Sengoku Youko, A Wondrous Parade of 1,000 Demons
Yesterday I finished reading the 17 volume series Sengoku Youko from the woefully underrated mangaka Satoshi Mizukami. I mentioned I was going straight into it after I finished Hoshi no Samidare, the mangaka’s other work since I was so impressed after reading it. But you had to think I might have had my hopes up way too high after his excellently crafted Lucifer and the Biscuit Hammer. Normally I’d agree with you, but Sengoku Youko ended up being a REALLY, REALLY good read that I would argue holds up just as well as Hoshi no Samidare- but at the same time I will also note that Sengoku Youko is not as ‘complete’ feeling as his first work. It reaches a proper ending and I’m very sure it wasn’t cancelled, but it doesn’t have the same satisfaction when I got to the ending that his first manga had. I’m going to chalk that up as Sengoku Youko being a much more ambitious and complex work than the simple narrative structure of Hoshi no Samidare had and at the end there were just a few too many loose-ends that I felt could have been tightened up a tad bit. I’ll probably talk about them so spoilers bewarned.
Sengoku Youko follows a pair of sworn siblings, a human sage boy named Yamato Jinka and his yokai onee-san Tama the Youko (Demon Fox). Tama loves humans and wants demons to live in harmony with them, while Jinka hates humans and wants to become a demon so that he can live forever and take Tama as his wife. For those worried about the incest thing, don’t. They aren’t related at all and the sworn sibling thing is really random since he makes it known very early that he’s in love with her and would rather be her husband than her brother. This dynamic carries over something that I loved from Lucifer and the Biscuit Hammer: the atypical romance. Jinka and Tama have a very cute relationship, even if it is more normal than the one between Yuuhi and Samidare.
The early volumes of Sengoku Youko are about Jinka and Tama travelling around with a ronin Samurai named Shinsuke while they accidentally get caught up in the schemes of an evil order of monks, the Dangaishuu. These monks send assassins after Jinka and co. forcing them to deal with them one by one. What I didn’t expect was after a few volumes the author pulled a bait and switch on me. This was really just a setup and Jinka wasn’t actually the main character at all. Instead, the real hero is a boy named Senya who shows up during Jinka’s part of the story as an antagonist who we don’t know much about. I thought he was pretty intriguing back then but when he took over the role of protagonist the series got really interesting to me just cause of how I didn’t expect it. Senya struggles with the experiments that the Dangaishuu performed on him. When he was just a child his father let the head monk implant a jewel containing the souls of 1,000 demons inside of him giving him the power to morph his body in lots of gross body-horror ways. The main character having a really gross-out power was interesting to say the least. What was really awesome to me was his development though. Remember how in Fullmetal Alchemist Von Hohenheim talked to all of the souls in the Philosopher’s Stone lodged within himself until he was friends with them? Senya does that eventually too and he dives into his soul to start to befriend each of the demons inside himself. It ultimately ends up with his power becoming less and less horrifying looking and more godly as he learns that he doesn’t have to be afraid of becoming a demon and that the choice of what he becomes lies to him.
As much as I loved Hoshi no Samidare, even in my earlier blog about it I mentioned some things that I felt could have been better. My biggest thing was about how typical the combat and superpowers were compared to how atypical the story, setting and characters were. Welp, Sengoku Youko blew me the hell away with how original and cool all of the battles were. Seriously, Hoshi no Samidare’s fights were above average and fun to look at, but Sengoku Youko is worth reading almost for the fights and powers alone. The author leveled up his art game TREMENDOUSLY between the two series and I’ll be damned if this isn’t a damn fine battle manga. The powers are (mostly) way more unique than the ones in Hoshi no Samidare. I already went over Senya’s powers, but Jinka has some pretty cool ones while he’s still the main character too. Since he takes all of his power from Tama the Youko he ends up with four tails made of spiritual energy jutting from his back side whenever he fights, and as his story goes on he starts to gain more tails. Each of the tails controls a different power and the variety he had in combat was stunning to look at. I won’t lie though some of the powers are pretty basic, such as one of the main antagonists just being a dragon guy who uses lightning, but in general they’re way more atypical than the ones in Hoshi no Samidare which is really great. When you love battle manga as much as I do, there’s nothing greater than seeing new and imaginative powers. Plus even the more basic powers are drawn really, really damn well and are always a treat to look at.
I really liked the main villain of the first part, an old monk named Yazen. He was really funny and badass. I’m also just a huge fan of the evil scientist archetype in general, but his motivations interested me. He was a normal human monk who one day met a beautiful fox spirit named Kuzunoha. They both fell instantly in love with each other and he basically rose to the top of his order of monks while keeping his demon girlfriend who never ages a secret from everyone, while performing these insane experiments so that Kuzunoha can become human and they can share the same lifespan. They had a really cute relationship. At the time of the story Yazen is some old dude in his 60s or older and he just has this hot fox demon clinging to him all the time and they’re just in love like a couple of teenagers, it was hilarious and adorable.
The antagonists of Senya’s story didn’t really do it for me on the same level. Long story short there’s this time travelling group of people from a clan that existed way before written history or something and they’re called the Tribe of the Void. They have cool designs but I just didn’t like the conflict they presented very much and they didn’t have much personality- the one who acted like he was their leader was kind of boring and had little characterization. But at that point I was reading it because of how strong the main characters were, so when you get to that point I think it’ll still be just as good to you. I still liked the second half better despite the first part having the better villain.
What still bugs me though is the ending. I dunno, I didn’t feel like this was the kind of ending it was building up to. If it was going for bittersweet it should have led up to it a bit better. They save the day, everyone gets their happy ending, Senya gets his girl, but it shows the ages passing and it turns out the 1,000 demons in him made him immortal so he lives past most of the supporting cast who you fell in love with through the story. He cherishes his time with them and at the end he’s just a traveller going around helping people, with the only people still in his life being the other immortals he was friends with, Jinka (now a demon fox and hapilly married to Tama), Tama and Mudo the Dragon. It ends on a happy note with Senya, Jinka and Mudo all getting together to randomly fight a demon. It didn’t feel fair to me that so many of the characters got pushed to the side at this ending compared to the ending of a similar manga that I also blogged about, Blade of the Immortal. I initially really didn’t like the ending of Blade of the Immortal since it did almost the same damn thing but when I had a couple of days to think it over I started to realize that that was the whole point. The manga was about how shitty being immortal would be and the whole series was really just a few years out of Manji’s potentially endless life and it ultimately wouldn’t mean much to him or be worth remembering despite how amazing it was to us as the readers. It was making a statement, time moves on. People forget, especially when they have all the time in the world. Here in Sengoku Youko, though… eh. It wasn’t a bad ending at all but compared to Hoshi no Samidare’s ending which gave me a warm fuzzy feeling of completion, this was just not on par.
Still, this is a really damn good series and I wholeheartedly recommend it.