Ookami no Kuchi: How to Infuriate your Readers in 2 Chapters or Less

While browsing through my manga app, I ran across a manga titled Ookami no Kuchi: Wolfsmund.  At first, I was delighted to find that it was a manga based in 14th century Switzerland and that the artwork was quite brilliant.  However, it was disconcerting that it began with an execution of a Swiss freedom fighter; yet, stories that begin darkly often feature stronger struggles and make a happy ending more compelling.  So, I decided to read the first and then the second chapter.

Emperor Charlemagne Holding Sword

The first chapter was pretty grim.  A knight tried to smuggle the executed freedom fighter’s daughter across the border, because the tyrannical lord wished to execute his entire family.  Goaded by a claim I found on Baka Updates saying: “The author pulls no punches to show us just how brutal and inhuman the Middle Ages really were,” I must point out certain flaws in the manga on this point.  First off, it would be incredible for a medieval king to wish to wipe out a family’s womenfolk.  Most would not even make a serious attempt to kill all the men as long as they no longer posed a threat.  Exile and imprisonment were much preferred means of punishment until around the time of the Protestant Reformation, where the masses of people executed on both sides for heresy seems to have dulled people’s qualms about capital punishment.

Hodler_-_Jungfrauenmassiv_und_Schwarzmönch_-_1911.jpeg

Anyway, the daughter disguises herself but she and the knight end up being discovered by the noble running a checkpoint known as Wolfsmund (Wolf’s maw).  The knight is killed by crossbowmen and the lady  executed on a chopping block.  Medievals never executed women unless they were found guilty of witchcraft.  The attitude of a 19th century American on the topic of hanging a woman differed not in the least with the attitude of a medieval man on the subject.  But, in this manga’s favor, I must note that the style of fighting employed by the knights, which uses the hilt and pommel as well as the blade, is very accurate–even if finishing one’s opponent off, which the lady’s knight was compelled to do, was not.

Knight and Lady

Anyway, having been depressed by these events, I pressed on to the next chapter, wherein it is revealed that the freedom fighters are making great progress in ousting the tyrant ruling over them.  A pair of lovers is separated because the woman, a very capable fighter herself, is given a mission to pass beyond Wolfsmund to transport back money from a Florentine bank.  Need I say that a woman traveling alone is unheard of in the Middle Ages?  Especially in the disguise of an old woman?  That’s a very easy way to arose suspicion!  Better would have been to disguise herself along with a compatriot as nuns.  As it turns out, the poor girl is discovered by a trick the nobleman plays on her and thrown into the dungeon.

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From which, she herself manages to escape, only to be cornered atop a wall and killed by a thrown sword.  Now, the broadsword, unlike the katana, was never intended to be thrown.  The weight is balanced too close at the hilt.  The first throw does hit the girl hilt first, which is the most likely way it would land; while the second pierces her back–a blow only possible through incredible good luck.  Then, her corpse is displayed on a wheel–I did not turn the next page to see exactly how they displayed her corpse, but it must not have been pleasant.  At any rate, though male enemies’ corpses were sometimes displayed and mutilated during the Middle Ages; I doubt that a woman’s corpse ever suffered the same fate.  Despite popular opinion, medievals were not barbarians, and I suspect such an action would have brought the censure of the Church.

grandes_chroniques_roland

At this point, I got the picture that the manga would consist of failed attempts upon the gate and the cruelty inflicted on the trespassers by the nobleman in charge of it.  No enduring protagonist had emerged yet, with the exception of the female owner of an inn (women owning inns was probably not uncommon at the time), who seems unable to help the good guys.  And so, I put down this novel which concerned itself more with exploring human suffering than telling a good story.

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10 comments on “Ookami no Kuchi: How to Infuriate your Readers in 2 Chapters or Less

  1. Nami says:

    I hate when people think of the Medieval Period as a time when people were uneducated and violent and barbaric. So much great stuff came out of it, especially so much great writing and wonderful stories–Beowulf, the Táin Bó Cúailnge in Ireland, various hagiographies, *Chaucer* and *Dante* for crying out loud! Yeah, there were wars and fighting like any other age, but there’s so much more to it than that. Maybe the mindset today is so different from now that people just really misunderstand–I mean in a mobile age like ours exile wouldn’t have nearly the same significance as it did for Dante.

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    • You know who I like to blame for that mindset: Enlightenment thinkers. They greatly exaggerated every flaw of the Middle Ages and even added a few which weren’t there. (My favorite being the myth that medievals believed the world was flat.) They believed that since people grounded their lives in their faith, they were ignorant. It took the Renaissance and Enlightenment thinkers to bring Europe out of this darkness.

      As you say, the Medieval period gave us so many great works, and the wisdom of Dante’s mind has scarcely been equaled since he wrote the Divine Comedy. I certainly understand very little of that epic myself, though I make attempts at it now and then!

