One of the most surprising trends to come out of 2017 was the rise of yuri manga. We saw not only more new titles, but also more publishers taking a chance on it. It's safe to say that no one pushed the boundaries of yuri more than Yen Press with this series, though.
MURCIELAGO, by Yoshimurakana. First published in 2013 and first published in North America in 2017.
Kuroko Koumori is a vicious killer with over 700 victims to her name. Instead of execution, she is given a new job: to kill any criminal deemed too dangerous or too strange for the police. With her cutesy assistant Hanako, she'll take on everything from a drugged-up killer wrestler to a couple of wanna-be robbers to a murder mansion full of traps and other career criminals like herself, all while hitting on every pretty girl she sees.
Okay, it might be a stretch to call this yuri. Kuroko likes the ladies, but Murcielago puts just as much emphasis on the literal, bloody variety of action as much as the sapphic variety.
Make no mistake, this is the sort of quality ultraviolence we haven't seen in manga form in many a year. It manages to strike a delicate balance between its own darkly wacky sort of sense of humor and some wildly gruesome premises without veering too hard in either direction. Most mangaka need at least a few chapters to find their groove with any manga, so the fact that Yoshimurakana manages to nail the tone right from the start is commendable.
It helps that Kuroko herself is a great protagonist, even if she's far from a good person. She should be repellent, considering that she's a hardened murderer with over 700 victims to her name and works basically as an assassin for hire for the police. Yet we also see her care for her ditzy, child-like assistant/driver Hinako like a kid sister, drool over the latest cute lady to cross her path like a harem protagonist, or calmly and professionally thread her way through a series of killer traps. Already she has quite a few layers to her personality, and again they manage to combine in a way that manages to confidently tread that fine line between grim and goofy. No one else in the cast can quite rival her, but frankly they don't need to when Kuroko serves as such a capable anchor for the stories around her.
The story also doesn't bog things down with too much backstory. This first volume is basically two major action set-pieces sandwiching the backstory. The highlight is the second of the former, in which Kuroko is trapped inside a murder mansion with a bunch of other career criminals. She gets to interact with the closest thing she has to peers, and it's a delight to see her bounce off of all these different personalities with their different specialties. So at least for right now, I don't need any larger overarching plots to Murcielago so long as it manages to maintain its tight tonal balance, keeps the spotlight on Kuroko, and keeps finding gory new ways to keep her occupied.
As much as I loved her, it has to be said: Kuroko is a weird-looking character. Most of the others around her are drawn either in a very bouncy, cutesy sort of way or the sort of exaggerated, gritty looks that you tend to see in this sort of sensationalized seinen. Meanwhile, she has this long, gangly body that manages to look even ganglier thanks to her oversized rack. Her face is downright minimalist, with heavy-lidded eyes and a squiggle of a mouth. She's so long and tall that she often has to bend in unnerving ways just to fit in frame. At the very least she tends to do a lot of SHAFT-style head tilts. She basically looks like a murderous female version of Yowamushi Pedal's Midousuji and that will either distract you forever or make you smile.
Yoshimurakana does not hold back when it comes to the content. There's a fair bit of gore here as people go squish in many different ways and they don't shy away from showing it. She also doesn't shy away from Kuroko's sexuality, considering that the first time we see her she is straight-up scissoring her girlfriend. It's not graphic - this isn't hentai, after all - but there's no question about what's going on. That said, they are great at making every page flow as smoothly as silk. They also get really inventive with the chapter title panels. Whether it's written on Kuroko like a Bond Girl or part of Hinako's crayon drawings, it's a whimsical touch that I never got sick of. It's little things like this that give this manga its own particular charm.
Murcielago isn't going to be to everyone's taste, but if you're the sort of person who has been looking for a new manga to itch the scratch started by manga like Hellsing, this is for you.
This series is published by Yen Press. This series is ongoing in Japan with 8 volumes available. 4 volumes have been published and are currently in print.
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