Remember how I said last time that it looked like things were turning around and the book was going to start focusing on the main characters again? Oh god was I wrong about that. Not only do we not see any of the main characters, save Aya in a witness role, for three-quarters of this volume, we’re introduced to a whole new cast and time period. The narrative now flashes back to the end of the Warring States era of Japan when Aya and Soichiro’s ancestors were embroiled in a struggle to stop Sohaku from prolonging the war indefinitely and awakening any individuals with supernatural power across the world. It’s a jarring switch, to be sure, and between the text pieces and author comments at the end, you’re left with the feeling that there’s a lot of self-indulgence going on in the mangaka’s choice of this particular setting. Couple that with the initially unlikeable bunch of new protagonists and it wouldn’t surprise me if people decided to stop reading partway into this volume.
What stopped me from doing that? I’ll admit that it wasn’t easy to get through those early parts, but it helps that Oh! Great was utterly on fire with his artistic skills throughout this flashback. His style may not be the easiest to follow here, but what it lacks in clarity, it makes up for in pure artistry with the way he brings the period to life and energizes the fight scenes. (And yeah, all the boobs help too...) Even when the story and characters weren’t holding my interest, I was still able to look on the page and admire what I saw. This usually doesn’t happen with most (or any) of the comics I read, so I have to give the creator some credit here.
That being said, the whole “Warring States” arc reminded me of nothing so much as Alan Moore and Eddie Campbell’s “From Hell.” I know it’s a bizarre association, but bear with me. Mainly because both works require the reader to “bear with them” before they reveal their ultimate point and the narrative finally clicks. “From Hell” had a lot of digressions as Moore went off on a lot of tangents about the era, most egregiously in a carriage trip where we’re given a history of the architecture of London and told of the spiritual significance behind it AT LENGTH before our patience is finally rewarded with its significance to the plot at the end of the chapter. It’s much the same here as the ties to the story in the present become quite clear at the end of the arc, it’s just several hundred pages longer. The difference? Oh! Great’s work is a lot easier on the eyes than Campbell’s. (I’ve said it, feel free to deal with it as you like.)
Fortunately, we’re served up some tangible proof that the narrative is finally going to get back to the main characters at the end of this volume. I don’t want to give too much away, but there’s a lot of the good dumb fun and camaraderie that defined the series at its beginning on display in the final two chapters here. There are also some real proof that the events of the previous arc are going to directly influence what is going to follow from here as the title gets set to embark on what looks to be its last major storyline. Only three (or five, depending on how you count these two-in-one editions) volumes left people. It may have been a bumpy ride but the end is in sight, and I aim to stick it out until then.