2015’s Frau Faust, Volume 1 is the first tankōbon in Kore Yamazaki’s fantasy manga series. The English translation appeared in 2017.
Legend speaks of a natural philosopher named Faust who long ago made a compact with the demon Mephistopheles. The demon will fulfill Faust’s every desire, but only for a set span of years. When the time is up, the demon will claim Faust’s soul. That will be the end of the corporeal Faust, but not of his soul, which now must suffer eternal torment in hell.
Per author Yamazaki, legend misleads. Faust did indeed make that famous deal. However, Faust is not dead. Furthermore, Faust is not a man.
Accused of theft (rightly so), the boy Marion is saved from the punishment by an unfamiliar woman. The woman was intrigued by the fact that Marion stole, not food or treasure, but books. The woman values information and sees a kindred soul; she orchestrates Marion’s escape.
Having saved the boy, the strange woman asks a favour. For reasons she declines to explain at this time, the stranger wishes to visit a local church to search for her “dog.” Also, for reasons she does not care to explain, she cannot enter unless someone invites her. Marion is told to do so.
Once inside, the stranger retrieves her treasure: one fifth of the demon Mephistopheles. Although the mysterious woman — none other than Doctor Frau Faust herself! — possesses only three fifths of the still living demon, that is enough for the headless demon to intervene on her behalf.
The church takes a dim view of people who liberate demons. Appointed guardian Lorenzo Carandora is on hand to do his best to confound Doctor Frau Faust. Which, as it turns out, is not quite good enough.
When Faust flees, Marion accompanies the Doctor. On reaching Faust’s home, the boy discovers that he is by no means the first person Faust has opted to save. He may well be the least unusual.
Poor Lorenzo seems fated to be Faust’s Javert, if he’s lucky, or Sergeant Folenfant, if he is not. If there’s one thing the relentless hunter of the protagonist of an on-going series can count on, it is that they will never actually get their man. Or woman.
Someday I will encounter a Japanese manga where the default form of Christianity is Unitarian or Anabaptist or Lutheran or Presbyterian or even Henry-VIII-Needs-a-Divorce-ism rather than Roman Catholicism … but today is not that day. Either the Catholics have been superlatively successful about marketing themselves to Japanese manga creators or there’s something about the structure of this heretical offshoot of Orthodox Christianity that appeals to Japanese authors.
Although I admit to having had to peer closely once or twice to work out what’s going on, the art is acceptable without being particularly memorable.
First volumes in a series face the unrewarding task of establishing the characters and setting, while giving some hint as to where the story is headed … but without revealing so much that the reader has no reason to continue. This volume generally succeeds in this task. It accepts many elements of the well-known Faust story, but refuses to adopt others. What is clear is that the seemingly immortal Faust wants something that she does not yet have.
Alas, what this volume fails to do, at least in my case, is intrigue me. None of the characters seem particularly compelling; the mystery of what Faust wants didn’t grab me. As I recall, I had much the same reaction to Kore Yamazaki’s The Ancient Magus’ Bride, which is why I never followed up on volume one of that series.