Arm of Kannon 9

December 9, 2009

Masakazu Yamaguchi – Tokyopop – 2007 – 9 volumes

Haha, what?  What just happened here?  I know I took a couple days between volumes 8 and 9, but I couldn’t be the only one that was completely disoriented and confused by the beginning of this volume.  Or the ending.

The real problem is that it gets into this ancient Japan stuff, and either there are too many characters, or the characters have alternate identities, or the characters all… you know, don’t look all that distinct, which is unusual for this series, but all the same, I had absolutely no clue what was going on.  Onigami/Ryo is killing first a string sorcerer, then the thief/demon possessed by the Arm.  This goes on for awhile.  It ends… ambiguously for Ryo, but otherwise happily for the cheesecake girl and Daisoujou.

Then we return to the present, to the Garama corporation and their cleanup efforts for events that have happened previously.  They acknowledge that the battle with Mao took place… in the same time frame, in the current world… er, as the incident with the Mao-lookalike and the Angel Fist.  There is some brief and confusing wrapups.  I… think there was an attempt to bring a resolution to the themes of… power and omnipotence, contrasted with the Magician’s companion, the only person he’s ever met “without distortion,” but… the last chapter or two was literally like it was starting a new storyline, then had to stop.  They even went to the trouble of bringing back an old character that inexplicably survived the first conflict.

Sorry, Arm of Kannon.  Not even I can defend the crash-and-burn ending.  Great for the first four volumes, though, in that over-the-top gore and nonsense way that I was looking for.

Arm of Kannon 8

December 6, 2009

Masakazu Yamaguchi – Tokyopop – 2006 – 9 volumes

Oh, Arm of Kannon.  I just laugh my way through these volumes now.  The story did start over again here.  We went back to feudual Japan and a group of characters looking for… let’s see… the demon arm, in possession of the Onigami.  The Onigami is Mao’s guard from the earlier part of the story, flung back in time when he sealed the Arm of Kannon possessed by Mao by slicing into space, or dimensions, or whatever it was he did there.  He meets with a monk almost immediately that helps him out.  It’s the man that later becomes the skeletal Daisoujou we saw earlier.

The guardian’s name is Ryo.  Nobody ever calls him that, which is why the name has been eluding me all this time.  The story is simple this time around.  Ryo’s lost arm has been replaced with the Arm of Kannon (or something similar) that possesses a random bandit and turns him into a demon when he tries to cut it off while Ryo is unconscious.  Ryo, the Monk, and a random villiager girl that seems to only be there to offer fanservice try to stop the bandit.

While I’m happy that this story segment at least has a character in common with the former ones, it still makes almost no sense to go back in history like this.  Maybe it’s going somewhere with this, but I don’t think it is.  I think it’s just supposed to be cool, since the possessed bandit can conjure demon servants and slay people in violent ways with old-fashioned weapons.  At least we didn’t get any additions to the Arm mythos this time around, though those have been my favorite parts thus far.  Not really because they’re particularly well-done, but they are surprisingly coherent and entertaining, and… well, Jesus.  That’s just awesome.

Part of me wants the last volume to tie all three of these storylines together and bring back Mao.  Part of me knows that I would keep reading if the series was longer, because there’s something pretty rad about it, despite the fact it’s borderline nonsensical and keeps jumping around for no reason.  But the better part of me knows that it will probably just stop with almost no final resolution whatsoever, which is a real shame.  I guess I’ll find out next volume, though.

Arm of Kannon 7

December 3, 2009

Masakazu Yamaguchi – Tokyopop – 2005 – 9 volumes

My roommate is reading this along with me, and I think he has it right: the story doesn’t feel like it was scripted in advance, but more like it was made up as it went along.  There’s nothing wrong with that, and the point of the series seems to be to simply put as much ridiculous violence on display as possible.  I mean, to kill off your entire cast and reintroduce all new characters four volumes in for no apparent reason, and then to introduce characters and kill them off within a volume or so, and then have characters that have random powers for no apparent reason that don’t quite fit in with the nature of the story… well, yes.  But it works in Arm of Kannon, because everything is so goddamn ridiculous you can’t help but smile as you go along for the ride.

