Juni Taisen: Zodiac War is a teenage daydream; twelve warriors, each themed in appearance and/or powers after a figure of the Chinese zodiac, fight to the death for the prize of a granted wish. Fights are frequent showcases of bloodshed and the women are walking fetish displays. These battles, a regular fixture in the story’s world, require evacuating an entire city—the combat is too dangerous otherwise. Participants swallow a poisoned jewel that will kill them in 12 hours, giving everyone further incentive to seek victory, and the winner will be the last fighter standing. Ready, go!

If Juni Taisen is a theater of hollow delights, it also deserves credit for its storytelling virtues. Volumes one and two are good at keeping secrets. As characters match up against one another, twists and flashback reveals ensure that the reader has no idea who will die. Characters misrepresent themselves to one another regarding their powers, as in the case of the wolf-headed Dotsuku (The Dog), known for killing with bites. His actual ability is to inflict poisons with his bites, and when he uses strength—upgrading poisons to boost his cowardly ally Niwatori (The Chicken)—she immediately tears his face open and looks for more ‘allies.’

The artwork, especially Hikaru Nakamura’s distinct character designs and Akira Akatsuki’s gory action; sets a quality bar for the morbid and horny readers alike. All of the women either have massive or skimpily covered breasts, often paired with visible underpants and a leering perspective. One of the male combatants, Usagi The Rabbit, wears what amounts to a thong with suspenders, paired with high heels. Usagi’s drawn like a hulking, hunched Chippendale barbarian while the women have smooth, shiny legs and smiling, blushing faces. The rest of the guys wear cloaks, shirts, and armor—or in the case of Ushii The Ox, a Matador uniform. Their job is to look cool, a role I wish could have been extended to more female characters instead of, say, a miniature pair of wings obscuring their crotch. Or a panty shot on the front cover.

The action setpieces, which are reliably quick and bloody, lead to severed heads, flowing veins, flying bullets, and zombified servants. The creativity of the Zodiac fighters really shines as they pair off against one another like walking Rock, Paper, Scissors duelists. Will the explosives expert be a match for the drunk brawler, or are they hiding secret powers?

This series is rated T+ for Older Teens for the reasons outlined above. Readers looking for a Fortnite /Hunger Games/Battle Royale fix by way of bikini shots and swords through the chest will find plenty of schlock to devour here. Author notes and one-sentence text breaks allude to novelist Nisiosin’s light novel series that started this franchise (it’s also been adapted into an anime). I can imagine a prose version of events revealing more of the characters’ inner thoughts and adding complexity to what is a fairly straightforward affair, but what kind of murder-vixen fantasy is that?

Juni Taisen: Zodiac War, Volumes 1-2
By Akira Akatsuki
Art by Hikaru Nakamura
vol 1 ISBN: 9781974702503
vol 2 ISBN: 9781974702497
Viz, 2018
Publisher Age Rating: T+

  • Thomas

    | He/Him Teen Services Librarian, Richland Library

    Features Writer

    Thomas is a teen services librarian at Richland Library in Columbia, South Carolina. While studying for his MLIS at the University of South Carolina, he won an award from Thomas Cooper Library for his curation of the works of “God of Manga” Osamu Tezuka. He has spoken about manga, graphic novels, teen programming, and podcasting at NashiCon, DragonCon, ColaCon, New York Comic Con, and American Library Association conferences. He has been on on YALSA’s Great Graphic Novels For Teens selection committee, written articles for Public Libraries, The Hub, Book Riot, and Library Trends, and reviews for School Library Journal and Kirkus.

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