Crueler than Dead wastes no time starting, dropping us into the story with Maki and a young boy in a small room with no clue what is happening outside. We soon find out that the event that caused the zombies happened one year prior, but an antidote does exist. The existence of an antidote, along with some unique world-building details, makes this manga stand out in the horde of zombie stories available.
Maki and the boy, Shota, turn out to be two of the zombies cured by the antidote, and must take the cure to the Tokyo Dome, which houses the last human survivors. The journey will be perilous and lacking many allies. What will they find at the dome when they arrive?
The art style does not shy away from the grotesque details indicative of a Walking Dead style of zombie series. Injuries, gore, and dilapidated scenery are presented in minute detail, placing us intimately amongst immersive scene, often at the cost of our comfort – a powerful expression of the dystopic conditions in which security is scarce. Combining traditional manga styling with themes which readers expect from Western material, it is a delightful juxtaposition that pays off beautifully – the syncretism successfully unifying disparate elements and not causing an incoherent (or weird) result.
Likewise, adult themes are no stranger in the plot and violent sequences are uninhibited, consequently restricting this series for desensitized mature audiences (as it should be for zombie fiction portraying a brutally, yet sincere, unhinged post-apocalyptic landscape). Be forewarned, however: rape is used as a plot device to portray just how corrupted many of the factions in this future really are – a crude aspect which may dissuade some of the more sensitive readers. While not uncommon in zombie and graphic novel fare, it does make the mature rating very appropriate as extreme content to even conventionally mature ratings.
The pace never lets up, not giving the characters a moment to rest between frenetic scenes carrying a captivating momentum for anybody into more action-orientated works. Whether it’s between factions of survivors, or a survivor against zombies, it’s never long between battles as an intense but entertaining progression. However, the friction is not just situational, as emotional obstacles are also addressed as characters are forced to confront their own morality and past actions.
While many of the miscellaneous characters are shallow in nature, lacking much of an opportunity to materialise into more than set pieces, that leaves room for the primary cast to shine from the attention they receive between the relentless action segments. Yugo, Maki, and Shota are fleshed out more fully, actualised in an engaging way to have a sense of purpose, with more character development to surely come in future volumes – it feels only the start of their personal arcs. Readers will especially appreciate one villain’s notable dynamic, yet practical, approach to the whole ordeal, a necessity considering zombies only have so much versatility in terms of threat.
The last chapter of the first volume is entitled “Chapter Zero” and gives us a peek at the events before we meet Maki and crew. It’s a tiny tease, but fits in nicely at the end by giving us cameos of characters we’ve already met – a new angle beyond the more radical circumstances of the future. Had it been at the beginning, it would not have meant much other than scene setting and we would have lacked as much attachment for meaningful flashbacks. By placing it at the end, it grants us insight, however, behind the curtain at where various characters were when the catastrophe hit, also enriching their characters from essential backstories. Continuing to alternate timelines in this way may prove beneficial to the storyline occasionally – the diversions embedded organically.
Crueler than Dead Vol. 1 will be released on September 29th from Ablaze Manga . For fans of The Walking Dead, Romero’s works, and zombies in general, it is not to be missed. Look forward to future volumes of this tension-filled and detailed, gory narrative.
Hello, I’m Quinn. Saying I’m deeply into fashion and Japanese culture is an understatement. We’ve renovated entire rooms of our house to dedicate to my collections of lolita and other Japanese fashions. I enjoy balancing the cute with the macabre, and the more disturbing it is, the more I’ll enjoy it. Thus, my love for Asian horror and manga was born. Thank you for taking the time to read my writings. I look forward to discussing films and aesthethics with you!