To kick of my discussion of Jormungand, I’d like to make something very clear about my reading preferences when it comes to manga: to whit, I’ll read about anything that amuses me. Saccharine teenage love stories? Yeah, been there, did that, do that, and have enjoyed them. Weird future adventure tales with lots of T&A and sarcastic humor? Read tons. Even laughed every once in a while. Space fleet adventures? Yep. Vampire romance? Yep. Vampire shoot-em-ups? Yep. Vampire redemptions? Yep.
But the manga I have the hardest time getting into are the “realistic” ones. Jormungand is an example of that. The scare quotes around “realistic” are there for a reason, because Japanese manga creators seem to part ways pretty quickly with reality no matter what the subject. What I’m referring to might actually be better referred to as “noir” or “dark”. Worlds that are all too familiar from reading just about any newspaper of on-line news feed. Murder, rape, drugs, war – that sort of thing.
So, when I choose to follow a series like Jormungand, you can bet your bottom dollar that it has empathetic characters, an intriguing plot, and art that won’t make you feel as if you’re perusing the sketchbooks from a freshman high school art class.
Jormungand is the creation of Keitaro Takahashi. Technically it’s a “shoot-em-up” story about an arms dealer, named Koko Hekmatyar, and her band of mercenary bodyguards as they burn their way around the globe selling new and used military hardware to the highest bidder. Among Koko’s squad, we find the boy-soldier Jonah, who hates weapons and all that they do and yet is bound to serve Koko as an amazing killing prodigy.
The plot of Jormungand initially kicks off as a series of interconnected short stories. Jonah is already part of the team, which includes Lehm, the grizzled veteran, and Valmet, the knock-out knife-wielding assassin, among others. Right off the bat, you can tell that Koko’s squad is the kind of professional that other would-be mercs long to be. They’re a team who trusts their leader and that leader takes them where the money is.
And where the money is happens to be where the blood flows, too.
Through the volumes, though, you begin to see a pattern wherein a bit of each team member’s past is revealed. First, of course, we start with Jonah and how he ended up attached to Koko, who seems determined to return life to his icy personality. After that, we begin brushing against Valmet’s past. Ugo the driver turns out to be a former Mafioso. Mao hails from China and once served as an artilleryman. Lutz was a SWAT sniper. The others have yet to be examined, but you can tell that each one has a special set of skills that builds the overall team and each has a story to tell – and each story end up wrapped around Koko’s destiny.
Koko’s destiny, by the way, is where a thread of the otherworldly is slowly creeping into the story. If this manga were just about the adventures and stories of Koko and her squad, it might be interesting, but hardly compelling. Yet, something “more” is swirling around Ms. Hekmatyar, and Jonah seems to be assigned as the chief observer of her path toward completing whatever mission drives her forward.
Already in the story, it has become clear that Koko has something special in mind for Jonah. Make no mistake, either, in thinking that Jonah is unaware that something is a bit “off” in his employer’s attitude toward him. His situational awareness is second to none in the squad and what he may lack in worldliness, he more than makes up for in his healthy distrust of all things “adult”.
The deeper mystery of what exactly Koko seeks to achieve and how Jonah figures into her world drive the overarching plot line. The progress along the way is woven thick with the personalities and histories of both her squad and her adversaries. The art is rich and detailed, sometimes subdued and sometimes grandiose, but always carrying the narrative along by enriching the set upon which the dramas play out. The leavening of humor that is sprinkled throughout helps ease the shock of the horrid violence that accompanies so many of Jormungands more “active” moments.
I’m picky about my “realistic” action manga. There has to be a story to carry me past the horror and grimness that such stories draw upon. Jormungand has succeeded in capturing my attention and letting me enjoy an engaging tale without overwhelming me with gore.
– Darwin Garrison