A young woman named Hina watches her mother get dragged into a dark vortex in the middle of a rainstorm. The mother’s desperate final words to her daughter: “Find the fabled ace…” We see the number zero displayed on the palm of her hand before she vanishes forever.
Plunderer, published in English by Yen Press is an ongoing Shōnen adventure series. Currently, Plunderer has 13 volumes released in Japan and 3 in the west by the end of 2019. 2020 will see the release of the anime series by Geek Toys, so is now the right time to jump on board? Let’s find out of Plunderer is worth reading.
The world of Plunderer
Plunderer takes place in the nation of Alcia, numbers rule a medieval-ish place which Hina quickly learns. Every person in Alcia has a number somewhere on their body. This number goes up and down depending on some specific action that they do. Hina, for example, has a number on her inner thigh that’s tied to the number of miles she’s walked.
Plunderer is a beautiful mix of slapstick comedy and dangerous action.
Hina has spent most of her life isolated in the mountains, so even though she has a number, she’s ignorant of what it means and how it works. This ignorance makes her a useful stand-in for the audience, helping us learn through her all the rules of the number system.
And there are many rules, but I will only list the two most important ones here:
Anyone with a low number must obey the commands of someone with a higher number.
When a number drops to zero, that person is dragged to the abyss by a set of ghostly hands. As Hina witnessed happening to her mother.
Hina also learns that the “fabled ace” she is looking for is one of a quartet of heroes who fought in a devastating conflict known as the Waste War. This war, from what we can gather, was an apocalyptic conflict that threatened to end all life on the planet. Until these heroes stepped in to stop it. But what was the aftermath of the war, and where are these heroes now?
The Characters of Plunderer
When we next see Hina, she is several years older and deep in her journey to find this ace. Does she find this person? Well, not exactly. But she does run across some interesting characters.
The first is Nana, an innkeeper whose number goes up every time a customer says they like her food. And the second is a very, very strange man named Licht.
Licht is an absolute weirdo. He works for Nana but is so inept that she abuses him regularly. He always wears a mask or some kind of goofy costume; at one point, he dresses up as a pudding, complete with a spoon.
Licht’s number, which stands at -999 at the beginning of the story, represents the number of times he has been rejected by a woman. And when you see him in action, you’ll understand why that number is so abysmally negative. But wait. Isn’t one of the rules that if your number hits zero, you get dragged to the abyss? How is Licht still around? Well, about that…
Plunderer Volume 1 Spoilers
We learn very quickly that Licht isn’t the buffoon he pretends to be. Just like Himura Kenshin of Rorouni Kenshin and Vash the Stampede from Trigun, Licht hides his true identity to avoid doing that which he hates most: fighting. Much like Kenshin and Vash, he also can’t stand the idea of innocent people being hurt. When Hina gets herself into trouble with a local military thug, Licht steps in to save her.
As it turns out, Licht is a ballot holder. A ballot is an external counter that gives its owner extraordinary powers. Licht’s ballot is his sword, and the 5,700 inscribed on it represents the number of people he has killed with that blade. This ballot is what negates his negative number and keeps him out of the abyss. 5700 is an unfathomable body count. This is a man who is understandably sick of fighting.
He is also a man who doesn’t stay in one place for long. Once Hina is safe, Licht takes off. Where is he going? What is he trying to accomplish? We aren’t told, and since Plunderer never really gives the reader a glimpse into Licht’s mind, it may be a long time until we find out.
Licht’s exploits draw the attention of the Alcian military, which begins efforts to bring him in. We soon meet Sergeant Major Lynn May, whose number is tied to charity work, and her right-hand man, Sergeant Pele.
Lynn and Pele are assigned to a far-flung town. Never seeing much action until Licht shows up in his pudding costume. Once he does, a battle-hardened unit moves in to try and capture him. Led by Lieutenant Jail Murdoch, himself a ballot holder whose number is tied to his rigid belief system.
Licht clashes with the soldiers several times, but they find themselves on the same side at the end of the volume. Facing a monster that the soldiers had never seen before but one with which Licht is all too familiar. And no, I won’t be posting a picture of the monster here. You’ll have to read the book to see the beast.
Plunderer is a beautiful mix of slapstick comedy and dangerous action. Without spoiling anything, I can say that Licht’s exploits regularly swing from pudding costume – style weirdness to grave seriousness and back, all without skipping a beat. This is a manga that will continuously have you on the edge of your seat.
The Art of Plunderer
The art in Plunderer is gorgeous. The characters are well-drawn and detailed, and the backgrounds get as much love as the characters. The action scenes are chaotic but focused, and the framing is absolutely superb, like cinematography from a well-shot movie.
The art is also full of neat little details that reward re-reading. For example, at one point while wearing his pudding costume, Licht picks up a pencil and draws eyebrows on his mask to give himself a more serious expression. It’s a small movement, but one that made the already funny scene it was attached to even more hilarious.
There is a lot of fan service in both this volume and in the series. All the female characters are well-endowed and wear revealing clothing. The story continually finds excuses to put them in compromising positions. I’m not a massive fan of such service, but I’ll forgive it here because the rest of the story is so good. If you like fan service, you’ll be right at home here.
Physical or Digital
The physical versions of Plunderer cost twice as much as typical manga volumes. However, the page count is much higher and the book itself is much bigger. To put it another way: Plunderer is enormous. Here’s a side-by-side shot of Plunderer next to my copy of Tomo-Chan is a Girl!, which has the size and page count of a typical manga.
The manga is also available digitally on Kindle. While the first volume looks fine, the second suffers from strange compression issues that distort the art. Future volumes may have similar problems. If you have the money and space, go for the physical copy of Plunderer Volume 1.
Is Plunderer Volume 1 worth reading?
Absolutely, one hundred percent, yes. This is the best new manga I’ve read this year, and will probably be in my list of all-time favourites once it is done if the first two volumes are any indication. Speaking of which: I’ve read volume two. I didn’t review it here as doing so would have led to unavoidable spoilers. Rest assured, however: if you like Volume 1, then Volume 2 is just as good.
There’s a genuine sense of depth to the story and the feeling that this volume only scratches the surface. It’s clear that a lot of effort went into the world-building here. That effort should pay off as Licht’s journey goes deeper and deeper.