JP title: 装甲悪鬼村正 鏖
So, Minagoroshi. Never have I seen a manga title that was so frighteningly accurate in describing the contents of its story. It might be short, it might be over before you realize it and as such, there’s little room for too much character development, hell it might be even a bit predictable if you’ve read the VN, but goddammit it’s still Muramasa through and through. The basic message and pitch black, “no happy end for anyone ever” tone of the original work has been quite skillfully adapted into this quick, 200-page-long one-off volume, and managed to tear out my already bleeding heart, chew it up to shreds and spit it out to the dogs.
Allow me to elaborate.
The Japanese quote I started the review with is actually the Tsurugi incantation of this manga-prequel’s main villain, and I find its words highly appropriate to describe the entire volume. Unlike the high-quality-but-somewhat-disappointing three-volume Eiyuu-hen (that didn’t blow me away simply because it did nothing but hastily re-tell a story I already knew the ins and outs of), Minagoroshi is actually a 100% original story starring Minato Kageaki and his trusty tsundere spider Muramasa, taking place sometime before the events of the VN, as I understood.
The story is probably easier to follow and digest for non-fans compared to Eiyuu-hen, and some of the basics are once again very briefly explained for the uninitiated, such as the Silver Star and the function of its eggs, or the curse of Muramasa*. I would even go as far as to say that you could *probably* read this volume without having read the VN… if you do that, some of the developments will be more surprising, like when you read Chapter 1 of the VN for the first time (and the you-know-what scene). Or, at least, you can read it after finishing only Chapter 1 and having some vague knowledge of the characters and the setting. Then again, much like with Eiyuu-hen, if you’re going to read this (hell, if you’re even *aware* of the existence of this manga at all) you’re probably already a fan, so yeah.
*(Edit: Actually, the curse of Muramasa is only really explained in Chapter 5 of the VN’s common route, so keep that in mind.)
The stage is a peaceful island of peaceful villagers living their peaceful daily lives, when suddenly, four mysterious wanderers get shipwrecked on said island. Our female protagonist, Hirai Mana, finds them on the shore and takes them back to her home to her sister, little brother and father in order to nurse him back to health. The problem is, this guy, Takaki Kanbei, is actually quite the douchebag and in a foul mood because he was once beaten bad by Team KageMura before his arrival on the island (and his Tsurugi was destroyed in the process).
So the first chance he gets, he draws his sword and threatens the good family to hand over the legendary Tsurugi, Kusanagi, currently enshrined on the island. Kusanagi is held locked up because, as legend tells it, once it is released, terrible misfortune will fall upon the entire island. Kanbei, as you would expect, does not give a single fuck since, as it was earlier established, he’s already dying from a lethal illness and has nothing to lose. So he dons Kusanagi (again, see incantation above) and decides to unleash hell upon the island… basically for the lulz. Kageaki soon shows up on the island as well, having come this far to chase Kanbei because Muramasa sensed one of the Silver Star’s eggs in him — and if you’re read the VN you know why that’s bad news (and even if you didn’t, the manga explains it briefly). So this is the basic premise, more or less.
Right off the bat you can kinda tell this story is going to end in tears. And yet it’s still fairly powerful. One of the best parts of the manga is that it actually treats Kageaki as a protagonist, unlike Eiyuu-hen which was more about Ichijou and had Rokuhara-Kageaki serving as sort of a side character. Since this is a prequel, he acts pretty much like in the game’s common route, always polite and courteous, his actions easily misunderstood for those of a hero. Except, you know:
Yeah, uh, that. In any case, he does act the dreamboat from time to time, stopping Mana’s sister Mina (don’t get confused now) from committing suicide by thrusting his hand before the blade about the strike her throat. Such a nice guy, this Kageaki fellow. As we all know. Kidding aside, I do greatly prefer this side of him (let’s call it regular Kageaki) as opposed to his Janen Hen self, badass black coat and charming “gonna kill your family” grin notwithstanding. Near the end of the manga he even utters some of his familiar lines from the VN’s Chapter 1, such as this, which made the fanboy in me cheer with anticipation.
Anyway, after being weakened by a poisonous attack he had suffered during a previous Tsurugi fight, Kageaki spends most of the manga coughing up his lungs and resting in bed, but still manages to shine in the end and has a few fight scenes of his own, so don’t worry. Mana is there to nurse him back to health, a naive young girl who idolizes him as a hero (where have I heard this before…) for coming to save her in the nick of time from Kanbei and his lackeys. The interactions of the two serve as the brief comic relief moments of the volume, with Mana being 100% infatuated with his black prince as poor Muramasa jealously huffs and puffs in the background.
So yeah, Mana is a pretty cute heroine overall and gives off the general vibe of a more energetic Ichijou in certain aspects, with parts of Kanae in there as well. Don’t get the wrong idea though, comic relief is a fairly minor part of the manga, but nonetheless they provide a decent change of pace from the blood and gore and action, much like — to me, at least — Ichijou and Kanae swooning over Kageaki was hilarious in its own way, the few times it happened.
On the antagonist front, we have four truly evil bastards who really do some sick shit during the story. Young maidens, children, elderly folk, without exception, all meet horrible ends, very much reflecting the cruelty of the Rokuhara from the game.
And this is where I have to mention the gore. Because this has quite a bit of graphic violence — where the VN was mostly off-screen bloodshed described through narrative, the manga shows everything, from severed limbs to bashed-in brains and leaking intestines. Still, it’s not as graphic as, say, Gantz, or anything by Junji Ito, and it’s not gonna make you throw up if you’re used to this stuff, but it’s definitely more brutal than your average shounen manga or PG13 flick. Honestly, I think it fits Muramasa perfectly, and always found it strange how the VN didn’t really show this sort of stuff. Anyway, as for the villains, they have barely any screen time, sadly. They pretty much just appear a few times, quickly use their Shinogi, then get killed off. Some of them look pretty cool though, so it’s a shame we didn’t see more of them:
On the other hand, the story really belongs to Mana and Kageaki, so I guess I’m happy the narrative mostly focused on them.
As I implied before, some of the themes of Muramasa are most definitely in here as well. Murder is a sin. Revenge births tragedy. Murderers never go unpunished and must carry their sin till the end of their lives. There is no hero riding in to save the day. Honestly, I would’ve loved to see this story expanded and elaborated on in more detail. I think it should’ve had its own chapter in the VN, with enough time given to all of its aspects and characters, because those 200 pages go by real quick. This time, however, unlike with Eiyuu-hen, I can give a much more solid, less uncertain recommendation. If you’ve enjoyed the VN, or at least parts of the VN, you will definitely have fun reading this, and even if you haven’t, it’s still a fairly solid — albeit depressing — tale that might push you to give the game a try.
Also, my god that ending. It’s pretty much what you would expect from a manga based on Muramasa, but that doesn’t lessen the impact and is a perfect way to end a volume with so much despair and bloodshed. It’s スラッシュダーク to the max, it’s heartwrenching, and would’ve been even better if all the characters involved were given more time to be developed, but such is the fate of a single volume spinoff. Honestly, that is my one major gripe. It’s too bloody short. The ending and the events leading up to it pretty much made me go “WHY IS THIS HAPPENING” but at the same time, I had to accept that Muramasa is always gonna be like this.
Because sometimes horrible things happen to good people.