Dorohedoro, Vol. 20

By Q Hayashida. Released in Japan by Shogakukan, serialization ongoing in the magazine Hibana. Released in North America by Viz. Translated by AltJapan Co., Ltd. (Hiroko Yoda + Matt Alt).

The first thing a reader will notice when they pick up this volume of Dorohedoro is how much bigger it is than previous ones. I’m not sure if it’s due to the move from Ikki to Hibana, or if it’s because they’re trying to pack more chapters in per volume so that it doesn’t get above a certain volume count (Hayashida was supposed to have the series end at 20, which clearly isn’t happening), but extra content is always welcome, especially when it brings us a lot of shocking and surprising plot twists. And yes, some incredibly confusing ones as well, to be fair. Add the return of some fan favorites, and a great big heaping of fanservice, and the average Dorohedoro fan should be quite content.

The shocking plot twists (OK, maybe not shocking for some, but I honestly have trouble keeping up with everything in this series, so I was shocked) involves the true nature of The Hole, as revealed by Chidaruma as he waits for his delicious gyoza (and I can’t tell you how happy I was to see gyoza coming back into play in this series, even if it wasn’t Nikaido making it). The Hole’s creation is tragic and sickening, and it helps to show why the battle between sorcerers and everyone else is such a big deal. We also get a lot more about the true nature of Caiman/Kai/Aikawa/Ai, and the slashes there aren’t just for show, as he seems to be cycling through several of those people (and several of those heads) throughout the book, trying to figure out what exactly happened to him when he fell into the Hole so many years ago.

Then there’s the return of En and company, though honestly it’s mostly En – Shin, Noi and the others play only minor roles here (it is nice to see Shin is no longer controlled by evil, though). I was initially rather startled at how uncaring En was to Ebisu, given how much she’s worked towards resurrecting him, but then again, this is En, and he has no idea what happened while he was gone. Plus, to be fair, Ebisu *is* really annoying, partly as a function of the brain damage she’s suffered but also partly as the author just finds it amusing. Speaking of finding things amusing, most of the fanservice in this series has tended to involve Nikaido and her large breasts, and this volume milks that for all it’s worth, as she gets taken out fairly early in a fight and spends the entire rest of the volume topless and helpless. That too also seems to be the author having fun, especially given that the cliffhanger ending is “OMG, what happened to Nikaido’s boobs?”. I’m not making this up.

In any case, there’s a ton of stuff going on in this volume, and I was mostly able to follow along. Of course, we’re mostly caught up with Japan, so don’t expect the next volume till June. But in the meantime, a strong example of why this series continues to be the SigIkki flagship, even if Ikki is no more.

Ranma 1/2, Vols. 35-36

By Rumiko Takahashi. Released in Japan by Shogakukan, serialized in the magazine Shonen Sunday. Released in North America by Viz. Translated by Kaori Inoue, Adapted by Gerard Jones.

I was quite excited by this omnibus of Ranma 1/2 when I got it. Not only does it feature not one but TWO appearances by Akari, my favorite minor character, but is also resolves a plot point. That may not seem like much to those of you who are used to plot and characterization in your manga, but this is Ranma 1/2, the title where everything is done for the humor, and everything will always snap back with few if any lessons learned. Taking this manga and these characters seriously is, as we’ve learned, a mug’s game. But yes, we actually get forward progression here (you can see that she had decided to end Ranma soon). No, Ranma and Akane don’t confess. No, no curses are broken. But Ranma’s mother now knows the truth about her son. And he doesn’t have to kill himself.

The whole sequence leading up to Nodoka discovering the truth is without a doubt the highlight of the book. It also, out of necessity, shows Genma at his absolute worst, a desperate, petty ass who would happily destroy his marriage in exchange for a good meal. As for Ranma, he’s trying really hard to shrug off what his father has taught him to believe, and finally decides to give in and face whatever consequences come from his mother discovering he can turn into a girl. (In fact, his happy expression when he resolves to do this may be one of the best panels in Ranma, period.) There’s also a lot of action, as Ranma and Genma constantly fight back and forth to attempt to stop the other, and it all ends in a fall off a giant cliff into the sea. (I also liked Soun, Kasumi and Nabiki’s understated presence throughout – they’re on Ranma’s side, even if awkwardly.) It’s a really good arc.

