Three volumes in, I think Ragna Crimson is finally hitting a good stride.
If you have been following the series thus far, then you already have some idea of what to expect. The art is consistently top-notch and technically impressive in every regard. The character designs are distinct and flavorful without being absurd. The world is ill-defined and tropey, which allows it to get out of the way of the focus on the central cast. Violence is plentiful and always over the top. The central tension of the time-travelling hero trying to use the lessons of his future failure to avert a repeat of said failure is still the primary driving factor here. We have the same capital city location from the second volume as the only real backdrop for this stretch of chapters.
So what makes more of the same stand out so much this time? The execution of the core premise.
See, I think my major hangup with the prior two volumes was mainly one of focus. Volume one was, in my opinion, a bit too similar to other gory giant monsters rampaging through hopelessly outmatched medieval-ish cities series. Combined with some… uncomfortable scenes featuring Leo, and volume one ended up being a work that showed promise but focused most on what least interested me. Volume two was a step up in almost every regard, including a focus on the far more interesting Crimson. However, I took issue with the introduction of and focus on rifle-toting hunters: it felt too visually dissonant from the work’s high fantasy setting and action, which I preferred.
While more limited in some respects, Volume 3 finally focuses on what the series does best. In terms of what’s new, we do have an extended flashback sequence with Ragna gaining his powers – and from Ultimatia no less. There is also a greater emphasis placed on her perspective on all the violence: she sees it as an ugly necessity, and should be carried out carefully to avoid needless suffering. Neither of these revelations fundamentally alters our perspective, but they do add a bit more texture to the coming conflict between the pair.
That conflict makes up the lion’s share of volume three, and thank goodness it does because it is terrific action manga. The core tension between Crimson’s complex plan to take out Ultimatia and Ragna’s inability to stick to said plan is great stuff. Combine that with the unknown factor of how much Ultimatia knows about Ragna’s identity in those tense sequences, and the juxtaposition between her desire to “gently” put down humanity and all the flashy violence, and you have a winning formula. The entire volume largely revolves around one encounter in the city square, and I found it to be a page-turner.
Still, it is when the action kicks in that Ragna Crimson is really at its peak. The high fantasy action between super-powered demigods is exceptionally thrilling, as Daiki Kobayashi delivers remarkably well-realized pages that incorporate detail, artistic flair, and bone-crushing impact. The intensity of some of these pages is palpable, and I found myself flipping back through a few choice sequences to savor them a little longer.
Crimson is also a terrific co-lead and perhaps the real selling point of this volume. Crimson transitions to another persona/aspect, Veronica, and spends a lot of time planning the attack. We also meet two more of Veronica’s minions – a golem and a chimera – who develop an interesting petty rivalry, with each vying to be more indispensable to her and generating a fair amount of good comedy beats. Whereas Ragna is singularly focused, Crimson/Veronica is far more multifaceted, complex (in more ways than one), and enjoyable. While volume two was also largely about Crimson, it felt like there were zero stakes involved regarding the rifle-toting goobers. In this volume the stakes seem much, much higher and Crimson having to carefully manage her various underlings (not least of which being Ragna) in taking down the powerful Ultimatia is great.
If I had any major complaints it would largely be with the flashback sequences. While flashbacks have their purpose – to remind the audience of the emotional context for current events and also to give the creator a bit of breathing room in making new material, for example – this volume uses a ton of flashbacks, to the point of feeling repetitive. The most egregious example has to be with Ultimatia’s power near the end of the volume, where even the same panels are reused. I understand the intent as a sort of “rewind” view, but I think it could have been shortened in some form.
There’s also a sort of bonus chapter focusing on Leo. Thankfully, this time around she is not involved in any uncomfortable scenes, and there were even a few good comedy beats thrown in! But the other primary character in those scenes – a rich swordsman named Sykes Charluke – I found rather forgettable. I think the intent of the side story was to let us know how Leo was doing and how many (or few) refugees there were, which is all well and good, but not really engaging enough for the amount of pages it took up. I mostly found myself wishing we had gotten another chapter in this volume rather than this sequence.
Overall though, Ragna Crimson feels like it has fully spooled up and is delivering on its potential. I find myself really excited to see what volume four has in store down the road.
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