Kurozakuro Vol. 1

By Yoshinori Natsume
200 pages, black and white
Published by Viz

The first volume of Kurozakuro performs a rather effective fake-out on its reader. Its first 50 page chapter sets its reader’s expectations up on just what sort of comic Kurozakuro will be, letting everyone imagine how the rest of the series will slowly unfold. And then, just when you’re convinced of the status quo, the second chapter rolls along and cheerfully proves you wrong and sends the book zipping down a different, more interesting path. That’s the kind of fake-out I approve of, wholeheartedly.

When Kurozakuro opens, we get to watch the physically and emotionally weak Mikito Sakurai get picked on by the school bullies, even as his best friend Saki Kikuoka gets pulled into the mess and he has to try (and fail) to defend her. Then in his dreams, a mysterious grinning creator named Zakuro offers Mikito a deal that will make him "stronger and better than a human" if in return Mikito covers a mysterious tree with flowers. Sure enough, he wakes up and suddenly Mikito has superhuman strength and reflexes, able to easily trash the bullies at school the next day, much to Saki’s horror. Now by this point you’re probably nodding your head, seeing this as a story where Mikito has to learn how to deal with his power and his newfound love for violence, and perhaps there will be more punching of other groups of bullies to come.

Instead, the second chapter brings a whole new setup for Kurozakuro. Mikito discovers that he has the seed of an ogre growing inside of him, and that it will corrupt and eventually completely transform Mikito into a monster. If that’s not bad enough, there are also ogre-hunters in town trying to find and kill those who have been corrupted, and one of them is now attending his school and specifically looking for Mikito. Mikito’s deal has become a slow-moving death sentence, for whenever the transformation is complete or once the hunters finally figure out that Mikito’s been infected.

I give Yoshinori Natsume full credit for taking his setup and going in a much different direction than that opening chapter had indicated. The idea of reading chapter after chapter of Mikito reveling in beating up bullies (with enough violence creating flowers on the barren tree) wasn’t a terribly enticing one, and if anything promised to get rather repetitive. And while manga seems to revel in the idea of the main character trapped with an alien creature inside (Parasyte and 7 Billion Needles are two recently translated series that immediately leap to mind), it’s still a nice shift for the series. Mikito trying to hide his nature and fight off his transformation are two struggles which hold potential, as well as his interactions with the two ogre-hunters, one of whom has recruited him as her assistant.

While most of the art in Kurozakuro Vol. 1 feels average, there are a few nice bits here and there that stand out. I do love the illustrations of Zakuro, with his innocent (if fanged) grin as he stands before the tree. He looks simultaneously cute and deadly, and it’s that dichotomy that helps drive all of his appearances. You can see why Mikito trusted Zakuro, even though it’s obvious that he should be steering clear as much as he can. Zakuro (and the silhouette of the barren tree) is the best visual in the book, easily. Additionally, there are some action moments which stand out; for instance, there’s a scene where Mikito is attacked and knocks the ogre away with his fist. There’s something about that moment that works surprisingly well; you get a strong sense of movement, but additionally the look of terror on Mikito’s face comes across as very real. Those moments don’t happen too often, unfortunately, but when they do it gives you hope that you’ll see more art like that in the book.

I like that Kurozakuro fakes out its reader after the first chapter, and takes the book down a more interesting path. Is it great? Not really. But it’s an entertaining read, and with six more volumes to come (the second one should be hitting stores any day now) there’s a lot of potential for what’s still to come. I’ll definitely take a look at the next book to see where it goes from here.

Purchase Links: Amazon.com | Powell’s Books

Comments are closed.