This is perhaps the most restrained volume of Ragna Crimson Thus far. Ragna and Crimson are in a situation any they have been in previously, and it makes for a nice change of pace while allowing the work to grow in new areas.
Most interesting of all is how much time we spend at the Argentum Corps headquarters. Ragna Crimson has had a lot of world-building up until this point, but it still lacks a strong sense of place. While Daiki Kobayashi has done a lot to give readers a sense of the hunter’s organization, the dire straits that humanity is in, and the dynamics between the various dragon leaders, much of it is high-concept or organizational in nature, and there hasn’t been a heavy emphasis on physical locations in general. Sure, we have seen the capital, but even that was only in brief glimpses between fight scenes.
In this volume, however, we start to get a sense of some of the room setups, structural layout, tactical concerns, and other perspectives on this one locale. It makes sense too, as we are entering a sort of siege scenario where caring and knowing about this backdrop is going to make a big difference in terms of investment. At this point over 20% of the story has taken place in the Argentum Corps headquarters, and that gives the reader time to settle in right before the dragon attack disrupts them.
The slowdown in pacing also benefits the characterization of Ragna and Crimson. Much of the prior volumes have moved at a brisk pace, jumping from one setting to another. While there’s ample exposition explaining the metaphysical or technical aspects of what is going on – magical abilities and dragon rankings and pocket dimensions and so forth – the character writing has been leaner. Other than stark, simple statements of character motives such as “Ragna wants to protect Leo,” and “Crimson wants revenge by any means necessary” we… haven’t had a whole lot to work off of.
Volume 5 allows the characters more time to simply interact with one another. Ragna and Crimson don’t have any major knockdown, drag-out fights this volume, nor are they rushing between locations. Instead they discuss their wants and needs, scheme to accomplish personal goals, and generally get to flex their personalities instead of battle arts. It’s a nice change that brings needed depth to our two leads.
An additional, surprising bonus to this is that the volume ends up being pretty hilarious. Daiki Kobayashi has a knack for strong comedic beats, and that’s in full display here. The Silverine Princess falling head over heels for our hero – all because to her mind he is a perfect expression of will that looks like a personified sword – continues to be a great running gag. The poor little slime helper gets an explosive surprise which results in a terrific reaction panel. Not to mention the silliness of the Argentum Corps all fawning over the princess while ruing Ragna’s very existence. It’s not that the manga has not had funny moments up until this point, but the consistent hilarity delivered in this volume was a pleasant surprise for me.
On the other hand, this does all culminate in a decrease in the action quotient of the volume. Ragna Crimson has been a pretty high-octane thrill ride up until this point, and for the first time since the manga started we’ve hit a volume with next to no conflict. Sure, there’s a little bit at the end – and it’s great stuff, as expected – but all that time for characters and setting and comedy had to come from somewhere. I did not find it to be a drawback, but if the primary reason you have been reading so far has been the jaw-dropping battles then you might find Volume 5 a bit lackluster in that department.
I also found the Artemesia segments to be less than engaging. It’s not bad, but the back-and-forth between her and Woltekamui just did not grab me. Daiki has been building a dragon mythos and a mood about them that is very singular, driven, and obsessive, and while I think it makes them very effective as antagonists it is those very same qualities that make me disinterested in their personal interactions. I tend to enjoy finding out the backstories of villains, but for whatever reason the rogue’s gallery in Ragna Crimson does not hook me as characters. They’re villains, they have sick character designs, and they have terrifying powers, but I can’t wait to see Ragna kick their skulls in already.
Overall though, both of those are incredibly minor negatives in the grand scheme of things. I think Volume 5 shows that Ragna Crimson is a work that can cover a wider range of tones and speeds, while also letting Daiki Kobayashi flex creative muscles that previously haven’t been at the forefront. It gets a hearty recommendation from me, and I’m looking forward to Volume 6 and the battles that will ensue.