Umineko: When They Cry, Vol. 14

Story by Ryukishi07; Art by Hinase Momoyama. Released in Japan in two separate volumes as “Umineko no Naku Koro ni: Dawn of the Golden Witch” by Square Enix, serialized in the magazine GFantasy. Released in North America by Yen Press. Translated by Stephen Paul.

Two more volumes of the 6th arc in this series, and how’s Battler doing? Not great, it would seem. His game, it is becoming increasingly apparently, is just duplicating what was done last game, simply because that worked. He’s decided to enter the Love Competition that George/Shannon and Jessica/Kanon are having, with Fledgling Beato as his partner, which raises all sort of questions. More to the point, though, Battler is still far too nice to really be good at this sort of thing. (At one point he tries to praise Lambda for the same thing, and she essentially shuts him down cold.) Battler thinks the best of people, and is easily moved by a girl’s tears. This allows Erika and company to get the upper hand, which I’m sure will rebound horribly on him in the final volume of the arc.

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Speaking of Erika, this volume also attempts to give her something of a backstory, as Dlanor asks her why she hates magic so much. The backstory rings a bit false – partly as it presents an Erika who sounds to me more college age, whereas the Erika we see here is mid-teens at most. But mostly it’s because it is very obvious from the start that Erika is Bernkastel’s “piece” – it’s Bern self-inserting her way into the story to cause havoc. Thus a “real” tragic backstory for Erika pales in comparison to, say, Bern’s own. That said, the background does show us a major theme of the series. Erika couldn’t bring herself to trust her boyfriend as she found circumstantial evidence that he was cheating on her, and though Dlanor tries to present counter evidence that he loved her, she can’t believe it because it’s not “the red truth”. In other words, love requires having faith in someone, which is something Erika can’t do. (She fares far better with Dlanor, honestly, and the yuri tease that was mildly in the VN is amped up here.)

In the meantime, there’s still the murders of the first Twilight, which are framed as part of the love competition going on. George manages to escape his mother’s clutching grasp (Pink Floyd’s ‘Mother’ resonates through this whole scene), and Jessica is able to kill off Kyrie after seeing a truly terrifying example of envy and hatred in action – Kyrie is scary. (Notably, George is rather sanguine about his murder, while Jessica is in tears after hers.) Rosa and Maria are killed fairly perfunctorily, although Maria’s rage at seeing her mother killed is very well-drawn, some of the best art in the book. Fledgling Beato may be confused as to who the man from 19 years ago is (hint: it’s not Battler), but is able to knock off Natsuhi with the help of her father/lover/mentor. (The incest subtext is icky.) And battler manages to top them all by killing himself – yes, in this game board, Battler dies on the first Twilight.

So what’s next? A lot of pain for Battler, I suspect, as I have a feeling he’ll soon be trapped in a Logic Error. And there’s still the remainder of the love competition, as we try to figure out why Shannon, Kanon and Beatrice can’t all be happy with their partners – only one can prevail! Let’s hope that the next volume ends with a nice, happy wedding.

Kagerou Daze V: The Deceiving

By Jin (Shinzen no Teki-P) and Sidu. Released in Japan by Enterbrain. Released in North America by Yen On. Translated by Kevin Gifford.

Though not without its issues, this is still overall the strongest volume of Kagerou Daze to date. Each volume has quietly doled out tiny bits of the backstory while letting us enjoy the wacky antics of Shintaro meeting the Mekakushi-Dan. This new book ditches Shintaro entirely and focuses instead on Kano and his own tragic past, which he explains to Ene over the course of the book. It really does give me exactly what I wanted to see from the previous books – why Kano appeared to Shintaro as Ayano and gave him a nervous breakdown, why Ayano is no longer with us, a suggestion of who the main villain is (though that’s still not quite clear), and the origins of the Mekakushi-Dan, giving much needed depth to Kano and Kido, and a bit of depth to Seto, who continues to be the one character who gets nothing to do.

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As it turns out, most of the kids in the Mekakushi-Dan are orphans. Kano we initially see with his mother, who psychically abuses him (and by the way, Kano’s POV of the abuse and his justification for it is chilling and very well done, possibly some of the best writing in the series to date), but after a burglar kills his mother and living with relatives is messed up by the awakening of his eye powers (turning into a dead woman is never a way to win friends and influence people), he’s sent to an orphanage where he meets Kido, who is a giant ball of anger and can’t control her invisibility, and Seto, who cries an awful lot and is also sometimes telepathic, but again can’t control it. (Kano, by the way, controls his own powers through physical pain, which is utterly horrifying, and he knows it.)

