THE PULLED THREAD
Ashaf the mage and Guideau, the beast-woman cursed by the witch Angela, have left the world of the vampires and returned to the surface. Wandering through a nighttime market with Ashaf, Guideau suddenly turns down an obscure alleyway and heads straight toward an antique shop. Inside is a life-sized doll – and it seems that Guideau can hear it speaking to her. “I was once human… until a witch’s curse made me into this doll.” The owner is at first extremely reluctant to part with the doll which has acted as a kind of gatekeeper for him, barring unwelcome visitors from the shop – but when the doll reveals that he has ‘a forbidden instrument’ concealed upstairs, he relents. Guideau is far from happy with her new ‘companion’; the doll, once released from the shop and united with someone who can hear her voice, keeps talking away. But then Ashaf turns up with a small boy in tow. He tells Guideau that the child is ‘not in some way unrelated to Angela’ and asks her to look after him.
After this prologue, the story spools back ten days, reintroducing the charismatic Colonel Matt Cugat of the Paladin Corps, ‘The Man of Ice’ with elemental powers whom we last saw badly injured in Volume 4 after the catastrophic events involving the Demon Sword. Cugat has been summoned to a castle where he meets up with Commander Keith who’s organizing the defence. A hurricane is heading their way, a magical storm whipped up by witches, that picks up magical components as it moves. Cugat is introduced to a mage called Karl Oakleave who presents in the body of a young boy and they’re told to work together; other knight commanders are present in the castle and the five archmages are said to be involved too. Whatever’s coming their way, the title of these chapters ‘Chaos Within the Storm’ sums up the immensity of the threat facing the protagonists while not defining what exactly lies at the heart of the storm. Why are the witches heading their way? Because the castle contains a collection of forbidden instruments. But maybe Cugat and co. are not alone in facing up to the oncoming storm, because Helga, the bearer of the Demon Sword (rescued by Ashaf and Guideau) has teamed up with the necromancers Phanora Kristoffel and her sidekick Johan. “We can’t let those witches do whatever they want,” Phanora says coolly even as the barriers around the castle are breached. But when it turns out that one of the witches is none other than Angela, nothing is certain – except that someone has been acting as a mole and betrayed the Paladin Corps.
‘So, this is where I shall bid my farewells to mage Ashaf and his female companion Guideau…’ Or so I wrote in 2022… yet here I am again, tempted back into this intriguing but sometimes frustrating dark fantasy manga. Kousuke Satake must be doing something right! Even though, throughout the whole nine volumes (so far), the mangaka has somehow contrived to give away very little about Guideau (the beast) or Ashaf (the mage who’s her minder or maybe something more) let alone Angela (the witch) to keep this reader coming back for more. But here, at last, we get to see Angela in action – as well as other characters Guideau and Ashaf have encountered before on their travels, both friend and deadly foe. There’s a genuine sense of story threads being pulled together and a welcome feeling that something momentous is going to happen at last. Satake’s signature magical battle scenes feature prominently again as witches threaten the castle which Matt Cugat is charged with protecting. And the art is, at its best, wonderfully sinister and gothic.
Nevertheless, the mangaka still falls back on the use of obscure hints and flashbacks which muddy the waters, rather than keeping the reader engaged, bringing to mind one of the famous Robert McKee Ten Commandments of Storytelling: ‘Thou shalt not complicate when complexity is better.’ The opening pages are a prime example; at this stage in the narrative, we really need a strong, clear storyline, not yet more vague hints.
Kevin Gifford continues to translate the series for Kodansha and Phil Christie continues to provide the wide variety of lettering the series demands (especially the magical battles).
Volume 10 was originally scheduled for February 2023 from Kodansha but now only in digital version and it may be quite a while before Volume 11 appears as, sadly, mangaka Kousuke Satake has gone on a two-month hiatus, due to ill health. In the meantime, perhaps there’ll be more news of the promised anime TV series.