Finding Peace in a World of Emptiness and Despair
By Weng Chi-An ∥ Translated by Joshua Dyer
Jan 16, 2024

(This article is originally published at Readmoo)

Sometimes you just open a comic for a quick glance, but in an instant, you know you’re done for. It’s not just a matter of sharply crafted characters, or the depth of the plot – you’ve stepped into an entirely new world.

Being “done for”, naturally, is a good thing. You’re going to lose yourself in this comic. You’ll skip meals and lose sleep for it. You’ll keep coming back for more, devouring each twist in the plot, and savoring every detail of the world laid out before you, like you did when you first read Tolkien’s The Lord of the Rings, or when you were desperately waiting for the final installment of Nagano Mamoru’s The Five Star Stories. The main storylines of these works are unforgettable, of course, but it is the inconceivable act of creating the sense of an entire world that keeps us coming back for more, because our imagination is already off and running, envisioning all of the other stories this vast universe makes possible.

For this reader, Buke’s Hell Parade is one of these wildly ambitious, and successful works of the imagination. I would say that its meticulously-wrought world stands among the greatest comic creations of Taiwan, except for the fact that I believe Hell Parade is on par even with the greatest manga from Japan, a nation renowned for numerous feats of astonishing world-building.

In the distant future of Hell Parade, the technologies and energy sources employed today have all been replaced by magic. Legendary creatures like elves and orcs live alongside humans, and sorcerers are employed by the government as a mercenary police force to deal with monsters that infiltrate society through mysterious hell-gates. The story revolves around two young sorcerers, Eli and his partner Sophy, the daughter of a wealthy family. Eli, whose origins are far more mysterious, has a take-it-or-leave attitude towards their low-paid government contracts. When a hell-gate on the northern border acts up, he is sent to the front lines, and Eli’s past suddenly returns to haunt him, revealing a complex and sinister plot operating in the background.

The full five-volume series of Hell Parade is the product of three years of dedicated effort, yet none of its nearly thousand pages feels superfluous. In an era where the Taiwan comics world is clamoring for original IP, Hell Parade seethes with a multitude of distinct personalities, original in appearance as well as temperament. Whether sorcerers, vampires, werewolves, witches – or even passersby in the street – each leaves a distinct and memorable impression. Buke smoothly strings together scenes that draw out a wide range of moods and emotions, from the endearing, to the fantastically strange, to out-and-out tearjerkers – the effects owing in large part to Buke’s ability to tell stories through her distinctively appealing line work. However, “telling stories” doesn’t really do justice to Hell Parade. The plot achieves its richness and complexity through a multitude of storylines which unfurl and intertwine with the intricacy of a finely wrought sculpture. The ability to juggle so many subplots is, of course, dependent on the complexity and scale of the universe Buke has created. The warp and weft of its many races, regions, cultures, and landscapes interlace to create something akin to the Bayeux Tapestry in its expansive vision of civilization and nature, a complex world that catalyzes the myriad interactions that constitute Hell Parade.

Character, setting, and plot nestle into one another like Russian dolls, a structuring device that avoids reliance on familiar clichés, and empowers Buke’s originality to shine from Hell Parade with a uniquely dazzling appeal. The deeper purpose behind the battles of men and monsters, the political intrigues, and the ties that bind the major characters are only revealed layer by layer, until the protagonist himself passes through the depths of doubt, and realizes that while his “awful and ordinary” world isn’t worth saving, neither is it deserving of destruction. But where do we find our peace in the midst of despair and emptiness? Of course, this question is directed toward the imagined world of Hell Parade, but it equally applies to our current reality.

There are no clear, simplistic answers in Hell Parade. Instead, it simply opens a space for deeper introspection. In the final chapters, even the nature of “Hell” itself is only explained in terms that will be mulled by readers for long after the book is finished.

The five volumes of Hell Parade are complete. Buke’s work is done. But the vast expanse of the imagined universe she has created is so suggestive of further stories, that her fans are condemned to eternally hope for sequels and spinoffs from this masterful world-weaver.