This volume was better than the last.  The Brightring priest takes offense to the Magician’s use of power, saying that his mathematical way of looking at the world and fixing things like a life comes too close to God.  Later, we find out the Christian interpretation of the arm of Senju Kannon, that it is an Angel Fist that inhabited the body of Christ, and the Bright Ring family are actually the descendants of Judas drafted to protect both the fist and its power.  They are called “Bright Ring” because of the halo that Jesus wore.

Yes, Jesus was a character in this manga for a little bit.  When was the last time you saw that happen?  Saint Young Men doesn’t count.

Anyway, several people are killed and one or two are brought back to life by the end of the volume.  Messy fights occur involving gigantic swords and summoned dragons, as well as severed heads that can regenerate and live without a body.  I got a big kick out of the ridiculous Christian imagery, and am looking forward to if or how the two storylines will overlap or relate to each other.  Vague hints about how they are related were dropped, but hopefully we’ll get something more concrete.

Arm of Kannon 6

December 1, 2009

Masakazu Yamaguchi – Tokyopop – 2004 – 9 volumes

This was by far the worst volume of the series so far, which isn’t as big a problem as it sounds, but still… bad for Arm of Kannon is pretty terrible.

The problem is mostly that the story has not picked itself up yet after concluding in volume 4, and everything that’s going on with these new characters and settings is confusing.  I don’t know that the reincarnation aspect I mentioned last review was quite right, and it doesn’t seem very likely as of the end of this volume, but things could still turn that way.

The only common link so far is the Garama Corporation and the existence of the immortal Manma mutants.  The arm is called something else in this story (the Angel Fist), and the plot involves combining it with the Holy Grail, and there are Christian symbols to go along with it this time, though the Buddhist treatment when it was the Arm of Kannon was far more thorough.  There is a pair of guardians who get a terrible explanation and backstory, and I’m not at all clear what it is that they’re doing in the Garama Corporation headquarters since… it seems like they weren’t originally in possession of the Angel Fist?  Or maybe they were, and the head of the Garama Corporation stole it?  I don’t know.

We see oblique references to the first storyline when the head of the Garama Corporation mentions the lost Arm of Kannon and we see the faces of the Manma that Mao beat down in the forest, but aside from that, everything is new.  There are some battles, but they don’t compare to the ones in the other volumes, and are much worse due to the fact that I had a hard time following what the Brightring brothers were doing and what was even going on.  They fight with relics, Shadow (a Priest) with a gigantic sword that can cut souls, and Rou with a chain that he is dying to take off.

Mostly it was just the story exposition that made this a train wreck, and that’s unfortunate.  We also didn’t get to see much of the arm at work, nor of the interesting Magician character that seemed to be the reincarnation of Mao, so maybe things will pick back up next time when those factors come into play.

Arm of Kannon 5

November 30, 2009

Masakazu Yamaguchi – Tokyopop – 2005 – 9 volumes

I was right, I don’t like it as much now that Mao is gone.  On the other hand, I was not expecting the wheel of reincarnation to whip back around and give us the same characters once again.  Mao seems to be represented in a magician named Shinjuro, and the Isurugi monk is represented by a charismatic gang leader named Rou.  The arm doesn’t seem to be as powerful this time around.  I think it’s implied that Rou has it, but he is neither insane nor as powerful as one who possesses it is supposed to be.  But only Shinjuro is the only one who can match him, which may bring about some serious business later.

I’m not entirely sure that the characters are supposed to be reincarnations.  The Isurugi monk was supposed to be immortal, after all, and it isn’t stated overtly that these characters are reincarnations.  But the name of Rou’s gang is “Re-Birth” (keep in mind, the series is called “Birth” in Japan), and Mao’s face melts into Shinjuro’s face on the very first page in what I take to be some sort of symbolism, so… you know, take that as you will.  That’s just Arm of Kannon being awesome.

