Wolfsmund is a dark historical manga set in the early 14th century of Europe (Switzerland). The story revolves around the eponymous fortress in the St. Gotthard Pass which is ruled by a sadistic tyrant. Each chapter deals with characters who for some reason have to cross the pass and who end up getting interrogated by the tyrant.
What sets this manga apart is the fact that there's rarely a happy ending for our protagonists. The author pulls no punches to show us just how brutal and inhuman the Middle Ages really were.
So this will be my first review on this site, so please, don't judge me too hard :P
I recently bought the first volume as the synopsis and the covers looked gorgeous, and I can honestly say that after reading this first volume I can not wait to get more.
Story(8/10): This manga is set in the alps during the 14th century. Three small cantons which were previously Swiss has fallen under the Austrian empire command, which seek to control the trade in the area. They did this by implementing a guard station called "Wolfsmund" which restricts passage in to and out of the cantons.
The bailiff of
Wolfsmund is called Wolfram, or rather “The Wolf's Maw.” He's a sadistic man which will punish any illegal trespassers with multiple forms of torture and in the end, death is wait awaits.
The story is basically about people from these cantons whom wish to pass the station, but don't have the rights which are only given by government officials of the Austrian empire and are therefore forced to try to illegally pass, as the rights are almost never given out to people in these cantons.
Art(8/10): The art is impressive, the characters are all well drawn and are unique in their own way. I especially liked the character design for Wolfram, as he has this very kind vibe going on with him, even though he's really a psychopath inside.
As for backgrounds I think that they are good, it could have been a bit more detailed, but overall i'm not complaining.
The fight sequences are also good, just a tad clunky which makes it a bit difficult to understand what actually happened without checking the picture again.
Character(7/10): In the first volume, we got to follow three separate groups in three separate chapters. In the end it seems that it was the last chapter which mattered as a part of the story.
I can't go into too much depth as I would go into spoiler territory, but I can say that the first two chapters were definitely for the readers to understand what situation the people living in the cantons are in as we see the hardships they're in and what happens when you try to cross Wolfsmund without a legitimate pass.
It's in the third chapter we get introduced to the (most probably) main character Wilhelm Tell. Well, even I guess many of you already know who this is, and I can't tell much more only reading the first volume as I would go into spoiler territory again...
Enjoyment(9/10): This is indeed a very enjoyable read, I can almost guarantee that you'll get hooked in the first chapter if you're into survival/death game type of manga. I am, and I was not disappointed, and i'm very happy with the direction the manga is going.
Overall this manga is a very underrated and definitely deserves to be praised more. We got an awesome introductions with very good art and a superb premise to a hopefully brilliant story.
Be sure to check this manga out if you're as i previously wrote in to survival/death game manga!
A pet peeve of mine is when reviewers confuse a story that has elements in that should only be seen by adults with a story that's actually mature. Done lazily or improperly, gore, violence, and sexual content can be as much of a cop-out as saving the day with friendship or good guys inexplicably surviving impossible situations, just for a different demographic. 'Wolfsmund' has enough adult content to make 'Vinland Saga' look reserved and restrained, but lack of depth keeps it from being anything more than a decent guilty pleasure gore-fest.
The story is largely a hack-and-slash tale centering around a Hapsburg border fortress whose bailiff
is infamous for his ability to catch Swiss rebels attempting to escape the country. The first few chapters establish just how difficult it is to cross the border illegally, then the story centers on one long battle by the Swiss Eternal Alliance to seize the fortress. The story doesn't take much time to develop its characters, mostly moving from plot point to plot point as the protagonists react to various challenges raised by the villain (and plenty of characters don't last long enough for much development anyway). There's also plenty of unsettling content (*cough* chapter 6 *cough*) that just seems to be there for shock factor and make sure we figure out that we're supposed to hate Wolfram, Bailiff of Wolfsmund, not because it serves a deeper point. Think of this story as a Swiss version of '300'.
I'll give Wolfsmund one thing, it certainly has style. The artwork has a certain indescribable flair to it with awesome poses galore and fights have plenty of kinetic energy while being clear enough to follow. That being said, there isn't massive variety in the character designs (practically every woman has a barbie doll figure). A decent level of detail goes into the characters, but background are a bit basic. So the art is cool to look at, but nothing utterly jaw dropping here either.
