Steel of the Celestial Shadows Volume 1 Manga Review

Metal of the Celestial Shadows Quantity 1 Manga Assessment

It all comes down to perspective. In the case of samurai Konosuke Ryudo, who believes that he has suffered from an inability to deal with metal since boyhood, it is more than simply a platitude. He views it as a curse as it prevents him from using a steel blade, making him a samurai who is unable to even shave close since he must use honed obsidian instead of a knife or razor. He is unable to get employment since no one would hire a guy who wields a wooden sword, and worse, he believes that his mother’s death occurred as a result of his incapacity to touch metal as a youngster. Not only is Konosuke unlucky, but he’s also totally out of it—at least, in his own eyes and the eyes of the general public.

But what if the term “curse” isn’t correct? This slow-burning narrative in the first book of Steel of the Celestial Shadows delves into it. Konosuke lives in a tiered human society, hence he views what some could term his “power” negatively. Nevertheless, we don’t need to use much creativity to see that he could be going about this the incorrect way. Even though he is incapable of using a weapon, we learn early in the book that a sword pointed at him would warp back and attack its user, much like a snake doing what Konosuke silently commands. That seems almost like a superpower rather than a burden, in the blade-based society of what the back text claims is early nineteenth-century Japan. When one can use the swords of others against oneself, who needs to employ a steel blade?

Because it’s not a concept Konosuke would likely come to on his own, author Daruma Matsuura (who also created the comic Kasane) includes the character Tsuki. One day, Tsuki, an enigmatic lady Konosuke has never heard of before, walks up in front of him and declares herself to be his wife. He can’t remember ever meeting her, yet she appears to know him already and is always supportive of him. When Konosuke finally warms up to her, odd things start to happen around him. At first, he attempts to divorce her because he feels inadequate. The inference is that Tsuki may not be quite human and that Konosuke may be capable of far more than he has previously realized when it comes to his ability to bend metal.

There are several indications that Tsuki is not who she appears to be. Her name means “moon,” for starters, and this book’s chapters are all called after different phases of the moon, or at least after the ways that people use it to tell the time. She also calls his “curse” his “power,” and she’s eager to make sure he knows that it’s not a terrible thing. By the conclusion of the book, it’s easy to question whether Tsuki is really a mythological or folkloric figure herself—a moon rabbit, Princess Kaguya, Orihime, or someone else—because she has a strong belief in Konosuke. (She may not be a true moon goddess since, in contrast to many Western myths, the moon is represented by a male deity in the Shinto pantheon.) It is indisputable that she has a stake in Konosuke accepting himself, regardless of who or what she is. But she also seems to be in love with him, so it’s unlikely that she’s just using him for her personal gain. At least, I hope not, as he really needs someone to support him. One of the main reasons to read this is to watch Konosuke triumph despite all odds—he’s just two steps away from becoming a depressing piece of fiction.

Despite all the indications Matsuura gives, this is a slow-burning series premiere. For the most part of the book, Konosuke feels depressed about himself, and the people in the town treat him badly. The fact that the supernatural aspects don’t fully develop until the very end of the novel may turn off some readers, particularly considering the gloomy atmosphere that permeates the majority of Konosuke’s scenes. Tsuki also runs the danger of coming off as an archaic “good woman” cliché since she refuses to let her guy treat her badly or coldly. While that may be appropriate for the era, it makes for a dull read. The latter two chapters address most, if not all, of these problems, although getting there may sometimes seem tedious.

Matsuura’s artwork, which balances being detailed and minimalist, is a good fit for her narrative approach. Even with a wealth of background details and historically accurate attire, it is often subtle, simple to read, and visually relaxing. I find it distracting that Viz’s translation includes a few cultural notes in the gutters between the panels; moreover, the majority of the notes are about out-of-date measuring units rather than details that are relevant to the story, which is another reason, in my opinion, to have a glossary rather than definitions on the page.

The first book of Steel of the Celestial Shadows is ninety-five percent setup, or it seems that way. Although it moves slowly until almost the very end of the novel, there is never a feeling that this early portion of the plot is not important. But it’s worth it if you like historical fiction or historical fantasy. The ramifications of the ending for where this is headed might completely alter Konosuke’s self-perception and understanding of his “curse.”

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