4 out of 5
Another slightly wandering volume, but guided down its wayward path by the ever-inventive playfulness of Noda, who also offers up some choice moments of poignancy for Sugimoto, and – maybe more surprisingly – Tsukishima.
A good chunk of the chapters in volume 15 are given over to Sugimoto and his 7th Division guards tracking Asirpa across Karafuto, which leads them on to a Russian camp rumored to harbor another tattooed inmate, and their participation in Strenka – stripped down barefist brawls. Noda jumps back and forth between frightening ferocity, physical comedy, and his cheeky adoration for sweaty, naked male bods gleefully; Sugimoto forms a “plan” to win the fight that ends up with him going batshit crazy. And then there’s a wolverine. It’s glorious insanity.
Which briefly flips to Asirpa and Kuroranke and etcetera, underlining that she still knows her Immortal guardian is alive, despite rumors of his death, and Noda parallels this to Sugimoto coming to terms with his past guilts and how that’s fed into his desire to make sure Asirpa survives this ordeal. But there’s an appreciated throughline to this, that’s also come up before: that he actually cares for her. It’s good to have that be at the “heart” of his quest, and the story.
The last chapters fill in Tsukishima’s quite surprisingly – to me – tragic past, leading up to his working with the 7th Division. This also acts as further character building for Tsurumi, showing how longterm manipulative he is, but I found Tsukishima an interesting candidate for this treatment, as he’d always come across as sort of a side character to me, or at least lacking the defining characteristics of an Ogata. It’s standard enough in comics / manga to eventually give everyone their own flashback, but Noda hasn’t made all the rounds yet; I’ll be interested to see whether we do get around to everyone – not that all characters need it – but also whether / how this information is used later on.