Kurozakuro, vol. 1-7

kurozakuro1Despite being the target of every bully in his high school Sakurai Mikito refuses to stand up for himself. Not because he’s a wimp, but because he’s a pacifist through-and-through and holds a passionate, almost extreme aversion to hurting anyone else. But Mikito’s life turns upside down when one strange day a mysterious orb finds its way into Mikito’s bag and, after Mikito falls asleep, manages to work itself into his mouth and deep into his body. Mikito then has an odd dream about a small boy named Zukuro who keeps asking him, “What is your desire?” and promises Mikito anything if only he will help with some strange tasks.

Mikito awakens the next morning, finding he no longer needs his eye glasses to see. He makes his way to school and, like any other day, the bullies come calling. Mikito prepares for yet another beating but this time he feels his body fill up with an unquenchable rage. Shocking both himself and everyone around him he strikes back with super-human strength and speed, quickly beating his one-time antagonists down to a bloody pulp.

At first overjoyed by his new abilities, Mikito learns that his new powers come at a steep price. His temper has shortened and he develops an almost unbearable craving for human flesh. Zakuro doesn’t help matters, either. The small boy plagues Mikito’s dreams and waking subconscious, continually pushing and tricking him into situations where he’ll be forced to use his powers.

Mikito soon comes to the attention of a pair of Hunters, a group of highly trained teens who use magic and enchanted weapons to fight monsters that prey upon mankind. The Hunters tell Mikito that he has become an Ogre and that each time he uses his powers he will get stronger but will also lose a little bit of his humanity. At first the Hunters want to kill Mikito before he gets too powerful but after helping them in a fight Mikito convinces them to use him to learn more about Ogres —what they are, where they come from, and possibly even a way to cure infected humans. Their investigations quickly uncover dark secrets involving a race of ancient, mystical beings that use Ogres to feed off of mankind.

As the creator of titles like Batman: Death Mask and Togari, Natsume is known more for dark, twisted tales for adults than for teen-oriented series. But this title shifts his mode, transforming his moody art into the familiar thin lines and cartoony faces of a teen-friendly, shonen-style book. Despite the change in art style Natsume still holds a real gift of visual storytelling. The scene where Ogre orb first infects Mikito, for example, is made all the more powerful by Natsume delivering it almost entirely without narration. Fight scenes and other moments of physical action play out equally well. He also shows strong understanding of layout, making use of different shaped panels to really carry the eyes and help create an even faster read.

But the most impressive aspect of the title is Mikito himself. His pacifism makes him vastly different from the typical shonen hero; while everyone around him just wants to kill the bad guys Mikito works extra hard to only hurt someone else when he absolutely needs to. Natsume seems to be using Mikito to explore some varying philosophies of violence, pacifism and sacrifice that, while not wholly successful, are quite original and very interesting.

Unfortunately, by the third volume Mikito falls into the background while the Hunters seek out ways to fight against the powerful beings. While this carries things into some fun fights and clever world-building, it also makes it more typical Shonen material with heroes fighting through layers upon layers of bad guys. The diversion might have worked for a longer story but at only seven volumes it really cheapens a tale that had the promise of taking readers someplace a little different.

The final volume, though, brings both Mikito and Zakuro back to the forefront, carrying the story into a finale that’s action-packed and would not have worked if not for Mikito’s pacifist tendencies. While certainly not a must-have title, Kurozakuro is a fast read and will satisfy shonen fans looking for something slightly different. But more perhaps more importantly the book shows a creator playing within the genre in some clever ways, really pointing out Natsume as a creator to watch in the years to come.

Kurozakuro, vol. 1-7
by Yoshinori Natsume
Vol. 1 ISBN: 978-1421536590
Vol. 2 ISBN: 978-1421536606
Vol. 3 ISBN: 978-1421536613
Vol. 4 ISBN: 978-1421536620
Vol. 5 ISBN: 978-1421536637
Vol. 6 ISBN: 978-1421536644
Vol. 7 ISBN: 978-1421536651
Viz Media, 2010-2011
Publisher Age Rating: Teen Plus for older teens