The Eroicaverse: Der Freischütz

March 16, 2012

This is the sixth in a series of articles discussing From Eroica With Love and its spinoffs. For the index, go here.

I’m cheating a bit this time around, since I’ve skipped the next sequel chronologically. It reads like a longer, more polished version of this story, so I assumed this came first and the other followed. Not so, but the stories are similar, and I can talk about the other next time.

Der Freischütz (or The Marksman, or Madan no Shashu, or 魔弾の射手) appeared in Princess Magazine in 1982, in the August-September issues. It interrupted the regular serialization of From Eroica With Love, and comes between Seven Days in September and The Laughing Cardinals. The Marksman is a 100-page story about one of Major Eberbach’s missions, completely free of the usual humor found in the main series. It is, quite literally, a hard-boiled spy thriller starring Klaus. I was initially a little confused as to why a non-tankoubon-length story wasn’t simply included in one of the From Eroica With Love volumes as part of the main series, especially since it has everything to do with one of the main characters, but… it really is quite different in tone, and I can see why it’s considered a separate story.

This is the bunkoubon cover. Not drawn by Aoike, but still awesome.

The plot is a relatively simple one. A NATO ally/KGB double-agent is planning on defecting to the west, but only if NATO is willing to help his two subordinate double-agents escape before him. Major Eberbach is the agent he requests for the job. Klaus thinks the man is smugly throwing around his weight, but dutifully carries out the mission soas not to cause an international incident between NATO, the CIA, and the SDECE. He retrieves the first agent in Paris, but the smooth rescue mission is fouled up by interference from the CIA and a persistent KGB assassin. The Major and the agent head to Amsterdam to rescue the second agent, as per the agreement, but the first refuses to divulge the other’s whereabouts, paranoid for his own safety from the assassin and about the likelihood of the Major being a double agent sent in by the KGB.

Thank God for the acronyms, it made the story a lot easier to follow for me! I did have to look up SMERSH, which is a Russian portmanteau for KGB counterintelligence, ie the assassin that was after The Major and the spy.

My favorite parts of From Eroica With Love are, of course, the banter between the Earl and the Major and the humor in the series. All of that has been stripped away here. But even with the best parts missing, what’s left is still an excellent action story with a lot of international espionage. There are several locations featured here, including France, Germany, The Netherlands, Austria, and Russia, though the location doesn’t play a prominent role in the story as it would in Eroica. Still, Aoike is good at setting, and she still brings the cities to life through copious amounts of background detail and various hints in the story. At time’s it’s lovely, but the story rarely pauses on these moments, which is almost a shame. Then again, such moments don’t have much of a place in a story like this.

The things that really knocked my socks off about this story were the two main action scenes, though. A lot of what goes on is sitting and waiting, but the face-offs between the Major and the assassin, Oleg, are amazing. Well-paced, well-drawn, and amazingly tense. The use of sound effects, in particular, is what pushes these from great to spectacular, though. The sound of shoes tapping on the ground as the man approaches Klaus, and the click of Klaus cocking his gun, work far better and tell more of a story than any dialogue could have in this scene.

The other rather shocking thing in this story is that it ends with the Major setting a trap and blowing Oleg’s brains out the back of his head. While the Major does shoot people in From Eroica With Love, rarely does he actually kill anybody. And it’s never this messy or brutal. I’m more than a little surprised something like this ran in Princess Magazine.

The above lead-up is also one of my favorite things in the book, it has a similar wordless nature, with the shoe tapping leading the narrative. After the deed is done, the footsteps fade away as Klaus simply leaves, making the murder that much colder.

This has just as much to do with fine art as a regular From Eroica With Love story, though. The title itself is taken from the Weber opera of the same name (which Oleg is listening to at one point), though they directly reference the legend of the magic bullets the opera is based on at the end of the story. The Major and a double agent discuss how the two stories are alike, and perhaps there was a language barrier, but I didn’t quite understand the similarities myself. The story starts with the Major meeting his contact at a performance of Swan Lake at the Bolshoi Ballet in Moscow. Later, when meeting with the first of the double agents, he and the Major have a conversation about Beethoven, Bonn, and Fidelio. And a plot point at the end of the book hinges on the Major singing a phrase from Fidelio to trick the enemy. That such things still had a bearing on the story, despite the Major’s complete lack of interest in any of it, was interesting to me. I also kept waiting for the other shoe to drop, when the Major would act out irritably about having to attend the ballet, or a joke about his singing. But the major merely says he must attend the ballet, and his singing is actually praised. He stays true to character, but without the over-the-top edge that makes him funny in Eroica, so it still works.

Needless to say, I loved it. As I mentioned, it’s like Eroica without the things I like best, but it still makes for a great read, and I loved it as a more serious look at the Major and the serious nature of his job. It still incorporates Aoike’s strengths as an artist, with Klaus hopping from city to city, all of it depicted in detail but not central to the plot. And we still get the usual dose of culture we would get in Eroica, too. But most interesting to me is the fact that the best parts about it are the well-paced action scenes and the absolutely silent scenes (where the characters are looking around a famous city or out in nature). The fact that these are often the same thing is truly impressive.

Der Freischütz isn’t really long enough for its own graphic novel, so no tankoubon was ever released. It was released as a deluxe hardcover by Akita Shoten in 1983, complete with several color pages at the beginning that feel like they were printed on some sort of vinyl paper, a pull-out illustration, and some sort of silk endpapers. It’s a beautiful book, but it’s out of print. It’s not particularly rare or valuable, though, and I got mine for free along with a similar edition of Seven Seas, Seven Skies when I ordered something else. There’s also a readily accessible bunkoubon edition, which is tiny, but cheap. It’s too short for a bunkoubon volume, though, so it’s packaged with another 100-page story called Trafalgar (another excellent story about two men caught on opposite sides of a war, leading up to the Battle of Trafalgar), and, in case you wanted to read it again, Ivy Navy.

3 Responses to “The Eroicaverse: Der Freischütz”

  1. […] The Eroicaverse: Der Freischütz « Slightly Biased Manga says: March 16, 2012 at 11:04 pm […]

  2. I would adore this. I love reading about these stories I’ll never see. Thanks for this series of posts. : )

  3. Bulgakov Says:

    Oh, I remember this!! I read it along with the Z Suites. I prefer this as well as Z Suites over the original series From Eroica with Love. Dunno why. Classic instance where spin-offs are better.

    Can you scan Sons of Eve onto a scanslation website (eg Mangarush) one full volume, please! Honestly, if you’ve got access, which you clearly seem to have! Just scan ONE vol, and tons of kiddos out there will be infinitely grateful. One vol. That’s all I’m asking. Do the world a favor. Thanks.

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