Manga: Purgatory Kabuki
Mangaka: Yasushi Suzuki (Story & Art)
Publisher: DGN Production/DR Masters Publications
Original Publisher: DGN Production/DR Masters Publications
Price: $9,95 (w/e that is in € atm)
Released so far: Volume 1
Release Schedule: Volume 2: Fall 2008
Licensed in the US: DGN Production/DR Masters Publications
Additional Information: Contains colored pages, omake pages and translation notes.

After the art book, this is the second work by Yasushi Suzuki that I review but a manga is different from an art book. My critique for it was very positive overall and I was already praising Purgatory Kabuki’s sample pages that came with it.

The first thing that drew attention to me was the beautiful cover art. I like the different shades of blues and how the different image small parts mix into each other to create a bigger picture. I’m not sure if he designed the skull of flowers and leaves as well, but it looks darn cool.

A few colored pages follow the introduction of the “production team”; not as impressive as the cover, but nonetheless beautifully illustrated, especially the spread. Overall, they look at least as impressive as his colored art in his art book.

However as nice as it may look, for a manga, the lines are too small and the background is kept too dark, which makes it hard to realize all the small details. I suggest you use a very bright light; otherwise you will have problems to follow the manga. Usually you are able to understand manga just by skipping over the pages; you don’t have to pay attention to the art, pictures and characters, as it just happens naturally. Here the dark colours make it pretty difficult to just “fly” over the pictures and therefore make this method useless.

The, what friends and I refer to as “agarthaesque messiness” (Agharta is a manga drawn by Takaharu Matsumoto and is serialized in Ultra Jump with very MESSY art), does not stop after the coloured pages, but instead is a level above it; especially he has to limit himself to black, white and screen tones. I also realized that he doesn’t use speed lines as often as you see them in standard manga, to basically guide the eye where to look. His panel backgrounds are also more “packed” than normally. This makes it unnecessarily hard for the eye to focus on the important part in the picture but instead glancing all over the panel to search for the “red thread” that usually leads you over the page instinctively.

He also uses different widths for the panel frames. The horizontal borders tend to be very thick horizontally, while they are very thin vertically. I don’t know why he does so, first I thought he tries to make it easier to distinguish between panels, but for that the white space alone would suffice. They just seemed strange to my eyes, not that they are having a negative effect or anything.

After I “fought” myself through the first chapters, I found it easier to follow his art work and use of screen tones. Though this does not mean I had an easier time to follow his story. Despite many negative points, I’m once again impressed by his art. Once accustomed his sketchy and thin lines make every page an enjoyable read, if you don’t mind giving it a more detailed and longer look. I read it three times and every time I can discover new details in the panels: figures, symbols or objects. The art is marvelous and detailed, maybe too detailed, making it hard to immediately grab the essence of the panel and page.

The manga evolves around a young man, Imanotsurugi, who’s fighting in the Japanese Underworld for fame, glory and fun. At the start of the story he loses a duel to Enishi, a Tenma, and so decides to serve her and collect 1000 swords and help her to return to heaven. In return she creates a stronger body for him, so he can surpass the dangers they will have to face together.

We are not told the ulterior motives of Enishi’s return to heaven or why she was expelled in the first place. When wandering through the underworld, they find a wounded Shinobi, who desperately seeks help. After 42 of his comrades were slaughtered by the demons living in Rashomon, the gate to hell, he is in need for a strong sword arm to recapture the treasured clan sword: Inukami.

They decide to help him and march off to face the demons of Rashomon and find the legendary sword. When arriving at Rashomon, the sword answers the calls of Imanotsurugi and merges with his soul. However there has been an observer for the whole time, who know introduces herself as the 4th blade Kitsunebi. They both focus on their heavy battle, with a slight advantage for Rashomon’s guardian. Enishi herself can’t help Imanotsurugi, as she has to defend herself against the 2nd blade, Kimado. The battle continues throughout the volume, and reaches a conclusion, just before Enishi gets into big trouble.

Story: 6/10 – The plot layout seems very confusing; the art not helping.
Art: 7/10 – I had a hard time to rating this, as the art itself is beautifully illustrated; however for a manga it’s too messy to not subtract points.
Enjoyment: 8/10 – I had a hard time following the story, but I still enjoyed it enough to buy the second volume and felt it was worth the price.
Overall: 7/10

Comment on DRMaster’s release: I think the translation gave it a fantasy touch and therefore fit the overall environment; some Japanese words were used, but did not hinder the understanding. Paper and cover quality seems standard. More sample pages can be found here and here.