Kuro Zakuro Vol. 2-3 (VIZ Media)

A young boy is on his way to becoming an ogre in this coming of age horror story.

 

200 pgs., color; $9.99 (each)
(W / A: Yoshinori Natsume)
 
Mikito Sakurai is a mild-mannered high school student whose unwillingness to fight back is like catnip to bullies: he keeps getting beaten up but would rather keep dusting himself off than violate his principles and fight back. Then one night, in his sleep, he swallows a mysterious orb and dreams about a pointy-toothed little guy named Zakuro, and when he wakes up the next morning he quite literally doesn’t know his own strength. All of a sudden, Mikito no longer needs glasses, and when the school bullies attempt to steal his money he beats them brutally. Somewhat more disturbingly, he seems to be developing an attraction to human flesh (as a food group). The orb he swallowed was an ogre seed and Mikito is on the way to becoming an ogre: in fact, he’s already the target of ogre hunters Azami Himeha, who passes as a schoolgirl, and her superior Kugai, a guy who takes his job very seriously.
 
Kuro Zakuro is a cross between a school story and horror comic: there’s plenty of gory action (the presumed reason for the T+ rating, as sex doesn’t seem to be on the menu) and an ogre mythology is starting to emerge, yet the whole story is really about a teenager coming to terms with himself and the world. There are obvious parallels to The Strange Case of Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde and if you want a more modern analogy just think of all those school shooters who had been the victims of bullies before they snapped. Or to be even more obvious, think back to the turmoil of your own teenage years when you might have felt like a different person from one day to the next. Those parallels are probably why volume 1 of Kuro Zakuro was nominated as a "Great Graphic Novel for Teens" by the American Library Association.
 
In vol. 2, Mikito calls on his troll powers to rescue both Azami and his little sister Kozue from trolls, leaving him even more conflicted about this new aspect of himself. He also learns from Kugai that the ogre population is increasing: apparently someone is spreading ogre seeds. The series’ mythology is further developed as we learn the meaning of Zakuro’s cryptic remark about making a tree bloom and also find out that there may be something out there even worse than ogres. In vol. 3, we learn what that is, and also what the process of "ripening" to become an ogre entails (hint: Mikito is just in an early stage). Vol. 3 also takes Mikito further away from his known world: he is no longer living with his family out of fear he might harm them and has left school as well. A new crop of troll hunters also comes on the scene in vol. 3 and they don’t exactly blend into the background with their punk hairstyles and general too-cool-for-school attitudes (although they’d fit right in at Fangtasia, the vampire bar in True Blood).
 
Yoshinori Natsume’s art puts an effective horror spin on the shonen conventions: he uses a lot of solid black and even the female characters have a sort of tailored look to them. Zakuro is actually one of his less successful characters—he looks like a refugee from a kid’s story—while the goth crew of ogre hunters introduced in vol. 3 add some welcome variety as well as a note of satire to the series. The cover art of these volumes is a little unusual (in a good way): both look like they’ve been painted (brush strokes and all) and the color scheme is reminiscent of some of the grimmer works from the Blaue Reiter movement.
 
Kuro Zakuro has only 7 volumes so you don’t have to feel like you are making a two-year commitment if you start to read it, a real plus as far as I’m concerned. The second volume has one bonus page with some preliminary sketches by Natsume and an author’s note about how he works, while the third has a six-page tongue-in-cheek bonus comic in which the minor characters air their grievances. | Sarah Boslaugh

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