Every story has an end. No matter how grand the tale, it eventually reaches a conclusion. This is the case for Yen Press’ dark-medieval-fantasy series, Übel Blatt, which, according to Anime News Network, plans to conclude in March. Created by Etorouji Shiono, Übel Blatt began printing in the magazine Young Gangan in 2004. For 15 years, the series has provided readers with complex characters, skilled artwork, and a realistic take on the revenge plot. However, despite its long run, Übel Blatt is criminally underrated in the US. TDF will be shining a spotlight on this amazing series before it draws its final curtain.
The Plot Of Übel Blatt
Taking place in Szaalanden, Übel Blatt follows the vengeful journey of a man named Koinzell whose vendetta began 20 years ago. Born with the name Ascheriit, he was a skilled swordsman who was part of the group: the Fourteen Lances. His swordsmanship received recognition throughout the kingdom. So much so that he earned the title of Blatt Meister (“Blade Master”).
When Szaalanden faced invasion from its rival nation, Wischtech, the Szaalanden Emperor ordered the Fourteen Lances to defend the country. Along the way to the border, three of the Fourteen Lances died in battle. Near their destination, seven of the remaining eleven warriors chose to abandon their mission. They considered their chances of success slim; therefore, Ascheriit and the remaining three warriors continued alone. Miraculously, Ascheriit’s group succeeded and prevented Wischtech’s invasion.
The group returned to their seven comrades. However, instead of welcoming them with opened arms, the seven betrayed them. They murdered Ascheriit’s group, and once sure they were dead, the seven returned to Szaalanden. Back home, the seven claimed they were the ones who defeated Wischtech, taking credit for Ascheriit’s group’s battle and labeling them as traitors. Because of their lie, the emperor called the seven “heroes,” and the four “traitors” the Lances of Betrayal. Along with the title, the seven “heroes” received land, status, and the admiration of all Szaalanden citizens while Ascheriit’s group received their disdain.
Despite their success in misleading their people, unbeknownst to the seven “heroes”, Ascheriit survived the attack. He did so by eating a fairy whose powers transformed him in both appearance and strength. Taking on a new identity as Koinzell, Ascheriit plans to use his new life to avenge his comrades and himself against the seven who betrayed them.
The artwork by Übel Blatt‘s creator, Etorouji Shiono, matches the dark atmosphere of his series perfectly. He places extensive detail in his character designs which vary in age, body type, and gender, showcasing that no one is exempt from the effects of war. When it comes to costume design, the characters wear clothing representative of their status which would have occurred in the time period inspiring Übel Blatt.
Background illustrations are perhaps the most inconsistent aspect of Shiono’s art. He often leaves backgrounds blank or with action lines regularly seen in manga. However, when Shiono does draw landscapes, he makes them as grand as possible. Whether his work surveys a forest or a battlefield, Shiono provides readers with a bird’s eye view of everything.
Because Übel Blatt is in black-and-white, Shiono has to work twice as hard to bring readers into the story. He uses different shades of black, white, and gray in order to emphasize specific areas. For example: if a character loses blood, Shiono uses the darkest shade of black to make their wounds pop out the page. Or if there’s a fire, he uses the lightest shades of white and gray to set the flames apart from everything else. It is his attention to detail in wanting to make his manga as realistic as possible that makes Übel Blatt’s art so mesmerizing.
Taking place in a medieval-fantasy setting, Übel Blatt features violent imagery relative to the time period which inspires it. Shiono spares no one in showcasing how brutal battle can be. Considering the series is of the Seinen genre, Übel Blatt throws out all the common tropes found in manga geared toward younger readers. Unlike in Shounen manga where a character can get slashed by a sword and get right back up, this series shows how each injury can lead to death. Even the smallest scratch can hinder a character in battle. If someone fails to block an attack, they risk receiving a grave injury, losing a limb, or worse, their life.
There are fierce battles throughout the story which include casualties of war. Because the manga covers adult themes, there are graphic images spread throughout the series: pillaging, killing, raping, etc. Übel Blatt censors nothing in its story of revenge. It displays how cruel people can be, and the lengths they are willing to go in order to meet their goals. Even the protagonist, Koinzell, holds nothing back in his journey to kill the seven “heroes.” No one comes out with clean hands in Übel Blatt and that is what makes the manga so entertaining.
The Burdens Of Vengeance In Übel Blatt
While the revenge story is nothing new, Übel Blatt does well in its storytelling to portray the toll of vengeance. The series displays how a person cannot immediately switch from caring for someone to hating them unconditionally. Throughout the series, Koinzell shows utter disdain for his former comrades. The scene of their betrayal replays in his mind constantly. However, whenever he comes face-to-face with them, Koinzell undergoes moments of reflection.
When a friendship ends, people can harbor resentment toward one another. But, between those moments, they crave for the days when they were on good terms. This occurs in Koinzell whenever he fights one of the seven “heroes.” He enters a battle knowing that he must end it with their deaths. However, flashbacks occur of when they were friends, and he questions why they betrayed him. Remembering who his friends were 20 years ago and seeing what they have become always breaks Koinzell.
To have his revenge, Koinzell becomes a literal monster, changing his appearance thanks to consuming a fairy. While this transformation provides him with newfound abilities, it fails to bring him closure. With each battle he has against the seven “heroes,” Koinzell shows no signs of recovering from his past trauma. Übel Blatt asks readers the genuine question:
Is revenge worth seeking with one’s humanity on the line?
It is thanks to introspective moments like this that Etorouji Shiono’s Übel Blatt perfectly demonstrates how bittersweet revenge can be.