You all know the story of Little Red Riding Hood, and you may even know the tale of Peter Stumpp, an early werewolf. Both of those are brought together here in this title from one of Kōhei Horikoshi‘s (of My Hero Academia fame) former assistants – The Hunters Guild: Red Hood is a shounen action series rooted in werewolf lore and the fairy tale known as ATU333.
It’s certainly a combination that makes sense. Over the years, Red’s story has evolved and been tinkered with to make her a much more active (and at times sexier) character, and the earliest European variants make it clear that the wolf is, in fact, a werewolf; in the recorded and what is presumed to be the earliest French version, the specific word used is “bzou,” a Middle French word for werewolf. Charles Perrault, meanwhile, makes it abundantly obvious that the “wolf” is simply a metaphor for a man; with both this and the fact that 17th-century French slang for the loss of virginity was “to see the wolf,” Yūki Kawaguchi is operating in sound literary territory.
Both werewolves and Little Red Riding Hood also lend themselves surprisingly readily to the shōnen action formula, which in this case takes Velou, a young country lad, and sets him on the path to becoming a Hunter. It’s not a role he’s ever considered in the professional sense, despite his abiding hatred of werewolves. That’s because of his equally developed sense of duty: after he was orphaned as a small child, the villagers banded together to raise Velou, and he feels that he owes it to them to stay in their hamlet to protect them. While no one says anything to him about this plan, a later plot reveal implies that perhaps at least one village member thought this wasn’t in Velou’s best interest. However, they weren’t willing to say anything, possibly because Velou doesn’t appear to be much older than thirteen or fourteen if that.
Kawaguchi clearly understands the source material for the story, which appears to primarily be The Brothers Grimm‘s version of ATU333, along with German werewolf lore. This is seen in the various roles the characters play in the story: we’ve got Grimm herself as Little Red Riding Hood, obviously, but Granny becomes the wolf, and the inclusion of a magic axe is a reference to the woodcutter figure who doesn’t appear in other, earlier, European variants of the tale. There’s also a separate Big Bad Wolf in the character of Lycaon, whose name not only references a mythical Greek king who fed Zeus the roasted flesh of his son but is also the species name for a breed of wild dog, both elements that fit Lycaon’s character admirably. There’s also a riff on the famous “What big teeth you have!” conversation that’s nicely slid into the action. The key idea is that werewolves occur when a human mutates to crave human flesh, eventually taking on a monstrous wolf-like form that they can hide in order to hunt more efficiently. While this isn’t strictly part of most werewolf folklore, it does work well here, and it helps to establish the story as its own thing rather than a straight retelling of a better-known body of literature.
Most of the volume’s story is in Velou’s tiny mountain village. This segment does an excellent job of establishing the world’s mythology while allowing us to get to know Velou and Grimm in a more contained setting before he heads off to try to become a Hunter himself. Naturally, he first shows great ability, and just as naturally, he ends up in an intense training camp, which few aspirants will come out of. While it is pretty typical action fantasy shōnen, it’s also well-done action fantasy shōnen, and ludicrous breast sizes aside, it doesn’t lean too hard into the sexualization of the female characters. (Or the male characters, for that matter.) Grimm’s gimmick – she can become an adult for a few hours after a curse damned her to a child body for eternity – mainly serves to allow her to be a more amazing Hunter. If it’s a stale old trope we’ve seen a lot before, it’s also decently used here to allow her to guide Velou on his way better.
The art for the story is bustling, with many crowded pages and panels full of fiddly details. While reading can be exhausting, it isn’t a deal-breaker. The way the werewolves are drawn is a major plus: they’ve got an almost Dr. Seuss-look to them, part Seussian nightmare and part 1940s Loony Tunes character and the few panels that are half-wolf form, half-human form are very effective. There are a few odd clothing and hairstyle choices, but even with its busyness, the art is much more of a plus than a minus.
The use of folklore – and one excellent last-page plot twist – help this to stand on its own two feet. If you don’t care for shōnen action, this still may not work for you, but between the Seussian werewolf designs and the nods to various fairy tales, this is an interesting start to a series that could be a lot of fun.