Reviewby Rebecca Silverman,
In a dark world vaguely reminiscent of Medieval Germany, seven heroes are hailed as saviors for their actions twenty-odd years ago. But wars still rage and now a mysterious young man with elfin ears and a powerful dark blade has appeared, declaring that the Seven Heroes are actually traitors and the so-called Traitorous Lances they “defeated” years ago were the real heroes, murdered by the false ones. Calling himself Köinzell, the boy is on a quest to right the wrongs of the past...no matter what he has to do.
Sometimes when a company rates a series “M” they're just employing precautionary tactics, because you never can tell what people will get upset about. Other times they really mean it. Übel Blatt is one of those latter cases. This first omnibus volume is replete with plenty of sex and violence, as well as sex used as a weapon (although not necessarily violent sex; more on that later) and three rapes, two implied and one shown. It won't sit well with everyone, but Etorouji Shiono's dark fantasy is still a fascinating story.
The story follows a mysterious young man known as Köinzell. He appears to be about twelve or thirteen and has pointed ears and two long pale braids. He's also ridiculously talented with a blade, and within the first few pages is shown making a serious dent in a band of clearly villainous men. But when he's dragged before the group's leader, he just looks like a scared kid and makes a break for it, jumping off a cliff into a river below. He's rescued by a brother and sister who nurse him back to health, but the bad guys are on the hunt for him and soon find him. Köinzell surprises everyone by revealing that he can use a legendary weapon thought lost with a group of traitors to the kingdom twenty years ago. Thus begins our journey with Köinzell as we learn that he is most definitely neither who nor what he looks like.
That turns out to be a really good thing, because apparently most of the adult women in the land of Szaalenden have major shota complexes. One of the rape scenes mentioned previously is a female villain who strips Köinzell, ties him up, and has her way with him. While he eventually turns the tables on her (apparently his legendary sword isn't the only one he's talented with, according to the lady), there's still something a little creepy about the scene. Later on a woman who is helping Köinzell and the group he's with at the time demands his body in exchange for their safe passage out of the country. This would be pretty much a non-issue if Köinzell didn't look to be in his very early teens; people routinely refer to him as a “child” in the second half of the omnibus. Within the first twenty pages we have seen him initiate consensual sex with a slightly older teen girl, which may or may not make you feel better about the sexual content. And Shiono does, in all fairness, let you know that this is not going to be a tame book right off the bat: when we first meet volume 0's bad guy on page 5, he's raping a girl in a crypt before letting his horse do the same. Thankfully that part isn't shown, but there are definitely aspects of this book that are going to make some readers uncomfortable.
The story itself, once it gets going, is really interesting, however. Köinzell's past and that of the Seven Heroes are very closely linked in a way that calls to mind Alexandre Dumas' novel The Count Of Monte Cristo, and his story is one of revenge. We can really feel the anger he's been coping with and the horrors he's faced, making him a much more sympathetic character than he might otherwise appear. Even Köinzell is unclear as to how he got to be the way he is, and that mystery looks like it will have a bearing on his relationship with other characters as well, such as Peepi, a little girl with similar ears to his. Is she part yousei? (Yen Press' translation note tells us that the word can mean “fairy” or “elf;” to Western readers, she and Köinzell look like elves.) Or does she come from the same mysterious process that appears to have created him? Whichever it is will almost certainly influence how their relationship goes, assuming that she sticks around. The cast largely changes between volumes 0 and 1, giving the impression that 0 was a prologue and 1 starts the real story. Hopefully that also indicates that the characters from volume 1 will stick around, since they're a bit more interesting than their volume 0 counterparts.
Shiono's art is, as might be expected from the genre, very dark, with more grays and blacks than white space. He does interesting things with panel placement, rarely conforming to one basic layout, and generally this works and is readable. Female anatomy is clearly more difficult for him than male, but none of the characters look alike unless they are related or creepy faceless warrior monks. Backgrounds, on the other hand, are not a strong suit, mostly looking like generic rocky landscapes, forests, or fantasy towns. All of the chapter titles are in German with English translations provided underneath and Yen Press translates some of the more important words, like the title, as part of their liner notes.
Übel Blatt is not a fantasy for the kiddies, but it is looking like a promising start to a dark fantasy tale of murder and revenge. Köinzell is an interesting hero with a complicated and tragic past that clearly informs his actions even when he doesn't state it, and watching him take down the bad guys very quickly becomes of personal interest to readers. The sexual content may be off-putting for some, but if it doesn't bother you enough to make you not want to read the book, dark fantasy fans or people who enjoyed Berserk or Wolfsmund should really check this out.
Overall : B
Story : B+
Art : B
+ Exciting revenge story, nice fight scenes. Shiono's panels are almost never the same set up on two facing pages, keeping it interesting.
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