddie she and Hinako take on is a former pro-wrestler babyface (good guy) who got hooked on an especially destructive drug known as “Cesare.” Now prone to extreme violence, hallucinations, and a lack of pain, he's going on a rampage thinking he's just fighting in the ring. Cesare has made him impervious to bullets as well, so the cops are stumped. Enter Kuroko and Hinako, who has the ability to drive like a lunatic and to memorize the layout of anyplace she's seen from above. This allows them to not only track and get ahead of the killer in the city's twisted streets, but also to take him down, albeit after he has literally strewn the streets with the corpses of his victims. (Or rather, with pieces of them.) It's gruesome, but creator Yoshimurakana does manage to throw in some decent humor to balance it out – despite the blood and gore, Murciélago is relatively lighthearted in its approach to the subject matter.

A lot of the humor does come from the fact that Kuroko's sex drive is on overdrive. While this does make her a variation of the unfortunate “predatory lesbian” trope, it also is interesting in that she is never shamed for her sexual appetite. In a sense she's like a female version of the typical male action hero – she's here to take down the bad guys and sleep with the ladies. This does make her stand out from the herd, and the books themselves stand out from the much tamer yuri fare that generally makes it into English translation. The fact that Kuroko's most frequent partners are clearly willing – and she does appear to have a steady girlfriend, despite her promiscuity – does ease things up a bit, especially since in most cases she's not actively preying on the unwilling. (The “joke” about the train pervert is the part in the poorest taste.) The major exception to this is during the fight in the storyline that begins in volume one and continues into volume two; whether or not you feel comfortable with the fact that she's groping a psycho murderer whom she's also trying to kill is a matter of personal preference.

The sex scenes are as explicit as the violence (albeit in a different way), and in volume two a chapter plays with the idea of peeping on underage girls, and this is, like the aforementioned train pervert gag, much less comfortable than the greater part of Kuroko's exploits. Like with the train pervert bit, this is mostly played off as funny; it doesn't work for me, as I rarely find that form of humor entertaining, so I hope that the author will back off from that in the future. It doesn't seem all that likely, however, as that type of humor only increases between the two books, so that may be worth taking into consideration.

Yoshimurakana's art is very busy, with lots of lines and very full pages. This can make the books a little difficult to read at times, and a few of the characters' affectations, such as Kuroko's apparent ability to break her own neck in order to peer at someone sideways is just disconcerting enough to jar you out of the story. Granted, it's clearly meant to be an extreme head tilt, but it looks so awkward that it brought me up short each time it happened – and since it's one of Kuroko's signature moves, that's quite a lot.

Murciélago's first two volumes are dark (in tone and appearance), violent, and openly sexual. That in some ways makes them more appealing, because you can only read about so many innocent high schoolers. But it also is a bar to entry for those who aren't fans of gore or explicit sex scenes, and Yoshimurakana's art can be a distraction in and of itself at times. But if you're looking for a female action hero who's a little on the shady side, this is a good place to find her. Murciélago is unabashed in its plotlines, and there's definitely something to be said for that.

Production Info:
Overall : B-
Story : B-
Art : B-

+ Fast-paced, owns its gore and sexuality, Kuroko is interesting and unashamed of herself, Fun Lovecraft references may hint at something more
Some of the jokes are more uncomfortable than funny, art is too busy or anatomically suspect at times

Story & Art: Kana Yoshimura

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Murciélago (manga)

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Murciélago (GN 1)

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