Sometimes a work comes along that touches the soft spot within us where all the emotions flow from. The Lucifer and Biscuit Hammer by Satoshi Mizukami did for me what Catcher in the Rye or The Big Lebowski did for many others in that I can say it may have shaped the man I am today.
The story is a classic tale of good vs. evil with the world at stake. 12 knights and the princess must defeat the evil wizard before he and his world destroying Biscuit Hammer can put an end to all of humanity. Or at least that would be the gist of it were this a conventional story. It seems the princess wouldn’t mind seeing the world blow up into a billion little pieces just as long as she’s the one doing the actual destroying and damn it all if some wizard takes that right away from her.
Enter protagonist and college student Amamiya Yuuhi waking up one morning to find the Lizard Knight (and actual Lizard) Noi Crescent perched on top of his bed. The first to break the silence…was the lizard.
Much like Sailor Moon and Neon Genesis Evangelion before it, the story places the responsibility of saving the world on the hands of those who may not be prepared to handle such a burden but are forced to regardless. What separates Biscuit Hammer from the fragile optimism of Moon and the Nihilistic vision of Neon Genesis is a humanity found in neither of the two previous works but gives it the emotional depth equal to both.
As opposed to symbolic characterization, the author utilizes the wide, subtle spectrum of humanity in Biscuit Hammer. Not only in the protagonist, but all twelve of the knights, the princess, the friends and family, the creatures, and the villains are imbued with such personality that you start to see not only yourself within the characters but you see you best friend, your brother, or even your lover. You empathize with them and seeing them struggle under the responsibility and consequences of saving the world becomes all the more painful while their victories all the more joyous.
The author takes the conventional themes and plot and approaches it with the same off center attitude he approaches its characters. Taking staples of the shounen genre and putting a seinen bent really adds something to characters that would normally be cardboard cutouts of one another. What really separates Biscuit Hammer from its contemporaries is that extremes are virtually nonexistent. There is neither absolute good nor absolute evil. Strong words like ambition, corruption, madness, loneliness and love are all handled in a more subtle way that revives these words that have lost that essential human element.
Justice for instance is a major theme in the story. The word however, isn’t tethered to morality and its complications but instead analyzed through how these characters wish to see the concept of justice. The word justice then takes on the differences of perception, becoming admirable or painful depending on who sees it. Ultimately the question is whether justice in the modern age is cartoonish. Having run the gauntlet of over saturation does the concept of justice still exist in a way that is noble? It’s a beautiful question resolved delicately in the story.
Within it all is a coming of age story. The difference is that our protagonist is already physically an adult but trapped in the limbo of not understanding what it means emotionally to become an adult. Beginning the path of maturation involves letting go of some childhood innocence and accepting the world may be harsher and more cruel but ultimately far larger than once perceived. But after already having faced the crisis of adolescence when you have already undergone that journey then the next step is to realize your role as an adult and the responsibilities it holds for an entirely new generation.
It isn’t just the protagonist that the age dynamic is explored. The ages of the knights range from middle schooler to immortal. How does the situation affect children who have never had any real responsibilities and now asked to save the world look as opposed to those who have lived far longer than they may wish? Alternately how can a child understand the importance of saving the world when they have such limited experience with it and how can an immortal empathize with humanity when he is isolated from the stream of life and death? The depth in which all of these question are asked is beautifully sublime.
In the end it remains a story of good and evil, strength and weakness, justice and injustice and everything in between. It can be heart warming and funny and painfully gut wrenching. It is delightful and emotional and radiates a warmth that’s hard to come by. It doesn’t bog you down with symbolism or meaning, it stays a slice of life manga about a group of normal people trying to defeat an evil wizard. All of them searching endlessly for what everyone else is looking for in their lives, meaning. So if you are looking for a deeply engaging story with a sense of humor, some truly spectacular action, and a heart, I strongly recommend you read The Lucifer and Biscuit Hammer when you get the chance.
[The whole series can be read over at mangareader.]