Undermined by the high body count and rapid pace of the plot. Plenty of characters die, but it just creates shock factor, not a deep emotional sense of loss due to their limited development. The main protagonist is serviceable but extremely basic. The main villain Wolfram was clearly written to be a 'Magnificent Bastard' type villain, but he only really pulls off the 'Bastard' part. He does plenty of nasty things to make you root against him, but after a point it just feels like 'Wolfsmund' is trying to shout "HE'S THE VILLAIN!!!" We have no insights into his motivation or the inner workings of his mind, no explanation of why he's doing what he does or how he got so good at it. He's just a Hapsburg hit man. And when he's placed in any physical danger he just hides behind a wall of guards, taking away a lot of the feeling of danger a true Magnificent Bastard is supposed to inspire. The characters boil down to a bunch of game pieces that move where they're supposed to in order to drive the plot.
I won't lie, there are some chapters of this story I doubt I'll read again just for being so uncomfortable. That being said, those just looking for a guilty pleasure should find this decently enjoyable.
You want a stylish medieval hack and slash gore fest with plenty of sexual content? Here's your series. You want deep storytelling? Go somewhere else.
As far as titles set in the Middle Ages (or whatever fantasy settings that mirror that period) are, there's no denying that the bar for many has been set incredibly high. Such a time period of course embodies the idea "life sure ain't fair, the fuck are you gonna do about it". These stories involving folks that have to flounder about to in order to overcome harsh environments and extreme oppression tend to offer plenty of room for character arcs paved in blood and guts. Stories like Vinland Saga, Berserk, Vagabond, etc all easily satisfy those looking for well-drawn violence and well-handled characters so
it would make sense to expect much from Wolfsmund as well (which happens to have been written by one of Kentaro Miura's assistance during his lengthy breaks). I can't say Wolfsmund holds up in all areas as well as some of its better genre contemporaries, but there is certainly enough to make it stand out.
The storyline of Wolfsmund so far is exclusively held in with a small space in early 14th Century Switzerland, where 3 the three different groups of the Swiss cantons, all continue struggling against that the Duchy of Austria, who has violently taken over the land of their forefathers. In an effort to stymy the rebellion against the Austrians, the border fortress known as Sankt Gotthard's pass is kept under strict watch so as to effectively weed out the rebels or those who would enable them. The pass that would lead would be rebels into Italy is under the watch of the sadistic Bailiff Wolfram. The focus of the story at 1st is placed upon individuals who for one reason or another need to make it past the treacherous checkpoint in order to accomplish their goals, whether those goals be to simply looking for asylum or to pass weapons/information to those who would oppose the Duchy of Austria. The story takes semi-episodic approach, each starring a pair of individuals. The most notable common denominator between these stories is Wolfram, the one man standing between the characters and their goals with a gleeful smirk. Wolfram is essentially one of the most unabashedly accurate portrayals of the "Magnificent Bastard" trope you'll ever find in storytelling. He takes the utmost pleasure in tormenting those who garner suspicion at the pass both mentally and physically before bringing down the law. Through his harsh treatment of suspected rebels, Sankt Gotthards earned the nickname "Wolfsmund" (The Wolf's Maw).
It should suffice to say at this point that this is the type of manga in which expects loads and loads of heavy content. Gut punches are plentiful, hopes are dashed and lives are trampled unfairly. The structure of the early volumes allows readers to see the rebellion from multiple different perspectives as it changes focal points every couple of chapters to focus on different characters. Because of this Wolfsmund isn't a story in which you'll find one incredible character arc to follow from beginning to end which will understandably be a turn off for many. Though the individual characters won't offer too much to remember in the long run, they do behave quite believably for the roles they're given. Through these characters, we see many of the smaller, more personal battles taking place during the rebellion. From from a young ladie's journey to escape capital punishment for her dead father's role in the rebellion, to a meek Swiss pub owner who becomes a paid informant to satisfy his wife's vain desires and to get back at the men who enjoy mocking him. It is with these smaller scale conflicts that the setting is fleshed out, the facets of the rebellion become known, and the foundation of the reader's hatred of Wolfram expanded. The semi-episodic approach doesn't always work however. Mileage with the extreme cruelty that these characters are often put through will vary of course, but there are definitely instances of the author being mean for the sake of meanness. For me, it was chapter 10 that showcased the height of this manga's indulgence in shock factor, and it was then I began to question whether or not I would be able to stomach any more of this kind of storytelling. Thankfully, Wolfsmund as it turns out is not a one trick pony.
