“This darkness leads to where you want to go. You must not stop. You must not look back.”
The first volume of Angelic Runes introduced Sowil, the rune-magician with a past that is mysterious even to himself, and Allu and Eru, the uncanny twin children who only speak when they are channelling the words of angels and demons. In this second volume, Sowil continues his quest to find his father and uncover the secrets of his past, accompanied by the children. They begin by travelling in the same haphazard, semi-random way, encountering miscellaneous strange magical people and creatures, and picking up more companions as they go; early on they acquire a pet of sorts in the form of the holy beast Mushussu, who is sent by Sowil’s master to guide and guard them and keep Sowil focused on his quest, and a friend-cum-communications assistant in the form of the witch Anita, who is stuck in a mirror realm and can travel and send messages through reflections.
But the story quickly shifts gears and abandons the picaresque-journey mode for something a bit more focused. The world-building, too, becomes more focused, or perhaps reveals itself to have been focused and coherent all along; where in volume 1 I was entertained by the story but found the setting a bit of a mish-mash, here it’s becoming increasingly clear that Tateno has a rationale for mixing up the Norse mythology of runes with a Judeo-Christian roster of angels and demons. It would be a spoiler to say what that rationale is, but suffice it to say that the world is more than just a backdrop to the events of the story. It’s no coincidence that Sowil is the only rune-master in the world.
I’ve never read a Makoto Tateno manga I didn’t like, and Angelic Runes is no exception: although it’s written in a different genre and no doubt aimed at a different audience than her dark BL sagas like Steal Moon, it shows the same careful attention to characterisation and mood that makes all her manga so compulsively readable. I’m less thrilled about the occasional bursts of humour. Maybe it’s a translation issue, but to have a bit of fourth-wall-breaking wackiness immediately after one of Sowil’s most wrenching experiences is jarring, and it isn’t really funny enough to make up for it. But that’s a very minor complaint about what remains an engrossing and well-thought-out fantasy series.