Tuesday, July 2, 2013

Wolfsmund vol. 1

I knew almost nothing about Mitsuhisa Kuji's, 'Wolfsmund', before I bought it, other than that I had heard that it was a realistic and brutal retelling of the "William Tell" legend, and that it was being published in English by Vertical Inc. Plus, there was a cool looking knight on the cover, so I decided to take a chance on it. Turns out, the first volume was pretty awesome. Lately it feels like putting my money on Vertical Inc, is less of "taking a chance" and more of an investment in entertainment.

Deep in the Alps during the late middle ages lies the Sankt Gotthard Pass, and it was the shortest path between Germany and Italy. For many years, the people of the Alps controlled the pass, gathering considerable wealth from trade going through. The cantons of Schwyz, Uri and Unterwalden forged an alliance in order to protect their interest in the pass, but they could not match the might of the House of Habsburg of Austria. With the cantons occupied and the pass taken, the citizens were prisoners within their own land. The pass, being the only way into the Italian states, was the only way for rebels to escape isolation and build an army. But the pass featured a barrier station, fiercely guarded by a ruthless bailiff, named "Wolfram", and his barrier station became known by the oppressed citizens as "Wolfsmund", the mouth of the wolf...

I was just telling someone how I don't gravitate toward gloomy stories, and here I am, enjoying this book about oppressed rebels getting their hopes dashed by a smirking tyrant. Several things save 'Wolfsmund' from being a depressing gloomfest, and number one on that list is "suspense". You have this impenetrable checkpoint that everyone wants to get through, but it is guarded by this "eyes always shut", constant giant grin having Wolfram, who loves his job too much. And he always knows when someone is trying to cheat him, but somehow you are still on the edge of your seat, waiting, hoping to see these characters get past unscathed. It comes across as a kind of life or death game(and very much possibly is for Wolfram) where the rebels take every precaution they can and put on their best show in order to fool Wolfram, and Wolfram tries to test and trick them into failure. Even though I kind of knew that Wolfram would come out on top, the suspense was still real and I felt it.

Another aspect that I enjoyed about 'Wolfsmund' was the action. Despite there being a battling knight on the cover, I was not expecting this level of action and the well done choreography. There were several good fight scenes that included two knights dueling with long-swords , and a fierce female warrior, trying to assassinate her way through the checkpoint. But the best part came in the final chapter of the volume when Wilhelm Tell and his son Walter were introduced. As you can probably guess, these are the two featured in the legend of a man forced to shoot an apple off of his son's head with a crossbow. And Wilhelm is shown to be quite the marksman in 'Wolfsmund', but what really got my attention was his mountain climbing scenes, which I considered just as impressive action as the fighting scenes. Doubly so when they were fighting while mountain climbing.

If you are looking for a character to latch onto, you might have to pick the villain, because...let's just say you shouldn't get attached to anyone...The most recurring character in volume one was the bailiff of Wolfsmund, Wolfram, and this guy is one bad dude. Always smiling. Always with his eyes closed. He is the kind of character that I love to hate. And that's just based on his appearance and attitude. Him having everyone killed without touching a sword himself doesn't hurt either. He's also kind of intriguing though. He seems to take his job as bailiff very seriously. Almost as if he feels he is king and the barrier station his country to rule. I think it is pretty clear that he will be one of the main antagonists throughout this story, and I'm looking forward to seeing him fleshed out more and seeing how he evolves. Other characters I'm interested in include an unnamed woman who runs an inn close to the barrier station, and Wilhelm Tell's son, Walter Tell. The unnamed woman is the next most recurring character and seems to be part of the rebellion, but little else is known about her as of yet. I'm pretty sure she will be important though. And though Walter Tell only shows up in the final chapter of volume one, I think he has the makings for the main character of this series. He's a badass, mountain-climbing crossbowman like his dad, so I'm sure he will also be interesting to follow.

'Wolfsmund' started out with a pretty strong first volume. The structure felt a little unorthodox, establishing the antagonist and the setting more so than a sure protagonist, and I kind of liked that. All you people out there impatiently waiting to get some historical manga action out of 'Vinland Saga' this Fall might just find what you are looking for right now from 'Wolfsmund'.

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