"My heart... bowed completely to the wishes of the little devil standing before me, in this story of the Earth's destruction."
Before I start the actual review, let me just get something out of the way. From this it may seem like I give out 10s to manga, like I give candy to children on Halloween. In fact it is the opposite, this is the only true 10 rating I ever gave to a manga. I have another one in my list but that's for special reasons. So, as you probably realized already, this is my all-time favorite. Still, I will try and go through what people may point out as its negative points as unbiased as possible, while knowing that doing so completely is impossible. Oh and sorry if this turns out extremely long, anyone who reads until the end deserves a virtual high-five. I hope you like this review and, more importantly, I hope you give this manga a chance.
Onward to the actual review, starting with an introduction. Many times people ask me what I like about manga. They ask me why I don't just read a book, watch a movie or see a play at the theater. It's always hard to answer this question. I always answer quite vaguely. Manga has a unique style of storytelling and a unique style of story itself. It goes beyond books in its own ways of expression. It develops better than movies with its panel, dialogue and image display. I try to say something along these lines, but, I don't know if its due to a certain bias, a certain stereotype connected to manga/anime and its fans, or simply due to my social inabilities, people always look at me as if I was an ignorant, illiterate kid. Hoshi no Samidare would be the answer to that question. I am positive that it does what no movie or book will ever do in a way they can never do. It is a manga that doesn't try to be anything else but the very example of what manga can manage beyond movies and books. Some manga are praised because they are so realistic and their contents could very well be the contents of the aforementioned 2 entertainment mediums, like Monster for example, where people always say something along those lines: "It's like a book", "it could very well be a thriller movie", etc. Not to degrade Monster in any way (since I like it quite a lot), but I can only see that as an insult on manga as an entertainment business. It's like saying that the best manga stories can almost be worthy of books and movies, basically implying that it is inferior to those 2. HnS wouldn't work very well as a book, much less as a movie, and I'm damn glad with that!
"My lady’s goal is to defeat the wizard’s ultimate golem which orbits around the Earth, the Biscuit Hammer. Then, she will destroy the Earth with her own fist. She is the lady of the ring who will save the Earth, as well as the evil Lucifer who will crush this planet. And I am her ever loyal subject." - Yuuhi, the main character.
HnS's story is, to say it quite simply, absurd in many ways. Ridiculous could be used to describe one or two plot points, in fact. Not in a negative sense though. Basically there is this giant titanic hammer floating in space called Biscuit Hammer, which will smash it to pieces, thus bringing the end of the world. A princess and 12 knights were chosen to defend the Earth, by fighting the golems sent by the creator of the Hammer, who is initially referred to as Mage, each knight has an animal companion and is gifted one wish in order to compensate for entering such a fight. Our main character is Yuuhi, a guy who had a pretty traumatic childhood, which made him a bitter, lonely and plain person. He wants no part of it until he is drawn by Asahina Samidare, the princess, and her crazy plan. Samidare only plans to destroy the Hammer in order to be the one destroying the Earth herself, since in her eyes the Earth is hers!
The story goes through several phases as we meet the other 11 knights. The pace varies greatly with those phases. There are several chapters in the middle that almost feel like a slice of life, to give a quick example. In these variations lies a good or bad point depending on the reader. Personally I loved how the story doesn't settle for one steady simple pace, taking hold of the reader and guiding him along on a journey as events go by. But I can also see people getting frustrated with it, as there are some quite slow paced scenes dedicated merely to character development. That can be quite frustrating if you’re too excited to see what’s next and how our characters will proceed. If you look at it that way, indeed it slightly breaks the flow of the story. That is something you have to be prepared for. Don’t crave for what’s next, let the author draw you in in his own way. Everything has a meaning in HnS. The story doesn’t waste chapters, doesn’t simply go to the beach for the sake of it. The simple interactions between the characters that make up a big portion of the manga is essential for the story itself.
