Yen Press has been pretty generous with new titles this year, and today's review may be one of the best of those new titles.
UNTIL DEATH DO US PART (Shi ga Futari wo Wakatsu made), written by Hiroshi Takashige and drawn by DOUBLE-S. First published in 2005, and first published in North America in 2012.
PLOT: Haruka is a young girl with a gift for seeing the future. Unfortunately, there are many unsavory parties that wish to harness Haruka's powers, and as the story starts they have already captured her. She manages to elude her captors only to run into a blind man in a alley. She begs him to protect her, and her choice is an apt one, as he turns out to be a master swordsman with an impossibly sharp blade hidden in his cane and a cybernetic system built into his dark glasses which allows him to "see" the world in vectors. The man, Mamoru, turns out to be a member of The Element Network, a secret confederation of fighters, hackers, scientists, informants, and sponsors, all united through an online network and the loss of various loved ones by shadowy forces. The group first fights back against the Yakuza group that tried to kidnap Haruka, but as they delve further they discover the group has ties to another secret group known only as Ex Solid, and now Haruka finds herself using her powers to protect her newfound protectors, particularly to the mysterious Mamoru.
STORY: Until Death Do Us Part may be one of the most surpringsly good manga I've read this whole month. It's not so much that it's blazingly original so much as that it's simply well told and well paced.
Admittedly, the weakest character is the one we meet first: Haruka. She's a very passive character, who is mostly there to act as plot device and audience stand-in. Thankfully, the story shifts focus to her protector, Mamoru. While we don't necessarily get a lot of hard facts about him, and I wouldn't necessarily call him all that complex (being mostly very stoic and distant), but we get enough hints to intrigue, and he is the reader's gateway into the best and most interesting part of the story: The Element Network.
Now it's not unheard of to find vigilante crime fighters on either side of the Pacific, but The Element Network is a whole group of them. It's a clever concept in that it takes advantage of the internet to reach people all over the globe as well as taking advantage of online anonymity, so that they have a wide range of experience and skills to utilize and can communicate while leaving barely a trace. The network also helps the reader to handwave some of the most fantastic elements, such as Mamoru's futuristic blade and his artificial sight.
Now, of course where there are vigilantes there are shadowy forces working against them. Here it is a group known only as Ex Solid, who is utilizing both the brute force of the Yakuza and the connections and more advanced skills of terrorists and crooked diplomats to strike back at The Element Network. There's also (of course) a hard-nosed cop who is investigating both parties who is mercifully not played as either bumbling comic relief nor as a Javert-like figure who only wants to bring everyone to justice.
Now, most of you have probably one or more of these story elements in other manga/books/movies/etc, and you are wondering "Well, what's the point of reading an action thriller like this when I can find 10 other works practically just like it?" What makes Until Death Do Us Part work is not that it's a completely original action thriller, but that it combines those familiar elements competently and crafts a story around them that is well-paced, always escalating the action and the pressure from outside parties slowly but steadily. There are plenty of action beats, and the story doesn't shy away from the messy consequences (although it doesn't linger upon them either). Our heroes are not completely invulnerable, so there are some stakes to their fights. It truly is well-executed, and sometimes that's what I'm truly craving out of a manga. Until Death Do Us Part isn't going to change the genre, but it's one of the best examples of its kind to come around in a while.
ART: Like the story, the artwork for Until Death Do Us Part is not amazing, but solid and polished. The character designs are varied, expressive, and relatively realistic (even if the Yakuza tend to all have the same beady-eyed look). There's not a lot of flourish or detail to the characters or backgrounds, but all are well-drawn. Where the art for this manga truly shines is in its action scenes. The poses are clean and crisp, beautifully framed, and there's a good sense of fluidity from one panel to the next. They do tend to abuse the speed line halos, though. The panels are quite large, and they make good use of the space in both the action beats and the quieter moments. Again, this is not a manga that will stun you with the beauty of its art, but it's confident and competent.
PRESENTATION: This series is presented in 2-in-1 omnibuses, and rather large ones at that. As far as extras are concerned, there are goofy omakes about the writer and artists after each volume.
Until Death Do Us Part is a solid action series, and I'm curious to see how it progresses. It's proof that sometimes familiar tropes can be crafted into something that is greater than the sum of its parts.
This series is published by Yen Press. This series is ongoing in Japan, with 15 volumes available. 2 omnibuses have been published so far, and both are currently in print.
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