Monday, November 2, 2015

Lucifer and the Biscuit Hammer Volume 1-2

I was first introduced to Mizukami Satoshi's work through Spirit Circle which I greatly enjoyed. I heard good things about his other work, Lucifer and the Biscuit Hammer, and decided to buy the first volume (actually the first two, since they're released in English in two volume omnibuses).

Even just two volumes in, I found myself greatly enjoying this manga. Many long running series like this really take their time to get into gear, and this series too clearly had a lot that needed to be set up - it's even admitted at the end of the second volume the entire story up to this point was merely a prologue to the true story - but I feel that the author managed to achieve a good balance. Rather than introducing us to the world, he spent almost all of the two volumes introducing us to the characters and allowing us to really come to love them. The result is that we still know very little - Who is the Mage? Why is he trying to destroy the world? What exactly are the Beast Knights that are trying to stop him, and why do they say that this has all happened before? What happens when the characters dream? Really, almost nothing about the setting and threat we are facing has been answered.

But, the author has succeeded beautifully in making me want to find out. The setting, so far, doesn't seem to be anything especially groundbreaking for an action/adventure manga - it's the characters, their developments, and their relationships where this series truly shines. If you're looking for a shounen series filled with obligatory fight scenes and flashy superpowers, then this might not be for you as characters spend a lot more time out of combat than it. When the fights do happen, they are definitely a treat, but I found myself enjoying watching the characters as they went about their lives - going on dates, a night of drinking, celebrating birthdays, or going to visit ailing family members - just as much.

Each volume within the Omnibus loosely follows its own self-contained plot which gives finishing each half a sense of satisfaction; although Volume 1 doesn't have quite as strong a finish as Volume 2 did. With a character integral to Volume 2 (actually named in the volume's title... the Dog Knight) being introduced rather suddenly at the end of Volume 1, I would say the two halves fit very well together.

Said character, Hangetsu, (or rather, his abilities) annoyed me at first, completely exemplifying the Always Someone Better trope despite not even using his Dog Knight powers; but Volume 2 did a good job of warming me up to him. Aside from everything related to the Princess, Beast Knights, and the Mage, this manga's setting seemed fairly grounded in reality; so to see him effortlessly defeating people capable of sending large cars flying long distances was rather jarring. I would expect to see something like that in a series like One Piece where Charles Atlas powers are commonplace, I wasn't expecting it here after how big a deal was made of normal people not standing a chance against the golems. Another character made a big deal out of Hangetsu being famous for his strength, so that helped alleviate it, but I still wasn't satisfied with the explanation behind it ("he practices ancient martial arts, so obviously he's strong"). Maybe this will be expanded on later, though, so this isn't a judgement I can make just yet.

The two main characters were a breath of fresh air. Yuuhi's reluctance to accept the call, while done fairly commonly in series like these, was fun to see. His commitment to that decision is admirable (after all, what do they really expect a normal person to be able to do against a planet-sized superweapon, and even the power he receives as the Lizard Knight isn't good for much more than flipping skirts), and, when he inevitably does come around, his partner Noi is appropriately horrified at his reasoning. I've read numerous other series with similar antisocial, jerkish lead characters; a pet peeve of mine is when this is never elaborated on and they are portrayed as jerks just for the sake of being jerks. I am glad that Yuuhi did not fall into this pitfall - much of the first volume is spent exploring the reason for how he has become who he is today and his struggle to break free of that. Sometimes I prefer big character development arcs to be saved for a bit later in a longer series, otherwise the character will either end up stagnating afterwards or else the author will continually have to raise the bar in order to keep him/her interesting, but I'm glad we got this out of the way right off the bat.

The female lead, Samidare, was kept fairly mysterious in the first volume, though her childish simple-mindedness was something that set her apart from the lead characters of other series. I expected her to be the typical hotheaded shounen idiot hero at first, as she definitely shows elements of one, but she too has been portrayed in a way that keeps her from mixing too deeply into that group. Her backstory was explored a little more in the second volume (though there's still much to know), and like Yuuhi it made her character more understandable although she hasn't experienced much development yet.

So far, I definitely have to recommend this series, and I can't wait to read the next pair of volumes.

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