Series Name: Übel Blatt (German for "Evil Blade") - ユーベルブラット
Year of Serialization: 2005
Author(s): Etorouji Shiono
Artist(s): Etorouji Shiono
Genre(s): Action, adventure, fantasy, mature, seinen, supernatural.
Current Status: Ongoing
Moment of Reviewing: 112th chapter
Other Formats: /
The story begins with the telling of a heroic adventure that occured 20 years prior to the current era. The Empire of Szaalenden was at war with evil nation of Wischtech, a land inhabited by fowl monsters and dark sorcerers. The Emperor sent out 14 heroes on what was practically a suicide quest to stop the invasion of Wischtech. Each hero was given a holy lance and as a result they were called the Fourteen Lances. Along the course of the perilous journey 3 died, who then were called the Precious Departed. Four others however, just before reaching their final destination, cowered out and tried to forfeit the mission, henceforth they were dubbed the Lances of Betrayal. They were killed by the remaining 7, who against all odds accomplished their mission, bringing an end to the bloody war and returned home. Upon their return they were hailed as the Seven Heroes and were revered by the common people almost as if they were gods. As reward for their courage and skills each one of them received vast lands, noble titles and other riches.
20 years have since passed. 20 years of peace and prosperity that was rooted in the living myth of these Seven Heroes, who remained adored by their subjects as divine beings, but now the world started shifting again. An oracle foresaw the coming of a great calamity accompanied by a new hero, but the outcome of this apocalyptic scenario is shrouded in darkness. It's at this point that the young half-man half-elf Koïnzell, the main protagonist of the story, pops up at the faraway borders of the empire, lawless territories that are filled with barbaric tribes, bandits and outlaws. His skill with the sword is unmatched and he waltzes over monsters and armies at an astonishing rate, approaching the lands of the Seven Heroes. First people thought he was the hero of the prophecy, however soon it becomes clear that the closer he gets to the heart of the empire, the bigger the unrest becomes. His coming alone is enough to shake the foundations of the empire and throw it once more into a state of turmoil and carnage after these peaceful 20 years. It appears that Koïnzell might not be this anticipated hero at all, but can be in fact the calamity itself, a calamity that has only a single purpose: committing the most atrocious crime imaginable by men.
Ever since I was little I have been fascinated by history. The older the better and especially the Middle Ages were fuel for my vast, childish imagination, after all it was my dream to become a knight of the Round Table. It's no surprise then that, when I grew up, I became hooked on literature of the fantasy genre in the nature of Lord of the Rings and A Song of Fire and Ice, which for some reason are almost always located in a medieval world filled with knights, castles, swords and shields, but also with dragons, sorcerers, elves and other fantasy creatures. By no means am I the only one who is like that and everyone to whom this description sounds familiar, beyond all doubt Übel Blatt will be a great read for you. I often just click on random mangas and read their summary to see if it they seem interesting and this is how I discovered this gem ^^
I have read the series a couple of times by now and originally I couldn't grasp why exactly this manga intrigued me so much as it's not because it's a fantasy-styled manga that I will like it just because of that. But then suddenly it occurred me: this is a saga or epos, a real medieval saga. The idea that this story, written in the modern era, could easily have been written a thousand years ago, made by ecstatic, even more so because you can see how it unfolds 'life'.
There are a two things what sets this manga apart from most other series in my opinion.
First it's void of any kind of trace of its Japanese origin. Normally most mangas, regardless of their nature and setting, have some clear indications left that show it was written by a Japanese. The only thing that is a testification of Übel Blatt's Japanese origin, is that the language they use is Japanese, but of course people who don't understand Japanese read the English version. As a result you really get the feeling you are in a European, medieval world. This is underlined by the fact that Shiono uses a lot of German terms (the title of the series is German and all the chapter titles are likewise in German) and so you automatically make the connection with medieval Germany, who have a long historical tradition regarding the Middle Ages and medieval literature, including sagas. It's no surprise this manga gained a lot of popularity in France due it being easy for Europeans to relate to it.
Secondly and most important of all is the way how the stories starts and unfolds itself. The very first scene shows Koïnzell slaughtering an army, which then is followed up by a scene where a girl gets raped (it's even implied she got taken by a horse off-screen too). So the tone of the plot is instantly set: by no means this is going to be a merrily going on an adventure story where the protagonists are hailed as heroes the further the plot proceeds. Rape and murder of innocent people are common occurrences and in the sexual oriented scenes only what's below the belt is censored. The introduction scene is followed up by the telling of the story of the 14 heroes and then it gets a bit confusing when the plot focuses on Koïnzell again. The Four Lances of Betrayal suddenly make an appearance, but they leave as fast as they were introduced. This didn't make much sense as first this story, which forms the foundation of the the entire plot, is told and then when some of its main characters take the stage, they are removed in the timespan of a few pages. That makes no sense, even more so when it's strongly implied Koïnzell knows something, but acts like it only interests him so and so.
Then suddenly in the third chapter, out of the blue, the entire story gets flipped upside down. You need to take into consideration that the first few chapters contain several hundreds of pages and, before this particular scene, the basic context in which the entire story would occur was more or less set. Only Koïnzell's role in it was still unclear and didn't match this context completely, there was something odd with him, like a shoe that doesn't feel well even though it should be the correct size. And then it happens: this context that had been made for the past few chapters, these glasses through which you were following the plot, gets shattered and replaced by the true context that determines the way of how you will view the ensuing plot. Not to mention you need to reinterpretate everything that has happened so far in the light of these new events. Koïnzell's behavior suddenly makes sense too. I personally find this one of the best manga scenes I've ever read as something that you considered a certitude was in fact an empty bubble, like waking up from a dream realizing that everything you just saw never happened. It are the things that no one ever expected that have the strongest impact on people.
And now the introduction is over and the real story begins. I said before that this is like reading a saga or epos and these type of stories don't necessarily have a happy ever after, which is here also the case. Of course at the moment I'm writing this the series isn't finished yet, but it remains a fact that everything is possible. No one is safe and the more Koïnzell ventures into the empire, the greater the chaos becomes as a result of his actions. That's why I find this such an intriguing manga as it's like having an alternative history unfolding right in front of your eyes and history on itself does not give any favors, you can only undergo and accept it.
The first time I read it, the series was on hiatus, so when I noticed at the end of 2012 it was serialized again, I almost had an orgasm. To me this was one of those not so well known mangas that I truly like, so I took pride in it that not many people read it. Recently Mangastream started scanlating it, which I have mixed feelings about as I'm getting pushed in the annoying type of person that claims already having been a fan long before it became wider popular >.> I only have one small negative comment and that is that Koïnzell, and later one what is supposed to act as some kind of rival of his, have a bit of a baby face, which forms a weird contrast with the 'dark' theme of the manga.
PS: For people who love swords and swordsmen, it's a must. Within the context of the story swordsmen have a special status. The strongest of each generation earns the title of 'Blatt Meister' (German for Blade/Sword Master) and if that doesn't convince you, Koïnzell can manipulate four huge with runes inscripted black blades hidden in his arm (and linked with it by some kind of chain) with just his will.
- Reviewed by Caliburn