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Wednesday, November 14, 2012

Cynthia: The mission - a manga review

Cynthia the mission is a martial arts shounen i had my eyes on for quite some time. Some weeks ago i managed to find some time to read it and i must say it has surprised me greatly... for the most unexpected reasons.


Cynthia revolves about a teenager loli who works as a hitman for the HongKong mafia. As heir of the family business and kung fu techniques, Cynthia was trained by the best assassins his old grandpa could pay for, mastering infiltration, espionage, gunfight and sword-fighting.

After the mafia sends her to japan to finish off a rival mafia leader, Cynthia's team is eradicated by a mysterious fighter, leaving her as the lone survivor. While investigating about the mysterious assassin, she loses her will to fight and instead tries to leave her past behind by becoming a regular student, and finding a bunch of new friends, each of one as dangerous fighter as she was.

Obviously, it doesn't take long for the Hong Kong mafia to want Cynthia back.

Assasins come to retrieve the loli in a regular basis.


The problem with Cynthia starts at the very title. This isn't a manga about Cynthia but about the awesome characters she meets in japan. As new characters are entering the scene you realize all of them are way cooler and have more interesting stories that the hitman loli, making Cynthia progressively slide out off the fighting scene. 

Both good and bad guys have some story to tell... even that faceless guy.
 A split personality girl who hides a killer boy inside (responsible for massacrating Cynthia's team), a high school Banchou girl, a teacher heir of an ancient mind controlling technique, a pro-boxer...
All of them have cool stories and design and can match in strength or even overpower Cynthia. Additionally, they have a lot of starring time as the manga focuses heavily on long flashbacks from times where the loli was not involved. 

This goes for foes as well. With original yet interesting designs and enough story to make you really care for them. You will really feel bad when the bad guys are trashed or die.

Violence as a narrative resource

While not being over the top, Cynthia shows good artwork and well drawn fighting scenes. The art is clean and kinetic lines do not disturb the flow of the story, that is generally bright, shifting constantly between tension and comedy,

The love story of the boxer and the banchou grabs you  right from the start.

Some people may distance from this title as violence is plenty, brutal and explicit in Cynthia.
Bones are painfully broken and some organs may even find it's way out of the bodies from time to time. This added to the fact that most characters are ruthless assassins or completely psycho gives a lot of room for painful imagination.

Losing your virginity... the painful way.

But, while other manga show violence just for the sake of violence, in Cynthia violence is instead used masterfully as a plot hook that keeps you grabbed to the reading.

For the first time in my life i read a shounen where wounds feel real. Bones are not magically restored, organs do not come back and scars are there for you to know the beating the character has taken... And of course, death is death. 

Characters carry with them every single scar they have taken from the beginning of the series to every next appearance, and those scars that were made before will probably be explained in a later flashback. After every fight they will usually spend some time at the hospital and, as real athletes, they'll have to train to hone the skills that have rusted while inactive on bed. 

Most characters won't fight more than 3 or 4 times during the series, mostly due to being through recovery or aware of the risks of the fighting. Even Cynthia who is a veteran killer is later revealed to have performed around 13 assassinations only (not counting collateral henchmen damage). This makes your heart come to a stop when you see some of your favorite characters (or even villains) are stabbed, disfigured or maimed. You know every wound will be there for the chapters to come... Or might end with the character at once.

Whose mission?

Cynthia is kind of strange when it comes to protagonist roles and drama point definitions.

During the first volume Cynthia is a cold blood killer, not having any remorse or doubts when having to kill her former master in her very first mission in the series, a scene that would probably be much more impressive if it was left for later.The interest of the author in starting the manga with this seems to hint he wanted to reinforce this dissafection for life, but in the very same volume Cynthia turns unexplainably to be an innocent lamb and lose her will to fight just because a bunch of unknown henchmen were killed.

Well... maybe having her brain turned to dust had some impact.
From volume 2 to the last in the series she only takes part as the main character in 2 major plot line fights, as she basically avoids most combat and she was not present in japan during the numerous flashbacks. This creates a bizarre situation as you end up having no interest whatsoever in Cynthia and she becomes just an excuse to tell everyone else's story.

During the following chapters her story seems to be stalled until the appearance of her sister who sets up the final story arc, and by then you kinda have let go already on the character. This makes Cynthia progressively fall back as a background comedic character, losing all the appeal she should have as a reliable and strong shounen character, which is a pity.

Summing up

Cynthia the mission is a great manga but it suffers from an inconsistent main character. Thankfully compensates with a thrilling story for secondary roles that pack lots of charisma.

Art is great and combat vicious and thrilling, so if you are into shounen manga and you don't mind the bloodspilling, you should really give it a try.

You'll like it:

If you like combat to be thrilling yet credible.
You grow attached to characters.
You like your blood with a dose of humour.

You won't like it:

If you don't like excessive violence.
You like to follow just one main story.
You looking for a rememberable main character.

The country of fighting? Seriously?