I still like it, even though there’s not much to it.  The symbolic stuff has stopped in this volume, and while I’m not a big fan of the storyline stopping and picking up with new characters, I like this about as much as I liked the first volume, so maybe these characters will grow on me again in the upcoming volumes.  I hope that we don’t get a third storyline later, though.

Arm of Kannon 4

November 23, 2009

Masakazu Yamaguchi – Tokyopop – 2004 – 9 volumes

Yeah, this series is still rocking my world.  As I said, I think a big part of why I am digging this so much is that it’s making such interesting use of Buddhist mysticism.  It goes a little more into left field here, but the main theme of the series comes across in this volume.

Some weird details surface that I chose to mostly disregard, but some may find a bit confusing.  Apparently there were a lot of rejects that the temple made over the years when trying to develop soul-less bodies to act as vessels to the Arm of Kannon, and some of the rejects wound up being powerful immortals, which goes towards explaining some of what’s going on here with the Manma and Mao’s bodyguard.  We find out that the Arm can attach to and coexist with more than just the soulless bodies, and that there have been other survivors over the years aside from the old monk who’s been narrating the story lately.  And we also find out that the unearthly, unduplicated power of a God is to be able to create life where none exist, which gives us the title of the series in Japanese (“Birth”).  Make of that what you will, it didn’t make much sense, but it was still pretty awesome.

I think that’s a good summary of the entire series so far, actually.  It doesn’t make much sense, but it’s still awesome.  At the end of this volume, the old monk and the bodyguard rend time and space with a sword and a super-forbidden sutra.  It was great.

Unfortunately, the storyline stops at the end of this volume, and a new one picks up next time.  I hope I like it as much as I did this one, but admittedly, I wasn’t sure where the present one was going.  As much as I like it, I suspect it would not have sustained itself for much longer had it kept up.

Arm of Kannon 3

November 19, 2009

Masakazu Yamaguchi – Tokyopop – 2004 – 9 volumes

I don’t know, guys.  I kind of like this series.  Did I fail some sort of test?  I hope not, because this stuff is pretty rad.  I knew what was in store when I saw the rotting corpse of Daisoujou on the cover.  Thanks, SMT, for the deity recognition!

It’s about what you would expect.  The fight in the woods between the army and the mystics continues, and the army is loosing pretty horribly, in the most graphic ways you can imagine.  The female of the group is hanging out of the torso of someone who is apparently “particles of death” and can’t be killed, and she is of course still alive (and naked), for maximum emotional impact on her one surviving teammate.  He wears a visor that can detect any enemy weakness.  Not to spoil anything, but the visor, along with his eyes, are torn out a bit later.

The leader of the army group (who isn’t a teammate, so he doesn’t count) fares a bit better against the leader of the mystics, except Mao intervenes after a short-lived scuffle against his “protector.”  We don’t see the result of this battle, because after a few heavenly blasts and gory regeneration moves happen, the story switches over to the monk Mao’s sister found in the woods last volume that claims to be a former host for the arm of Kannon.  We hear his story, and how he met the “protector” many, many years ago.

His story is pretty radical, and delves deeply into the world of Buddhist religion and mysticism.  Now, when most series do this, it is in an oblique way, where characters happen to be fighting demons based on blah blah blah, or they themselves represent whoever.  Arm of Kannon is guilty of this, obviously, since Mao is possessed by the arm of Senju Kannon, but it is the actual arm of Senju Kannon, and the reason he is going berserk is that it is only meant to fall into the possession of the earthly incarnation of Buddha.  See, we learn all this because the old monk in the woods is actually a Bodhisattva that was part of a secret sect of practicing Bodhisattvas that lived in the middle of the woods and knew all about this stuff.  There’s a really long, awesome scene where we learn about humanity and how the arm has been feeding off bodies without souls for thousands of years.  Normally all the mysticism stuff loses me and is handled badly, but I actually understood it in this series, and it… makes a strange sort of sense in the plot.  Especially the Arm of Kannon.

All of this is pretty gory and horrifying, as you might imagine.  I can’t fault this series for anything it’s trying to do, honestly.  I’m pretty engrossed in the plot, and I came here for the over-the-top fighting and gore, which is present in spades.  What’s not to like?