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Death By Execution – Innocent Manga Review

Recommended soundtrack:
Frail and III by Crystal Castles
Story summary:
Innocent (イノサン), written and illustrated by Shinichi Sakamoto, follows the biography of Charles-Henri Sanson (1739 – 1806), the Royal Executioner of France during King Louis XVI’s reign (info extracted from Wikipedia). He is ostracised and condemned because of his family’s trade and starts off weak-willed, but later (kinda) overcomes his aversion and finds solace in his noble intentions to carry out executions in the most humane way possible. By the way, when I say executions, I don’t mean simple beheading. This also includes other methods of execution such as public dismemberment.

In all honesty, this story has all the makings to potentially be a great manga – a distinctive setting and fantastic art. But it just falls so disappointingly short because of two main reasons. The first is that it seems so… pretentious. It tries to be emotional and intense, philosophical at times, but doesn’t quite hit the mark. Perhaps, in its quest to be overtly dramatic, it crossed the line and ended up slightly campy. I can’t connect with the characters either. Charles strikes me as somewhat of an enigma. He seems like a fundamentally good person but I just don’t like him for some reason?

Innocent is a grim manga. There’s nothing happy about it, at least, so far. The carnage is done exceptionally well most of the time, with detailed panels that draw out the horror and disgust. Despite that, being genuinely creepy is not the author’s forte. Scenes that aim to be eerie such as a young girl happily dissecting a bird or a grown man sucking on his mother’s nipples feel tepid at most – hardly shocking and almost boring. Partially because it’s been done before, but mostly because the drawings are devoid of emotion.  

The second thing that really irks me is the unnecessary homosexual connotations. I'm a fan of BL, however, the way this manga attempts to incorporate it is a total mess and completely irrelevant to the plot. I have no idea if I’m being too sensitive but to me, it seems so random to have Charles getting kissed by some male stranger with no prior build-up to his sexuality and even suddenly blushing when riding on a horse with a dude. It’s as if the author is just lazily throwing in these scenarios for the sake of the protagonist’s feminine appearance and to simultaneously appeal to the fujoshi crowd. If you want to so obviously drop these sort of hints then romance should be one of the main focuses of the whole story. But we don’t see any concrete gay relationship being developed. (P.S. I also researched about Charles and nothing remotely highlights him swinging that way. In fact, he married twice.)

Nonetheless, beyond its shortcomings lies a special quality about Innocent: the art. Compelling, vivid and a profound narrative in its own right, it establishes the story's immersive atmosphere with ornate impressions of olden architecture, landscapes and the human anatomy. Nightmarish sequences and a heavy use of metaphor graphics heighten the melodrama. It's practically a cinematic experience.

To sum it up...
Plot: 7/10 – I would give the basis of the plot a ‘9’ but the execution is a more like a ‘6’.  
Art: 10/10 – Dark and disturbing imagery, but not crude. Certainly, it can be defined as ‘graceful’, which is probably a bizarre way to describe horror but believe me: this is really elegant gore. I really like the art and it deserves nothing but praise.
Characters: 5.5/10 – Quite cliché characters. There’s no one I really like or can relate to. Would give a lower score but the art saves them.
Personal enjoyment: 5.5/10 – Would I recommend people to read it? Not really. I’m surprised it was nominated for a couple of awards. I mainly stuck with it up to the latest scanlated chapter to ensure my review would be accurate. Now that I’ve written this though, I can’t see myself going back to read it again.
Overall rating: 6/10
This is just one of those style-over-substance mangas. Without question, the best aspect of Innocent is its gorgeous art and innate ability to make you feel queasy from its unsettling visuals. Pick this up if you like intricate historical art and gore done with finesse, make sure you keep your expectations for the story/character development low, and you might find yourself enjoying this immensely.

Written by Faelan

Note: This review was written at the time when 53 chapters had been released.

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