Reviewby Theron Martin,
Torture Princess: Fremd Torturchen
She is the proud wolf and the lowly sow: Elisabeth Le Fanu, a gorgeous young woman with a monstrous soul who is known as the Torture Princess, and with good reason. She has been tasked by the Church who captured her with hunting down and slaying fourteen true demons, after which she will burned at the stake and descend into Hell, with no one to mourn or stand beside her. Kaito finds himself serving her as a butler when his soul is summoned into a new world upon his death. For all of his new master's sadism and the terrors he witnesses when she confronts the demons on her hit list, his new life is still an improvement over the bleakness and constant suffering of his former one. For all of the Torture Princess's savagery, Kaito finds something oddly compelling about her purity of purpose and resolve. She knows the awful fate that awaits her but she will not flinch or run, for only in dying a painful death can a true torturer reach completion.
This novel series, which currently spans eight volumes in Japan, is technically an isekai reincarnation title, but the “reborn in another world” aspect is more an excuse for the protagonist to be where he is than an integral part of the story. (Writer Keishi Ayasato even states as much in the Afterword.) It is otherwise a wholly different animal than the isekai titles which have preceded it in translation into English. It is also a title where readers need to be well aware of what they're getting into before they start reading it, as it is not for the faint at heart. Its title was not chosen lightly and should serve as much as a warning as an enticement.
Torture Princess is essentially Gothic horror taken to the extreme. It revels in the grotesque and freely traverses through the darkest places of the soul. Children get skewered on spikes, strangulation is described in graphic fashion, bodies are ripped open while still alive, and plenty of other forms of cruelty get explicit, even loving, attention. Demons and their underlings do truly terrible things – they feed on pain and suffering, after all – and suffer even more gruesome ends at Elisabeth's hands because of it, ends that in some cases are so sickening that little satisfaction can be gained from them. Or perhaps that's the point: once you reach a certain level, retribution as a tool for punishment becomes so severe that it starts to lose its meaning.
The graphic descriptiveness of the novel is not just limited to depictions of violence and torture. The presence of disturbing imagery is pervasive, whether it's the creature composed mostly of breasts, arms, and screaming faces, the rather specific reference to a demonic frog as a “meat-frog,” or the odd fascination with organs in the cooking: kidney pie, various recipes involving heart and/or tongue, and so forth. The writing almost seems to delight in mentioning innards or intestines at every reasonable opportunity, and one of only a couple of recurring characters beyond the central pair is the Butcher. The wording on all of these descriptions is remarkably particular, with no effort made to soften or otherwise talk around what's being described.
All of the emphasis on graphic content leaves little room for the cast, but only one prominently-used recurring character – the puppet Hina – ever pops up beyond the central two, and her personality and role are simple ones. Of the main pair, Kaito is both the protagonist and exclusive viewpoint character. His backstory makes the typical otaku lament about an unsatisfying life seem pathetically trivial by comparison: he was killed in very deliberate and personal fashion by a horribly abusive father who kept him out of school and forced his involvement in all manner of unsavory activities. (He is heavily implied to have had to help clean up after murders, for instance.) He's not a masochist, yet experience has taught him to carefully remember anything associated with pain. Elisabeth, for her part, also has an unpleasant backstory, but neither the story nor she ever uses that as an excuse or apology for her behavior or the legitimate evil that she has done. She is haughty, straightforward, and absolutely sure of where she stands. While Kaito never indicates such himself, that he comes to respect her in part because of how sharp a contrast she is to his own father is heavily implied.
One of the other interesting aspects of the writing is its ruminations on metaphysics. Elisabeth's catch phrase – that she is both “proud wolf” and “lowly sow” – speaks volumes about how both she and the Church perceive her. She doesn't so much embrace evil as accept herself as being so and that there are (or at least should be) spiritual consequences for that. Her scheme has no room for apologies, absolution, or forgiveness, just a sense of karmic justice. It harkens to a grimmer, more medieval look at spirituality, one that would probably be familiar to any fans of Berserk; while Ayasato does not specifically mention that as an influence, there are enough other similarities in mindset that I have to think that he was familiar with it.
For all of the gory content, the writing can, at times, take on an almost poetic prose. It smoothly and capably handles its depictions of actions scenes every bit as well as its darker content and allows the personalities of its characters to shine through quite clearly. The artwork of Saki Ukai, who has also done illustrations for Black Bullet, with the glossy page artwork in particular finding a good balance between alluring sexiness and demonic overtones. A two-page Afterword closes out the volume's 268 pages.
Overall, Torture Princess can be an intriguing read if you have a strong enough stomach to handle it. I heartily recommend having a palate-cleanser lined up to read or watch next, however.
Overall : B
Story : B
Art : B+
+ Good artistry and style, interesting psychological and metaphysical elements
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