When I originally wrote that this series would appeal to people who like weird and interesting manga, provided they had the patience for it, I didn’t think that patience would also have to extend to the wait between volumes. The first omnibus volume of “Die Wergelder” arrived on our shores back in December of 2015 and this second one finally showed up in January. That kind of wait between volumes is usually only something established series can get away with (lookin’ in your direction “Berserk” and “Vagabond”) and is usually fatal to the momentum of a series that’s just getting started. I’ll have more to say about this in a week or two, but the lengthy wait between volumes turns out to not be that much of a dealbreaker here.
I’ll admit that part of that is due to the fact that I went and re-read the first volume prior to reading this one. Considering how all-over-the-place the plot of vol. 1 got, re-reading it turned out to be a big help in making vol. 2 go down smooth. The other reason the lengthy wait between volumes didn’t ruin things for me is because mangaka Hiroaki Samura is just that good. Is vol. 2 of “Die Wergelder” a transcendent masterpiece that justifies the three-year-long wait between volumes? Nope, but Samura demonstrates throughout its length that he knows how to tell a twisty story that entertains and delivers some fight scenes which show that he hasn’t lost a step since the days of “Blade of the Immortal.”
To recap: Drifter Shinobu Aza has become mixed up in some yakuza and big pharma business that has infested her hometown of Ishikunagijima and turned it into one big pleasure district. She’s now undercover as one of the organization’s escorts along with Nami and Soli. Nami’s really a German woman named Trane who is after the big pharma company Hill-Myna after they destroyed her hometown, experimented on her, and stole her child. Now she’s back with some ferocious martial arts skills and a five-fingered plasma cutter for a right hand to exact her revenge with. Soli is the torturer for the Kakesu-gumi, a sister branch of the Soten-kai group that runs the island who has agreed to look into this because she’s totally smitten with her boss Azuma.
Vol. 2 starts off with the three of them going about their business and gathering info on what to do next, with Soli picking up a potential ally in the form of Eisuke Fuji, a high-ranking yakuza who’s also a burly masochist. While they’re taking a nice long walk around town, they eventually come across Shinobu’s old home and find out that people are living there now. Any bad vibes she gets from seeing the house in its current state are only validated once she meets its current inhabitants and gets the story of how they came to live there.
This leads to a nearly volume-length fight scene as Trane and Shinobu find themselves in the fight of their lives against the home’s father and mother figures. Soli and Eisuke, however, wind up having to deal with their daughter outside. Both situations offer some of the best fight scenes I’ve seen in comics in recent memory. Samura has always shown that he knows how to diagram a fight to keep the action clear and not let the reader’s involvement waver because they’re not sure what’s going on. Here, it’s even more impressive because he’s cutting between three different situations without having things devolve into chaos. Each time we get a satisfying bit of the conflict before moving onto another scene and it’s genuinely thrilling to see.
Also great is the mangaka’s love of unconventional weapons in his fight scenes. I’ve already mentioned Trane’s plasma cutter, but that turns out to not be such a big advantage when her opponent is wielding a two-rodded instrument that’s too thick to be cut through. Or when Shinobu has to resort to utilizing the household products around her to take on a woman who thoroughly outclasses her in strength and skill. Or when Eisuke has to improvise after he loses his trigger finger. There’s a lot of crazy stuff to see in this fight with the best/most ridiculous moment involving Eisuke’s split-second decision about how to take on two opponents with only one bullet left in his gun.
It’s really thrilling stuff and if the volume’s second half can’t deliver anything on the same level in terms of action, it makes up for it with how it deepens the conspiracy at the heart of the story and fleshes out its supporting characters. The two who benefit the most from that latter bit are Azuma, one of the Kakesu-gumi’s officers, and Jie Mao, an enforcer for Hill-Myna. They square off after a deal to return the Kakesu-gumi’s boss goes bad and we get to see a match of skill that’s almost balletic in how it plays out. It’s also great to observe because, up to this point, no one has been able to go toe-to-toe with Jie Mao so seeing Azuma hold his own delivered a lot of drama.
The drama becomes personal once we start finding out about Azuma and Jie’s backstories and their connection to each other. It’s a sad, sordid tale of growing up poor in rural China and the hardships that the two of them, along with a close friend, faced along the way. The situation may be a little familiar, but Samura makes the details of the story hit home in a way that when the time comes for Jie to make a devil’s bargain to get out of there our sympathy is firmly on her side. In fact, it’s hard not to come away from her story having an all-new respect for the character even if she’s working with the bad guys here. So when she makes her big speech about the worthlessness of morality in the world we live in you can see where she’s coming from.
As for the rest of vol. 2, Shinobu and Trane take a backseat to Soli and Eisuke as they try to figure out who’s sending the messages that are being picked up by the former’s hearing aid. This leads them deeper into the web of depravity and corruption that has ensnared the island as it also turns out that two of their comrades have been captured by Hill-Myna as well. There’s a great escape that also leads to the most brutal fight in the volume -- it’s honestly on the same impressive gore level of the nastiest brawls featured in “Blade” -- but most of these scenes are concerned with plot and setting things up for future conflicts.
Granted, it’s pretty engaging setup thanks to the great rapport that Soli and Eisuke have together. That yakuza turns out to be a pretty great addition to the case and I like the fact that the next leg of the story looks to be focusing on him and the girl whose knowledge of torture is matched only by her knowledge of hearing via bone conduction. Of course, the question is when we’ll be getting the next volume after the three-year wait between the first and second omnibi. That’s kind of a big ask for a series without the history to demand such a thing. It’s one I’m willing to put up with for now because Samura is delivering something that’s compelling, action-packed, and just weird enough to be worth it.