IM: Great Priest Imhotep Volume 1
Story & Art by Makoto Morishima
Translated by Amanda Haley
Lettered by Rochelle Gancio
I’ve always loved the motif of ancient egyptian culture and mythology portrayed in pop culture, even though popular depictions usually deviate from reality. For example, Anubis is often treated as a malicious God of Death figure in a lot of western media when he is really more of a neutral guide and judge for deceased souls in the actual myths. Similarly, IM seems more interested in the iconography of ancient Egyptian mythology than representing the myths accurately. Imhotep bears no resemblance to the architect and physician revered in his day, instead appearing as a sleepy-eyed sardonic teen with supernatural powers. The Egyptian gods are also liberally represented; in this series, Anubis seems to be a breed of guardians who are raised to inherit the title. IM falls in line with the tropes and trappings of the supernatural battle manga genre, akin to series like Noragami and Blue Exorcist, and much like those series, it appropriates the myths it draws from to create a new lore that better suits the needs of its story.
Still, while IM’s influences seem superficial, they are used creatively. Morishita’s redesigns of ancient Egyptian gods are interesting modernizations, twisting their popular characteristics in ways to make them appear like menacing monsters or cute mascots. While the theming is only skin-deep, the themes the series does explore are enhanced by the ideas played with. The ancient Egyptian mythology provides the manga with a memorable iconographic aesthetic and a fun foundation for a supernatural battle manga, with its own built-in hierarchies, powers, and lore to draw from.
More than the mythology it plays with, the series is preoccupied with exploring themes of isolation and validation. It’s about outcasts finding solidarity and kinship in other people who recognize them for themselves, offering the companionship they need. This is best exemplified in the friendship between Hinome and Shirahana, whose relationship lies at the heart of two of this volume’s stories. Hinome has been isolated by her classmates because of unsavory rumors that she’s dangerous, and because of her curse, she was literally unable to tell people otherwise. In contrast, Shirahana is a popular student adored by many, but her classmates’ idolization of her prevented her from making genuine friendships. In each other, Hinome and Shirahana found someone who wouldn’t treat them differently because of their reputations. Their friendship is based on empathy and a genuine interest in understanding one another, and being someone that the other person can rely on.
Similarly, the series explores the necessity of empathy and support for people suffering from emotional hardships. Both Hinome and Ryuu covet objects as an emotional refuge from their trauma. They withdraw from the world and stake their sense of identity and their very lives on them, believing they are the only outlet of happiness available to them. Imhotep guides them out of their self-hatred, showing them that they don’t have to grapple with complicated emotions alone. They’re able to let go of their unhealthy attachments after overcoming their fear of opening up to other people and forming friendships with empathetic fellows. Similarly, Anubis was looked down upon because he was clumsy and a slow-learner, and desperate to succeed because his mentor threatened to abandon him otherwise. Even though he messes up, he’s trying his best and wants to be of help, and needs someone to guide him. Imhotep recognizes and validates Anubis’ effort, providing him the positive reinforcement and guidance he needs to learn and grow. Through these examples, IM repeatedly emphasizes virtues of kindness and empathy, and extending a helping hand to people in need of a friend to guide them through a rough time in their lives.
While its ancient Egyptian motifs are eye-catching, what makes IM really stand out are the kind-hearted messages at its core. It focuses on people suffering through traumas and feeling isolated, and shows them that they don’t have to suffer alone and can find companionship in other people. It’s a good message to reinforce, and the series tells many heartwarming stories that successfully articulates its themes in enjoyable ways. Another priestly character is introduced towards the end of the volume who seems to be Imohotep’s moral opposite; cold and unconcerned with people’s suffering, berating them for their weakness instead of offering guidance. How Imhotep will challenge this character’s philosophy and priorities, and the ways this rivalry may influence the direction of the series in future volumes, will be something to look forward to. With such a wellspring of mythology to draw inspiration from and such a strong thematic and emotional core, I think IM’s enigmas will be fun to explore.