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      • Nami says:

        And most people don’t realize how much of our perspective on so many things has been shaped by those thinkers and the ones who followed them! Their ideas are so deeply ingrained even in the assumptions we make–we practically breathe them. Machiavelli really did damage with *The Prince* by redefining virtue. I got to see Machiavelli’s tomb this summer when I was in Florence–the fact that he was buried in a church seemed extremely ironic. And Bacon caused a lot of problems with his view of science, basically propagating the “we should do it because we can and because we deserve to be comfortable” mentality. The whole “vex nature” thing.

        Definitely! I’ve studied the Divine Comedy a few times, and each time I get something new out of it. I had a class devoted to the poem–we looked at the different contexts that inform it: theological, poetical, historical, cultural, biographical–and even then we only scratched the surface of it!

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      • You can say that again with Bacon. He may have very well started inclining people to believe that human beings are above and separate from nature; therefore, undermining the whole idea that things ought to act according to their natures. The effect of which is especially seen in the debate on homosexual marriage.

        With Machiavelli, I should hope that any well-formed conscience could reject his notions, but you’re right to point out that many prefer to adjust their consciences to his ideas.

        I suppose that I’ll never do anything besides scratch the surface of The Divine Comedy myself. But, that’s why I read sagas and medieval romances!

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  2. Zeonista says:

    I have seen this manga, but have not yet fully read through it. The mangaka wants to tell a genuine Medieval story, for which some respect is due. Various technical anachronisms can be excused because they unfortunately are replicated in the West by people who ought to know better. Most of the elements that struck you as out of place would not be out of place in old Japan, though. The clan system meant that all members of a noble family would be involved in an intrigue or war, and all would be held equally responsible for supporting it! So this could lead to brutal treatment that in Medieval Europe would normally be frowned upon.

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    • Yes, certain elements of the story were particularly Japanese. I probably should have been more forgiving of this, but so many people put down the Middle Ages as the Dark Ages that I felt that I needed to defend the people of these times. This does place a huge barrier to me enjoying the manga!

      Fortunately, we have manga like Vinland Saga, which, though the Japanese soul of the author reveals itself on occasion, one does not feel like the author is particularly demeaning toward the people of the Viking Era.

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  3. Ivan(hoe) says:

    All of you seem to have read the first volume and dropped it. It’s not based around suffering and sadistic torture .
    It’s about the people who through the duration of the manga create a plan to siege the castle and execute the main villain. It finally happens in the fifth volume and it is more epic than even Berserk ( and i love Berserk).
    Every sacrifice and heartache through the first 3 volumes is about setting the groundwork for the upcoming siege (like mapping out the castle, creating a strategy and figuring out the best point of attack).

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    • It sounds like this manga has a great climax, which might make the preceding unpleasantness endurable. But, I found that first volume too miserable, and I did not care for the way the author foisted the mentality of Japanese daimyo onto European lords. If the manga were set in a fantasy world, it would not have irked me as much.

      I can read certain violent manga–the most violent of which I’m reading now is Akame ga Kiru, but Berserk was always too much for me. Though, the anime based on the Golden Age arc is magnificent.

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  4. Cyclone6987 says:

    wow you guys
    i dont delve to much into european history but do you even heard about Wilhelm Tell legend ?
    Hunter dont bow down to a hat stick on a pole and end up shooting apple from his own son’s head. do you realy think life in middle ages was all sunshine and rainbows? Noble knights ride unicorns and save maidens from dragons ?
    Wulfsmund is a story about oppression and struggle of Cantons of Switzerland.
    Its not that hard to understand why beginning of the story consist of so many failed attenpts, tortures and executions, how else author could show readers why swiss even fight and make so much sacrifice just for the sake of their independence? its not a story about death and gore but about men who ready to sacrifice even their own lives for the sake of a better tomorrow.

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    • I did some reading on the history of Switzerland in the 14th century. The Swiss had a long struggle with the Holy Roman Empire, which ruled them in a negligent fashion, which allowed many corrupt nobles and officials to thrive. So, I sympathize with the Swiss, and the manga does show the brutality of those wars. In particular, the history does mention that the Swiss were not prone to give quarter and the other side was likely guilty of that also.

      As a medievalist, I get touchy when people portray the Middle Ages as worse than it was. However, this manga was set in the 14th century, which was a sadly corrupt period and judicial punishments started to become more severe than in the preceding centuries. Though, as I wrote, crimes against the state always had the worst penalties ascribed to them.

      So, any errors in the above article may be attributed to me thinking of prior centuries of the Middle Ages. (Warfare and violence seem to have gotten progressively worse in Europe from the 14th century up through the Renaissance.) But, I still think the points in my article are correct, with the exceptions that combatants in these wars were inclined to mercy and that cruciform swords could not be thrown. They could be, but not the way the manga shows it done.

      Thanks for your comment! I may have to write a post reevaluating what I wrote here.

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