The 2nd half of Wolfsmund (of the 6 volumes available as of this review, so volumes 4-6) shifts the focus away from the daily lives of of the characters and the details of the upcoming revolt against the barrier station, to the revolt itself. There was more than enough going on in these volumes to garner preference over the 1st three. The siege of Sankt Gotthard's Pass is truly a battle on many fronts, which is what makes it so riveting. Both sides employ various tactics via exploitation of many resources and their environment. The attention to detail that went into making the setting feel as much like 14th century Switzerland was always a strong point of the manga, and the display of siege/anti-siege tactics do well to continue that trend. From different types of traps (boiling oil, pits, soldiers poking blades through holes, etc), to Greek fire that isn't put out by water, to even attempting to crawl up latrines, no possible option for success is left unexplored. It makes for an interesting exchange of one-upmanship for both sides. Another pleasant surprise was how unlike in some other revisionist history manga, the most important characters aren't given ungodly amounts of strength (looking at you, Vinland Saga). Sure there are few characters that can take on more than one foe at a time, but this is a manga that won't let the reader assume that they can't be cut down at any given moment. Another thing is how armored soldiers are at an advantage against anyone who isn't fully clad in a one-on-one duel, regardless of whatever skill the un-armored combatants bring to the table. What that means is that there will be no slicing through breastplates and chain mail as if they're made of wet tea biscuits here. After nearly ten chapters of weighty back-and forths between the two sides, this arc reaches a decisive conclusion during the sixth volume. Although the series has not completed its run, there is already enough payoff for the series to end and leave the rest to history. As of now it seems the manga is on hiatus, as the author is probably back to working with Miura to continue delivering his ongoing epic. A trade off I can't say I'm bothered by.
From what these 6 volumes have to offer, Wolfsmund isn't likely going to be anyone's new favorite manga. While certainly a good and fun read, Wolfsmund simply does not have enough to offer in terms of layered character writing. There certainly was potential for just that in this setting, and with these characters. If more time early on was spent on fleshing out the main players of the rebellion a bit more then that could have worked wonders for me in terms of emotional investment (at the expense of maybe a couple of chapters of people being trolled at the barrier station). The only character whose fate I cared for at all was Wolfram, and as effective of a moustache-twirler I found him to be, he is still entirely one-note. I was also somewhat annoyed to see how one character in particular who seemed rather interesting in the 1st volume was offed in the 2nd, when I felt that said character could have offered more to the story than was allowed.
Still, what we have here is a short yet overall satisfying experience that has enough to stand out amongst titles that share in its genre, even if it doesn't quite rise to the top. As a bleak anthology and as a brutal war drama there was definitely enough to tide me over.
First I'd like to say I'm providing a review fairly early. I've only read the first volume, and honestly this is more of my first impressions, but I'm mostly making this since there is NOT a single review as of December 29, 2014. That is ridiculous.
Notes: From volume 1 you quickly understand that the story is heading in a very interesting direction. Nearly every chapter gives a sort of episodic feel with a new character or a couple or group etc, that is attempting to pass through the gate. The bailiff is a sadistic tyrant, or as I'd put it, a psychopath. I could
go on but so far the story can be tldr's as:
Some person or people are trying to pass through St. Gotthard Pass and "Wolfsmund" figures them out, and then decides to kill them in some harsh way. Either beheading or the person(s) dies in an even more tragic way.
One of the strongest points of this manga. Very nice art, reminds me of Vinland Saga and of Attack on Titan but with the lines that Tokyo Ghoul has (at times). Excellent art.
As much I as love the characters, it's tough giving this a high score (honestly should be a 7 not 8) when the characters die by the end of the chapter. However our bailiff is one of the most interesting characters I've read in a manga recently, and I keep wondering if he's really sadistical just to uphold honor and law as he claims, or if there is more to it....
Personal Enjoyment: 10/10
Love the series. It's one of the most enjoyable reads I've found recently. Combine that with tragic deaths, and Vertical is printing the manga (great looking and awesome covers) definitely makes this a great series to purchase.
If you're a Vinland Saga fan, definitely read this. Otherwise I'd recommend reading the first chapter to decide if it's for you.
I'll add some edits to this review if Ookami no Kuchi: Wolfsmund goes in a different direction or when I read more of the manga.
Cannot mention enough that this might be more of a first impression type of review than a full length "seen it all" type of review.
Anyone who's a fan of this manga should provide there own review to help increase the popularity of this great manga series.
This concludes the First Impressions esque review.