Arm of Kannon vol 1 (of 7)

UK Distributor:  Tokyopop

Author:  Masakazu Yamaguchi

Suggested Retail Price (SRP):  £6.99

Number of Pages:  200

ISBN:  1-5918-2810-4

Reviewed:  20th May 2006

Reviewer:  Rich (Webmaster)


I am usually a bit stuck in my ways when it comes to manga.  Generally my collection consists of comedies and action based titles, so I picked up Arm of Kannon – a horror title – out of curiosity more than anything else.

The story follows a teenage boy called Mao Mikami, a boy plagued by disturbing dreams and a secret lust for violence which he keeps hidden from his sister, Mayo.  However, when they are attacked by thugs on the way to school and a mysterious man saves them, Mao is eager to learn his fighting skills, much to his sister’s dismay.  The stranger calls himself their bodyguard, but the real reason he has turned up is far more disturbing.  Mao and Mao’s archaeologist father Juzo is in possession of an ancient and extremely dangerous artefact known as the Arm of Senjuu Kannon, an artefact that has the power to awaken the full power of the human body, but at a terrible cost.  It is believed that if this falls into the hands of someone with a true bloodlust it would allow them to do unspeakable things, so the stranger’s task is to prevent the arm passing to Mao.  However, it isn’t going to be that easy, another group wants the arm to discover how it unlocks the dormant power of DNA and will go to any lengths to obtain it.  Even with a powerful bodyguard can Mao survive and avoid the terrible destiny of receiving the Arm of Kannon with his sanity and humanity intact?

Arm of Kannon is probably the first truly adult manga I have read, and there is a good reason why Tokyopop cellophane-wrap it before it hits the shelves.  This book is extremely violent, unflinchingly gory and doesn’t shy away from sex and swearing either.  The horror is expertly done, often building up the power of the shocks by using shadows to disguise the true horror before hitting you with it.  There are scenes where it appears that someone is talking to the character, but it reveals their decapitated head from the shadows instead.  It really catches you out on occasion, and the gore levels are worthy of Takeshi Miike, but horror isn’t all it's got, it has shedloads of action too.  The stranger (who remains unnamed as far as I can see) is a pretty handy swordsman and it’s not long before he clashes with various demons and the group who seeks the Arm.  The fights are excellent, fast flowing and suitably messy, but it’s the art that really makes them impressive.

As expected with a horror title, Arm of Kannon has a much more hard-edged art style than most manga.  The artwork is clear and full of strong lines, particularly during the frequent action scenes, and the use of light and shadow is really dramatic and stylish.  The design is great throughout, particularly on the Arm of Kannon itself – a Giger-esque biomechanical nightmare of tortured faces, pipes and wires – but it does use very effeminate ‘pretty boy’ styles for the male characters.  This won’t be to everyone’s taste, and neither will the story as a whole.

The problem with Arm of Kannon vol 1 is that it is unrelentingly nasty near enough from the word go.  Gruesome imagery is the order of the day and there are some pretty nasty shocks in places, it is also surprisingly explicit during a couple of scenes.  If you are the type that finds the idea of dismembered corpses in the fridge and monsters ripping people’s heads off difficult to stomach then still well clear, as that isn’t the half of it.  Fans of Japanese body-horror will lap this up but for others it may hold less appeal.

However, the art is pretty good and the design is superb – even on the monsters, which is something few manga authors pull off.  It has a pretty good story but whilst the action scenes succeed in stopping the horror becoming completely excessive, you do become numbed to the extreme violence and gore by the end of the volume.  Whether you want to give this a go depends on your tastes.  It is an impressive horror title and fans who want something dark and particularly horrific will love it, but if you prefer something with a bit of light at the end of the tunnel you may find it a very difficult read.  Arm of Kannon vol 1 is a great horror title, but it is most definitely not for everyone.


The usual adverts for other titles and a preview of the next volume, as well as a list of available Tokyopop titles.  Not much.


Feature:   Extras:

Back To Reviews Archive