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Kuro Zakuro Vol. 1 (VIZ Media)

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Mild-mannered Miko gets more than he bargained for when a wish for strength puts him on the path to ogre-hood.

200 pgs., B&W; $9.99
(W / A: Yoshinori Natsume)
 
Like many superheroes, when we first meet Mikito Sakurai he’s a high school student who’s a loner and a prime target for bullies. They’ve figured out that he won’t ever fight back (in truth, he’s made it a principle to never hit anyone) and they’re more than happy to relieve him of whatever cash he’s carrying, as well as to just beat on him because they can. Even his pal Saki chews him out for refusing to defend himself (after she takes a beating for standing up for him) and it looks like poor mild-mannered Miko may have lost his last friend in the world.
 
Then a stray cat knocks a mysterious orb into Miko’s school bag, and it even more mysteriously hops out of his bag and down his throat while he’s sleeping. He suddenly finds himself transported from his comfy bedroom to a blasted heath featuring a large and rather skeletal-looking tree and a kid with cartoonishly-pointed teeth who asks him to name his greatest desire. At first Miko is stumped—he’s so accustomed to withdrawing from life that he can’t think of anything he wants—but finally comes up with a request to be stronger so no one will ever push him around again.
 
You know how your mother told you to be careful what you wished for? Miko will come to realize the truth in this advice because he does become stronger and the bullies stop pushing him around, but he’s also discovered a nasty, violent streak in his personality and has started to develop a taste for raw meat. In fact, he’s starting to see his classmates as just so much meat on the hoof.
 
Miko’s little pal with the pointy teeth is Zakuro and he’s a demon. The orb Miko swallowed was a seed and he’s in the process of being transformed into an ogre. You have to feel for the kid at this moment—his two choices in life seem to be perpetual victim or supremely brutal victimizer—but, philosophical debates aside, he has another problem: where there are ogres there must be ogre hunters (it wouldn’t be much of a story otherwise, right?) and the cute new girl at school, Azami Himeha, turns out to be working undercover in exactly that capacity. She’s a real kick-ass babe and Miko is scared of her, but he’s early in the process of transformation so she hasn’t detected his ogre-nature yet.
 
There are seven volumes in Japanese in the Kuro Zakuro (sometimes written as one word) series, and this is the first to be translated into English. It gets the series off to a good start with several issues to explore, the most important being whether it is possible to reverse the transformation from human to ogre (we’ve already been told in vol. 1 that it isn’t, but I’m guessing that someone will come up with some way around that in the volumes to come). There’s also the relationship between Miko and Saki, and the usual high school stuff as well—conforming to the role others assign to you versus insisting on your self-determination, having the hots for a girl who could cause you some serious trouble, and so on. Besides, a series about ogres is a pleasant change from all the vampires that seem to be out there these days.
 
Yoshinori Natsume, whose previous work includes Togari: The Sword of Justice and the Batman: Death Mask miniseries, is a good story teller. The afterword to Kuro Zakuro is as follows:
 
                “I wonder what happens next?”
                “I can’t wait to read the next chapter.”
                That’s the kind of manga I’d like to write.
 
That’s the kind of manga he did write, because I’m really eager to find out what happens next with Miko and Saki and Himeha. It sounds obvious but I’ve read a lot of first volumes that didn’t make me want to read the rest of the series. Maybe I should start subjecting all first volumes to the “Natsume test”: if you don’t feel like you just have to find out what happens next, then the volume has failed the test.
 
Natsume’s art is basic shonen manga style with some interesting dark elements, including a really creepy tree which appears not only on the blasted heath (which, by the way, might exist only in Miko’s dream), but also as his shadow when his violent ogre-self has taken possession of him. He has a nice feel for action scenes (and gives some good ones to Himeha) and for the gradations of demonic transformation to which humans may be subject. I particularly like the fact that he has Himeha wearing something like compression shorts under her school uniform, which spares us the other inevitable panty shots when she’s kicking guy’s blocks off—although I know that lack will upset a certain faction of readers. You can see a preview of Kuro Zakuro here: http://www.shonensunday.com/series/kurozakuro/index.shtml. | Sarah Boslaugh

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