Hero Tales, volume 1 collects the first three issues of Huang Jin Zhou and Hiromu Arakawa’s Jūshin Enbu.
Taitou hates the Empire. Reforming the corrupt state seems impossible. At least it is for a hot-headed young man living out in the sticks. He settles for beating up imperial functionaries whenever they pass by his home town.
Taitou has potential of which he is utterly unaware. His grandfather knows full well what power Taitou has within him and how to enable Taitou to draw on it. Step one: orchestrate Taitou’s humiliating loss to another martial artist.
Taitou is this generation’s incarnation of Hagun, one of the seven Hokushin Tenkun — celestial gods, more or less. Hagun is one of the two most powerful Hokushin Tenkun and therefore potentially one of the most disruptive. If he can only master himself, Taitou could shake the empire to its foundations.
Taitou’s grandfather has never revealed to Taitou that he is the Hagun (perhaps because he is afraid that Taitou would react badly). Instead, he gave Taitou Kenkaranpu, a sword he could only draw while channelling divine power. He also hired monk Ryuukou — also a Hokushin Tenkun, Bukyuko — to provide Taitou with the guidance the young hothead needs.
First lesson: skill can overcome raw power and there are warriors far more skilled than Taitou.
It falls to the mysterious Shimei to explain to Taitou what Taitou is. Shimei’s purpose in doing so is not at all benevolent. Shimei wants to steal the magic sword Kenkaranpu. His cunning plan: attack Taitou’s sister Laila and provoke Taitou into blind rage. Predictably, Taitou goes berserk, draws his sword, and impales Shimei. Shimei is more durable than he appears. He flees, taking the sword with him.
Taitou, Ryuukou, and Laila to set out to recover the sword.. It is hoped that the quest will spur Taitou to master his abilities and his temper.
Poor Laila is subjected to endless sexual harassment: her grandfather pinches her bottom, a would-be suitor tries to peep on her in the bath, a bandit leader kidnaps her. The bandit is either a depraved bisexual or a psychotic lesbian; it’s not clear. All this may have been intended as comic relief. I was not amused.
Why does Taitou hate the Empire? What are they doing wrong? So far as I can judge from this first omnibus, the Empire regards the poor as beneath notice or help. Refugees are seen as little more than animals. If officials make decisions that consign refugees to watery deaths … no problem. The Empire is heartless.
I couldn’t help comparing this series to the previous Arakawa series I reviewed, Fullmetal Alchemist. In that series, the ruler appeared to be guilty of garden-variety militarism, imperialism, and intermittent genocide. It turned out that he was much much worse. So I’m wondering if the Empire will also be revealed as more evil than it seems at first glance.
I’ve read part of another Arakawa series, The Heroic Legend of Arslan. That’s three data points. From which I deduce that Arakawa is attracted to the theme “proud, headstrong young man who must learn to wield power responsibly.”
She also seems to like antagonists who are brooding men with Tom Selleck-style moustaches. Shimei stole Kenkaranpu for one such.
The setting of Fullmetal Alchemist was apparently inspired by 19th century Europe during the Industrial Revolution. In this series, Arakawa turns to China for inspiration. I do not find this comforting. Taitou doesn’t seem to have any ideas beyond punching people in the face. Taitou thinks of himself as a hero, but he could be kicking off another Taiping Rebellion. Which did not end well.
Presumably all my questions will be answered in future volumes.