I bought this sight unseen. I'd seen the front cover of an English-language translation of volume 1 in a London bookshop and it had made me laugh, so on returning to Japan this month, I bought five volumes. I could have bought more, but I thought I'd take a punt on these and buy more if I liked them.
I had no idea what I was letting myself in for.
One day, magical girls show up and start killing everyone. Cutesy girlie girls, in ribbons and bows. Their character designs are delightful, yet they're as horrific as Attack on Titan. These girlies are Titan-like in their ability to inflict stomach-turning slaughter on huge numbers of people in a heartbeat, but that's without considering the imagination that went into their creation. Each girl is unique. She has her own design and her own killing techniques, usually impossible without magic. They'll turn a crowd scene into an abattoir in ways you'd like to unsee, all the while looking dainty and doll-like.
This is funny. It's like Night of the Living Disney. However I'd been expecting a comedy and what I got was a full-blown horror epic in which the deadpan black humour comes drenched in the blood of countless innocents. Oh, and the magical girls are unkillable, subject to certain qualifications. Bludgeon her head to pulp and she'll grow another. Also, she'll resurrect her victims as sprinting zombies in black Loli-Goth dresses. Yes, all her victims. In short, mankind's odds for survival are worse than those of a live jellyfish in a microwave.
As an end-of-the-world zombie apocalypse, it's masterly. However I've left it at five volumes for now. It started out one-dimensional, but the story got interesting later and I'll probably catch up on my next visit, when they're a bit cheaper in the second-hand manga shops.
The first two volumes didn't look like something I'd be continuing. The apocalypse is mind-melting, but the characters looked one-dimensional and the purpose of the female ones appeared to be just to push otaku buttons. Tsukune Fukumoto is a moe blob who exists only to be protected by the hero. Yoruka Hanzawa has a deformed bust, drawn by someone who doesn't seem to understand the human body. Each breast on its own is nearly the size of her head and she doesn't wear a bra, yet they'll stick out horizontally as if they're on a shelf. When she lies on her back, they stick up like missiles.
It's distracting enough to be off-putting. A character comments in volume two that Yoruka will sag if she doesn't start wearing a bra, but I'm afraid I assumed this was the author's reaction to reader comments in the letters pages. It's possible that this is a parody of the fanservice in other zombie apocalypse manga like High School of the Dead, though.
As an action-horror epic, it's brilliant. The only problem is it gets predictable. Horrible, horrible things are guaranteed to happen all the time. The story thus follows a formula of "hero finds new allies of limited life expectancy, GORE GORE GORE, repeat". Girls will have a higher survival rate because the audience likes looking at them, but I still wouldn't recommend getting too attached to anyone.
There's some fanservice, by the way, especially from Yoruka, but be warned that not all panty shots involve girls who are still attached to their skulls.
Something unexpected happens.
Then more unexpected things happen. Characters you'd thought were one-dimensional suddenly turn on you and... what the hell? That can't be true, can it? A certain nasty little incident in volume 1 in hindsight takes on dimensions you never guessed were there. The manga's actually quite clever in how it twists around your sympathies for unsympathetic characters. Volume 3 startled me with a scene of genuine emotional power for someone who'd been completely under my radar.
There's a killer and/or rapist character who sort of approximately joins the heroes, but the story doesn't chicken out and backpedal away from him being a very very very very bad and unstable person. (I say "and/or" because it's not clear whether he'd killed those girls he raped, whether they died from natural causes or even whether the rape was pre- or post-mortem.) Mind you, he's also the most perceptive and genre-savvy member of the cast.
We start to learn some "why"s. The plot stops being "whack a mole" and becomes something you can get your teeth into. Suddenly the characters matter. Five volumes, as it happens, turned out to be a perfect number to buy, because the story builds up to such a climax that I couldn't imagine this not being the end... but no, there's a last-minute twist and we're not even halfway through yet.
DO NOT READ THIS MANGA'S WIKIPEDIA PAGE, by the way. Massive casual spoilers.
Would I recommend this manga? Um. Tough. Not to most people. I also don't have the slightest idea where the story's going after this, which is a plus, I suppose. It's already changed so much from volume to volume that I wouldn't feel confident in even attempting any predictions. The horror of the first two volumes does admittedly relent somewhat, although that's not to say that the carnage stops.
I'm impressed, I think, but it's still hardly lovable. Just remember not to judge it on first impressions.