Anthem to the Gods: Daemon Hunters (Akuma-Gari) Series Review

Series Info
Title: Daemon Hunters
Author: Seiuchiroh Todono
Media Type: Manga (Japanese comic)

Warning: Potential spoiler. Proceed at own risk.

“Why is man alive?
To be ruled by Gods?
To worship Demons?
To be bound by oneself?
Those who are blind
cannot seek peace
Why is man alive?
In the haze of my foolishness,
I ask amid the dark empty plain
pondering to the moon hanging under the sky”

-The translation (from the Thai translation by Bongkoch Comics) of the opening and ending poem in Daemon Hunters by Seiuchiroh Todono.-

If there is a single sentence that summarized the essence of Daemon Hunters, it is this question: why are we alive? This question would move the world, manipulate the powers, and bring forth the fateful battle of Armageddon. This question would condemn Michael Largeness, the man who is made to be god, to live at the edge of darkness and despair. This question is one no god has the answer, only human has.

It is astonishing that Seiuchiroh Todono should choose this tough question to be the central theme of his first long-running series instead of any other theme that would be more practical to portray. At first glance, the imagery and storyline of this series seems to follow faithfully the popular dark-fantasy manga Berserk. The hero, Michael Largeness, sets out on a journey to defeat his long-time enemy and friend, the demon-lord Gabriel. Along his way, he bashes one demon after another with his gigantic cursed sword. But to think that Daemon Hunters is simply another replica of Berserk is a terrible misperception. In fact, the underlying precepts in Daemon Hunters touch on philosophy more than average fantasy stories. Seiuchiroh has demonstrated in his first work on the series, a one volume manga named Daemon Hunters (Akuma-gari), that saving means more than just rescuing someone from danger and victory means more than simply defeating your enemy. Michael may have defeated the monster, but only its body that he can kill. It is Margaret, the damsel, who saves its soul. She also saves Michael’s life using her skill as a doctor, but at the very end it is Michael who unknowingly frees her of sorrow and helps her carry on.

So demons are not evil; it seems that there is neither good nor evil in Seiuchiroh’s universe. Human, likewise, are not all good or all bad. They are not driven by evilness when they harm others but by self-interest. People are simply who they are struggling at their best to be at ease with themselves. This also applies to Michael, Margaret and Gabriel. Margaret is an exceptionally skilled doctor because she cannot face death and the sadness it brings upon her. Michael chooses to be a hunter living constantly in the shadow of death because he cannot face the emptiness of life. Gabriel, the man who seeks most the reason to be alive, chooses to put the world to an end to find the answer.

In the second part of the series – Daemon Hunters: Angels with Crowns and Wings (Akuma-gari: Kanmuri Tsubasa no Seitenshihen) – Margaret, after years of searching for the man who once saved her, finally finds him still living in the shadow. With her determination to save him from darkness, she innocently embarks with him on his journey and is caught in the grandeur scheme of things where she learns of Michael’s nature, his refusal to acknowledge it, and his grudge toward Gabriel. But is it grudge that drives Michael? Or is it because if he does not hunt down the man whom he deems had destroyed his life, he has no other reason to be alive?

It all comes down to this: why are we alive? Michael clearly plays himself into Gabriel’s hands because he does not know the answer. He, after all, was raised in his youth by an ill mother who partakes in an experiment to create man-made gods. He has no father and no other purpose but to become a god like three other children who conceived in the same experiment, one of them being Gabriel. But every attempt to uplift him into a celestial being fails time after time despite him supposedly being the most powerful of them all.

That potential is what Gabriel is after. Contrary to Michael, Gabriel accidentally becomes a god at the moment of his birth. He possesses far more knowledge and power than the whole human civilization could have, but he does not know why he is alive. This curiosity extended to the purpose of all other living creatures around him. Why must a fish swim and not fly? Why must a rabbit falls prey to a lion and not otherwise? Life has no particular meaning to Gabriel because he never lives one. He is an outsider trapped in a world obscure to him. He has no way of appreciating it as much as no way of understanding why he is there.

The person who seems to know the answer is Margaret who is but an ordinary woman with no particular power but her will. She was on the verge of death once as a child and she faces both life and death in her daily line of work as an adult. If there is anyone in the story who can cherish life as it is, it is Margaret. However, her appreciation comes mainly from experience, something that cannot be conveyed so easily. Thus her wisdom cannot satisfy Gabriel. He still waits for Michael the God to enlighten him even it would mean destroying the world to make him descend from heaven.

At the end of Daemon Hunters: Hymn for the Dead (Akuma-gari ~Jakumetsu no Seishi Shouka Hen~), Gabriel’s wish is granted. Unfortunately Michael’s answer is not revealed to the readers. We only see Gabriel’s reaction as he listens and Michael’s expression as he vocalize it, but nothing else. This is what I consider a super-anticlimax. After leaving us in anticipation for years, Seiuchiroh never told us what it is that Michael finally understands as a God at the end of his journey as a man.

Then again, as a human, how can we understand what the gods sees in a human’s life?

But despite the anticlimax, I still consider this series quite exceptional in both artwork and story, maybe except for the first few volumes in which the style is so amateur it hardly caught any attention. But as the story progress to the middle of Angels with Crowns and Wings, the depth of both artwork and characters become obvious. The designs still follow the style of medieval fantasy until Hymn for the Dead where Seiuchiroh finally showcases many interesting designs of monsters, weapons, and armours which clearly indicated that he had done researches on physiology and history before combining them rather interestingly with his imagination. The worst element in terms of illustration may be the action sequences which are rather unanimated. Luckily, Seiuchiroh did not focus too much on the fight that it can be overlooked from time to time.

The part he paid more attention to is the characters and their relationships. Even though there is nothing explicit between Michael and Margaret and they never come to admit their feeling for each other until almost at the end, their bond formed slowly overtime is more than clear to the readers. The bonds between the members of Howler family are the crucial element that made the descent of Raphael so grievous, and the battle so grim and heartbreaking it has become intolerable to some. If there is anything to mourn about, it is the number of characters that Seiuchiroh did not have the time and space to explore despite them seeming importance, and the role of the races that come and go too quickly in Hymn for the Dead. The time span used to complete the series is also an issue. When it takes too long to develop a story, there is so much that changed that details in beginning and the end become irrelevant resulting in the story ends rather unsatisfactorily.

The audience in the English-speaking world also has another problem to cope with: the English publisher only published Hymn for the Dead but not the first two parts. They might have been misled by the difference in titles and did not realize that it is actually a single story being written into three different pieces. Unfortunately, this would lead to much confusion and dismay as many concepts are introduced in the first two parts and was not addressed again in the third. It would be a miracle if Seiuchiroh and Daemon Hunters were ever recognized in that territory.

To be honest, I do not know myself how widely his work was recognized in his homeland, but I am glad it had not brought him to instant fame. Daemon Hunters and Seiuchiroh are far from perfection and it can only be as good as it is because he was given the time and authority to shape the story to this direction. I am certain many popular long-running manga series could have been better if this were the case for them as well. Time will come for him, but right now I would rather have Seiuchiroh honing his craft and developing another story than being a demanded writer. What meaning is there to be successful if one cannot reproduce the quality that gave them success anymore? And for Seiuchiroh, it lies in detailed and well-researched artwork, the bravery to bring up the big question and portray it in a way no one had dared try.