by Rebecca Silverman,

The Kingdoms of Ruin

GN 1

The Kingdoms of Ruin GN 1
For hundreds of years, humans and witches lived comfortably side-by-side, but as technology advances, humanity began to question not only the validity of magic, but whether or not it was worth associating with the women who used it. Ten years ago, Emperor Goethe of Redia waged wholesale war on the witches, and the final feather in his cap was the brutal killing of Chloe, an ice witch, in front of her adopted son Adonis. Adonis was locked away for a decade, but when he's freed by a young woman named Doroka, his plans for vengeance are set into motion.

yoruhashi's The Kingdoms of Ruin frames itself as a story about the war between magic and science. That's not entirely untrue, as a large part of the persecution of witches comes from the fact that with the advent of technology humans don't see themselves as needing magic anymore. But it's also not the best way to fully describe the first volume, because what this reads as is less a showdown between magic users and those who prefer technology and more a vendetta against the women who can naturally wield magic and the people who resent them for it.

Despite the fact that our main character is a teenage boy, the story does take pains to establish that only women can naturally use magic. Men, like Adonis, can learn to cast spells by writing with a special magic pen, but true magic is the province of women alone. When we take this and add to it that ten years after the first chapter (which is perhaps more correctly called the prologue) there are internment camps full of women and an all-male staff both supervising them and in charge of the city's protection, it starts to look like Emperor Goethe of Redia isn't waging a war on witches, he's waging one on women.

If the story's world is misogynist, it doesn't necessarily seem to be the creator making a statement to that effect. It's clear that Chloe, the woman who took an orphaned Adonis in and raised him as both her son and apprentice, was an incredibly good person, and presumably heroine Doroka makes it clear that there are people who will do anything to resurrect her. Goethe is also shown to be very close to his queen, a woman who may hold more power than is being let on, or possibly even more than Goethe himself is aware of. Rather it seems as if she took Goethe's (and maybe her own) resentment of the fact that only women could use true magic and fostered it, pushing for the destruction of witches once technology that could do the same things as magic was widespread. In any event, with Goethe on his deathbed after the time skip, it doesn't look as if things are going to get any better, and he praises his queen for that.

None of this, however, takes the sting out of the story's less savory elements. The abuse of women is frankly difficult to stomach, especially when we learn that the denizens of the internment camps are expected to “pay” for their laughable room and board by being forced to sexually service the men running the place. The fact that the story uses internment camps is of course uncomfortable in and of itself – while it certainly does show the depths of Redia's depraved indifference and wanton cruelty, it also hearkens back to World War Two and both the internment camps Japanese-American citizens were forced into and the concentration camps of Nazi Germany. This may be intentional, but it doesn't excuse the way that scenes of piled corpses and abuse are used for shock value.

That's a large part of the problem with The Kingdoms of Ruin when you come right down to it. It can't seem to decide between being a story about the atrocities done to a group of people and being a revenge story that also happens to have some atrocities in it. While the two aren't mutually exclusive, they also don't sit comfortably together in this volume, and it at times feels like Adonis is simply being tortured with the things done to other people like some sort of Grand Guignol performed just for him. That both Chloe and Doroka suffer directly in front of him only drives the point home: bad things happen to ladies involved with Adonis. What he does next is a torture show for our enjoyment.

To all of this we add the specific type of technology that the story relies on: smartphones. Yes, the smartphone is the major technological innovation that drives Goethe's war and renders magic obsolete, even though we have little to no evidence of other similar technologies, like, for example, regular telephones. (There are computers, but that's about it.) There's some military tech, like guns and a magic nullifying device, but the story mostly relies on the smartphone as the key piece of magic-killing tech that starts the whole war. While I can see how the creator settled on that, it also feels a little bizarre and incongruous with the rest of the manga's setting, and there's just something odd about seeing a vaguely-medieval-looking man brandishing his phone. Goethe's assertion that mankind could not evolve while witches exist sounds more like smartphone propaganda in context than a valid reason to wipe out an entire race of people. (Witches, it should be mentioned, are considered separate from humans, even without Redia's war.)

There may be hope for future volumes of this series. It's clear that things are only just getting started in this book, and now that the premise is established along with the fact that resurrection is possible, things may smooth out in terms of both content and storytelling. But this particular book has a lot to sort through and won't be palatable for all readers. Adonis may be within his rights to want vengeance, but the brutality of how he starts that quest combined with the repeated violence against women takes away some of the joys of a good revenge story.

Overall : C-
Story : D
Art : B-

+ Easy to read art, Adonis has plenty of good reasons for revenge.
Excessive violence against female characters, smartphones are a little silly. Story doesn't feel balanced.

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Story & Art: yoruhashi

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