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When a smile means death

Ah St Gotthard Pass. Connecting north to south Switzerland, it is a mountain pass in the Alps, and is crossed by three major traffic tunnels. Smell the crisp mountain air as you drive from Zurich, Lugano, Germany or Italy.

                                            The devil’s bridge at Gotthard Pass

Wait a minute, what does any of this have to do with manga? Only that this is the backdrop for one of the darkest fantasy series ever written, Wolfsmund, fast becoming one of the cult manga hits in Japan. 

Wolfsmund, (Wolf’s mouth) is a fictitious 13th century dark masterpiece set in a fictitious fortress with its fictitious evil gatekeeper, Bailiff Wolfram from the house Habsburg. Wolfram has been charged by Duke Leopold I, with oppression of Austria well on the way, to crush any, and all efforts, to mount a revolution against him by any means. Always with a sadistic smile plastered on his face, the “hero” of this twisted tale has never allowed anyone who attempts to cross the dark pass illegally to leave the place alive. Cunning and devious, a tiny slip of the tongue will get any foolish trespasser executed on the spot. From direct assaults to assassinations, espionage to forgery of permits, all have tried. And all have died.
Strangulations, torture, hangings. It’s all sport in Wolfsmund

Did I forget to mention that Wolfram also has his own small army of heavily armed guards?

The mountain fortress does indeed resemble the mouth of a ravenous wolf. It doesn’t help that Wolfram always seem to delight in the fall, and the subsequent execution, of anyone caught.

A smile seals your fate

Wolfsmund has ran in Fellows/Harta magazine (Enterbrain) since 2008. It won rave reviews by professionals in the Japanese manga industry at the time, with Shogakukan editor calling it ,”the craziest manga I have ever read” . Wolfsmund, together with another dark horse new mangaka from also a small magazine, Comic Beam, were touted as the titles that will resurrect the public’s interest in fantasy manga. That title is the now world-renowned Attack on Titan. But mention the mangaka Kuji Mitsuhisa, and probably most people will scratch their head and say, “Who again??”

That is hardly a surprise. Since 2004, Kuji has only drawn a few one-shot stories, or yomikiri, as is known in the industry. A yomikiri is essentially a pilot for a manga. They have to hit a certain level of readership before approval is given for serialisation. And Wolfsmund is his serialisation debut work. So what gave Kuji the confidence to start with such a diffciult piece? It turns out that he was actually an assistant of Mori Kaoru, of the historical romance series Ema, and, more importantly, Miura Kentarou, the creator of the acclaimed long-running dark fantasy masterpiece, Berserk.

Wolfsmund, with its scene of torture, carnage and executions, and the dark theme of the relentless stories, is hard to swallow. Nevertheless I found it difficult to put the book down. Kuji’s artwork is not the greatest in the world, but that would be nitpicking, as it will be forgotten once you are absorbed in the gruesome tale. For better or worse, Kuji has declared that Wolfsmund will end by volume seven, and, given the formulaic script, perhaps it is a good thing to finish on a high note and not suffer the same fate as the notorious 3x3 eyes, by dragging a decent storyline beyond the point of oblivion.

The seven volumes of the manga Wolfsmund are available in Japanese under Enterbrain, in English under Vertical, and in French under Ki-oon.

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