By Q Hayashida. Released in Japan by Shogakukan, serialization ongoing in the magazine Ikki. Released in North America by Viz.
As always with this series, there's so much going on here that I don't even know where to begin. We continue to have Caiman and Nikaido attempt to discover how he got his lizard head, and this time they even go to the world of sorcerers to do it. Meanwhile, on the other side of the equation, En and company are trying to get information from what was supposedly 'Caiman's' severed head, who turns out (once reattached to a body) to be a guy named Risu. Sadly, Risu seems to be a bit of a flake, so they aren't really getting a lot out of him. Even worse, Nikaido shows up to kidnap him.
The overall plot *is* fascinating, and we do get a couple more major characters fleshed out here with Risu and Dr. Kasukabe, but as always it seems that I read this series for the character moments and the art. The art in particular is deceptively chaotic, but looking closely brings fresh joy with each page. Just the backgrounds, with its rough-hewn, sketchy look, gives the impression of a world that's just as sketchy. And while I'm on the subject, there's some fanservice here, but it's interesting the way it's handled. Both Nikaido and Noi are very busty, and we can clearly see that when they change (or, in Nikaido's case, when a giant mushroom pops out of her back and destroys her shirt). But for the most part, she and Noi don't dress in skintight outfits, but in sensible sturdy clothing. Which makes complete sense in the content of both this world and their characters. It's nice to see.
Shin and Noi continue to be my favorites, I will admit. Their casual back and forths are almost always amusing (though I will admit that I found the 'bully sandwich' incident to be a tad over the top - and even more unrealistic than usual), and the strong bond they share is actually rather sweet. Likewise, Caiman and Nikaido may be more awkward with each other - particularly when a certain intimacy is required - but are also great to watch, and you're rooting for them more than Shin and Noi, as they both have better clearly defined goals. Pages 152-153 are not helping the shipper in me at all, I will admit.
And then there's the humor. Man, this book is funny. I will admit that it requires a certain love of gore to really get into it - which applies to the entire series, of course - but there's always something here. Caiman's fear of ghosts, the 'fire toilet to Hell' (what kind of mind does Hayashida have to not only think of such a thing, but make it a throwaway gag?), Shin's response to Noi after noticing her quick recovery from a bullet to the head, and my favorite part, which is Noi's response when she finds that En is out of control and turning Shin, Ebisu, and Fujita into mushrooms. Noi is the sort who, when presented with a bigger problem, just finds a bigger hammer. And speaking of Ebisu and Fujita, they continue to be the source of many 'it's fun watching them suffer' gags, but they also get the sweetest moment in the whole book, right at the end.
Generally speaking I am not a fan of the grotesque, and this book certainly has a lot of gruesome moments, with the violence sliding into 'highly unlikely' much of the time. But combining the gruesome with fun characters and an intriguing mystery have helped to make this fascinating. The series is 16 volumes and still running in Japan, so clearly the author is content to take her own time in telling us this story. But there's so much to look at and take in here, I don't mind at all.