In Murcielago Volume 4, having infiltrated The Virginal Rose cult, Kuroko finds herself sympathetic to their “no men allowed” credo, and becomes indoctrinated to their ways, so that our favorite lesbian mass murderess must be rescued from the incestuous bloodbath that awaits cult graduates.
Though I’m using one word in the previous sentence in a figurative sense, “bloodbath” isn’t it. Nope, it’s the incest. The queen bee of The Virginal Rose, Gold Marie, fulfills her fetish not through sex, but by embowering her brother in a secret basement charnelhouse-slash-greenhouse in which cultists past their expiration date get skewered, composted, and juiced into blood that irrigates her brother’s mutilated genitalia along with the roses. It’s Gold Marie’s fervent desire that the blight of his masculinity might be erradicated, so that he becomes a true woman. I only said it’s figurative, I never said it’s pretty.
As The Viriginal Rose initially makes a vanilla and saccharinely sexual impression on Kuroko, she is intoxicated by the cult. While it has the usual cult flaws of suppressing the ego in ritual and practice, Kuroko is a weak-willed psychopath to begin with, and her ego gets blotted out instantly by the sight of boobs. And there are a lot of boobs in this book, because the practitioners are hedonistic body worshipers, so that Kuroko is always drooling over the sight and touch of the naked acolytes. To be fair, she slavers over them when they’re clothed as well. Whether this is Amazon Island or the Island of Misfit Toys is of no importance to Kuroko, who is like Harry Potter in Honeydukes. She craves all the sweets, whether they’re twisted or not.
And as they are twisted, Kuroko’s edenic bliss in this tainted earthly paradise eventually comes to an end. Not that she figures it out, but has to be beat unconscious by her rescuer.
In a coda to volume 4, Kuroko takes Rinko (the grade school killer from Volume 3) under her wing. Though the scene is drawn flatly and starkly, without much ornamentation, Yoshimurakana does a good job letting the reader know that while Kuroko plays at being a hero, she is at heart a monster, and the best she aspires to is being a role model for other burgeoning villains.
While it may be visually disturbing and viscerally charged for some, volume 4 was much stronger than previous volumes of Murcielago. I’m particularly impressed with the way the overtones of Heironymous Bosch’s The Garden of Earthly Delights were layered on so thick that the sexuality became more clinical and repulsive than attractive. Kuroko’s madness is more well-realized in this volume, which has the full tableau of her triggers, so to speak, and not only gore. At times, we see through Kuroko’s eye rather than our own. I said in my review of Food Wars Volume 20 that Food Wars was the manga that I recommend the most, while Goodnight Punpun is my favorite; although Murcielago exists nowhere on that spectrum of things that I recommend or adore, I admire the captivating head space that Yoshimurakana has created for the antiprotagonist, so that she becomes, if not sympathetic, credible. The best non-manga analogy that I can think of is Alex in A Clockwork Orange. While you don’t feel for Alex, Anthony Burgess is such a good writer that you feel with him as he goes through his paces, and there is a little of that in Murcielago.
Yen Press sent the review copy.