…starts with one step. In the “A Thousand Miles” series, I’ll be taking a series each week that looks interesting to me and reviewing the first volume. Focused on, essentially, exposing myself to as many new series as possible, each will culminate in whether I think it’s worth continuing.
Gleipnir is a 2015 Supernatural Action Seinen manga by Sun Takeda. Since October 2015 it’s been serialized in Young Magazine the 3rd. Kondansha Comics has been responsible for publishing in English the six volumes of the series available so far. Apparently, the reception has been warm enough to spur an anime adaptation by PINE JAM studio.
An Arm And A Leg – Gleipnir is a cryptic enough title. For those not in the know, Gleipnir is the name the Dwarves of Norse mythology gave to the wonder thread they forged to bind Fenrir. Of course this is the same Fenrir, wolf beast of legend, that took Tyr’s hand. This is a nice bit of symbolism as our protagonist is also a wolf (of sorts) that is bound in a less than conventional matter – Fenrir by Gleipnir and Shuichi by Claire’s blackmail. Furthermore, Gleipnir is said to hold until Ragnarok, at which time it will break and Fenrir will devour Odin – implying Shuichi may “break free” at some point and go on a rampage of his own.
Shuichi Kagaya is a high school student that’s doing rather well for himself. Smart and caring, he’s set his sights on college and would prefer to keep himself out of trouble in order to make that a reality. He’s a good kid, but he’s also a monster. Like a literal monster. Against his better judgement, he saves a classmate of his, Claire Aoki, one night. Things go downhill from there as Claire turns out to not only now know his secret, but also decides to blackmail him for her own devices.
Shuichi Kagaya – High school student. Able to turn into a giant mascot like wolf character with a badge and a gun. All of his problems start after Saving his classmate, Claire, one night.
Claire Aoki – Manipulative and slightly sadistic classmate of Shuichi’s. She wasn’t in a great place physically or emotionally when the story begins, but opportunistically latches onto Shuichi.
Hikawa – High school athlete (part of the track team) that happen upon Shuichi and Claire. May have prior experience with Claire.
Claire and Shuichi’s relationship is what permeates the entire volume, thus it’s imperative we start with them.
Shuichi is the type of character I can find myself liking. He has a code of conduct that amounts to “keep your head down” on account of his secret – but that doesn’t stop him from helping others. He has his ideals, but more importantly, he has the conviction to either stick to or deviate from them in order to help those around him. The thing that stands out to me is that he thinks of himself as a monster and he hits a pretty big low in this volume. Yet he still musters up the conviction to try and cut off the craziness as best he can. Needless to say, it doesn’t go as planned, but you have to give the guy credit for trying.
Claire, on the other hand, is…a bad influence, to say the least. She starts out being saved from a fire by Shuichi at the beginning of the story and things just went downhill from there. She doesn’t show an ounce of genuine gratitude for his actions, instead electing to opportunistically blackmail Shuichi into helping her delve into the monster world. She’s a sadistic little gremlin that likes teasing and playing with Shuichi’s feelings when she’s not outright throwing him at their (read: HER) enemies. She states that she’s looking for her sister, who is a monster too just like Shuichi, so she may be wrapped up in some trouble that we aren’t privy to yet.
Being the beginning of the story, there are mysteries abound, but one thing Gleipnir refuses to leave as such is the relationship between our two main characters. So much so, that the main arc of this volume is how these two people that really have no business being near each other met and, more importantly, why they’re still working together by its conclusion. Shuichi and Claire have a less than stellar relationship. It’s one part early season 2 Jessica/Kilgrave with some shades of Yuno/Yuki mixed in. It’s this strained game of push and pull. She tries manipulating him and he pushes back. Sadly, she keeps getting the best of him, dragging him further towards a world he’s been avoiding. She succeeds big time, using him in a very disgraceful way and watching the low it takes Shuichi to is heartbreaking. Then watching her follow that up with one last hook to put the last twisted little nail in her demented coffin is appalling to say the least. Poor Shuichi is only sticking around to keep Claire from doing more rash things. It’s a strong enough bond to justify their partnership with a reasonable amount of shakiness showing through.
The strongest thing Gelipnir has going for it is its monster designs. We’ve only seen one, and what I presume to be a half, transformations but both are pretty on the ball. Chunky and cartoony, Shuichi looks like a giant mascot. The gun is a nice touch and doesn’t detract from the design because it, along with the badge makes him look like an office cop. More importantly, though, it has some implications about our protagonist. We eventually see what Shuichi’s monster form is modeled after and both the badge and gun aren’t present, implying that those additions may have come from within Shuichi himself. But while our protagonist has the moral leanings, he seems to lack the stomach for confrontation that being a cop would require, making these additions antithetical to his personality – or are they? The other transformation we see comes from a sprinter who gets canine looking feet and clawed hands. While Shuichi’s transformation makes him look like a 2012 Squeedgemonster character, hers looks more like something you might see in Digimon. Her limbs look like special gloves and boots that she’s wearing. It’s in that sweet spot where you’re wondering “Is that gear she’s wearing on her limbs or are those her actual limbs?” and it doesn’t matter because it looks right either way. Truthfully, the fact that both of their transformations look like suits or gear to be worn (and potential exaggerations of parts of their personality or desires) is a cool visual theme I hope continues.
The weakest aspect so far is, sadly, the world building. Conventional wisdom would have it that you might want to focus on building your protagonist’s origin story, defining the main conflict and/or world building at the beginning of your story. Even works I’ve cut into like Alice in Murderland made a point to define their conflict and establish their surroundings early. Gleipnir still does some of that but you can tell that it put most of its energy behind building the dynamic between the protagonists. So we still get a small bit of pertinent information, but it comes through two brief flashbacks in the last quarter of the volume and neither of the protagonists know it so it’s no good to them. Don’t get me wrong, it’s a bold move to focus on the proverbial Gleipnir of your story, it just runs the risk of making important plot points feel like background details when it shouldn’t.
Not much more I can say at this point. Gleipnir is an aesthetically pleasing supernatural romp that does hold a few cards too close to its chest in my opinion, but it isn’t a deal breaker and now that the main duo seem like their fully aboard, I forsee the plot train taking off and us getting to see that world building we didn’t get enough of in this volume.