Author Ryo Hanada is perhaps best known for being the creator behind the vampire series Devil’s Line, but now she returns to the English market with a new series called Blackguard. Does it prove an interesting read? Let’s find out!
In 2030 a virus from outer space is brought to earth, causing humans to turn into Shojo: ferocious ape-like monsters. The Shojo feed on humans and it only takes a single bite from one for you to become infected and then turn into a Shojo yourself. To try and combat these monsters, humanity has built aerial cities and formed a special unit known as the Guards to fight back.
The protagonist is Minami, a member of the Guards who regularly kills more Shojo than other teams combined. He fights solo and recklessly, with no regard for his safety, all because he thinks every fight will be his last. Minami has a chronic mental illness known as “Morbus Si”, which means he is constantly suicidal. He takes medication to help, but it doesn’t cure the inclinations. Minami’s bosses don’t want to see such a useful combatant be killed in the line of duty, so they instruct the ace of the Sector A Reserve Unit, Chris Miyaji, to team up with Minami on his missions.
Naturally, Chris sees this as nothing but a frustrating babysitting job, but the more time he spends with Minami and sees his abilities up close, the more he grows to understand him. Minami lives a life with no joy, never eating anything but the supplements provided by his job and not enjoying any hobbies in his downtime. Chris can’t even begin to fathom how Minami has survived this long leading a life like this and he makes it his goal to teach Minami all about what life has to offer outside of fighting the Shojo.
On the whole, I found this first volume a mixed bag in terms of the content. Beyond the initial set-up regarding the Shojo and the fights we see, there isn’t a lot of world-building here. There are small tidbits here and there, like the fact humanity tried to kill the Shojo off with a poisoned gas, which the Shojo evolved to adapt to and now that same gas is hazardous for humans themselves. What I wanted to know was the end goal of fighting the Shojo; does humanity believe they can kill them all off or do the bigwigs just hope to keep them away from the small areas humanity currently resides in?
Because the world-building is so murky, it’s hard to get invested in it, so you’re left with only Minami and Chris to drive your interest in the series. This ends up giving mixed results, since Minami isn’t a particularly likeable character. I especially don’t like the fact he’s so hellbent on dying. I think that anyone who has had suicidal thoughts will find it difficult to read this manga and not get upset by the depiction of Minami’s mental illness. Especially given it’s made clear throughout these chapters that Minami doesn’t even understand what it means to die, how his life will end and there will be nothing more. This just doesn’t work for carrying the story. Chris’ archetype ends up being a somewhat grumpy older mentor, who would probably be a great character all on his own but paired with Minami, he doesn’t get a chance to shine.
Hopefully, going forward, there will be more of a focus on the worldbuilding because if the author fleshed some of that out, this could be quite an interesting series. If we had something else to grab onto which didn’t focus so heavily on Minami, I think it would be easier to convince readers to continue past this point.
As mentioned, this manga is by Ryo Hanada and if you’ve read any of her work before then you’ll instantly recognise the art style. It’s not particularly detailed and characters regularly look off-model. Panels will be filled with just a character’s head and some dialogue without any backgrounds, giving the series a very sparse appearance. I’m not a huge fan of the style, but if you’ve read Devil’s Line then you’ll know what to expect here. Either way it’s certainly not a manga you’ll be picking up for the artwork.
Blackguard Volume 1 comes to the West thanks to Vertical via Kodansha and has been translated by Melissa Tanaka. The translation reads fine with no issues to note. The series is complete in Japan at five volumes and Volume 2 is scheduled for an English release in May. This release includes colour pages at the beginning, but rather than on glossy paper, they’re a matt finish, which I think fits the art better but isn’t what you’d normally expect from the publisher.
Overall, Blackguard has the potential to be interesting but this first book struggles to set up any of the hooks necessary. Given our protagonist is so focused on suicide, this series will inherently be overwhelming for some readers and I’m honestly not convinced this direction will offer a good payoff to counteract having such a heavy topic. Had there at least been more focus on the Shojo I think this would have been an easier recommendation, but right now there is nothing I can point to and say is good here.
A free preview can be found on the publisher’s website here.