Hell Warden Higuma 001-003 – Manga Review

Synopsis: Watch out malevolent fugitive souls, Higuma will send you straight back from where you came! (Official Shonen Jump Synopsis.)

Warning: Spoilers to Follow:

Review:

Hell Warden Higuma feels half-baked. This series’ early chapters really needed another day in the oven, because what’s made it to publication is wrought with exposition dumps, tons of telling and not showing, and even focus on elements that don’t feel like they should be the primary focus.

The series starts decent enough, pegging itself as a typical ‘spirit hunter’ type manga. It’s got the makings of Yu Yu Hakusho, or Bleach, etc. You know the kind, where a special individual hunts down monsters secretly affecting society. They’re a dime a dozen and Hell Warden Higuma feels right up that alley. We open with focus on a young woman on the bus, who notices a young man being accosted by a drunken adult.

From there we learn that the accosted young man is one Higuma Kagarite, our lead. Ayaha Kurumine, the girl who sticks up for him, is actually our vehicle into the story, acting as the ignorant heroine through which we learn the ins and outs of this ‘other world.’ After getting a brief introduction to the two (Higuma the typical aloof and easy-going lead, Ayaha the justice, serious seeking straight man/woman) we recenter on introducing the audience to what’s so special about this story. We learn of the spirits that can possess people and how they escaped from hell, as well as Higuma’s abilities.

Up to this point the manga is fairly bog standard, not terribly impressive, but fairly competent. It’s here things start to crumble as the manga offers us way more information than is needed to keep the story moving. Higuma details the spirits escaping 400 years ago, his duty bound ancestors, a lot of backstory that just… isn’t what we need right now. It’s all well and good to set ground, but these details can wait till chapter 2, or even 3. All we need to know is that Higuma takes care of spirits, and maybe that he’s got 11 Zaiju, or hands that he uses to hunt the spirits. Everything else is superfluous to understanding Chapter 1.

This wouldn’t be a big deal, but the focus of chapter one isn’t so much on the minor spirit possessing Ayaha, but rather the far bigger deal at home. It turns out her brother is possessed by a far worse spirit that has the whole family hostage. Because we used up so many pages detailing details we didn’t yet need, this aspect of the story is crushed into two exposition/flashback heavy pages. This damages the ability to grow invested in this aspect of the story, so when Higuma shows up to save the day, it doesn’t feel as triumphant and powerful. It feels expected.

Later in the 1st chapter, as Higuma turns into his battle form, we snap to Enma and get some quick dialogue about well, Higuma getting to work. It feels superfluous and unnecessary just as the fight is getting going. This could be saved till the end of the chapter, where it all comes up again anyway. In fact it’s here we get another exposition dump about Hell Warden’s being tasked with capturing all the escaped spirits. There’s also an odd moment here where Enma brands Ayaha with the same mark as Higuma, commenting that she could be of use, yet this isn’t brought up or acknowledged in either Chapters 2 or 3, making it this weird detail that feels forgotten. I’m sure it’ll come up again, but why it hasn’t been used already as a perfect avenue to force Ayaha more so into Higuma’s life I don’t get.

Chapters 2 and 3 aren’t much better. Chapter 2 focuses on the aftermath of Ayaha and her brother. He’s taking it tough because he remembers all the horrible things he did when he was possessed. Yet instead of focusing on that drama, what feels like the meat of this story, we turn all attention to Higuma and Ayaha’s relationship. We get one single page of exposition from Ayaha about her brother before it’s off to deal with another set of evil spirits. Somewhere along the way this leads Higuma to give Ayaha a inspirational speech… to pass onto her brother. This is where the problem lies. The story here is more centered on Ayaha’s brother than herself, making it feel all kinds of odd seeing as he’s barely in the chapter. For a second outing there should’ve been a narrative more focused on Ayaha. Maybe she can’t forgive her brother, or her parents are especially cruel to him and she needs to stick up for him, something, anything that pins the story on her.

Chapter 3 moves us onto a longer narrative. With a lot of early manga like this there’s typically a handful of one off stories before we move onto grander plots. These are often important, even if less memorable than later arcs, because they help to establish character, tone, theme, message all of that stuff. Higuma wants to move onto the more meaty stuff before it’s done the groundwork.

Opening with a bunch of lukewarm comedy, we shift gears as a young girl arrives seeking help from Higuma in saving her grandmother. What could be an emotional plea for help is treated so dry and matter of fact, that there’s no emotion in any of this. The little girls plea to save her grandmother is depicted more like the cry of a child seeking attention than someone who’s truly worried about her grandmother’s well being. It all feels lacking and without depth.

Ultimately Hell Warden Higuma is the worst of the newest Jump additions. It feels like a manga going through the motions, copying other titles in similar vein, but without a heart and soul of its own. Hopefully the author will pick up on this and turn the series around, but the longer it takes for a series to find its footing the less likely it is to maintain its audience.

That’s it for today. Please let me know your thoughts on Hell Warden Higuma in the comments below!

Hell Warden Higuma is published as part of Shonen Jump.

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