Dec 11, 2020
Every so often while I'm sifting through all the crap the shounen ai tag has to offer (and believe me, there's quite a bit of crap there,) I'll find a gem that turns out much better than I expected. Despite my lack of interest in the historical genre as a whole, Japanese mythology and spiritual themes tend to fascinate me as they're far as can be from my own beliefs and culture. And so, I decided to crack this one open for a good read.
Toukaidou Hisame amusingly relays the tale of Hisame, a baby-faced priest doubling as an exorcist and his pansexual playboy pursuiter Itsuki,
a monk who smiles like Hiruko Kagetane and speaks solely in "♡" (which is literally the best thing ever, especially when he's threatening murder.) Together they journey across the Tokaidou, kick some mad youkai ass, flirt (at least, Itsuki tries to,) kick more youkai ass, get laid (again, this is mostly Itsuki) and...did I mention they kick youkai ass?
Admittedly, I've read a good number of manga that follow the exact premise of "The Travelling Priest & Co.," but I found that Toukaidou Hisame was more formulaic, rushed and a bit repetitive. That's to be expected from a manga that spans only 8 chapters, but it's solidly entertaining enough that nothing really feels overused or boring. An interesting theme was that Hisame is somewhat of a pacifist, opting for as minimal damage as possible when performing his exorcisms, no matter how deadly the monsters were. In contrast, Itsuki is someone who'd happily spit on a corpse while smiling like a cherub, so long as it's for his beloved Hisame-chan. Seeing them both trying to work all that out was, for the most part, amusing, but when the twisted reality hits Hisame that sometimes damage just can't be avoided, it hits both him and the reader hard. It makes you think about what justice really is and the whole "doing the right thing for the wrong reasons" kind of thing.
To weigh out the darker themes, there's what really sets the manga apart from the others for me: Itsuki's continuous failed attempts at courting his childhood friend. I know, I know, you're probably thinking "Well it bothers his friend, isn't that just harassment?" Technically, yes. (Making a great case for myself so far.) But it's pretty clear that Itsuki seriously loves Hisame and isn't just after his bottom. He even mentions that his love for Hisame transcends gender. He constantly puts himself in the line of danger for Hisame and is completely under his word. As funny as it was to see that signature BL slapstick no-homo nonsense, I couldn't help but feel bad for Itsuki. It was one of the few instances where I felt that the love the characters held was genuine. You'll get him someday, tiger, I know you will.
On a lighter note, the art was absolutely beautiful. It was slick, neat and consistent, and everything from the backgrounds to the character's clothes & weapons were intricately drawn to the last detail. The art style is reminiscent of Bleach's art, it has more of a shounen feel to it rather than the soft stylistic art most manga in this vein possess. This makes for an enjoyable experience regardless of whether you're a fan of the genre or not. I especially loved Itsuki and Kagetora's character designs. I seriously wish we could've gotten a better look at that massive tattoo on Kagetora's back, though.
My one gripe is that it was too short and therefore too rushed, especially towards the end where new characters kept getting introduced and it seemed like the mangaka was just scrambling to wrap things up by weaving a quick but logically-sounding backstory and connection to the other characters and then calling it a day, but that more or less made it fall flat on it's face. The ending kind of came out of nowhere, and nothing is really resolved. It's cool to end series on cliffhangers, but this one just felt like someone was holding the mangaka at gunpoint and pulled the script right from her hands before she could come up with a better thought-out conclusion.
Fortunately enough, though, there's a sequel, and from what I've seen by skimming people's comments, it's longer and does a much better job at telling the story the mangaka wanted to tell here (fingers crossed that Itsuki finally gets the guy.)
Toukaidou Hisame overall makes for a fun and short little ride into the feudal era of Japan with quirky characters whose gut-busting interactions lighten up their surroundings amidst fierce and brutal fighting scenes. It's definitely not as developed of a world as one would hope, but it's a magical one you'll most definitely enjoy falling into for the little time you're there.
What did you think of this review?