Manga-ka: Jun Mochizuki
Publisher: Yen Press
Rating: Older Teen (16+)
Release Date: November 2009
Synopsis: “Rescued from the darkness by Xeno, a mysterious swordsman, Claudia the Rose Witch is the foundation of the Crimson-Shell, a special division of the Red Rose-an organization aiming to capture the results of one mad scientist’s experiments, the deadly Black Roses. But when Xeno’s loyalties are called into question, will Claudia be strong enough to believe in her dearest friend?”
Fans often see manga as primarily never-ending epics, when in fact, much of the material published in Japan is far shorter. Works are more commonly intended to just be short stories or mini-series, often earlier works of creators who later go on to longer series. Crimson-Shell is one such series, from the creator of Pandora Heart, Jun Mochizuki.
Operating on a quick pace, Crimson-Shell sets up it’s premise fairly quickly, giving one the sense that it’s part of a longer piece by setting up the Red Rose organization and spending time to explain its reasons for existing. This primarily concerns the destruction of zombies created by the opposing forces of the Black Rose. They achieve this through the use of the mutant rose Claudia, whose powers can function without the need to consume other humans, and are deadly for the creatures associated with the Black Rose.
The plot starts off with the introduction of a new team member, Shion, then giving you the sense of a normal series, before proceeding to shuffle off in another direction entirely. The organization is quickly betrayed by one of their own, as her beloved Xeno apparently betrays Claudia, and the story shifts quickly to a different sort of suspense, as long established loyalties are questioned, and members of the Red Rose team act suspiciously. Claudia’s new life is now threatened by those she has come to call friends.
The flow of the book will leave the reader feeling a bit jerked around, and I suspect these elements might of played out better if the author had more room to work with. Additional foreshadowing, and an extra chapter or two might of helped things. However, the short, self-contained nature of the work helps you forgive this a little, as does it being the creator’s debut work. A slightly smaller cast would have been welcome, with Claudia and Xeno getting most of the attention anyway, though I suspect Mochizuki might of introduced some of the team in hopes of continuing the series at a later time.
One particular element I enjoyed was how Mochizuki chose to have most of the action occur in the crew’s headquarters. It reminded me mildly of parlor mysteries in detective fiction, restricting the action to one setting, in this case an appropriately gothic british mansion. While one initially might expect the action to go elsewhere, given the team’s mandate of defending society from the Black Rose, the plot calls for a tight story arc, and the Mansion holds many secrets for them to discover that shed light on their fate. And obviously, zombie attacks are always a little more threatening when the cast is trapped in a spooky decrepit building.
The finale leaves some room for a sequel, but feels more concrete then many “Oops! We got cancelled” send-offs typical of shorter manga series. Much of the plot is tied up, and the origins of the Black and Red Roses are revealed. The climax is full of shades of grey, depicting the actual antagonist in mildly sympathetic light, rounding out the characters, and giving the book more depth then it started off with.
Mochizuki’s art is fairly polished with a variety of character designs, if a bit generic in a ready-to-be-adapted-into-anime sense (the later Pandora Hearts has been animated). Much of the manga takes place in the expansive, primarily furniture-free hallways of the Red Rose headquarters, but some detail work is put into Claudia’s room, the library and a few other plot-centric rooms. The manga feels a little crowded as plot is crammed into its panels, but manages to stay coherent, as we get many shots of zombies in various states of decomposition, covered with a creeping vines of roses.
Yen’s presentation of the graphic novel is a bit mixed. We’re given the usual colour pages, a nice addition for a one-shot work, as well as a short author page and Yen’s usual crisp paper. No blurry pages or haphazard screen tone, making for a generally clean presentation. I enjoyed the usual standard I’ve come to expect from them, yet I encountered some slightly irksome elements that mar the book.
The translation choices caused confusion while I was reading it. Although the series is set in England, the translator chose to keep the Japanese honorifics, leading me to wonder if the rose-themed zombie apocalypse was something only anime convention attendees survived. This may explain why the staff is mostly composed of teenagers with bad coplay-esque fashion sense, and a random middle aged guy, whose probably feeling a bit old, but still wants dibs on those wicked Robotech valkyries. While normally something I don’t mind too much in manga translations, the honorifics were something that didn’t mesh with the series setting. This is further complicated with the addition of the sound effects being accompanied by both translations and romanized captions [ie- “Furu (Shake)”, or “Ka (Click)”], which seemed redundant and distracting in some spots. Your annoyance with this may vary, depending on how much hiragana and katakana you know. I found it made some panels feel more cramped, and would’ve preferred if they’d just stuck to one or the other, preferably just the English translations. All this extra clutter makes the translation feel less professional.
Overall, I’d recommend checking this out if you’re a fan of single volume works. You avoid the commitment of a longer series, and get a quick reward for your time spent reading. Fans of Pandora Hearts will likely want to add this to their collections to compliment Mochizuki’s later work. Yen Press’s choices leave my recommendation accompanied with a little caution as some might be put off more then others.