Sunday, July 19, 2020

REVIEW: Crimson-Shell (manga) by Jun Mochizuki, translated by Tomo Kimura

Crimson-Shell is a fantasy one-shot. I bought my copy used.


Just thinking about summarizing this exhausts me, but here I go. In this world there are people called Black Roses. They have the ability to control deadly thorns and can poison others and bend them to their will. The Black Roses are led by even more powerful people known as Jet Roses. All Black and Jet Roses must feed off of human life force in order to survive, and all of them eventually rot and die.

Claudia is the only Crimson Rose known to exist. She has some of the same powers as Black Roses but none of the drawbacks. In fact, she may actually be immortal and unchanging. Xeno, a member of the Red Rose, a group dedicated  to hunting down and destroying Black Roses, helped Claudia figure out how to control her power, and ever since then she has idolized him. Unfortunately, the Red Roses may have a traitor in their midst, and there's a possibility that Xeno is connected somehow.

From what I can tell, this is Mochizuki's debut work. I could definitely see hints of Pandora Hearts in some of the character designs and story ideas. In Pandora Hearts, it all had room to grow (in theory, at least - I recall the anime leaving a lot of loose threads, and I never got far enough into the manga to find out whether those were ever tied up). Here, however, it's a lot, all crammed into a single volume.

Seriously, did Mochizuki go into this expecting it to be longer than a single volume? Because it sure seemed like it. There were many, many more characters than I had time to mention in my summary, all of whom could have spawned their own stories: a whole other Red Rose team (my favorite was withdrawn and awkward Les), Wilhelm the "Thorn of the Crimson Rose" (Claudia's bodyguard, whose position for some reason granted him some of her powers), a couple unnamed Black Roses with "you never know, I might be a prominent character one day" designs, and the missing creator of the seeds of the "Premier Rose" that started this whole mess. Even the ending seemed designed for more volumes, which, since there aren't any, meant that it was more than a little unsatisfying.

Despite my complaints, I actually thought this was surprisingly good for a one-shot. The world-building was interesting, if odd (did they have literal roses growing in their bodies?) and not exactly original (Black Roses = experimental weapons). I liked the character designs. I just wish there had been more time to actually get to know everybody. My vote for character with the most wasted potential is Wilhelm.

I'd recommend this to fans of Pandora Hearts who aren't ready to move on yet, or people who are intimidated by Pandora Hearts' length but still want to see what Mochizuki's work is like. It's like super condensed version of all of Pandora Hearts' tragedy, betrayal, and characters with fabulous clothing. Just be prepared for it to feel like there should be at least another volume or five.

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