In order to protect his loved ones, the calm gardener Awyn has to sign a pact with a beautiful devil named Vide. Just as the devil hides a good side, the gardener tries to keep his dark nature hidden.

(Please note: This review uses a German copy of the manga, thus the German translation of names will be used.)

The Lowdown

In the world of 7th Garden religion reigns supreme. The people revere angels and the Church of the Antiquorists, and fear devils and demons. As the church seemingly randomly orders the purge of a small village in which Awyn has found refuge at the estate of the Fiacls as the gardener, he decides to sign a pact with the devil Vide, to gain the powers to protect the ones he loves. In order for Awyn to use Vide’s demonic powers he has to help her take revenge on the angels.

How was it?

Volume 1 of 7th Garden starts off with gorgeous full-colour pages highlighting the impressive art of its author Mitsu Izumi (ano hana). Izumi has one of the best art styles I’ve recently come across. Not only are his character designs distinct and compelling, but the way he arranges panels as well as the scene composition in general give his manga a certain dynamic that allows for the readers’ eye to see the movements of the characters. Every facial expression is nuanced, every move can easily be imagined to the point where the reader can almost hear the sound effects. Espacially the great fight and actions scenes in 7th Garden profit from this as they appear rather cinematic, making them feel and look like how they were meant to be felt and seen, as intense fights. Yet, Izumi’s art style doesn’t only offer beautiful double-page spreads of fight scenes but it’s also a great source of humour.

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I generally dislike medieval fantasy but 7th Garden is the exception. Unlike other dark fantasy manga involving knights and gore galore, 7th Garden has a relatively innocent sense of humour. This occasional break for example in the form of chibi-fied versions of the characters bickering about rather mundane things is a much needed breather after a bloody battle, which 7th Garden features plenty of. To balance dark fantasy with light-hearted humour is a hard task and many writers would shy away from the challenge, instead opting for a more morbid sense of humour but Izumi doesn’t. He manages to find and keep that very delicate balance. One might think the light-hearted humour wouldn’t fit the manga, yet it never feels off. Instead, it lightens the mood and prepares the reader for the next intense fight, while also serving as a tool to further develop and characterize the cast.

Purge!

However, there is still a rather obvious shortcoming in Izumi’s art style, namely his female angel designs. While the manga is not short on fanservice - most of which feels natural and is used as a means of humour - and the female angels which appear in the first volume are all portrayed as beautiful, young and scantily clad women, Izumi’s fan pandering tends to go too far. Sometimes in dramatic scenes, the female angels would be posed in such sexually ambiguous ways as to make the poses feel awkward, so much so that they distract from the dramatic tension, essentially ruining it. Furthermore, it undermines the characters, thus turning the compelling Vide into nothing but walking fanservice which is a shame given the complexity she shows. Thankfully, this doesn’t happen too often but just once is enough to distract from the plot and characters.

“I will take back all that is rightfully mine!”

As for the plot, I must say, it does contain some rather generic plot-twists and moments of foreshadowing which I will not spoil here. However, some future plot developments and reveals which are strongly hinted at in this first volume seem so obvious, I’m starting to believe they are merely used as a red herrings. Since this is only Vol. 1, we have no way of knowing whether those plot developments will play out as hinted at or not. In fact, the first volume of 7th Garden already featured many surprising and even shocking moments many readers won’t see coming. The main conflict between the angels and Vide is quite mysterious as well as it remains unclear what exactly they took from Vide and, more importantly, why.

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The cast of characters is instantly likeable from the start. From the honourable, yet anger-driven Awyn to the innocent and caring Marie and the coquettish and scheming Vide, the manga gives its readers a group of protagonists you want to spend time with and see succeed. While these are our heroes, it neither changes the fact that we readers know nothing on the reason for the purge, nor that Awyn - though reluctantly - enjoys “protecting” his loved ones by killing the bad guys in cold blood. His nature on the battle field, which is often alluded to as being his true nature, stands in stark contrast to the calm and sober behaviour he shows at the Fiacl estate he lives at. At times, he seems more like a devil than Vide does, which is something she picks up on right from the beginning. This inner darkness is what lets her believe that Awyn will make a good servant with whom she can take revenge on the angels.
For readers, the Janus-faced Awyn makes for a very interesting main character. For one, though haunted by his past and his demonic urges, he only wants to lead a quiet life, which is the cause for a lot of great drama as over the course of this volume Awyn is forced to see deeper and deeper into his own soul. And he doesn’t exactly like what he finds. Furthermore, having a character this deeply conflicted as the MC leads to a very unpredictable hero whom we can never be sure of what he will do next.

The servant...

7th Garden often works with contrasts, be it the dark fantasy elements and the light humour, the two-faced hero Awyn or the more obvious contrast in form of devil vs. angel, and it does so expertly well. The art certainly helps to further emphasise this theme with the fight scenes often featuring more shades of black, while the “garden scenes” are much lighter in tone and mood. As a reader I got the feeling that even if 7th Garden were not a manga it would still be black-and-white just to accentuate this motif. I hope the theme of contrasts as well as the already mentioned contrasts continue throughout the series given how effortlessly Izumi manages to balance them. This volume ends with a lot of questions raised and I personally am very much looking forward to reading the answers to those, as well as seeing which other questions Vol. 2 will raise.

Final Thoughts

7th Garden is a well-drawn and well-written dark fantasy manga that will win over readers with its great balance of action, drama and humour, its pitch perfect pacing, compelling plot and gorgeous art style. While some future plot developments seem obvious from the start and clichéed and the drawings can occasionally seem rather lewd, fans of dark fantasy will find plenty to enjoy in this first volume. Even those who normally aren’t too keen on the genre - like me - are sure to find it a very entertaining read. Though it is far from perfect, it is still one of the most promising seinen titles currently being published and I can’t wait to get my hands on the second volume.

What do our scores mean?

7th Garden was released in German on May 12th, 2016 by Tokyopop Germany. Written and drawn by Mitsu Izumi, the series is currently being released in Shueisha’s Jump SQ magazine. Viz Media has licensed the series in English, and volume 1 will release on July 5th, 2016.

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