Old enemies, old threats, but even higher stakes.
Title: Guren Ichinose: Catastrophe at Sixteen
Publisher: Kodansha (JP), Vertical, Inc (US)
Creator: Takaya Kagami
Illustrator: Yamato Yamamoto
Translator: James Balzer
Original Release Date: May 31, 2016
This is the second installment of Vertical’s omnibus editions of Guren Ichinose: Catastrophe at Sixteen, which is to say that this volume contains what was originally volumes 3 and 4 in Japan. The story is still set ten years before the main storyline in Seraph of the End: Vampire Reign as Guren Ichinose, Yuu’s superior, goes through an unordinary high school life as the calendar creeps ever closer to what fans of the franchise know will be the Christmas the ended the world. As with the first omnibus, it’s not necessary to have already read or seen Vampire Reign but at this point the story is so dull it’s hard to imagine a newcomer choosing to interact only with this part of the franchise.
Vertical made a smart choice to release these books in omnibus form since narratively speaking so little happens in each volume that the story really needs more time to simply do anything interesting. Volume three works well as entirely build-up to volume four and the climax of volume four feels suspiciously similar to the climax in volume two due to the locations involved and which characters are the stars. Guren remains a less than interesting lead character his personality, which ranges from standoffish to antagonizing, makes sympathizing nearly impossible and the sheer amount of physical and magical talent he already possesses makes him feel like a Gary Stu. In Vampire Reign these traits are both less egregious; it makes sense that Guren would be much stronger than a ten years younger Yuu. Here though the book mentions over and over how all of Guren’s classmates are supposed to be “elite” students as if by saying so enough times the reader will actually believe that Guren must be that much stronger by comparison. In fact, the one way that this story helps Guren’s character is by explaining that the demon possessing him, via his weapon, is actually stronger than most (due to how the process happened) which explains Guren’s seemingly out of the blue possession at the end of the anime but that is the only way.
The pacing isn’t the only thing that feels off in this installment, although to touch on it again briefly, this volume properly introduces the demon weapons that everyone uses in by Vampire Reign. That said, they’re introduced in a rather anti-climatic manner: they’re manufactured literally overnight. And while the story highlights how these weapons improve the character’s reflexes and healing abilities to an inhuman degree, that’s not something which is readily apparent elsewhere in the franchise. It’s not the biggest or most obvious difference but Catastrophe at 16 and Vampire Reign don’t quite mesh and are tonally different as well.
The biggest tonal difference is that here the demons instead of the weapons crave not only physical violence but also sexual actions. Even outside of situations when demonic weapons are involved the story just treats sexual violence grossly. Although the central cast has an almost 50-50 gender split, it’s always the girls who are more threatened physically, shortly followed by sexually, in every conflict. There is a scene involving Guren’s female two bodyguards being pinned down but not actually in trouble. One of them screams but only to grab attention — which does by gyrating her chest in order to draw attention to her boobs — so the other girl could escape. The story seems to suggest that if the two girls thought they were actually in danger/going to be raped they were prepared and could easily kill themselves. This is gross at best and events like this come up often enough to be more than a bit unpleasant.
With a slow moving story and flat characterization across the board there’s little reason to recommend this part of the Seraph of the End franchise. It’s a plain story with boring characters and doesn’t seem to understand that “strong female characters” doesn’t mean “girl who gets caught a lot but could totally fight her way out of a different situation).