Hell Warden Higuma 008-010 – 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:
Two things stuck out to me throughout Chapters 8 to 10. First: Chapter 8 starts what I’d call a ‘soft reboot.’ Rather than getting to know Higuma through characters like Ayaha, we shift focus directly to him. This includes sidelining Ayaha for most of this Kitsune arc, fully relegating her to side character status. (Both Ne0;lation and Hell Warden Higuma have done this, taken what were clearly meant to be main cast members and left them on the sidelines in favor of building the series with more of a stand-alone lead.)
For that, Chapter 8 feels a little more centered. While the crux of the story is Higuma vs. Child killing demon Kistune, and it possessing one of his classmates, the cute yet spacey Muromachi, it feels a more personal battle for Higuma, giving our main character a chance to display more personality and emotion. It helps that it’s centered on people actually a part of his life (Who he goes to school with) rather than chance encounters like how he met Ayaha, or the little girl from last time.
Still, What Hell Warden gets right doesn’t entirely steer things in a better direction. The second problem is the way in which Hell Warden handles its emotional undercurrent. While there’s more emotion here than in previous arcs, and deeper ideas behind our evil spirit’s villainy, Hell Warden refuses to go past the most surface level realization of its ideas. Higuma becomes invested in trying to save Muromachi, giving the story more emotional pull than previous. This is most simply thanks to actually seeing Hell Warden look panicked over Muromachi’s situation. But when injecting actual nuance into things Hell Warden falls apart. As it turns out the Kitsune spirit has an upsetting backstory, one we touch on very, very briefly.
Chapter 9 reveals in its final pages that the Kitsune spirit used to be a woman, and Chapter 10 digs in enough to explain the modus operandi for why the Kitsune is targeting mothers and their children. The gist seems to be the Kitsune, back when it was alive as a young woman, wasn’t able to form an emotional bond with their baby back, and ultimately left the child to die. It sounds an awful lot like postpartum depression, a very real issue women can face after giving birth. What could’ve been an interesting twist, and deep subject material for a shonen manga, gets treated with little actual care.
PPD, a serious issue, is condensed down into something that can be more easily hand waved away as pure evil. I don’t think that’s the authors intention, but a twist like this begs for more than a mere passing mention. Also the story remains more so focused on Higuma’s internal struggle. After he destroys Kitsune we get a brief flashback explaining that Higuma actually feels sympathy for all these escaped spirits he’s forced to hunt. While focus on the main character is great, and much needed, I think pairing this with such a serious, under explored topic, like PPD undermines the Kitsune arc’s emotional core. But even more troubling is that PPD plays second fiddle to Muromachi’s emotional struggle. PPD feels like this weird tangent in relation to Muromachi’s fears about being a good older sister as her mother is having another baby. (Which, I mean, is really weird a worry seeing as Muromachi already has a younger sibling from years ago, as we learn.) So PPD becomes this weird, opposite side to ‘fear being a good sibling’ when it is the far, far more serious concern. Neither really goes together because of this, and thus feel like they’re competing for the series’ emotional weight.
There’s also the trouble that if we boil too much down to “an evil spirit posessed you” to explain why you did bad things, or felt bad, then characters never really grow.This comes up down to Chapter 10, after the big fight, when Muromachi wakes up next to Higuma, remembering nothing from the Kitsune possessing her. We flashback to learn that the first time she met Higuma, when she was first dealing with her parents having a second child, she was also possessed by an evil spirit. By often pinning negative emotions on the evil spirits it makes it hard to feel emotionally invested in these characters, because they’re never actually growing as people, they’re just getting cleansed of the evil that makes them think awful things. Sure Muromachi is a bit character, who may or may not appear again, but if these pages are supposed to make me feel something, this isn’t doing the job.
Ultimately Hell Warden remains a half-baked addition to the Jump line up. While Higuma is starting to feel like meaty character in these most recent chapters, it’s mishandling of emotional developments leaves a lot to be desired. This will be my last review for the series, although I don’t see Hell Warden lasting much longer anyway, as all three recent jump titles remain at the bottom of the Magazine in Japan, often implying the threat of cancellation isn’t too far around the corner.
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.