Devils and Realist, Vol. 1

By Utako Yukihiro and Madoka Takadono. Released in Japan as “Makai Ouji: Devils and Realist” by Ichijinsha, serialization ongoing in the magazine Comic Zero Sum. Released in North America by Seven Seas.

It’s timely that Dictatorial Grimoire has just ended, because this series has a very similar feel to it. A young, somewhat serious man discovers that he has a larger role to play in the supernatural, and is attended by a somewhat smug older man who can explain the plot to him. The man in this case is William Twining, whose family business (I’m guessing tea, from the name) has just collapsed, leaving him struggling to figure out how to stay at his expensive English public school. Luckily, he stumbles across a magic circle that summons a Duke of Hell, which is having a bit of a succession crisis.

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This is the sort of series that lies of dies by its protagonist, and luckily Devils and realist has a protagonist who is up to the job. William Twining is the Number One Reason to read this manga, as his humorless bullheaded approach to life is alternately his one saving grace and also completely hilarious. We sympathize with his inability to immediately accept that such things as Dukes of Hell and Goat Butlers exist (clearly he hasn’t read enough Umineko), but as the volume goes on and more and more supernatural things and people come into play, his denial starts to drive the humor as well as the plot. He can calmly explain to his friend what’s really going on, and then immediately denounce everything he just said with cries of “SCIENCE!”. I loved him.

I am less enamored with the rest of the volume. Dantalion, the Duke of Hell in question, is a lot less interesting, though it’s good that he doesn’t have the completely invulnerable aura of smug that so many of these characters do. (It’s there, it’s just not invulnerable.) William’s friend Isaac seems to be thrown into the mix merely as contrast, as he’s a magic user and believer in all sorts of occult things (naturally, this means he gets our heroes into trouble.) And far too much of the plot relies on people explaining the machinations of Hell and its elections to William, instead of them coming naturally from the plot. Honestly, I want to go back to Hell for a bit, rather than lurking around the school.

Still, there’s a good foundation to build on here. The cast can be pleasingly snarky, particularly William. There’s clearly something going on with his one remaining servant, Kevin, which I’m sure we’ll see in future volumes. There’s also lots of BL tease for those who are inclined. I’m not sure whether I really care who ends up being the new King of Hell (the Kings seem to be the Permanent Secretaries to Lucifer’s Prime Minister), but I do very much want to see William having to decide everything and finding it incredibly annoying. And saying so. At length. A good fantasy, recommended for fans of Black Butler, Dictatorial Grimoire, and the like.

A Certain Scientific Railgun, Vol. 9

By Kazuma Kamachi and Motoi Fuyukawa. Released in Japan as “Toaru Kagaku no Railgun” by ASCII Media Works, serialization ongoing in the magazine Dengeki Daioh. Released in North America by Seven Seas.

Last time I noted that Academy City was fostering an entire world of superheroes, and this new volume shows us how dark that world really is. Every time we’ve seen a science or research project in either Index (now licensed by Yen Press!) or Railgun, it’s been bad news for those being experimented on, those uncovering the conspiracy, and even random passersby. And now with this new volume we have two of the bigger ‘experiments’ meeting each other, as Misaka and Shokuhou reluctantly team up to try to save the sisters. Unfortunately, the sisters are not the endgame of our latest mad researcher villain, Misaka is – which means we once again get a really nasty cliffhanger.

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It is not particularly a surprise that Shokuhou turns out to not be quite as evil as she seemed, but her similarities and differences with Misaka are fascinating nevertheless. They both grew up as lab rats and are now having to deal with the results of that, either a) through destruction (Misaka) or b) through manipulation (Shokuhou). Of course, growing up as a mind reader and manipulated the way she was, Shokuhou also ends up being VERY PARANOID INDEED, which is what drove most of her actions against Misaka in Vols. 7 and 8. She doesn’t want to deal with anyone whose mind she can’t get at. As for Misaka, once she finds out that there’s a different enemy behind all this she allies with Misaki, though there’s a halthy dose of mistrust on her end as well (leading to a wonderfully amusing scene where Misaka thinks she’s been betrayed only to find it’s just Shokuhou’s bad physical exertion.)

The rest of the cast get some nice things to do, bar Uiharu who is sadly just used as bait this time around. Kuroko gets to be badass with a wheelchair, one of the most dynamic shots of the entire volume. (I’m a little annoyed at her ‘I’m straight’ towards Misaka at one point (this is during her memory loss). Are we supposed to read this as her not being gay but just obsessed with Misaka? Either way it makes me grumpy, really, but then Kuroko’s character is problematic in general.) As for Saten, she gets to do some detective work and show off that being a Level 0 does not mean you are merely cannon fodder in this world. Oh yes, she also meets A Certain Protagonist for the first time…

I’m not sure how I feel about Touma showing up here, particularly as I suspect it will lead to Misaka being in peril and having to be saved by him (judging from the cliffhanger). Now admittedly the entire plot of Index can be summed up by “X in in peril, Touma saves them”, but this is Misaka’s series, and so far the only time she’s really had to rely on Touma bailing her out is during the Sisters arc, which was already canon in Index so couldn’t really be written around. We’ll see how well the manga carries it off, but I suspect we’ll be seeing a lot of Touma’s right hand in Vol. 10.

Another excellent volume, overall, though, with a pleasingly smug villain who it will be lovely to see get his eventually. Sadly, given we’ve caught up, we’ll have to wait till January to see what happens next. In the meantime, enjoy everyone fighting against the conspiracy (which, this being the Indexverse, is almost all true).

Sakuracon License Roundup

Well, we’ve had another con, and this time three big publishers were there to say things about manga: Viz, Yen, and Dark Horse. What did they say?

