Hiroaki Samura has built his career on one seminal manga: the 30-volume samurai fantasy epic Blade of the Immortal, a cult hit in the US as well as in Japan. Launched in the early 90s, Blade ended just a few years ago, freeing Samura to move on to new projects and let it all hang out. And has he ever.
Die Wergelder, which began as Blade was ending, is pure nasty pulp fun, pushing Samura’s love of sex, violence, dames, and trashy cinema to new highs. The plot hardly matters. It involves a turf war between Japanese, Chinese, and European criminal syndicates, smuggled fetuses, secretive islands, radioactive water supplies, seedy men in 70s pornstaches, lots of brothels, and a bevy of ruthless yet stylish female assassins. Graphic violence, including (or maybe especially) sexual violence, abounds. At this point it may be more effective to simply transcribe the notes I took while reading the first two volumes:
• man in boxers electrocuted in electric chair powered by stationary bike pedaled by perky young woman
• mermaid sex cyborgs
• WHAT AM I SEEING SHE ROTATED HIS FACE
• seriously there is a woman in an evening dress and mask leading a man in underpants on a leash, like that is her basic going-to-the-stakeout look
The female cast includes Trane, a killer prostitute with one eye and a robot hand; Soli, the aforementioned perky torturer; Jie Mao, a kung-fu fighter in a cheongsam; and Shinobu, a “bad bitch drifter” who gets mixed up with the rest of them against her better judgment. The male cast is forgettable.
In his vastly entertaining endnotes, Samura says he was influenced by the grindhouse-like, female-driven Pinky Violence genre of films from the 1960s and 1970s, specifically “1970s Toei style, with a black-clad character on a quest for vengeance like Female Convict Scorpion.” Quentin Tarantino is also a big Pinky Violence fan, and Die Wergelder feels like a not-so-distant cousin of films like Kill Bill, with the same blend of genuine enthusiasm and winking self-awareness.
Die Wergelder also recalls old-school hardboiled gangster manga like Wounded Man, with Samura’s lovely loose, gestural photorealistic art adding a layer of grotesque beauty. Blade of the Immortal was always a good-looking manga, but Samura’s art has only improved over the years. Die Wergelder is a lushly drawn erotic nightmare that dances right along the edge of self-parody, reveling in its outrageousness. This manga isn’t for everyone, only readers looking for something gorgeous and utterly effed up. Recommended.
Publisher: Kondansha Comics
Story and Art: Hiroaki Samura