All those nice things I said about the cover of the first volume? Yeah, none of that applies here. Instead of something to set this apart from the crowd, we get some tawdry pseudo-bondage that thrusts the tits of the main female character into the reader’s face. You get the feeling that the first volume must not have sold as well as expected and so they had to make with the fanservice to get people interested in vol. 2. The alternative being that the first volume did sell well enough to give mangaka Mitsuhisa Kuji the latitude to put whatever he wanted on the cover, and he decided to go with this. That may not have been the case, but there’s a fair amount of stuff here to suggest that may have been the case.
Now I mentioned last time that the series’ approach needs to mix things up with the “people try to cross Wolfsmund and fail” stories we got in the first volume if it wants to remain interesting for any length of time. To his credit, Kuji does this in the two stories collected here. The quality of the stories themselves, though, is a bit more dubious.
The title characters of “Klaus and Eva” are the milquetoast owner of a pub in a mountain village and his haughty, vain wife. Klaus couldn’t get a better wife because he’s regarded as a coward while Eva’s personality drove off any suitors despite her beauty. Theirs is not a harmonious relationship though Klaus keeps his wife happy with the jewelry he buys her, even if she can’t wear it outside lest she incur the wrath of the poverty-stricken village. Where does he get the money for these trinkets? By selling out the members of the resistance who meet in his pub to the Austrian Duchy.
So we wind up getting an inversion of the kind of story we got in the first volume when Klaus’ duplicitousness is exposed and he and his wife wind up going on the run. It’s an interesting tact to take, showing us the lives of people who want nothing to do with the resistance and the conflict in their lives. Unfortunately the two characters so thoroughly unsympathetic that it’s hard to have any empathy for their actions. The story itself also takes on its own kind of predictability as things go on when you realize that it’s going to play out the same way as the previous stories did. Only this time it’s the resistance doing the punishing.
The next story has two street performers, Cedar the mother and Juwel her daughter, trying to cross Wolfsmund… from the other side. That’s right, they’re trying to get into the oppressed provinces with a message for the resistance inside. Just because they’re trying to do that doesn’t mean they’re free of suspicion from Bailiff Wolfram, who subjects them both to a thorough investigation that will make your skin crawl. If you’re a guy. Women will likely be very upset that I’m not using stronger words here. Afterwards, circumstances force Juwel to head into the province herself to deliver the message.
Again, I like the fact that this story isn’t simply a rehash of what has come before. There’s even a surprising twist at the end to set up a major conflict for the next volume. The problem here is that this story also thrusts a spotlight on the title’s weakest element: Wolfram himself.
He’s a frustrating character because whenever we see him in action, the man clearly KNOWS that the protagonists are up to something. No real explanation is given, he just has this knowledge and acts on it. That makes him come off as more of a plot device to make sure the story goes in the direction Kuji wants it to and not a proper character. It’d be great if we got volume, or even a couple chapters showing “Wolfsmund” from his perspective and how his incredible powers of deduction work. Until we get some evidence that he really is a natural prodigy at this kind of thing, and didn’t have his powers bestowed on him by the mangaka, Wolfram’s presence is always going to be a detriment to the story.
I didn’t talk about the art in my previous review, but Kuji gets points more for the uniqueness of his setting than the characters. Medieval Austria is certainly a setting that doesn’t get a lot of play in the manga brought over here. It’s that appeal that keeps things visually interesting in spite of the character designs. There’s a big-eyed expressiveness to the characters that isn’t unusual for the medium, yet feels out of place here. Kuji may have been going for shock value in having some very nasty things done to these innocent-looking characters, except that it feels rather pedestrian on the page.
That said, there is a fair amount of violence in this volume too. It’s not excessive, but when it hits it almost borders on gratuitous. Things open with a man getting whipped to death, there’s the aforementioned interrogation of Cedar and her daughter, and Wolfsmund’s innkeeper shows us that she’s not a woman to be trifled with for one scene too. Kuji is a former assistant to “Berserk’s” Kentaro Miura, and it’s clear that he learned a thing or two about showing violence on the page from his mentor.
If only he had Miura’s storytelling skill as well. “Berserk” may be the most violent medieval fantasy manga ever, yet the story and characters are compelling enough to transcend all of the guts being spilled, and Guts spilling them as well. “Wolfsmund” isn’t anywhere near that level of quality yet. I want it to succeed because it’s at least trying to make an effort to be different from everything else out there. Yet the current trend in quality suggests that I may be more inclined to give up before it reaches its potential.