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Not much from Viz, which usually saves its big announcements for the summer. They did indicate that one of their recent Weekly Jump digital series, World Trigger, would be getting a physical release this fall. With a plot that features high school students with superpowers taking on invaders from another dimension, it’s hard for me to think of it as anything but ‘Precure for guys’, but I will be interested to see what it’s like – Jump’s really been hitting its stride lately.

The big announcements were from Yen Press, and not just in the manga department. Let’s start with manga, though, as I have a feeling that most of the fandom will be focusing on one particular license, so I’ll save that for the end. King of Eden is by the author best known for collaborating with Naoki Urasawa on Billy Bat and others Takashi Nagasaki (aka Richard Woo). Well, Billy Bat is still unlicensed, but we do have King of Eden, a new horror series with art by SangCheol Lee, who I am totally unfamiliar with. This one looks to be worldwide digital, so my guess is it’s starting in Japan at the same time it does here.

Pandora Hearts is getting an artbook, Odds and Ends, which will be hardcover and have a slipcase, like many Japanese artbooks these days. Everything’s going upscale.

Gou-dere Sora Nagihara is the ecchi title of the con. It’s by Suu Minazuki, creator of Sora no Otoshimono. Our hero is an otaku in love with a fictional character. One day she comes to life before him, but her personality is not quite what he was expecting. She apparently decides to get her new master a harem, or at least help him get some action. This is from Hakusensha’s Young Animal Arashi, as if the description didn’t already tell you that (it was either that or Champion Red). We shall see.

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Also from Hakusensha, from their sort of unclassifiable magazine Rakuen Le Paradis (think of it along the lines of Manga Erotics F), we get 14-sai no Koi, which I have been reliably informed is ‘excruciatingly adorable’. It features two 14-year-olds who are very wise and mature for their years… but they’re still 14, and falling in love with each other is going to bring all the awkward that this entails. The author, Fuka Mizutani, is best known here for several yuri stories in various anthologies. This isn’t yuri, but I feel her fans will want to seek it out anyway. It certainly sounds great to me.

Lastly on the manga front, we have a new title by Aki, whose Olympos Yen had previously brought over here, and perhaps best known for Utahime. Elhanburg no Tenshi ran in Shodensha’s Haruca, one of their more obscure josei magazines. Two childhood friends take over a castle supposedly haunted by an angel, but things quickly turn south when a woman becomes involved. Given my experience with Olympos, my hope is to have a better handle on what’s going on with this plot.

And then there’s light novels. Yen has had more success with this genre than any other publisher, something that they did not hesitate to bring up at the con. They’re putting out an omnibus hardcover of the Another novel, which had been released digitally a year or so ago, and whose manga they also released. However, they’re also creating a new imprint just for light noels, Yen On! What will debut from it this fall?

It wouldn’t be a light novel imprint without an awkward, long title that ends in a question mark, so let’s introduce ourselves to Dungeon ni Deai o Motomeru no wa Machigatte Iru Darou ka?, aka DanMachi, which Yen is releasing over here as ‘Is It Wrong To Try To Pick Up Girls In A Dungeon?’. This seems to be another fantasy series along the lines of Zero’s Familiar, with a boy who wants to be an adventurer meeting a goddess who has trouble getting worshippers. I’ll bet you two to one it’s zany.

However, this was all a prelude to the big announcement.

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Yes, you’re not seeing things. To Aru Majutsu no Index, aka A Certain Magical Index. I’m not sure if Yen has licensed all 32+ novels right at the moment… my guess is about 6 with an option for more. But it’s certainly been one of the most requested titles of the last several years, and its spinoff series, A Certain Scientific Railgun, is selling quite well for Seven Seas. (As for the Index manga… trust me, read the books, it’s better.) I’m very interested to see how this sells. The lead male, Touma, is a divisive figure who acquires a harem yet makes no moves on any of them, and also has a story-breaker power he uses at least once per book. The heroine, Index… well, even that’s arguable, as Index may not actually be the series heroine so much as the series mascot. She also has a personality that Western fans have not exactly taken to their bosoms. That said, I really hope that everyone who demanded this series be licensed actually goes out and buys it, because this is a big investment, and kudos to Yen for going for it. Also, it has lots of cool things happening.

Lastly, we have Dark Horse, who added quite a bit of manga, to my surprise. Their continued re-release of CLAMP continues with the Legal Drug series coming out as an omnibus this fall. They’ve also licensed the sequel, Drug & Drop. Both series are published whenever CLAMP feels like it, so it should be easy to catch up with Japan. They’re also starting to digitize the bigger CLAMP titles, such as Card Captor Sakura and Chobits, later this spring.

There’s also the OreImo spinoff Ore no Kouhai ga Konna ni Kawaii Wake ga Nai (My Kouhai Can’t Be This Cute), which Dark Horse is sensibly retitling OreImo: Kuroneko. This ASCII Mediaworks series runs in Dengeki G’s, and is, as you might guess, focused on Kuroneko’s storyline in this series. Given the way the light novel series recently ended, I will be interested to see if its fandom is still around to get this, but hey, it’s cute and moe as heck.

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And we have not one, but TWO titles from Satoshi Kon, whose Tropic of the Sea was released by Vertical recently. Opus came out in the mid-90s right before the author directed Perfect Blue, and was never finished in Tankobon form, though Tokuma Shoten published the ending in in the volume collection, which we’ll be seeing here. There is also Seraphim: 266613336 Wings, which was written by Mamoru Oshii, a creator that I have a lot of issues with. It’s also a mid-90s manga, from Animage magazine, and may I just note that that is an awful lot of wings in the title. If I were an angel, I’d want to cut back to maybe 4, or even less.

So that’a a lot of new stuff. What appeals to you the most?