The text on the back of this volume spells out its appeal in succinct detail: “The bailiff takes one up his ass.” It’s no secret that the series has been building to the takedown of this character. Anything less would’ve had its audience riot in the street, small as it is. So let me say that while his fate doesn’t quite match up to the gold standard for bastard deaths -- that would be what happened to Shira over in “Blade of the Immortal” -- it’s still quite satisfying. The only thing is that even though Wolfram is dealt with here, the series is set to continue on. How does a series which has been about one thing up to this point shift its focus to tell another story?
Let’s get back to Wolfram’s fate for a bit. The previous volume left off on a brutal cliffhanger and the most tense fight in the series to date. Mangaka Mitsuhisa Kuji doesn’t lose any momentum in the wait between volumes and it’s easy to get back into the rhythm of the fight between Walter and Wolfram. The Bailiff may have the edge in terms of raw skill, but the young archer is the more clever of the two. This leads to a climax that hits you in the gut and has you feeling the force of the archer’s cry and the accompanying cheer of his comrades-in-arms.
Then comes the execution. We get a return of the smiling Wolfram for a bit, only to see it knocked off his face in due course. The method of his demise is a medieval punishment that I’m not actually familiar with. It is, however, one that is appropriately brutal. Fittingly, much ado is made about who is going to get to do the deed and the crowd is asked to abide by this decision in spite of their hatred for the Bailiff. Then the hitting commences and it is every bit as nasty as you’d expect from this title. You feel every inch of Wolfram’s suffering, and while his executioners are utterly callous in their administration of his punishment I didn’t mind at all. Frankly, after the previous five volumes I was hoping for more wailing and gnashing of teeth on Wolfram’s part. Given the punishment he’s subjected to, I suppose that would’ve been asking for too much after a certain point.
So there you have it. The bastard has bit the dust. Everyone can go home happy after the victory celebration and orgy for the warriors. The story’s over, right?
As you’ve probably gathered from my introduction, that’s not the case. While the battle against Wolfram for control of the Sankh Gotthardt Pass has been the overriding focus of the series so far, it’s just one story of the battle for the independence of the Swiss cantons. We’re told of a larger battle that the Swiss managed to win even though they were outnumbered over six-to-one a week after this victory. It’s this thread that the series will be pursuing from here on out.
This is all well and good, even though there’s some awkwardness in the narrative transition here. Everything in the series so far has been focused on Wolfram as the villain of the piece. I was fully expecting the title to wrap up with his death in this volume. That it does not, things wind up feeling a bit anticlimactic. Yes, seeing the Swiss fight for their independence is all well and good, but it’s not what the series has been pushing up to this point.
It feels like even though Kuji wanted to wrap up the story she’s been telling so far, she wasn’t ready to let the series go. A steady gig is a steady gig, and it’s hard enough to pull off a successful manga title regardless of what magazine is publishing it. Even though the new direction for this title has the feeling of a delaying tactic on the mangaka’s part to extend her current meal ticket, it’s not completely without merit. While the series may not have been focused on the fight for the independence of the Swiss cantons, the storytelling prowess Kuji has demonstrated over the past few volumes has me thinking that it’ll be a worthwhile thread to follow. The one chapter we get of this kind of action here delivers on that promise as we see the siege tactics the rebels have previously employed put to good use here along with the unveiling of new medieval battle tactics and weapons.
This is only one chapter, so the jury is still out on whether or not this new direction is going to pay off. However, I’m encouraged and Kuji’s ability to build to a satisfying climax with Wolfram’s arc lead me to think that this will all be worthwhile in the end. Assuming you’re into history-based action titles with lots of graphic violence and a side of sex.