Until Death Do Us Part Volume 4 Review

“Mamoru-san doesn’t need my help. ”

This collection contains volumes 7 and 8 of Until Death Do Us Part as originally published. Although heavy in action it also features a fairly intricate plot that builds from volume to volume. Best to start reading at the beginning.

 

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Volume 7 picks up right where volume 6 left off, with a key confrontation between characters who have been circling each other thus far in the series. Takashige is excellent at giving just enough to be satisfying while holding back for later developments. Nothing’s settled but a lot is established. Also, fights (and other events) unfold in ways that develop characters. It’s an important and masterful use of craft to keep the manga engaging without losing momentum.

Things later move into a nice spotlight on Haruka as she has an unexpected vision at school. It’s an important story that shows her having to rely on the lessons Mamoru’s been teaching her in unexpected ways.

Then the patient, brilliant Wiseman’s finally ready to make his move…

All arcs here are grounded in nuanced underlying emotions: Genda’s controlled, calculating rage, Haruka’s feelings of inadequacy, Mamoru’s (over)confidence, etc. Haruka’s actions towards the end lead to a heart wrenching situation that illustrates how far Mamoru and she still have to go in understanding each other.

There are also interesting yet logical twists, and having master strategists involved on both sides of every conflict makes the unfolding stories absolutely captivating.

 

Continually fantastic stuff with no signs of slowing down.

 

Until Death Do Us Part Volume 3 Review

“This means hired killers and mercenaries the world over will be racing to Japan to find him.”

This collection contains volumes 5 and 6 of Until Death Do Us Part as originally published. In addition to nuanced plot and characters, this book directly continues an arc started in the previous one. Best to start reading at the beginning.

 

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Until Death Do Us Part is rolling along nicely, with another book filled with both captivating action and compelling, deepening intrigue.

The entirety of volume 5 features the conclusion of an intense fight started last book. It illustrates just how dangerous and hard to control things have become, and raises the stakes drastically.

Volume 6 moves things forward with Blade tackling a new, troubling situation with head on escalation. His blunt nature creates a solid anchor for the chaos around him, and also allows room for the more level headed members of the cast to shine.

And shine they do. They flesh out the world nicely and as I’ve gushed about in every review so far the intertwining and conflicting agendas and points of view of everyone make the manga extremely engaging and compelling. Well developed characters form the heart of any great story, and Takashige’s are great. Certain members of “The Wall,” Detective Genda, and Haruka all get spotlights and important moments. There are also several introductions of characters that will obviously be important later by way of minor, superbly paced cameos.

Another thing that’s impressive Takashige and DOUBLE-S’s storytelling is the economy of information delivery they achieve. The significance and meaning accomplished with little looks, expressions, and careful composition add an incredible level of atmosphere and depth to the narrative.

The book ends with a nice pair of weighted confrontations / meetings that continue to complicate the situation in the best possible sense.  It’s wonderful foreshadowing of long term impending doom as well as leaving things on a mild cliffhanger in the short term.

Another excellent entry in this series.

 

 

 

Until Death Do Us Part Volume 2 Review

“I wouldn’t trust him. He’s a killer.”

This collection contains volumes 3 and 4 of Until Death Do Us Part as originally published. It’s an action manga at its core, but the characters and story are quite layered so best to start reading at the beginning.

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I was pleasantly impressed with the way the first book of Until Death Do Us Part came together in terms of story, action, and art working in harmony to overcome some of the more cliched elements it employs. These volumes are more in same vein with appropriately escalating stakes.

Volume 3 ties up the first major arc that’s been building while setting future plot threads up with interesting new angles and players that continue throughout volume 4. The storylines and arcs feed into each other nicely, with prior events logically progressing into further complications for our protagonists. The main characters are well developed, and have sufficiently nuances personalities and motivations to keep them compelling and the general level of intrigue high throughout continually increasing tension.

The way numerous schemes overlap and intersect continues to be a highlight for me, as Takashige spotlights the intelligence of his characters even when they make mistakes  or get outmaneuvered. This is always important to me in any story, as when anyone acts dumb for plot convenience it ruins dramatic tension.

The opposition also finds clever ways of creating difficulties for Blade which prevents things from getting too one-sided given his vast skills.

In addition I liked some of the philosophical touches in these volumes regarding Haruka’s powers and the fact that sometimes the only choices available are bad ones. The desire of her companions to seek out as “normal” a life as possible for her is another strong theme that seems destined to become extremely important long term.

Good capitalization on the first book’s potential here. I hope the momentum continues.

Until Death Do Us Part Volume 1 Review

“The contract will last… ‘until death do us part!'”

This collection contains volumes 1 and 2 of Until Death Do Us Part (as originally published).

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I really enjoyed this “blind swordsman” variation. It doesn’t have a lot of original elements – the blind swordsman, the young girl with mysterious powers everyone’s after, the use of technology to overcome a handicap, etc. have all been seen before. The combination here though is done well and has just enough twists on the cliched building blocks to freshen things up. The backstory of Mamoru’s (also called “Blade”) organization adds some depth and has a lot of potential going forward. The characters aren’t terribly deep yet but their personalities stand out enough and I don’t think the story suffered. The action is solid and what you’d expect from this type of story.

But what really ends up elevating this for me is the multiple parties with multiple agendas woven throughout the volume and the intelligence of the characters. There are characters on all sides that are carefully planning, reacting, and adapting as unexpected complications pop up. I really love this kind of layered storytelling and the feeling that people trying to commit (or stop) involved, ambitious schemes are using their brains. I hope Takashige can keep things at this level as the series continues.

