07-Ghost, vol. 1

66-coverFifteen-year-old Teito may be a skilled fighter, but he’s never had much of a chance to fit in at the Barsburg Empire Military Academy. It’s not just because he’s short and kind of antisocial; Teito was a combat slave when he was just a child, and before that . . . well, before that, he can’t remember anything. Or he couldn’t until recently. Now flashes of memory are coming back, bringing revelations about a war fought ten years ago—and a terrible secret about the Academy.

Teito narrowly escapes the Academy, fleeing to District Seven. There he finds himself under the protection of a powerful church. Three kindly, if unconventional, young bishops tell Teito about the founding of their church and the seven ghosts who are its protectors against an evil god. This becomes very relevant very quickly, as servants of the evil god come after Teito. The Academy isn’t done pursuing him, either. But what is the strange power that the young bishops use to fight off attackers? Teito learned some battle magic at the Academy, but nothing like this. Could this be the power of the seven guardian ghosts? Why are they protecting Teito? Does it have to do with the lost artifact they call the Eye of Mikael, which is somehow tied up in Teito’s past?

07-Ghost is straight-up shonen. Battle scenes abound, with characters wielding everything from magic to fists to an oversized mystical scythe. The action scenes are clear and not especially gory, although that’s not to say no one dies. Teito’s flashbacks are full of war, and his world is full of combat, so it’s not surprising that there are some fatalities. He’s also got some creepy supernatural enemies who can possess people’s bodies, so even the good guys can’t always be trusted.

Teito may not have completely figured out the social-interaction thing, but he’s clearly a good person. His friendship with Mikage, an exuberant boy from the Academy, offers Teito the chance to finally open up to someone, and we also get hints of his personality from his actions. During a dangerous combat exercise, for example, Teito risks himself to save a boy who had bullied him earlier. Later, an innocent stranger is possessed by the monstrous servant of the evil god. Teito follows up with the stranger after the monster is defeated, making sure the man is all right and seeing him reunited with his family. No doubt about it, Teito is hero material.

Luckily, that doesn’t stop him from being funny sometimes. He’s usually either the butt of a joke (often about his height) or the straight man (no matter how many times he catches that one bishop with a porn magazine, Teito is always shocked). Still, it adds a little lightness to a story that’s got violence and tragedy aplenty.

The artwork is clean and active, and care has been taken to give characters distinctive features. Sometimes this motivation is a little obvious—Mikage is the only one of the many similar-looking blond boys at the Academy to have a facial scar—but that doesn’t make it any less effective. Swaths of darkness underscore the eerie scenes, while straight, clean lines and plenty of white space make the church a place of order and serenity.

While there is a church, complete with bishops and nuns, don’t expect a particularly religious story. The actual belief system is not quite clear. It’s one with room for “God,” but also for “the god of death” and the fighting ghosts sent from heaven to defeat him. And a porn-obsessed bishop. (When porn magazines appear, they don’t seem to include actual nudity, it’s more like women in sexy poses wearing bikinis, and it’s never shown close up.)

The first volume of 07-Ghost leaves us with a cliffhanger and a lot of mystery still surrounding some of the characters, like the bishops and Teito himself. Fans of actiony fantasy who don’t mind some sad stuff mixed in with the heroism will love 07-Ghost.

07-Ghost, vol. 1
by Yuki Amemiya, Yukino Ichihara
ISBN: 9781421549941
VIZ Media, 2012
Publisher Age Rating: Teen