Clockwork Planet, Vol. 1

By Yuu Kamiya, Tsubaki Himana, and Kuro. Released in Japan by Kodansha, serialization ongoing in the magazine Shonen Sirius. Released in North America by Kodansha Comics. Translated by Daniel Komen.

I came into this series knowing next to nothing about it, except that, judging by the cover, it seemed to be sci-fi of some sort. It’s based on a series of novels co-created by the guy who writes No Game No Life, but thankfully seems to mostly lack the overly perverse aspects of that series. The premise is that a young, bullied teenager who lives on his own in a decaying apartment is actually an engineer savant, able to fix anything provided he can “hear” where the problem is. This is made easier by the fact that things in this world run on gears and clockwork (hence the title), though the aesthetic seems to be more Blade Runner than steampunk. The story starts when a broken robot girl comes crashing into his apartment, and after he fixes her takes over much of his life. Oh yes, and everyone in the city is about to be destroyed by an evil conspiracy.

The manga adaptation of the series is mostly functional, but there are several very nice pictures of the city itself and its gears, showing that the artist is quite capable when she sets her mind to it. The male lead is OK, I guess, suffering at the moment from being a bullied kid who sort of assumes he’s a loser, as he has no idea how rare his engineering talent is. The main reason to get this series, though, is the robot girl, Ryuzu, who is amazingly rude in regards to humanity as a whole and says so frequently. Once she discovers what Naoto is capable of, she’s prepared to do anything for him, leading to the funniest scene in the book, as she tries to get him to have a wonderful school life without bothering to take into account the other students around her at all. Every time you turn the page you can expect her to say new horrible things, and it’s a major selling point.

I was less enthused by the other main characters, who are introduced halfway through. Marie is an engineering prodigy from a well-known family, already with a doctorate despite still being a teenager. She’s also rude, but in a typical “I am arrogant and don’t have time for you” way, so it’s not as amusing. Admittedly, it isn’t supposed to be – it quickly becomes apparent that Marie and her bodyguard are dealing with the evil conspiracy I mentioned above, which is the sort of evil conspiracy that deems 20 million lives as acceptable losses. I think this simply suffers from being less interesting than the first half rather than any major character faults, and I think I will like Marie better when she interacts with other people, but it does leave the book a bit unbalanced.

But overall, a very good start. I want to see more of the world itself, and flesh out Marie and her bodyguard, but I definitely want to keep reading more. And I definitely want to hear more of Ryuzu’s sharp-tongued dialogue, which is the main selling point of this series so far.

Log Horizon: The Gold of the Kunie

By Mamare Touno and Kazuhiro Hara. Released in Japan by Enterbrain. Released in North America by Yen On. Translated by Taylor Engel.

Confession to make: I’m an extrovert. It’s actually been difficult for me to accept this, as most of my close friends are introverts, as are most of the people I interact with on Tumblr and the like. But much as I whine “but sometimes I don’t like interacting with others either”, there’s no getting around my extroverted nature. As such, I find Shiroe very frustrating and hard to take at times, and I empathized very much with Naotsugu in this book, who knows there’s not much he can do but be there for Shiroe and let him work things out at his own pace. Of course, Shirou is trying to pull off an even bigger scheme than usual – this is essentially the Log Horizon equivalent of a heist movie, only with the true objective not being piles and piles of money – well, not DIRECTLY. The true goal is freedom and security.

The majority of this book is a raid, and once again I am painfully reminded that I don’t game. More than any other light novel that details game-like aspects of a world, Log Horizon depends on its readers being gamers. This means there’s lots of discussions of balanced parties and of HP and MP and the like, to the point where we need extended appendixes just to discuss MORE of it. Thankfully, it’s not completely incomprehensible, and enough of it is written in standard action movie terms that I was never lost. But we’re not allowed to forget that the people trapped in this world are all hardcore gamers. This goes double for William Massachusetts (I will never get used to that name) and his guild Silver Sword, whose close bonds are a reflection of a group of people who found real-life interaction difficult but were able to find true bonds online – and also learn more about how to interact offline. His speech of anguished frustration is a highlight of the book.

