Manga-ka: Minoru Murao
Publisher: Digital Manga
Rating: Older Teen (16+)
Release Date: July 2008
Synopsis: “It is an age of paranoia, superstition and religious fanaticism and the kingdom of Excludo is being engulfed in flames. The people are under the thrall of witch hysteria and burnings and executions have become a common sight. But the witch trials and inquisitions are a fraud and countless innocent women, falsely accused as witches, are being burned at the stake. Just when all hope seems lost, along comes the Black Knight-Mist, and his sidekick Euphemia, a “true witch” to avenge the innocent and force their own brand of justice on the wicked!”
Knights is a throw-back to the sword and sorcery anime of the nineties such as Slayers or Record of Lodoss War. It wasn’t until I read this manga that I realized how much I missed the genre’s appearance in anime and manga. Knights has a little bit of everything: sword fights, interesting characters, and a unique magic system. Even if you’re not a fan of medieval fantasy though, it’s still worth giving volume one a try.
One thing I love about this manga is that it starts off running. Katrina is a teenage girl who’s being burned at the stake after being accused of witchcraft. Just as she’s about to get roasted, the legendary ‘black knight’ and his witch partner come to her rescue. Once they get away, they are shocked to learn that Katrina is actually a highborn lady. But that’s nothing compared to the secret that Mist, the black knight, hides under his mask.
I didn’t see the reveal about Mist’s identity coming, and even though I hate to spoil it it’s impossible to talk about the manga without giving it away. It turns out that Mist is black, hence the name ‘black knight’ despite his outfit being mostly blue. I can think of a handful of manga that have black minor characters. I can think of even less that have black major characters. But a manga with a black person as the actual lead? And a medieval fantasy at that? I never saw it coming. It’s a great twist and helps differentiate the series from other action shonen manga.
The world of Knights is set in pseudo dark ages Europe. While the cities and countries may be different from our world, the attitudes of the populace is very much in line with what would have been common during medieval times. People’s reactions to Mist’s skin colour vary, but for the most part they treat him with contempt or fear, thinking that his dark skin is a sign that he’s in league with the devil. Naturally, this gives Mist a bit of a complex. Mist is shocked when, even after seeing his face, Katriana treats him exactly the same way she did before. It’s a nice moment that builds up both characters.
Also in Mist’s corner is Euphemia, an actual witch. Euphemia wears one of the skimpiest outfits I’ve ever seen in an anime or manga, and I’ve watched Witchblade. But amazingly the skimpy outfit actually fits with her character in that she doesn’t really care what normal humans think of her. The outfit also works since every single character comments on it the first time they see it. Sometimes this also helps out during a fight, since the bad guys are momentarily stunned by how little clothing she’s wearing. If her clothing seems lacking to a modern reader, just imagine what someone with a dark ages’ mindset would think.
The basic plot is that Mist and Euphemia are going around rescuing woman who have been falsely accused of witchcraft. At first it seems like the manga is going to be episodic, but the volume gradually reveals an overarching plot. Mist is actually part of a secret order that is trying to bring down the corrupt church. Aside from fighting clergymen and their fighters, Mist and others have to fight ‘saints,’ humans who have been given special powers by the church. We only get to see a couple of saints in this volume: one a giant ogre of a priest and the other a young female knight with prehensile hair. A lot of these plot elements are only fully explained later in the volume, so hopefully future books will expand on Mist’s mission.
The fights scenes are dynamic and well-paced, especially when the manga cuts back and forth between scenes. There’s a nice clarity to the art, both in character design and layout. The art style in general is pretty cute, which can be a little weird when the book goes to some dark places. There’s nothing extremely graphic here but the manga is about witch hunts and the hunters use many of the same techniques that their real-world counterparts used. While not a lot is shown a lot is implied.
Knights volume one is a very fun read. The characters may be pretty typical – plucky hero boy, pure-hearted girl, scantily clad magic user – but at the same times they have chemistry and still manage to be interesting. This first volume ends with Katrina setting out to find Mist, her travelling companions’ former enemy and a saint who may still be one yet. Just in that plot thread alone there’s so much room for drama and conflict. Add in all the other hints and plot threads dangling at the end of this volume, and you have me eagerly awaiting the chance to read volume two.