In 1979, Japanese author Kaoru Kurimoto wrote the first volume of The Guin Saga series of novels, a heroic fantasy epic originally planned for 100 volumes. So far, the series is up to 116 volumes and still going. The story of an amnesiac warrior with a leopard mask grafted onto his face (or does he actually have a leopard head?), it has a distinct old-school Weird Tales fantasy vibe: the Japanese volumes feature English subtitles like “The Ebony Prince of Earlgos,” “The Wheel of the Weirds,” and “Palingenesis of the Panther King.” The first three volumes, “The Leopard Mask,” “Warrior in the Wilderness” and “The Battle of Nospherus,” have been released in English by Vertical. The Guin Saga was an influence on Kentaro Miura’s manga Berserk.
Kaoru Kurimoto’s Guin Saga was inspired by classic sword-and-sorcery novels such as Robert E. Howard’s Conan and Fritz Lieber’s Fafhrd and the Grey Mouser stories. Based on an untranslated Guin Saga Gaiden novel, this manga adaptation follows Guin, a fighter cursed with a leopard’s head, after his rise to the position of king of Cheironia.
The result means a lot of backstory that isn’t explained for the casual American reader – i.e., Who is the demon Jandal-zogg? Who is the magus Velisha? Why is Guin’s queen so cold to him, does she not want to sleep with a leopard? In search of a cure for a plague that is afflicting his kingdom, Guin ventures into the Alley of Charms, where he meets monsters, sorcerers, and witches and a number of seedy characters who join his group seemingly on the author’s fiat.
The result is a little incoherent; the story tries to keep the reader’s attention by throwing out severed heads and scantily clad women, but the plot of the first volume is mostly portentous foreshadowing, and makes for an insubstantial read at 168 pages, even for those who are familiar with the Guin mythos.
The art is standard muscular seinen-manga, with a clear delineation between ugly characters and pretty girls, and unfortunately drab backgrounds – the world of the story feels sadly uninhabited except for our leopard-headed hero and a few women whose eyes are too far apart. The English rewrite gamely attempts to capture the style of 1930s pulp fantasy (“What forsaken, maledict deeds took place behind its closed doors?” “No man’s blade can fell that thing!”).