Looking at the cover to Matoko Tateno’s Angelic Runes (DMP) you’d never guess that it was a fantasy series where innocent villagers get their eyes burned out by monsters and two — not one, but two — childbirths end with the death of the mother. Yet so it is: rated 16+ for a young adult readership, the manga series follows Sowil, a handsome and heroic young mage who wanders the rustic lands looking for his father. As the first book opens, he happens upon a village where the frightened inhabitants are attempting to bury two children alive.
The two little kids, twins named Erudite (Eru) and Allueh (Allu), are thought by the panicky villagers to be cursed. Though premature burial seems a bit extreme, you can understand why the townees look at them with suspicion. Each big-eyed child is an oracle, one speaking in the voice of angels, the other with the voice of devils. Even Sowil finds the sight of these two fresh-faced innocents spouting the words of otherworldly entities somewhat disconcerting.
Despite this, our hero takes the two on his quest, and whenever he arrives at a fork in the road, he asks them both which path to take. “For some reason, you are a complete mystery to us,” the otherworldly voices say of our hero, which doesn’t prevent ‘em from giving him directions, of course. Along the way our hero uses his mysterious mastery of the Elder Runes to defeat sand worms, a basilisk, a creature that’s deceived an impressionable young girl into falling in love with it, plus a shape-shifting enemy named Loft who has an “overwhelming grudge” against Sowil’s father for some unexplained reason.
Sowil’s abilities to best mythological beasties with his arcane knowledge appear rather limitless — in this, he’s rather like Marvel’s Doctor Strange in his facility with magicks concocted by the writer to suit the situation. The mysteries in Runes lie more in the nature of each episode’s antagonist, typically misread by the unsophisticated countryfolk, and in the sometimes deceptive messages given to him by both demons and angels. As a manga artist best known for series featuring pretty boy heroes (and, frequently, love ‘tween pretty boy heroes), Tateno visually downplays the horror, focusing instead on her attractive predominately male characters. (Is it me or does Sowil’s propensity for large collars make him look rather disco?) This approach should be appealing to fans of soapish gothic lite, a growing audience these days, even if the first book’s naïve love-struck girl surrogate only sticks around for one chapter.
With its wanderer hero, frontier setting, and cast of monster antagonists, think of Angelic Runes as a less butch, if diverting, variation on Vampire Hunter D — without the overflowing bodices, of course.