After having read through the other two Muramasa manga adaptations (that is, Eiyuu-hen and Minagoroshi), I couldn’t help but feel a strong urge to check out the third adaptation as well — Makai-hen, being the biggest and most ambitious of the bunch, spanning over five whole volumes, was particularly exciting to me as a Muramasa fan, seeing how its storyline takes place *after* the VN’s true end.
Speaking of which, there are some things I have to mention in advance. First, there will be spoilers for the VN, naturally. This manga is a sequel, so I fully expect you to be familiar with the VN’s storyline, as well as that of Re:Blade Arts (in the Janen-hen fandisc), considering Makai-hen is basically a story showing the events that eventually lead up to Re:Blade Arts. But more on that later. The other thing is that this post will include some major spoilers when I come to discussing certain elements of the manga’s plot — I’ll give a clear warning before the paragraphs in question.
JP title: 装甲悪鬼村正 魔界編
So I’m assuming we all remember how Full Metal Daemon Muramasa ended. Kageaki found his destined path and decided to become, in essence, the symbol of war, of Muramasa and 善悪相殺 in order to spread the truth of the battlefield across the realm, lending his blade to all that would require it. Well, as long as they fully acknowledge the consequences of hiring Muramasa, and abide by the tenets of 善悪相殺, sacrificing an equal amount of allies/loved ones in compensation for all the enemies Kageaki kills for them. Makai-hen opens up with one such contract, with Kageaki waiting for his soon-to-be-employer to show up. And then, out of the blue, a massive hole/vortex opens up in the sky and a Musha falls through — the first of many fight scenes happens, and we have an initial mystery on ours hands: what just happened, and why?
The first fight, other than establishing this mystery, also serves as a grim reminder of how Kageaki operates now.
It’s still a bit heart-wrenching to see Kageaki be so cold and cruel, but hey, this is the path he chose to walk. Still, it really makes you wonder what Subaru would think if she saw him like this. I’ve said this before, but it’s a bit sad to see a guy who could’ve easily led an average, peaceful life end up so… different. Even if this is something he decided for himself. But when you think about what triggered things, he was more or less a guy at the wrong place, at the wrong time, and his normal life kinda just… got really fucked over. I’ll talk about this too a bit more when I begin discussing some of the spoilery parts of the manga.
In any case, the basic premise is that an old priest (Shintoubou) hires Kageaki as a bodyguard to defend him against the various Musha that are after his life. It is also revealed at the same time that the Musha coming to kill Shintoubou are all famous heroes from the past (hence the vortex we saw earlier), so you’ll see people like Date Masamune or Shinsengumi founding members Okita Souji, Hijikata Toshizou show up, among others, while the “final boss” at the end is none other than legendary swordsman Miyamoto Musashi. But let’s not actually jump ahead so much.
Instead, there’s something I should probably make clear right at the start: while I did find the story pretty interesting and the manga remains faithful to the source material and its style and atmosphere, the majority of Makai-hen’s five volumes revolve around Tsurugi fights. Like, 70% of this manga is just fight scenes. Don’t get me wrong, it’s not really the fights themselves that are the problem (that’s part of Muramasa, after all), but rather how there’s not too much else in here. Still, the artwork is top-notch, as the pictures I’m about to post will hopefully demonstrate, which made Tsurugi fights a bit more exciting to follow compared to “just” reading plain text, at least for me personally. And in certain fights, even I — who’s generally never been a massive fan of Tsurugi and Tsurugi-battles — found myself turning page after page, kinda-sorta looking forward to finding out how Kageaki would overcome this or that adversary. A good example of this would be the Yagyuu Juubei fight in Volume 4. And let’s be honest, in good old Muramasa fashion, some pretty crazy stuff happens. One of my favorites would probably be what the Shinsengumi duo does near the end of the first volume.
The fights themselves are fairly lengthy (hell, if I remember correctly, pretty much the entirety of Volume 3 is one big fight scene), and don’t merely consists of empty artwork: much like in the game, there’s plenty of discussion between Kageaki and Muramasa mid-fight about tactics and such. Actually, even our old friends from the VN, whom I just like to call “Red Guy” and “Blue Guy” make a brief return on one page. Well, I guess they’re both just Gray Guys in this case, but you get my point. Either way, if you were really into the fights in the original VN, you’re probably gonna like this as well.
Appearances from well-known characters, primarily the heroines, were very welcome and I enjoyed the hell out of them. I will also have to note, however, that their involvement is pretty minimal, which is a shame. Naturally, you’ll hear Muramasa relatively often in combat for obvious reasons. Ichijou does have a pretty amusing introductory scene as well with some fighting/Masamune body horror + a quick scene with her running into Kageaki. I wish we had more of this, since I *loved* the palpable tension between herself and Kageaki. But unfortunately, it was one scene, and that was it — afterwards, Ichijou’s more or less out of the picture. I guess people wanting more of her should just settle for Eiyuu-hen. The same goes for Kanae, a character I personally really like, who probably has the least amount of screen (page?) time in the entire manga. Her usual hijinks with Kageaki (I mean, 景明様！！) are as entertaining as ever, but sadly, much like Ichijou, she just has one quick scene in Volume 2, then pretty much disappears from the story entirely, save for maybe one or two quick panels.