The dialogue is quite awesome. It made me want to learn Japanese to find anything that is lost in translation. The dialogue and how it is displayed is very important here. Enjoy the panels one by one and see how they were carefully placed. Read the lines and notice their sequence and where they appear considering the characters. These small details are a part of what makes this amazing and it’s a pity that fast readers usually go through them without care. Some lines seem meaningless but may hold important value later on. Cherish every word and don’t just read as fast as possible in order to just say you actually read it.
When it comes to genres, HnS is a mix of most of them. It has drama, romance, action, comedy… There are several scenes dedicated to each of them. The deadpan humor of the beginning is hilarious, and on later volumes you can always count on the usual joke to light up the story every once in a while. I will address romance in the characters section. The action is not very good itself. You should NOT read this for the fights. This is NOT a battle manga. That’s a very important point that has to be laid out clearly. If you’re looking for awesome fights with over-powered opponents and cool power-ups every ten pages, look elsewhere or you won’t be satisfied. But if you are looking for meaningful battles that can get you excited due to your connection to the characters, then maybe you will be satisfied here. I really liked the battles but they’re in no way the main point of the manga. The drama and the emotional parts are well done but they depend on the reader. If you pay attention to the character development and feel like it was good, then most likely you will love the emotional parts. I nearly cried twice and that had never happened to me in any anime, manga or anything else. It can be very strong at times, and it is magnificently helped by the outstanding dialogue as well.
This is, in my most honest opinion, the best point of the manga. It has the best character development I’ve seen. It is incredible how well most of the important characters are developed. Yuuhi’s development is insanely good and actually believable. Samidare’s reasoning, personality and connections are revealed and evolved in an outstanding manner. Every wish made by the knights bears meaning considering their personalities, so by analyzing their wishes you can draw conclusions about them and see them play out later on. Here, I can’t be unbiased so I’ll just present my reasons. I’ve already said this in my Onani M. Kurosawa review but I prefer weak characters over the awesome, all-powerful, genius, gains-power-from friendship characters. I like to see portrayed the weakness in people, their dark side. It makes them more believable and relatable. Yuuhi is one of those. He’s cold at times, has no interest in pretty much anything, basically lives life just for the sake of it. That is justified and understandable by taking a look at his childhood. But he changes. He doesn’t become a hero overnight like some characters I could mention, but he changes gradually. Every volume you see a little thing changing in him. Either due to Samidare’s influence, due to his meeting with his grandpa, or to the first group of friends he ever found himself in, Yuuhi changes. He’s only human after all. Then the relationships between characters are very good as well, particularly the strange one between our lead characters. A master-servant relationship, a friendly relationship, a romantic relationship, it takes many forms throughout the story culminating in some tear-inducing final chapters.
One other important detail is the relationship between the knights and their “pets”. I hate every strange animal that for some reason shounen authors seem to love including in stories, honestly it’s just irritating and I can’t, for the love of God, understand why they’re even included in any stories at all. Well here it’s a different situation. The animals are essential. And most important of all the relationship between them and their masters is absolutely priceless. Not to spoil, but every time I read the end of chapter 6 I feel a tiny need to cry at the interaction between Yuuhi and Noi, amazing moment right there.
The art is different from the usual. It isn’t brilliant, but you grow into it. And most important of all it fits the story and the character designs are appropriate. Considering that, not much to say here. Don’t let your first impression of the art deter you from reading on.
[Enjoyment & Overall]
I enjoyed every bit. Most things have been said already so I don’t have much to add. It’s a very peculiar manga. It’s quite hard to put into words what makes it so strange besides its ridiculous plot points, but I think you’ll get what I mean as you read on. I can’t guarantee you’ll love it, I can say it’s very likely you’ll like it, but I can safely say it’ll remain on your mind as a particularly unique experience as a manga reader. A modern classic that should’ve been more popular only in order to bring about a new age for manga, in order to give birth to pride in the industry. If that happened, maybe hearing “wow it almost feels like reading a book” wouldn’t be that much of a compliment.