So, I’m going to try to write little by little about the manga I read over the summer.
First up: Until Death Do Us Part by Takashige Hiroshi with art by Double-S.
This is by far one of my favorite manga right now. The story centers on Haruka Tohyama and Mamoru Hijikata. Haruka is a 12 year old girl who is a precog with a 90% accuracy rate. That means she can see all the various future possibilities that can result from any given choice. Essentially, she can see into the future. She has been kidnapped by a nefarious business interest (is there any other kind?) who want to harness her abilities to make a profit for the company. And, because these things are never simple, international terrorists get involved too. Mamoru is a blind, rogue fighter (code name “Blade,” of course). He has a katana hidden in his cane and, thanks to some crazy high-tech glasses, can “see” outlines and various other information around him via the reverberations from ultrasonic waves (the panels that show what Mamoru “sees” remind me of Tron — outlines on a grid. Awesome). Mamoru was a martial arts prodigy until some mysterious event happened that caused him to lose his sight and disappear for several years. He has a tech guy, Igawa, who supports him back at home base and in their tricked out van, and develops all kinds of crazy weapons and equipment for him. Basically, even though Mamoru is blind, he is unstoppable and has NEVER been beaten. He can stop bullets with his katana and things like that. Oh. And he is a legendary and shadowy figure to the cops and Yakuza both.
The story begins with Haruka in a car between two scary Yakuza guys (the Japanese mafia). She’s waiting for something. Suddenly, she springs out of the car and grabs Mamoru and tells him that if he doesn’t help her she will die. Mamoru is, of course, mildly surprised by all this (only mildly), but then says, “Yeah, sure. How long is this gig for?” Haruka replies “until death do us part.”
We eventually find out that Igawa and Mamoru works for an organization called the “Elements Network.” The Network avenges people who have lost a love one to a crime but the criminal has somehow escaped the justice system. The Network is entirely composed of people who have also lost loved ones to crime—all are highly invested and motivated to do what they do. Eventually, Mamoru attracts the attention of an organization called “The Wall.” They are a souped up version of the Elements Network, comprised of 26 highly trained operatives with past law enforcement and military experience. The Wall is, of course, incredibly impressed by Mamoru, but they worry he is too much of a loose canon to be effective in their organization. They have vowed not to kill unnecessarily and to avoid civilian casualties, but Mamoru doesn’t particularly care about such things. But he sticks those vows as much as he can. It means he can cripple bad guys in rather gruesome ways. So, the Wall has pretty strict rules regarding what they will and will not do and how to go about doing things, and Mamoru is not one who likes rules.
It is clear, however, that Mamoru is a good guy because he pretty much instinctively and instantly accepts Haruka’s plea when she says “until death do us part.” Igawa thinks that’s insanity, of course, and even immoral because it means playing with the emotions of a 12 year old girl. But Mamoru seems to take it all in stride. And he’s not flippant about it either. He recognizes it as the commitment that she means it to be. Mamoru believes her when she says that she will die without him and, for reasons yet unclear, he does not want that to happen. Therefore, if committing to her for life is what the situation requires, he’ll do it without a moment’s hesitation. And in this regard, his commitment to Haruka goes far beyond what the Wall is able to offer her. The story pretty much winds out from there. Mamoru, Haruka, and Igawa begin to work with the Wall, all the good guys circle in on the bad guys who want Haruka, Mamoru’s past is slowly revealed via flashbacks, and the bad guys set up increasingly elaborate traps to get their hands on Haruka and to destroy Mamoru.
I’ve read about 11 volumes of Until Death Do Us Part now and there has only ever been a SLIGHT hint of potential romance between Mamoru and Haruka. And I do mean slight. This is a good thing because it would be awfully disturbing. Mamoru’s age is not specified but he’s clearly in his twenties. For the most part, Mamoru seems to see Haruka as a little sister. But there are a couple of moments that suggest that Haruka understands things differently. She acts as if she has a crush on Mamoru occasionally, but those instances seem superficial. More interesting are the panels that suggest that two are connected in more significant ways. One time, for example, Haruka confesses to Igawa that she has seen that Mamoru marries her in the future. Igawa asks if she likes Mamoru, and Haruka explains “Oh, I don’t know. It’s really too early for liking . . .” Another panel show Mamoru, who is pretty much never able to fully let his guard down, crashing in the van after a big mission, with his hand on Haruka’s head. Mamoru is entirely at peace. The significance of the fact that Mamoru would let his guard down so completely simply because he is in Haruka’s presence is not lost on Igawa.
Igawa is, in fact, often the figure that indicates how we ought to read various situations in the narrative. Just as Igawa is stunned to see Mamoru so at peace with Haruka, we are too. Haruka draws a humanity out of Mamoru that no one else sees. But I think part of that is because Mamoru and Haruka are meant to exist in their own world together. They both “see” the world differently and as a result are sought after as tools by others as opposed to individuals. But with each other, they simply are who they are. Haruka can actually see what Mamoru “sees” too. In an early display of her abilities, she warns Mamoru that if he continues on with his plan, he will get killed when a wall falls on him. What happens is that a large window from a high-rise building falls and thanks to her warning he manages to survive. However, with his ultra-sonic vision, it looks like a wall to Mamoru. So, whatever Haruka has seen in the future binds her to Mamoru, and the fact that she is the only one who can share his vision of the world binds him to her.
The artwork is fabulous. Graphic, kinetic, choreographed. Mamoru is really a force to be reckoned with. The panels that depict fight scenes rely on lots of hard straight lines to indicate precise movement and slices, but the panels themselves are organized around flowing arcs and circles. The graceful arcs emphasize that Mamoru is no hack — he’s been so highly trained that his sword work is an art.
I also like the more gritty, urban feel of the art. Double-S’s style is also pretty much realistic as opposed to typical manga art. Haruka isn’t idealized and eroticized the way 12 year old school girls often are in manga. Mamoru wears baggy jeans, slouchy long-sleeved shirts, and tennies — not some crazy “action hero” outfit with wacky straps and stuff.
My only regret is that Until Death Do Us Part hasn’t been picked up in the US yet. So no English translations are being published. I have to rely on scanalations.
Mamoru trains Haruka by making her dodge bear attacks. She’s game, though.