December 15, 2010

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Jormungand Vol 2

Written by Keitaro Takahashi
Illustrated by Keitaro Takahashi
Viz

The story of Jonah's unlikely alliance with a complex arms dealer continues as we learn more about Koko's ability to manipulate anyone to get what she wants. The life of an arms dealer is a dangerous one and with two expert hit men on the scene in the Middle East, Jonah must keep her safe, even as what he learns might make him want to do otherwise. Can the team stop an assassination of Koko against such determined opposition that works in harmony? And even if they do, what happens when Koko comes face to face with yet another terrible force--her own brother?

The mindless fun and explosions continues in this second volume of Jormungand, with a duo of killers who think that there's music in the spheres of death. We even get a funny bit of fan service denied (which amused the hell out of me) as a character is known for forgetting what ever mother tells you to wear daily. The catch? We never get to see anything and the reason for it is completely stupid and almost random. Absolutely brilliant. Touches like that are a bit reason why I find this manga so much fun despite the high body count and general disregard for human life. Tweaking tropes on the nose are always good for getting and holding my attention.

Takahashi does more than that, however. In between the battling, we're starting to see a darker depth to the seemingly carefree Koko. Despite being in danger for a good chunk of the manga, she's got control over everyone else in a way that makes the reader like her a lot less and swing us back to Jonah's original position of hatred for arms dealers. Via Jonah, we see some private moments that make it clear that Koko is indeed as cruel and calculating as her occupation suggestions. She and her crew may be villains you want to see in action (and even root for from time to time, depending on the situation), but at the end of the day, this volume of Jormungand makes it clear that they are in fact evil people praying on the cruelty of humanity.

I think the biggest hammer driving this point home is when Takahashi slips just a bit into preaching mode. Via Koko, we get a blow by blow of how much humanity values violence, especially compared to the desire to help your fellow man. It's a short enough passage to forgive the digression into lecture, and I thought he did a pretty good job of trying to make it seem natural. It certainly helped show Koko's true colors, but I admit it threw me out of the story just a bit. I hope these moments are few and far between going forward.

Though I enjoyed the added depth this time, Jormungand's primary draw is the action, and Takahashi delivers in spades. We only have one foe this time, but that's okay because they make an awesome pair that felt like a credible opponent for Koko's well-trained crew. I was able to follow the action pretty well (always important to me in a manga with battle scenes), with only a few moments where I felt unsure of what had occurred. The chess match of escalation between the two sides worked very well, reminding me a bit of old Looney Tunes sketches where two sides would get increasingly powerful weapons. Koko's team doesn't even win every skirmish, either, which was another nice touch. I kinda predicted the ending to the conflict, but that's okay. It still made a lot of sense within context and build logically from what came before it. All in all, it was better than a lot of Hollywood movies.

Jormungand Volume 2 ends on a cliffhanger that suggests we're going to learn more about why Jonah is with Koko's group in the first place. He's starting to find his own way within this world, and it will be interesting to see what Koko does as Jonah continues to rebel, given that she runs a tight ship. I'm sure that will form some of the underlying plot of future volumes, which I definitely plan to read. As I said before, Jormungand isn't for everyone, but if you like a dose of senseless violence with intelligent plotting and a bit of depth, give this manga a try. I'm pretty sure you'll like it a lot. I know I do. This is a likely candidate for my 2010 favorites list.