“Someone who steals by sneaking into some place quietly without anyone knowing is called a burglar. Someone who steals by using words to trick someone is called a swindler. Someone who steals by using violence to beat someone up is called a thug. Someone who has perfected all of these… sneaking, tricking, beating, stealing… someone with this most evil, most awful occupation is called an Itsuwaribito.”
The first volume of Itsuwaribito opens with this helpful definition, though we quickly get to see several of the titular villains in action, looting and pillaging an orphanage. One of the orphans, Utshuo Azako, is a young man who swore an oath to never tell the truth ever again after he inadvertently brought about the deaths of his family by honestly answering the questions of a gang of thieves seeking a way into his house. Since then, he has devoted most of his time toward fishing and creating small bombs and poisons rather than doing his chores, much to the annoyance of “Gramps” – the monk who took Utshuo into the orphanage.
Offered a place among the gang of Itsuwaribito as they attack, Utshuo refuses to join them. Trickster though he is, he does not like the Itsuwaribito way of preying on the weak and helpless. After defeating the gang with his own lies and tricks, Utshuo makes a vow to follow the example of the monk who took him in and use his unique gifts for treachery to help at least one thousand people. As his journey begins, Utshuo tries to help (and eventually adopts) a talking tanooki he calls Pochi, who will become his closest companion.
Writer/Artist Yuuki Iinuma has come up with a winning concept here. Granted, as a life-long fan of trickster tales, my opinion may be biased and suspect, but there is much to recommend this story even if you aren’t a big fan of “heroes” who are lying, cheating, sneaking, stealing con-men. Utsuho is a truly unique character, being an earnest and open young man despite his commitment to treachery as a way of life. Ironically, the only things he is truthful about are his desire to help others and his position as an Itsuwaribito. Pochi too, is an oddity among Manga characters, being a wacky talking animal sidekick who manages not to be annoying or completely disconnected from the true action of the story. Iinuma’s artwork is fantastic too, seeming more thin-lined and elegant than the standard manga style requires.
I would recommend this series highly for older teens that may have been fans of Naruto or One Piece but are looking for something a little more sophisticated. The first volume has several graphic scenes of violence, with lots of blood and action as Utshuo pits his wits against other Itsuwaribito who favor the “thug” aspect of the occupation over stealthy and word-play. While this first volume is somewhat tame by the standards of what I usually associate with Older Teen manga, I would still plead caution, despite my own desire to read as much of this series as possible.