Samon the Summoner

Samon the Summoner is a series I have mixed feelings about.

On the one hand, I consistently enjoyed the series. Most every chapter ending had me looking forward to the next chapter, and I read through to the end in large part because I was enjoying myself -I've read other manga through to the end where I never really liked them because I was convinced a Good Thing was right around the corner and the ending happened so abruptly I had no idea it was coming to make it clear it was never going to get to the Good Thing.

Buuut even though I did consistently enjoy Samon the Summoner, I felt like what we got was a much less interesting story than what we were promised.

The initial premise of Samon the Summoner is that one day a boy transfers into school and declares that his hobby is summoning demons. Nobody takes him seriously, naturally, but he ends up taking an interest in the female protagonist -Teshigawa Sakura- where that interest is... less-than-positive. She's the 'angel' of her school, a girl everyone thinks of as kind and generous and endlessly patient, and Samon -the boy- hates goody-two-shoes and so commits himself to breaking down her image of kindness. (Which he insists is fakery) This is, of course, the point at which it turns out he totally can summon demons, as he starts summoning demons for the express purpose of tempting her into sin using their abilities.

And, notably, Sakura tells us -and I do mean us, the audience- that this is the story of her 'descent into Hell'.

This premise is very interesting. For starters, it's a Japanese story, and I'm really quite curious as to what you'd even get if you filtered a stereotypical Western 'descent into sin' sort of arc through Japanese sensibilities. It probably wouldn't look that much like what I'm used to seeing, and the differences would be all kinds of interesting. For another, the entire framework is interesting right away -in addition to the overtly supernatural influences Samon uses to eg make Sakura feel hungry even when she's eaten well in an attempt to tempt her into real gluttony, there's a few moments where Samon is willing to summon demons to help Sakura with something she cares about if he perceives her motives as selfish. That's interesting, and actually quite sinister, a demonic contract where you can leverage great power but only if you can convince the holder of those powers that your motives are impure... and yet it can be played two ways. Maybe Sakura does get corrupted by Samon constantly pushing her to think in more selfish terms, or maybe Samon gets retrained into behaving like a good person while convinced his behavior is sinful or selfish. Or... maybe even somewhere in the middle.

There's a lot of potential there, is what I'm saying. A fantastic premise that can be explored in a lot of different ways, making it easy to avoid becoming stale and predictable.

Unfortunately, past around the first ten chapters, this all falls away. The superficial elements stick around -Samon keeps summoning demons to torment Sakura, for example- but the story undergoes a radical shift into a shizophrenic story alternating between 'serious' plots that are fairly stock shonen stories about fighting alongside your friends and whatnot (Executed well enough I enjoyed them, mind) and 'silly' plots that are actively trying to be ridiculous (Often centered around ideas like leveraging demonic powers to win eating contests), sometimes outright breaking the fourth wall for a joke. Sakura does periodically reminds the audience that this is the story of her descent into Hell, and a couple of the plots feel to me like they might even have been genuine attempts to return to that initial framework, but it doesn't stick.

The story does, in the end, 'deliver' by ending the story on Sakura physically going to Hell, but it's tacked-on, the author going 'oh yeah, I've been saying this the whole time, I should avoid being a liar'. For one thing, there's already been a plotline where Sakura went to Hell; if Sakura visiting Hell was what Sakura was talking about, that plotline should've been the point at which Sakura told us 'hey, I mentioned this story was about my descent into Hell, right? Well, here I am.' Not this additional time that happens to be coinciding with the manga ending.

Again: I consistently enjoyed it. I routinely found it funny, and I thought most of the characters were enjoyable and interesting and the relationships were fun to see explored.

But it's really obvious the story was originally meant to be something much more interesting, and so I can't help but look at it and yearn for what should have been.

(Also, recurring frustration: the manga eventually starts insisting that Samon is the protagonist of the story, in spite of Sakura being the viewpoint character who gets to speak directly to the audience and outright tells us this is her story. What?)


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