King of Wolves Vol. 1
After reading epic series such as Fist of the North Star and Berserk, it is somewhat surprising to find a one-book tale from two masters of gritty manga storytelling, Buronson and Kentaro Miura. Yet I have to admit that it is also a little refreshing.
The book’s title, King of Wolves, refers to a traditional nickname for Genghis Khan, but this is more than just a work of historical fiction. The book begins by introducing its readers to Iba, a scholar interested in China's past who also happens to be one of the top Kendo swordsmen in the world. The well-rounded Iba sets off on a research expedition to the Silk Road, promising his safe return to Kyoko, his fiancée.
However, he does not come back.
One year following his disappearance, Kyoko journeys to the archeological site that he was investigating to see if she can find out what happened to him. At the very least, she’s seeking closure of some kind from the lost of her loved one. However, she didn’t expect to witness the formation of a terrible storm before her very eyes. What's more, she especially didn't expect the gale force winds of the storm to transport her to the ancient country of Xixia in the year 1212.
After receiving help from a kind old woman, she decides to tour the capital city of Xixia. However, her beauty swiftly earns the attention of the Mongol army, who decides to take her as a trophy. Yet this stroke of what appears to be bad luck turns out to be a blessing in disguise, for it helps her to find her fiancé. Iba has survived as a pit fighter for the past year, honing his already considerable skills with a katana to an astonishing degree.
Kyoko’s captor forces Iba to fight for the Mongolian army, sending him into battles from which he has little chance of surviving, yet he lives through each one of them. He fights possessed with the desire to have Kyoko in his arms again, and nothing can stand in the way of his determination.
While King of Wolves is only one book long, the story is complex and engrossing, largely due to Buronson's ability to tell a tale, and Miura's talent for rendering one.
This is not a book to buy your grandson in case you miss the warnings on the back, stating that the book is to be sold only to readers eighteen and older. In fact, this isn't a book to read for those who aren't keen on seeing violent images and a slight bit of innocuous nudity.
The artwork is fabulously detailed in Miura's inimitable style of harsh realism. There's plenty of action in the book to keep fans of epic battles happily rolling around in the sticky gristle of Mongolian-wrought gore, and the character designs are very distinct. The cast is a little unbalanced in the sense that there are perhaps three female characters and hundreds of men represented, but King of Wolves represents a different era -- one without skirt-wearing schoolgirls.
How did they survive back then, anyway?
The artwork has been left mostly untouched (to my knowledge) as far as sound effects are concerned, and seeing as the title features plenty of nudity, I think it's safe to assume that granny-pleasing and generally superfluous clothing wasn't added at any point in the manga's domestication process. The translation and adaptation are up to par with the rest of Dark Horse's catalog, which is to say that it's better than the offerings from any other publisher in the industry today.
Altogether, this is an interesting work that will appeal to a specific group of manga fans very strongly. It might be a little too graphic for some readers, so consider yourself warned if you're squeamish over violence and a little bit of nudity. I don't think it really approaches the almost absurd level of gratuitous nakedness and gore that most of Buronson's other works exhibit, nor is it as violent as Berserk, but it's a worthy title coming from the collaboration of two artists who regularly put out interesting stuff. I'm just a little surprised that the combination of their efforts produced something a little more tame than what they usually do on their own -- not that I’m complaining. This is fine the way it is, blood, swords, boobs, and all.