The art is another huge asset. It’s well detailed and very crisp and easy to follow which accentuates the pace and impact of the action scenes. The characters are all diverse and distinctive in appearance as well. Just high quality work all around.

Until Death Do Us Part grabbed my attention more than I expected and I’m greatly looking forward to more. It’s an action manga at it’s core, so if that’s not your thing this won’t change your mind, but it’s one of the most interesting such series I’ve read in a long time.

Shoulder-a-Coffin Kuro Volume 5 Review

Shoulder-a-Coffin Kuro is a dense, gradually unfolding story that has open story threads tracing all the way back to volume 1. Best to start reading there.

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Kuro’s travels with Ninjuku, Sanju, and Sen continue as Kuro remains on the trail of the witch Hifumi.

Wow. Just wow. Given how impressive the series has been up to this point, I’m continually amazed at Kiyuduki’s ability to push things even further. The stories here are all firmly focused on Kuro and/or the witch she’s tracking, with significant insight into both. Kuro’s entourage and the various people they meet along the way are of course present and important, but this time they’re there specifically to help shine the spotlight on the stories of the manga’s main protagonist and antagonist rather than bask in it themselves.

It’s a nice payoff for the readers who have been patiently waiting for more background on that key relationship, and is the perfect time to share some of it.  As always every answered question requires a lot of effort to fully process as well as raising even more mysteries, but my goodness do we get some huge reveals in this volume. I am literally having to force myself to withhold further detail to avoid spoilers because there is so much to talk about here.

I’ve waited nearly two years for this newest volume of Kuro’s adventures, and am pleased to say it was more than worth it. Kiyuduki’s enigmatic, multi-layered tale makes the reader work to fully appreciate it, but rewards those who do with a fascinating world filled with compelling characters and evolving mysteries that provide enough to satisfy while always teasing the next surprise and providing enticement to continue along. I hope the next installment comes quicker, but let’s be honest: I’m happy to wait as long as it takes without complaint for this level of excellence.

Shoulder-a-Coffin Kuro Volume 4 Review

“I believe that a journey … is like becoming the wind.”

Shoulder-a-Coffin Kuro presents a story that has built over the course of the series. Start reading with volume 1.

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Unable to control her emotions after last volume’s shock, the witch’s curse has caught up with Kuro. While she drifts through her past, Nijuku and Sanju have a plan to protect their own memories, as well as their companion.

When this volume originally came out it was after quite a wait, but I didn’t anticipate an even longer hiatus before the series would continue again.  Two years later and I’m rereading this to refresh my memory in order to finally move on to volume 5. This was just as outstanding an installment as I remember.

As always it’s a dense read, but so richly layered that the attention require of the reader is well rewarded. The moments of whimsy that soften the dark themes are masterful, and there’s a ton to think about here both plot-wise and philosophically. Magic creeps around the edges of the story and the lines of reality are blurred in extraordinary ways. While unique and giving the comic an unusual rhythm, the 4-koma format fits Kuro’s adventures well, and is executed perfectly with high quality and detailed art.

The blending of Kuro’s journey with the emotional growth of the twins is the heart of the manga and makes the narrative something special. Kuro’s efforts to chase her past and face her destiny contrast with the twins simplistic view of the world and her need to educate and foster them as they all travel. It’s a delicate, compelling balance that’s maintained beautifully throughout all the volumes so far.

Shoulder-a-Coffin Kuro is very much one of a kind, and embraces that status fully. This is an atmospheric, haunting manga that’s well worth reading along with.

Shoulder-a-Coffin Kuro Volume 3 Review

“Well, no matter how much the road branches off… in the end, you can only go down one path.”

This volume builds a lot off of the previous two. Start with volume 1.

Shoulder-A-Coffin Kuro follows of the unusual traveller Kuro, her sensei who just happens to be a talking bat, and two odd children. Kuro wanders with a coffin strapped to her back and is often mistaken for a boy and/or vampire.

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Volume 1 of Shoulder-a-Coffin Kuro introduced our cast in stand alone adventures tinged with dark whimsy. Volume 2 continued with the same style and atmosphere, while fleshing out the world more and giving glimpses of the backgrounds of Kuro and the twins.

This volume continues in that vein, giving even more information regarding the pasts of Kuro, Nijuku, Sanju and Sen. It also continues their travels in the present as Kuro still searches for a cure, and features some key encounters and events. The tone is even darker in these stories than previously (which is surprising after some of volume 2) and there are a lot of intriguing philosophical overtones. Touches of humor and the familiar charming antics of the twins remain though to help us along.

While I enjoyed this installment the first time I read it, I feel like I got a lot more out of it this time through now that I have a better idea of how certain things fit together and am picking up more of the subtleties and foreshadowing. The storytelling is dense and takes effort to unravel, but is exquisitely layered and built and it’s rewarding to see it slowly come together.

As always the manga uses the 4-koma style, which gives it a very unique rhythm. The art is impressive as usual, particularly the gorgeous and numerous color pages, and the printing quality is excellent. I feel like there’s more use of white in the black and white pages this time, which makes it easier to see the detail work and is very nice in general considering the borders are all black.

Shoulder-a-Coffin Kuro is a very odd series but is quite engaging in its own way. I’ve become completely engrossed in Kuro’s journey and revel not only in continuing along with it, but also going back to these earlier volumes and experiencing layers and nuances I missed the first time.