There’s a new regular introduced here, and I’m not sure how I feel about them. Tetora is a self-proclaimed “idol” who also happens to be a Level 93 cleric, and for a while you suspect has been added to the book in order to replace Akatsuki as someone to bounce off Naotsugu properly. The gender reveal – that Tetora is actually a boy, though it’s not clear if they just dress as a girl or have a female game body – seems rather odd and last-minute, and I assume that we will get a bit more of this later beyond “I just like acting overly cutesy and annoying”. Interestingly, Taylor Engel uses female pronouns the entire book till the reveal, then has Shiroe switch to male ones. How does Tetora see her/his gender? To be honest, I found Tetora a bit grating, but that’s possibly as I’m a massive Naotsugu/Marielle shipper, and don’t want someone horning in on their slowly developing couplehood. Luckily, we see a bit of that relationship here as well.

There’s a bit more going on here that will impact future books – Krusty has vanished, and his lieutenant seems to have permanently lost her right arm. This likely ties into the “flavor text” from the previous volumes. But the majority of this volume had the same goal as the 6th did for Akatsuki – get Shiroe to open up, explain things, and stop trying to take the entire world on his shoulders. Whether that will stick is something we’ll have to see about in future books. In the meantime, next book we’ll focus on the younger members of Log Horizon again. This is a good, solid light novel series that may appeal to the reader who finds Sword Art Online a bit too outgoing.

Fruits Basket Collector’s Edition, Vol. 11

By Natsuki Takaya. Released in Japan by Hakusensha, serialized in the magazine Hana to Yume. Released in North America by Yen Press. Translated by Sheldon Drzka.

This is the penultimate omnibus of Fruits Basket, and has most of the things you’d expect to see. Kyo finishes telling Tohru about his past with her mother, and because he hates himself, is really upset that Tohru doesn’t get mad about it. Akito is also dealing with self-hatred, and it’s to Takaya’s credit that the resolution to Akito and Tohru’s talk is not being stabbed with a knife (though admittedly, the crumbling cliff feels VERY deus ex machina, and I could do without the ‘kissing the concussed girl’ too). And of course the curse breaks for everyone, which allows those in couples to hug their loved ones, or those who aren’t in couples to wander the streets alone in tears because I dunno, Takaya is just mean. In any case, it’s Fruits Basket. All the feels are contained within.

Ren has the cover but doesn’t feature in the book personally. Her presence is felt throughout Akito and Tohru’s confrontation, though. Tohru realizes what the reader has, which is that Akito is in many ways similar to the other Sohmas, i.e. she’s dealing with emotional trauma from parental abuse. This doesn’t excuse what she put everyone through, but it does help Tohru to understand why her declaration of “I’m going to break the curse” meant, to Akito, “I’m going to destroy your life”. Tohru is still reeling from Kyo’s “disillusionment”, but more power to her for talking Akito down, and helping her to understand that the paralyzing fear of being rejected is what love is all about. And then there’s that cliff fall, which is *so* ridiculous that Shigure has to ask Akito if Tohru was pushed.

The remainder of the volume has Tohru in the hospital, and Kyo undergoing a huge torrent of abuse because, thanks to Yuki, everyone knows what he said to Tohru right before the accident. This does allow Kyo to attempt to move on from his past, which means confronting his birth father, who is an amazingly awful monster, but who Kyo also now sees as sad and small. It’s one of the better scenes in the book, and shows off that, despite what the rest of the cast has been screaming at him, Kyo has matured. Of course, the best scenes in the book are those where the curse breaks, and we see the aftermath from everyone’s eyes. Kyo and Tohru reuniting and declaring their love for each other is wonderful, but it’s easily topped by realizing that Kyo, despite being hugged, isn’t transforming, and his ripping off his bracelet. Tohru’s face as he does this may be the best panel in all of Fruits Basket.

Things aren’t perfect. Aside from the deus cliff machina, Takaya’s side pairings aren’t always developed as they should be, and she relies on the audience connecting dots that she hasn’t actually put into the manga itself. Thus while I like the basic idea of Kureno and Uotani, there’s no real feeling or emotion behind their getting together. (I do agree with his thoughts that he needs to be far away from Akito). Yuki and Machi fares a little better, and certainly she tried to develop it in the later books, but it still feels rushed. I did like the idea of Yuki calling her out to explain the curse, only to have to break right as she arrives. And now we have only one volume left to go, and given there’s only one regular book left to put in it, I expect there should be some extra content included as well. What will it be? Find out next month. In the meantime, still one of the top shoujo manga, despite its faults.