Where this ties into the rest of the plot is when all three are adopted by Ayano’s mother, and she makes the most of becoming their big sister. Unfortunately, this backstory is not meant to show us the few happy, loving years they had – in a matter of a page or two, Ayano’s mother is dead and her father seemingly possessed by the “snakes” we’ve heard about in prior books – snakes which are also in each of the group. And finally we learn why Ayano killed herself. It was not, as it had been suggested, due to self-esteem issues or anything to do with Shintaro (though when impersonating her to fake her death, Kano is not above telling Shintaro it is his fault, which of course leads to his seclusion in the first place), but to stop the snake inside her father. Did it work? Well…

The one flaw the book has to me is the wraparound plot. I knew we’d see Ene becoming Takane again at some point, but it feels very tacked on here, as if the author finally got a cutoff point from his publishers and realized he had to start wrapping things up. (The series is still running in Japan, so we have at least 2 volumes to go after this.) Also, Kano’s ambivalence to his traitorous nature, while it fits his character, is not as emotionally satisfying as I’d like – because he’s always deceiving others and himself, it’s hard to get worked up about him working for the enemy (though I suspect he’s a triple agent, to be honest.) Also, if you’re going to include a child whose physical abuse made such an impression that pain is the main thing that makes him come back to himself, don’t have his best friend constantly hitting him like a tsundere. It sends a bad message.

Overall, though, this volume represents a huge upswing in the franchise, and I am eagerly awaiting the 6th volume in the series (which may be the last for a while – we’re catching up to Japan).

Attack on Titan Anthology

By Various Artists, based on the manga created by Hajime Isayama. Released in North America by Kodansha Comics.

This review is based on an advance copy provided by the publisher.

The moment this was announced, its potential was always going to be sky-high. Yes, Japan also has some anthologies based on prominent titles, and we’ve seen a few of them over here, but they’ve tended to be either a) only comedic (Evangelion), or b) not very good (Code Geass). But a cross-cultural anthology like this is unusual. Plus the talent announced made the American comics reader sit up and take notice. Faith Erin Hicks, Gail Simone, Scott Snyder, Paul Pope, Evan Dorkin… names so well-known that even the manga-only fan will be familiar with them. And so yes, there was always going to be a high bar to clear. I am pleased to say, though, that it soars over it easily, and manages to be one of the most riveting titles I’ve read this year, taking the world of Attack on Titan and opening it up to become so many other different things.

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For the most part, the main cast of Attack on Titan are used sparingly here, though if you do want to see them there is Evan Dorkin and Sarah Dyer’s hilarious Attack on Attack on Titan, which puts the cast in a Milk and Cheese style gag comic that goes WAY beyond what we’ve seen in Junior High or Spoof on Titan. But you don’t really miss the cast. We do get some stories set within the series proper, or before it, as humanity fights against the titans or against the oppressive rule that constricts them. If you enjoy the fighting in the series, you’ve love Michael Avon Oeming’s Live And Let Die, which shows us a conflict between safety and freedom. There’s also Gail Simone and Phil Jimenez’ Good Dog, an almost wordless tale of a woman and her dog taking on a titan with the best possible derring-do. On a more tragic level, Asaf and Tomer Hanuka’s Memory Maze shows us how the Titans’ existence can devastate one family, even as the years go by.

There are also stories that use the Titans in different settings or in different genres. Genevieve Valentine and David Lopez’ An Illustrated Guide to the Walled Cities starts off cute and gets darker as it goes along, showing us one woman’s attempt to show off the wonders of the city while dealing with a repressive, cruel monarchy. Rihanna Pratchett, Ben Applegate and Jorge Corona’s Skies Above shows us what could have been under that same cruel monarchy, and all the opportunities that were lost, as well as some lovely action and tragic romance. Si Spurrier, Kate Brown and Paul Duffield’s Fee Fie Foh sees the invading titans as a Celtic fantasy, with an added dose of the corrupted hero who must relearn what heroism truly means. And while I found Ronald Wimberly’s Bahamut the most difficult to get into of the stories in this book, it manages to succeed on evocative mood alone.

Be assured, it’s not all grim tragedy in here. Aside from the aforementioned Evan Dorkin comics, we get Faith Erin Hicks’ The Titan’s Laugh, which shows the use of a good jokebook (and also shows us how grim and desperate the battle still is – the punchline wouldn’t be as hilarious if the serious consequences weren’t played up beforehand). Sam Humphries and Damion Scott’s Attack on Playtime is every young child’s revenge fantasy come to life, rebelling against cruel teachers, sadistic gym instructors, and unfeeling administration. And Brendan Fletcher, Cameron Stewart and Babs Tarr show us in Attack on Demoncon that when it comes to sexual harassment at a comic convention, turning into a Titan can be quite empowering.

If you like Attack on Titan, this is a great chance to see its world used to tell dynamic and evocative stories. If you enjoy Western Comics and have heard of the title through the creators, you may be surprised at the grim yet hopeful universe that we see. Both fans should be happy with this anthology, as it is an absolute delight.