The Guin Saga, story by Kaoru Kurimoto, is “Japan’s leading heroic fantasy series” according to the back cover blurb. Vertical is putting it out in bits and pieces, starting with a short story called “The Seven Magi.” I read the first two of the three volumes.

So…as Tucker would have me say, this is certainly no Little Nemo in Slumberland. It’s more like Judge Dredd. Not the comic, but the godawful movie. It’s got that what-the-hell-is-going-on-oh-whatever-let’s-just-have
-everybody-shout-loudly-and-then-maybe-kill-something bad action movie thing down pat. The story, such as it is, is about a leapord-headed king called Guin, and the city he protects is cursed with the black plague, so he goes to seek out a sorcerer to help, and then he finds other sorcerers, and there’s some sort of evil spider thing, and his consort back at the palace gets possessed and wanders around with a knife killing random people, which is a lot more boring than it sounds; and there’s a pimp who is supposed to provide comic relief, and a prostitute who’s supposed to provide tits, and another evil sorceress who provides the ridiculous pseudo-Indo fetish-wear, and also more tits. Oh, yeah, the possessed consort has tits too. Also, the art is eager to inform us, an ass. And everybody keeps shouting “Guin” in case you forget the title character’s name. (He’s supposed to have amnesia, I think, so maybe they’re trying to help him out, I don’t know.)

The art, by Kazuaki Yanagisawa, is pretty good — which means he’s awesome by typical Western comics standards, I guess. The story-telling is clear and the battles (even with the amorphous icky giant spider) are easy to follow; the leapord-head is cute and nicely rendered. The character designs are kind of dull and clumsy though — that indo-fetish sorceress is an aesthetic atrocity. And the art hews to a more naturalistic, less cartoony mode that tends to highlight some drafting problems (the leopard head tends to look too small for Guin’s body; hands are often out of proportion.) I’m not hugely conversant with samurai manga, but of what I’ve seen Rurouni Kenshin, Inu-Yasha, and Banya: The Explosive Deliveryman all seem more accomplished and distinctive. (Rurouni Kenshin’s cartoony style is masterfully supple and memorable; Inu-Yasha has scores of beautiful, twisted demon drawings; the Banya artist is a phenomenally accomplished draftsman.)

From what I’ve read of manga-consumption patterns in Japan, most books are read at breakneck speed. This certainly seems designed for that kind of skimming; even if you flip through it really fast, you won’t miss anything, and you’ll get to see a bunch of more-or-less professionally rendered gore and fan service. It’s the comics equivalent of mediocre prime-time television, meant to be turned on for empty stimulation while you’re — I don’t know, eating dinner or clipping your toe-nails or sinking into a turgid stew of ennui and despair. If you read six or seven samurai manga a day, I guess I could see why you’d put this in rotation. Personally, though, my desire to read the third and final volume is nil.

If you would rather get your manga criticism from someone who actually knows what he’s talking about, rather than from a dabbler like me, you should check out Bill Randall’s recent post