May 6, 2011

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Jormungand Volume 6

Written by Keitaro Takahashi
Illustrated by Keitaro Takahashi
Viz

Koko shows mercy and Valmet does not, as we pick up the stories started at the end of the last volume. While Valmet (with Jonah’s help, whether she wants it or not) seeks revenge against the man who destroyed her unit, Koko tries to keep the remaining troops in line in the face of a surprise attack. As the battles rage across two fronts, it’s clear Koko’s mini-empire has some issues to deal with. There are some cracks at the edges of this volume of Jormungand.

One of the main things I noticed in this issue was a major shift in the tone of the book. Almost from page one, Koko has been shown as being in complete control of her situation, even when hit with the unexpected. No matter what is thrown at her, Koko ends up on top. She’s shown as never losing her cool (except in a playful, comic way), never at a loss, and able to get her troops to do anything asked of them.

As we progress through this volume, however, Takahashi starts showing us that Koko’s grip on her world is extremely fragile. She knew Valmet might leave, sure, but I think she’s actually surprised that it happened without her knowing it did. With one person off the reservation, even for a short time, what stops others from freelancing? It’s a huge question mark hanging in the air over this entire storyline, and I am looking forward to seeing how Takahashi addresses this as we go along.

The general lack of control displayed here is shown in small ways. Koko opts to be extra-violent, losing her normal control in the heat of the action. She’s incapable of making kill shots I think she would have taken in earlier storylines, and her decisions at the end of the book do not seem like smart ones. Koko may think she’s controlled Valmet’s issue once and for all, but the reader can see that’s not true. The same goes for her latest handling of an assassination plot against her. There are further seeds planted in the ending of this volume, waiting to be sewn later. Or, if you prefer, Koko has left quite a few dominoes in place, and she may not get a say in how they drop.

Thus far, Koko has been shown to be the lesser of multiple, complex evils. We’ve rooted for her and her team, and that drove a lot of the first five volumes’ action. She’s very much the focal character by now, from general storyline to cover. I think starting now, we are going to watch her take a slow, inevitable slide into defeat, or at least a major tragedy. No matter how noble, a villain must always fall in the end for the story to feel finished. With this volume, I think Takahashi is moving us in that direction. The mostly happy, thoughtless action movie, with almost A-team like violence is over. Reality is setting in, and I think this change is both appropriate for the characters and good for the reader.

Interestingly enough, as the violence becomes more real and less glorified, it also starts moving to the sidelines. We don’t see most of Valmet’s fighting, and several of Koko’s battle climaxes also happen off the page. I’m not quite sure why—it’s not like anyone reading Jormungand would have an issue with graphic violence—but it did take away some of my attention, as I kept looking to see what I missed, only to find it wasn’t there. Takahashi is trying to do the “horror off panel” thing, but I think that’s a mistake. We need to see the horrors going on. Cutting away is distracting to the story, not enhancing it. (Recall that I am reading in translation. It’s quite possible this is a censorship issue, in which case just disregard this paragraph entirely.)

Jormungand started off as a light-hearted action romp with some side depth that made me want to stick with it. Now it’s become a far more complex tale, and if anything, I like it even better. Every time I finish a volume, I want to read more, because Takahashi has created a complex set of characters that are progressing from trade to trade. This is rare in an action story of this nature and extremely welcome. I came for a popcorn thrill and got so much more. It’s a great ride that I hope keeps going until its finish.

I’m sure people tend to shy away from Jormungand because of its theme. That’s a mistake. This is really high-quality story told using the props of a 1980s action film. Peel back the layers and you find so much more than meets the eye at first glance. If you’ve passed on Jormungand before, try picking it up again, maybe from Volume 5. I think you might end up staying with this manga longer than you expected.