A claw is a claw, unless that claw belongs to Witchblade ~Takeru~. HD takes a look at the latest installment in the saga of girls with scanty demonic body armor and big bladey appendages, and comes away impressed. By the art, at least.

Chapter Title: Oni no Te (trans. “The Demon’s Hand”)
Release Date: March 19th, 2006
Serialized in: Champion Red
Author: Kobayashi Yasuko [小林靖子]
Illustrator: Sumita Kazasa [隅田かずあさ]

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Takeru is your average Japanese high school girl being raised in a Buddhist convent by a couple of nuns and a big scary claw locked in a box that she’s supposed to avoid like the plague. It haunts her dreams in a big mess of foreshadowing that you can bet will be wrapped up in the course of this introductory chapter’s 38 pages, which lo and behold, it is – but I’m getting ahead of myself.

Our heroine wakes up on a typical school day after having a typical nightmare about running toward the forbidden claw and pulling a sword out of her abdomen. She heads down to the bus, where she meets Kou, the requisite upstanding yet impotent teenage classmate who secretly has a crush on her. On the way to school they see a line of black-clad monks walking down the road. Strange… think we’ll see them again?

They make it to school unscathed, where they meet the girl who is the third stock member of Takeru’s inner circle of friends. The day proceeds as normal, but as she sits in class she continues to daydream about the mysterious claw back in the convent – until wham, another sword from the abdomen. She takes this as a sign that she needs to get back as soon as possible, and rushes from the classroom, Kou close behind. He borrows a friend’s motorcycle and gives her a lift back to the convent.

They enter to find the place trashed. Kou says he’ll look around outside, and Takeru remembers the claw – she rushes to the forbidden section of the compound, opens the door, and finds the head nun being held hostage by some very nasty black monk robe-clad monsters (who were earlier depicted approaching the convent, as directed by an old man (THE VILLIAN) who looks suspiciously like Jack Nicholson).

“Of course the only ones surrounding the Witchblade would be women”, one of the monsters says. “I’m going to have fun with this one…” It drops the nun and grabs Takeru by the throat. In desperation she reaches out for the glass case sealing the very tentacley claw, which shatters. Kou hears this and runs into the room just in time to see her transformation from typical high school girl to typical evil claw possessed badass pheromone-drugged demoness. And there we have the chapter.

Those who have watched the first episode of the anime will immediately note that the story here has no apparent bearing on what we’re shown in the animated version. Being unfamiliar with the original American comic I can’t say which is closer, but I’m thus far enjoying both alternate (and very Japanese) takes on the possessed by sensually evil claw theme; neither seems particularly original after its first installment, but the art makes a little stultifying plot otherwise bearable.

Of note in the story department is that Kobayashi Yasuko is the head writer for both the manga and current anime incarnations, which might make for some interesting tie-ins down the road. I could see the anime working backwards in time as the manga works forwards, possibly explaining whatever apocalypse happened to reduce Tokyo to a series of islands; this would require that the claws in both stories were one and the same, which we don’t have enough information yet to judge (that the claw has been around for awhile in the manga version is made apparent by the splash image, oh Hitler-kun).

Back to the art, I am very happy to report that Sumita Kazasa (the tragically self-misromanized) does not disappoint. The fictional setting of Onitaiji no Mura (trans. “Demonslayer’s Village”) and the surrounding forests and temples are well-rendered, but Sumita really thrives on the sort of fleshy sensuality we see in the last few pages of the chapter; for a more thorough preview of what to expect here I would highly recommend picking up a copy of Flower Claw, his 2005 eromanga anthology (for the 18+ readers only, obviously). Good stuff.

This initial review is largely a heads-up for those unaware that a manga version of Witchblade is also in the works, and as such may not be followed by reviews of subsequent chapters; we’ll see if they merit the trouble. Interested parties are otherwise encouraged to pick up Champion Red for a glimpse of the real deal, or wait for the first tankoubon release (early fall, most likely). Questions? Comments? Onegaishimasu.