Readers are likely already familiar with Seraph of the End, a popular ongoing manga that has been adapted into anime and has quite a few spin-offs under its belt. One such spin-off is Seraph of the End Guren Ichinose: Catastrophe at Sixteen, a prequel story with Guren Ichinose taking the role of the main character. But is it interesting to read? Let’s find out!
Our story takes place eight years before the start of the main series, in a world not yet in ruin and overrun with vampires. Guren is only 15 years old but already a powerful magic user who exorcises supernatural beings should they prove a threat to humanity. As part of his training, Guren is sent to First Shibuya High School, which specialises in training magic users. However, Guren is looked down upon for being born into the Ichinose family and to avoid anything troublesome, he goes out of his way to hide his true powers, which exasperates his companions no end.
Guren is enlisted in the school with Shigure Yukimi and Sayuri Hanayori, who are tasked with guarding him and helping out when he investigates cases related to the supernatural. Both girls are fond of Guren and hate to see him being belittled by his classmates, but reluctantly allow the status quo to continue under his orders. Then there’s Mahiru Hiragi, Guren’s childhood friend and daughter of the powerful Hiragi Family who is destined to one day lead it. Due to their difference in status, the two haven’t seen each other for ten years and even now they’ve been reunited in high school, Guren knows he must keep his distance from her.
If you expect this to be a school life story, then you’ll be disappointed as events quickly escalate. There are students here from a variety of families, some of whom are looking to betray the head family Hiragi. Then there’s the Hyakuya Sect, a religious organization hoping to recruit Guren into their ranks and who warn him that a deadly virus will be unleashed upon the world in a matter of days…
Yes, our protagonist’s peaceful school days are over before they even start. With so much political and supernatural mayhem behind the scenes, Guren is pulled from left to right as he tries to hide his abilities from his fellow students while also trying to figure out what’s going on and how to protect humanity. With only Shigure and Sayuri to rely on, it’s difficult to gather information especially as Shinya Hiragi suspects Guren is far more skilled than he lets on. And despite coming from the head family himself, Shinya is simply hoping to find someone who dislikes the family as much as he does and will stand alongside him, which he gathers Guren would be the perfect fit for. There’s a lot happening and that can be overwhelming at times, particularly until the last few chapters of the release.
While Catastrophe at Sixteen does its best to introduce us to the world and the cast, there’s an underlying feeling that to truly understand it you need to have read some of the main series. At least enough to know what Guren and some of these characters are like in the present-day timeline and the roles all these different parties play. Given how long the main series has been running, that may be a daunting task, but I definitely wouldn’t recommend this to newcomers to the franchise since without the right context you won’t get as much out of it.
However, if you are an existing Seraph of the End fan then this is certainly required reading, given how the content ties into the main series. This is a manga adaptation of a light novel series written by original creator Takaya Kagami, making it canon material. The manga has been handled by Yo Asami (who has a few other manga credits but nothing available in English) and while I don’t think the art is as good as Yamato Yamamoto’s for the main series, I think it captures the atmosphere of the series well enough. On the whole, I think it can look a bit flat and Asami has a tendency to draw within small panels meaning there’s not enough room for ample detail. However, the action scenes flow well and the characters are recognisable compared to Yamamoto’s designs even if they’re younger versions. So it’s not perfect but if you don’t want to read the original novels and are set on experiencing it through manga then this shouldn’t disappoint.
Seraph of the End Guren Ichinose: Catastrophe at Sixteen Volume 1 comes to the West thanks to Kodansha under their Vertical imprint. This release is a 2-in-1 omnibus edition, so it’s a fairly hefty tomb coming in at 400~ pages. Readers will be pleased to know that all the colour pages from the Japanese editions are included and the pages from Volume 2 have even been placed relevant to where those chapters begin, as opposed to all being at the start of the book and risking spoiling readers. Translation has been handled by Carl Vanstiphout and as far as I can tell is in keeping with the main series when it comes to names and terminology.
This spin-off is complete in Japan with 12 volumes having run in Monthly Shounen Magazine between 2017 and 2022. In English, Kodansha has the second omnibus scheduled for a release in October, with #3 in January and #4 in April. Given these are 2-in-1’s, we could be finished with this before the end of 2024! All 7 volumes of the original light novel version have been released in English by Vertical previously between 2016-2018 and they do appear to still be in print.
Overall, Seraph of the End Guren Ichinose: Catastrophe at Sixteen’s manga adaptation proves an interesting read, provided you’re already a seasoned fan of the franchise. While not welcoming to newcomers, it’s rewarding if you have the right knowledge and are interested in learning more about what happened in Guren’s younger years.
Our review copy from Kodansha was supplied by Turnaround Comics (Turnaround Publisher Services)
A free preview can be read on Kodansha’s website here.