Hell Warden Higuma 004-007 – 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 continues to go through the motions, rarely injecting actual heart and character. This makes chapters 4 through 7 feel as, if not more, dry than the first three. Jumping into the fight against another escapee of hell, Higuma works to try and save the souls of the old people this monster has been feeding on. For some reason this narrative takes 3+ chapters, cutting between Higuma’s fight, an elongated explanation of Life Force (which really doesn’t require a 3 page explanation), and Ayaha and Kobata’s battle to free the old people from the sudama possessing them. (We also address Ayaha’s branding, yet ultimately do very little with it that influences Ayaha’s characterization.)

It’s all technically fine, but lacks the character work to keep it interesting, or the proper flow to make it all come together. Higuma grills our baddie on why he’s only stealing from old people, and we get a kind of humanizing moment for the villain, although it’s mostly portrayed as sinister. This keeps the manga overly black and white (You know what I mean) allowing little room for nuance.

Things aren’t helped by how under defined our side characters are. Higuma himself is little more than a standard shonen hero, altruistic and filled with rage when facing injustice. Yet Ayaha and Kobata still feel impressively thin by comparison. Ayaha mostly stumbles through this story in a daze, with Kobata playing the happy go-lucky nutter who doles out exposition. Yet the manga leaves his deeper character work, what little there is, until after all is said and done. It’s only two chapters later that we learn today’s fight bears impressive similarity to Kobata’s childhood and how he came to know Higuma in the first place. Without this woven inbetween the action, the emotional weight of the story feels light.

Maybe if we doubled down on the little girl and her grandmother we’d feel closer to things, but since she was shunted off in Chapter 3, and the grandmother is a zombie here, there’s no way for audiences to really get absorbed. Ultimately this multi-part narrative shouldn’t have taken 3+ chapters. This story could’ve been fit into a nice two-parter with tighter writing, better character work, and flow. It would’ve been the better for it. As it stands Chapter 6 concludes this narrative midway, only to then refocus on Higuma’s training and subsequent meeting with Enma concerning the next arc.

Chapter 7 dives full into that, setting the ground for a longer, world-expanding narrative that promises darker villains (who are implied to make parents murder their own children). The problem is Higuma isn’t set up for that kind of tonal shift. The manga keeps things very light-hearted, with the same easy-going comedy that’s so pervasive in modern shonen. Yet the murder of children by their mother’s own hand sits so far and away from that jovial nature that the two feel entirely at odds. It’s one thing to use comedy to alleviate tension, it’s another to make the manga feel schizophrenic. Once the shift is made Hell Warden Higuma tries to hammer home that switch in tone, removing comedy from the rest of the chapter. But in its effort to sell this more morbid tone, it comes off as a try hard, giving our new villain, the Kitsune Fox, on the nose dialogue that’s little more than blunt exposition. It really wants us to know that this guy is pure evil, to convince us that this is now a serious, and dark manga.

Maybe it would work if Higuma himself felt unique. Higuma himself isn’t however, he’s a paper cut out of the archetypal template for shonen heroes. If we compare him to more recent shonen protagonists, he comes up wanting. One Piece’s 1st chapter established Luffy as this never back down kid who was maybe a little dim. Naruto solidified well, Naruto, as this troubled child born into curse but with big dreams. What’s Higuma? He’s a guy with a job, and while we know he’s perhaps being forced to do this job, the series has been so disinterested in delving into how Higuma feels about the situation that it’s all rather plain.

Hell Warden Higuma has 3 more chapters to turn itself around before I personally write the series off. Compared to its contemporaries, Hell Warden Higuma still sits as the worst of the three newest Jump manga. Ne0;lation isn’t much better, yet for all its faults at least presents more interesting narratives. Hell Warden Higuma would need a massive reinvention in order to move away from its current generic and bland run.

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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