A woman stands under a moonlit sky. The light casts arresting shadows on her silver hair. It blows over her shoulder, glitters of light giving them a sparkle. Even more spectacular is her face. Her slashed throat sends a trail of blood streaming down her skin. More blood is on her face, but her eyes show only resilience. She clasps her sword, ready for the next strike. This cover of The Valiant Must Fall caught my eye. You can't judge a book by its cover, and luckily there is more to this manga. It has an intriguing back cover synopsis, too! Just kidding, the book itself is good.
After the fall of the shogunate, former samurai Haruyasu is lost in the new reality of the Meiji Era. Cast aside by society, all he wants is an honorable death. To find inner peace, he attempts to assassinate a government official. Instead, he finds himself at the mercy of a mysterious woman bodyguard. Claiming to be immortal, she spares Haruyasu's life. But what will she ask for in return? The answer is a well-done piece of historical fiction.
The art stood out to me the most. That may sound obvious, but this manga goes above what I've been reading recently. The detailed backgrounds look as if they are penciled over photographs from an era that had none. The verisimilitude made for an immersing experience that heightens the action scenes. Using action lines to guide you panel to panel, the swordplay develops a water-like flow. The author took many notes while studying Vagabond and Blade of the Immortal.
Underneath that art is a dedication to a story steeped in historical context. The manga takes place at the very beginning of the Meiji Era. This is right after the shogunate was extinguished and the Emperor asserted their power. I like learning history, so I got wrapped up in all the intricacies of the era I never knew about. The story does not hand-hold for the unfamiliar, which can be intimidating. Luckily there are translator's notes that provided enough context for me while reading. I would suggest reading the Historical Commentary at the end of the books first. It explains all the references and even the mindsets of the characters. Haruyasu was a part of the war between the shogunate and the Emperor, and that shaped him into the person he is at the start of the story.
I say to read the commentary because the plot's pacing is fast. The first volume's story takes place over only a couple of days. The author provides the reader with just the right amount of information and only explains when necessary. That movie-like pacing gives it a forward momentum I don't see in first volumes. Most first volumes are about character set up and the plot drags after the first chapter. The Valiant Must Fall knows exactly what story it wants to do and doesn't waste any time executing it. The speed leaves the supporting characters a bit flat, but I found the dedication refreshing so I could look over that.
If you're looking for historical fiction that dives into supernatural action (like that one super popular series) The Valiant Must Fall deserves a look. You'll not only learn about an important piece of Japanese history but also get to look at strong art while doing it. So bring out your swords and history books, because this manga is worth the effort.
The Valiant Must Fall Manga Volume 1
The Tokugawa shogunate has fallen, and former samurai Haruyasu is adrift in a strange new world, searching for a place to die. But when he attempts to assassinate a government official, hoping this will bring the eternal peace he craves, Haruyasu finds himself at the mercy of the official's bodyguard, a young woman who claims she's the daughter of an immortal. What will she ask in return for sparing his life?Add to CartLearn More