Takeru: Opera Susanoh Sword of the Devil 1-2 by Kazuki Nakashima and Karakarakemuri: B

Upon a string of islands known as Oyashima, a country called Amamikado is attempting to assert its dominance by sword and by spell, the tales of its brutality making for easy victories over the frightened populace. The only nation able to oppose the Amamikado onslaught is Jagara, renowned for its warrior women and fabled to have on its side the legendary Sword of Susanoh. As the story opens, a young man arrives from the mainland in search of a wooden box, which, when united with its twin already in his possession, will reveal a clue as to the sword’s location.

After retrieving the box, with the help of a burly fellow, and acquiring some additional (paid) assistance in the form of a stealthy assassin, the young man introduces himself. He is Izumo-no-Takeru, the muscular guy is Kumaso-no-Takeru, and the assassin is Oguna-no-Takeru. The trio sets off to Jagara in search of the sword, but things in the seemingly idyllic jungle kingdom are not as they seem; tragedy and betrayal soon follow.

Takeru comes as something of a surprise, as I hadn’t expected it to be this good. The plot is engaging, moving swiftly and offering up some startling scenes and genuinely unexpected reversals of fortune. The characters are likable. There’s humor. And, as a special bonus, there are extremely capable female warriors whose queen, Miyazu, is effortlessly and awesomely competent in a variety of situations.

On the flip side, sometimes the speed of the narrative works to its disadvantage. I don’t want to spoil anything, but the big reveal in volume two leaves me with some unanswered questions, and with the story proceeding at such a pace, I’m not sure there will be time to come back and answer them. There’s also little chance to develop the lead trio beyond their types. Izumo is the inscrutably cheerful leader; Kumaso is the forthright, personable hothead; and Oguna is the reserved and distrustful ninja. I can’t help thinking certain events would elicit more of a reaction beyond “Oh, cool!” if readers had been given more time to get to know the characters.

takeru2I like Karakarakemuri’s art a lot; it’s lovely in general and features interesting layouts and perspectives, some unique character designs, and a good sense of setting. Also, I love how she uses body language to demonstrate character; this is best seen in a scene in which Izumo plops down on someone’s couch and, while engaged in conversation, plucks a flower from a vase and fiddles with it until his annoyed host snatches it away to return it to its proper place. The art’s only flaw is that action sequences are often unclear, particularly as it pertains to Oguna. Since his primary asset is his speed, his attacks are frequently portrayed as slashes of white, and it can be hard to tell what just happened. “Did he really cut that guy’s head off?” I had to wonder at one point and, y’know, beheadings generally aren’t known for their ambiguity.

At only four volumes, this series doesn’t require much of an investment and offers a genuinely entertaining fantasy adventure. I’ll definitely be following it until its conclusion.

Takeru: Opera Susanoh Sword of the Devil (sometimes written as takeru: OPERA SUSANOH SWORD OF THE DEVIL, though that looks silly next to a cover that reads otherwise) is published by TOKYOPOP. Two volumes have been released so far. The third volume will be released in December 2009 and the fourth and final volume in March 2010.

Review copy for volume two provided by the publisher. Review originally published at Manga Recon.

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