Interestingly enough, it’s probably Chachamaru who has the most involvement in the manga, although even her scenes are kept to a relative minimum, so don’t expect *too* much. Yes, much like in Janen-hen, they brought back Chachamaru once again because, well, I’m guessing she’s an insanely popular heroine. But don’t worry, this happens fairly early on in the story so it’s not a massive spoiler or anything. I mean, look, she’s on the cover of Volume 4, so I’d feel silly trying to keep her appearance in the manga a secret, haha. The artist also seemingly made it their mission to make her look as cute as possible because, well… just look at some of the pictures I’ll post here. Anyway, her scenes are also pretty entertaining, because, well, it’s Chachamaru. You know what to expect.
As for the story, for what little there is of it (because, you know, most of the manga is fighting, etc.), it’s actually pretty interesting. At least it was for me. There’s a cool twist near the end, which I didn’t quite see coming, and it really made me think about how much they managed to use the source material to its full potential with it. It definitely made Volume 4 (the one where the twist occurs) the most enjoyable volume to read for me personally. My only gripe is that the entire twist was actually spoiled in advance by the manga itself via its glossary a few pages before. Sort of a weird move, honestly. They really should’ve placed that glossary *after* the event in question occurs. Speaking of which: yep, there are detailed glossaries after each chapter explaining a variety of things like combat maneuvers, events, characters, and so on. I’ll be honest though, I really don’t see the point of reading this manga if you haven’t played the VN. Although I think that should be obvious.
The ending also seems to hint at a continuation in the form of a 武帝編, although it’s not clear to me if this is referencing an actual manga they’re planning to make to chronicle the Warlord’s exploits, or if it’s just their way of telling you to go read Re:Blade Arts. By the way, Makai-hen doesn’t connect the original VN and Re:Blade Arts as tightly as I hoped it would (there isn’t even any Ouliga in this!), so I see a new manga as a possibility. Anyway, if there is indeed a new manga, I do hope we’ll get to see how Ouliga met Kageaki, for example — that’s something I’d definitely be interested in.
I suppose the bottom line here is that I did enjoy this manga, even with the high amount of combat-oriented content — the art is gorgeous, even the comedy works, and it definitely hits all the right notes in terms of recreating Muramasa’s atmosphere, even if it really could’ve devoted more time to non-combat stuff and the other heroines. I guess you could say that the heroines already had their moments to shine in their respective routes in the VN… but I dunno. Oh well. Either way, those are probably my main gripes, it honestly would’ve been great to see more balance between storytelling / character moments and pure combat — primarily because depending on your expectations and tolerance to endless fight scenes, this might possibly make the manga a bit of a disappointment in certain aspects. Maybe they should’ve made this 8-10 volumes long instead of just five to give room for more stuff, haha. Still, I do think this is potentially an interesting read for dedicated fans of Muramasa, I personally don’t regret reading it at all, and now I’m actually really curious to see if they’re going to make more with the same scenario writer and artist.
(The rest of this post will just be my spoiler-filled discussion/description of that particular twist I mentioned, so feel free to scroll past all of it if you don’t want to know.)
Right, this is the warning I was talking about. From here on out, there will be major spoilers for the plot, primarily revolving around one of the cooler twist/reveals in Volume 4. This basically concerns the big mystery of why legendary Musha from the past are being summoned into the present.
Well, it gets… kinda weird. But kinda awesome in its own Muramasa way. First off, we see a flashback to Chapter 5, right at the moment when Subaru gets stabbed by Kageaki. More or less the same scene plays out, Subaru asks Kageaki not to blame himself, while he just breaks down and lets out that bone-chilling scream. You know the one. This is where he then proceeds to accompany Muramasa and decide to chase after Hikaru. Except this time, that… doesn’t quite happen. As it turns out, the scene we’re being shown is a parallel universe where, after killing Subaru, instead of partnering up with Muramasa, Kageaki ends up loathing the crimson Tsurugi and what she represents so much that he picks up his sword and kills her instantly, right there.
He does this via his trademark 一刀両断 that he used to cut the helmet in half and also kill that Tsurugi-clad dude during the Rokuhara/corruption arc. So after Sansei is chopped in half and dies, Kageaki is enveloped by a vortex created via Konjin’s power. In it, much like Kageaki/Muramasa did during the main game, he sees his own potential future — all the deaths he would cause (Nitta Yuuhi, the sisters, etc.), should he partner up with Muramasa. And of course, the final image he sees is himself as the Warlord.
Basically, alternate universe Kageaki realizes that no matter what path he takes in life, he always ends up as a vile 悪鬼, which sort of drives him mad. Through Konjin’s portals, he also gets teleported to the moment when Muramasa killed Konjin/the second sun back in the main game: as this happens, a shard of Konjin actually hits him in the left eye. With the Konjin-shard buried in his eye socket, he gains the same time-space manipulation powers. Since he views the death of the 悪鬼/canon Minato Kageaki as the only way to ensure world peace, he makes it his mission to destroy his own alternate self — and for that reason, he (now in the present), kills a priest and takes his place as Shintoubou, then proceeds to summon a host of legendary heroes from the past using his new powers to kill him. So basically that’s the reason for all the vortexes opening. However, using Konjin’s power also wears him out greatly, leading to accelerated aging. He basically turns into a dying old man with white hair by the end. So yeah, you heard it right: Shintoubou has been a hate-filled alternate version of Kageaki all along, hell-bent on destroying Muramasa and everything it represents.
Anyway, I thought this utilized the whole Konjin/alternate timelines thing already established in Muramasa/Janen-hen quite nicely in order to take the story into this exciting new direction. It also shows yet another way Kageaki could’ve potentially ended up, which is always cool to see. Janen-hen did something similar, if you remember. It was an interesting development and definitely a welcome change from all the combat in the previous volumes.
…and so does this post!