All images belong to Takayuki Yamaguchi San! RESPECT. Use for educational purpose to teach you about a certain manga called Shigurui! Or Death Frenzy as it is sometimes translated. Without further ado,

Mr. Towelhead reviews:

shigurui cover


The manga was writen by a fellow Norio Nanjo and illustrated by another fellow Takayuki Yamaguchi. The story is based, in part on a novel called Suruga-jó Gozen Jiai by the same writer (Nanjo). Shigurui was published between 2003 and 2010 that is seven years for “only” 15 volumes. The genre is described as Shönen, mangas for young kids, with lost of action, humor and male bonding, but that couldn’t be any farther from the truth.

Shigurui is, in my opinion: a crude action and realistic manga based in feudal japan.


Shigurui tries to be historically accurate and seems to be so [bare in mind I’m no Doctor in History of Japan], it also tries to be realistic and excels in that particularly. People behave like they would given their character treats and social status, and that means that extremely cruel and selfish decisions will be taken and seen through. Its not a happy story for sure, its not a sad one either, its a realistic one. Given these settings, there are slightly unrealistic things like women samurai and deformed people fighting, yet these are kept to a minimum… And who knows, perhaps there were a few oddballs back in the day.


In feudal japan they don’t tell you, you’ve been a naughty boy and call it a day. No, they have you slice your guts open and cut off your head. You know, just in case.

naughty boy

The story begins with the downfall of lord Tokugawa Tadanaga, a sadistic bastard who is sentenced to commit ritual suicide because of this deviant behavior. A record of causalities from a tournament held in his castle is proof of his madness. It is revealed that combatants were forced to use real weapons instead of practice wooden ones. We start witnessing one such fight: A crippled blind samurai faces against a one-armed samurai. Whether it is a sick joke or not, the audience (and we) soon notice that each combatant is more than what meets the eye. Soon the questions arise, how did they get involved in this peril, how did they get their wounds and how did they become samurais?

shigurui confrontation

A blind man against a one-armed contestant. What could possibly go wrong?

Basically the manga is a recap of everything that led the protagonist and the antagonist to face each other in the crazed ruler’s tournament. From birth to training, from friendship to mortal enemies and small recaps of the people around them.

More than violence and combat, the theme of Shigurui is the contrast between the protagonist and the antagonist. And it amounts to: following orders (what samurais were expected to do) and follow one’s ambitions, or as some naive people like to call it, follow one’s heart (unthinkable for a samurai). How each path scars and defines each of the main dudes is a wonderful case study of character development inside a realistic manga world. And just like in the real world, each path is paved with blood, tears and one’s humanity (or lack thereof).

shigurui chain of command

To disobey one’s master was not an option for a samurai. Wether you agree or not, was irrelevant.

shigurui puppets


The manga has plenty of blood and gore, illustrated in an extremely realistic, crude and anatomically correct manner. What I mean is that you can count individual severed veins and arteries from wounded people in the manga. There is some nudity and while sexual situations are implied they are “censored”. And by sexual situations I mean rape and the likes.

Gore and sex aren’t meant to glorify violence nor provide fan service, not in this story, they are symbols of how ruthless the rulers and soldiers of feudal Japan were. But still, for a sensitive/younger audience Shugurui is WAY OVER the line.


Combat is smooth. Moves and situations are kept to what a human could realistically do (with very, very few moments that cross said line). Each battle is surprisingly intricate, with an arc of tension on its own. Every fight had a reason to be in the book, a climatic moment and a resolution. The result of a duel depended on wits, strength and training. Fate was out of the picture. And the consequences of winning or loosing (provided the looser lived to tell the story) were harsh and sometimes even extended over the course of several volumes in the manga.


Once again, I read a translation, so the true artistic value of the words and sentences could not be grasped. And unless you read Japanese it will be the same for you.

Translated or not, the manga lacks any clichés of popular storytelling. Sometimes even the bad guys will yield to reasoning, sometimes the “good” guys will make bad decisions and most of times people will talk and act in view of their own interests, and ONLY in view of their own interests.

So yes, the story is really sad.

shigurui food

Poor little koi fish never saw it coming.


Shigurui is not a manga for everybody, its involving and heavy, realistic, crude and BLOODY AS HELL. Its like reading a well written military/history drama with enough samurai action to keep your attention (and an upset stomach). If you want to start the Shigurui experience, be ready to make an emotional commitment and have a plastic bag handy.


10 / 10

Its a great story and a tense one. The conflict between antagonist and protagonist is a feasible situation soldiers could get themselves into. As the story goes forward you will be dying to know how each character managed to be in the tournament despite all hardships.

If you are a bit sensitive to violence and nudity BE WARNED…

1 / 10

… you may definitely, absolutely avoid Shigurui at all cost.

P.D. The manga is also known for being abrupt. Plots in the story are never closed, and intentionally so, others are brought to a brutal and sudden end. Its not a slap in your face, like the one you feel when the author screws up, no, its a soft breeze that tells you to sit down. What I am trying to say is that I got nothing to say. It’s well done no matter how you see it.


  1. Why would you say it tried to be, then say it excels. Shouldn’t you just say it’s accurate and realistic, because it is? And you don’t even know history yet question it.

    • I don’t need to be an expert in history to know that certain elements of the manga are unrealistic, like some of the acrobatics , the monkey monster and the “toad dude”. I mean overall I loved the manga and it’s probably one of the most realistic and historically accurate stories I’ve read.

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