The setup of Mitsuhisa Kuji’s Wolfsmund manga is pretty simple. In the European Alps of the early 14th century, the Sankt Gotthard Pass checkpoint, AKA Wolfsmund, houses a notorious gatekeeper. The ruthless bailiff Wolfram is known for his cruel measures in sorting out those attempting to pass through the checkpoint illegally, and the story picks up with a pair of isolated tales of hopes dashed before the mouth of the wolf.
Kuji tells these tales with bold strokes; art that puts more weight on expressive characters and less on rigid details. The pages don’t look rough, but many are stripped down to the bare essentials. Sweeping mountain vistas actually look like drawings, which would sound stupid if not for the high volume of manga out there that presents sprawling splash pages as overly cluttered, hyper-realistic photo references.
The straightforward lines work especially well during the handful of action sequences in this volume. The action is, for the most part, perfectly clear, as backgrounds strip away and the focus lies on individual actions.
Wolfsmund gets particularly thrilling near the end of the volume. The first two parts are basically standalone stories used to set up the very nature of Wolfram and the Wolfsmund checkpoint. Though he doesn’t seem like the fanged, heartless bastard we’ve heard about when we’re introduced, Wolfram’s actions live up to his reputation, so each subsequent chapter carries stacked expectations.
Just when it seems like Wolfsmund might just be some morbid anthology, we meet Wilhelm Tell and his son Walter. The legendary character attempts to tackle the checkpoint by circumventing it entirely, applying his expert mountain climbing skills and building up to what appears to be the impetus for the next leg of the series. It’s a shame that the volume ends just when it’s getting really juicy, but it certainly leaves you wanting more from Kuji’s story. It takes its time to ease into the meat of it, but in retrospect I appreciate the establishing chapters that help raise the stakes for the rest of the volume, and hopefully the next keeps up the pace and intrigue accordingly.
Publisher: Vertical Inc.
Story & Art: Mitsuhisa Kuji
© 2010 Mitsuhisa Kuji