Manga Review: Die Wergelder by Hiroaki Samura
There’s something weird going on with the isolated island of Ishikunagajima. A decade ago, it was a poverty-stricken backwater inhabited mostly by fishermen and their families. Now it’s a thriving red-light district, despite being a five hour boat trip from Japan. It seems that someone has plowed a lot of money into making sure there are plenty of brothels there. More money than they could possibly be raking in from the tourists.
The mystery of Ishikunagajima is drawing in an assortment of criminals and shady people. Two loosely-connected yakuza gangs, a German pharmaceutical concern, a blonde sniper named Träne, a Chinese assassin named Jie Mao and a homeless woman named Shinobu who hasn’t been to her home island in years, and others, are converging on the remote rock in the sea. What’s really going on in Ishikunagajima, and will anyone survive finding out?
This is the new series from Hiroaki Samura, creator of Blade of the Immortal. According to the interview in the back of Volume 1 (which collects the first two volumes of the Japanese edition), this series is a homage to the violent and erotic “Pinky Violence” movies of the 1970s. And make no mistake, we’re getting plenty of violence and sex. In the first chapter alone, there’s nudity, some disturbing sex, a woman giving birth, and a man being killed in a particularly horrific way. As you might expect, in later chapters there’s rape and torture.
This is not a story with heroes so far; there are only evil people, amoral people, and those seeking revenge. “Wergelder”, we are told, is the price one must pay for murdering someone, and at least one character is determined to collect wergelder no matter what. That said, many of the characters are interesting; they have varying motivations and lines they don’t want to cross. Shinobu is as close to being an innocent as the story allows for. She’s been content to survive on only the pettiest of crimes, until a yakuza thug steals from his bosses and offers to take her with him someplace nice. They’re both caught within two days, and the boss offers her a deal–help him find out what goes on with Ishikunajima and she can live.
Träne used to be an innocent, but very bad things happened in her backstory that have left her obsessed with revenge. She will do just about anything to achieve that goal, including co-opting Shinobu and the yakuza into her plans to infiltrate the remote island of mystery. But precisely who is using whom remains in question.
Ro, the minor yakuza thug Shinobu initially runs off with, becomes something of the comic relief as he swiftly accepts that he’s a supporting character in this story–as long as he’s not being tortured or killed, he’s up for whatever.
The first few chapters are a bit disjointed as they set up the various pieces; we don’t really get a lot of the main plot points until after the first scenes at Ishikunajima.
Again, this seinen manga earns a “Mature Readers” warning, so be advised. Recommended for fans of “Pinky Violence” films and the creator’s previous series.