From the author of Blade of the Immortal comes the story of three very dangerous woman who collide on a remoted island when a mysterious deal goes down involving the yakuza.

Shinobu ran away from her home on the island Ishikunagijima, but after getting caught up with a low level mobster she is forced to return to the island by his gang, the Kakesu-gumi, to watch over a deal between a rival gang and mysterious figures representing international pharmaceutical company Hill-Myna. The deal goes bad when Trane, a one-armed, one-eyed blonde assassin arrives on the scene seeking Welgelder - money paid in atonement by a murderer. Trane is determined to get revenge on Hill-Myna but is thwarted by Jie Mao, an assassin contracted by Hill-Myna. In the confusion, Shinobu and her companies manage to get away with a suitcase which reveals a much darker secret behind the island and sees Shinobu and Trane working together to stop Hill-Myna.

Make no mistake - this is a mature manga with a capital “M”, featuring copious (and at times uncomfortable amounts) of brutal violence, rape and sex. This is not a read for the faint of heart, but those who enjoy gritty seinen will be interested in this series.

In the afternotes of this volume, author Hiroaki Samura recounts how his inspiration for this series were the so called “pink films” common 1970's Japan cinema. This influence is easy to see, as Die Wergelder is at its core a dark combination of sex and brutal violence which both shocks and thrills in equal measure. This created a distinctive aesthetic which might have felt right at home in a Quentin Tarantino film thanks to the gratuitous violence in the many action scenes, creating a distinctly “edgy” sort of vibe that complemented the story effectively.

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This brutal tone is accentuated by Samura’s artwork, which coveys a rough yet realistic feel throughout, giving the violence and sex a noticeable punch. However, there were a few moments that felt like they went over the line with in terms of purposeless sexuality (I’m not sure I needed a close-up of an unnamed man sticking his fingers in a mermaid robot vagina to tell me how brutal he is) which really wasn’t needed further convey how gritty this story is. That said, Die Wergelder has a unique vibe thanks to its sheer brutality at times, adding to the action scenes and makes for a memorable read.

It was undeniably captivating to follow these three women as their journeys intersected, but this volume has some noticeable issues when it comes to its storytelling. The story was at its strongest when it focused clearly on the personal stories of each of these women, but the volume initially buries this under a dense layer of yakuza gang warfare. Although all three women are introduced early on, the rapid-fire shifts in perspective made it difficult to really follow along before the characters were clearly established. This was exacerbated by the fact that all three of the women were drawn very similarly at times, and I found myself frequently confused as to who was being followed. The stories sort of bled together and it was only about half way through this volume that everything began to make more sense. I would have preferred a more linear approach to the storytelling for long enough to differentiate the characters and make sense of the story, but when this was finally sorted out the story began to make a lot more sense without requiring a second read-through.

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Although the individual stories of these three women are the strongest part of this tale, the overarching yakuza storyline is a a bit of a mess early on. A number of different gang names are thrown out and it became difficult to figure out who wanted what, and one of the biggest way this volume could have been improved would have been to make it more consistently clear exactly what was at stake. The second half of the volume was much stronger and focused in this regard, explicating more clearly what the stakes involved were and how this related to our three protagonists. We also get some good characterization for each of these women, with Trane’s gut-churning backstory giving a sense of weight and context to the overall plot despite being (without spoiling anything) extremely uncomfortable to read. Overall, I felt like I had a general sense of the plot up until the end, when things started to feel a little bit loose again with the volume left on an uncertain note.

Although Samura plays fast and loose with much of the story, the main focus of this volume remains the brutally kinetic action sequences which take up a good deal of page space. These are extremely well done, and I thoroughly enjoyed the sense of impact imbued in the art. The scenes were also extremely well paneled, clearly conveying the impressive motion and making it easy to follow the more elaborate martial-art displays. These were thrilling to watch and if the idea of three deadly women fighting each other and mobster sounds like your idea of an awesome action sequence you’ll find plenty to enjoy here in spite of the plot. It’s also notable that although this story is never shy about including sexuality in its proceedings, these women are never put in put in pandering positions during the fight scenes. This accentuated the seriousness with which the series portrays its fight scenes in contrast to many other series which use these scenes as an excuse for fanservice.

Die Wergelder is certainly not a manga for everyone, but those looking for a seriously dark action thriller will find plenty to like here. Although the plot is difficult to follow for much of the volume and the general edginess gets to the point where it begins to feel out of place, the stories of each of these three women do well enough to hold the proceedings together. Thankfully, the action sequences are awesome and show a clear sense of motion and impact that is easy to follow and a joy to witness.

What do our scores mean?

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Die Wergelder Vol. 1 (containing volume 1 and 2 of the Japanese release) was translated by Stephen Paul and published by Kodansha Comics USA on December 29th, 2015. Authored by Hiroaki Samura, the series ran from 2010-2014 in Kodansha’s Nemesis magazine. The second omnibus volume will be released in English later in 2016.

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