The rest of the book is not quite as good. Leaving aside yet another arc devoted to Ranma and Akane mistaking “I am embarrassed by my feelings” for “I hate you”, we have the introduction of Konatsu, a ninja with a poor family situation who somehow ends up at Ucchan’s. Given that fandom has paired Akari and Konatsu together by the function they fill (late-period characters introduced to ‘resolve’ parts of the love septangle), you’d think I’d be more accepting of him, but I’m not really. First of all, unlike Ryouga and Akari, any love seen here is clearly one-sided – Ukyou is literally paying Kanatsu the equivalent of 5 cents to work for her, and barely seems to acknowledge him as a human being. More to the point, though, Konatsu is just a rehash of Tsubasa Kurenai from earlier volumes, and reminds the reader that Rumiko Takahashi is simply not very good at writing trans characters, even giving her a pass of “this is the 1990s”.

And so, despite one piece of forward progression, this volume ends as it begins. In fact, thanks to the destruction of the Saotome home, we now have Nodoka living at the Tendos in addition to Ranma and Genma. Is there anything that can possibly resolve this manga and give it a happy ending>? Well. yes there is, though it depends on how broadly you define “resolve” and “ending”. Stay tuned next time for the final gripping installment of Ranma 1/2!

Nisekoi, Vol. 19

By Naoshi Komi. Released in Japan by Shueisha, serialized in the magazine Weekly Shonen Jump. Released in North America by Viz Media. Translated by Camellia Nieh

I was recently called out for spoiling a plot point in a recent review, and had to go back and put in a disclaimer. Regular readers of my reviews will note that I spoil everything shamelessly, often without thinking. It’s rare when I actually try to keep something a secret for the sake of those who haven’t read it yet (which one could argue defeats the point of reviews, but hey). But it got me to thinking about this most recent volume of Nisekoi, which I haven’t actually done a full review of since it began. It’s now over in Japan, and indeed has also ended in North America, being one of the series that ran in Viz’s Weekly Jump magazine. Any big fan of the series knows how it ended. But of course the volumes are about a year behind the chapters, as with most Jump titles. So, when I talk about this new volume, and note how well the author succeeds at keeping the harem balanced so that the reader isn’t quite sure who Raku will end up with… who am I supposed to be fooling?

I will try, however, for the sake of the one or two casual readers of Nisekoi who read my reviews and also don’t wish to be spoiled (there must be one or two, right?) not to give away the ending. I will note that fans of romantic fluff will love this volume, be they Chitoge fans, Kosaki fans, or Marika fans. (Tsumugi does not get much of a look-in, but she’s had big moments before and will again). We open with the resolution of the “Chitoge is moving away’ arc, in which Chitoge’s father, who’s always been pretty cook, gives in at last to his daughter’s demands. Raku defensing her is awesome, even if it is (of course) undercut by his realization of who she is to him… his BEST friend! Yes, Raku is still dense, as otherwise the title would be over. Most of the volume then covers Kosaki and Raku on a date… sort of. Tricked into it by Haru, but not really against the idea, this shows off the shy, blushing, embarrassing aspect of romance, which many Western harem readers prefer to Chitoge or Marika’s more forward brusqueness.

Lastly, speaking of Marika and brusqueness, Raku is literally kidnapped by her and brought to a South Seas island (which he takes far better than you’d expect, as Marika herself notes… Raku is a nice guy almost to a fault). At first this just seems like the usual Marika that we’ve seen before, going too far as always. But Marika’s health has always been in the background of her character as well, and it may finally be failing her. There have been ominous hints that she is, if not dying, at least far more ill than she lets on. In which case, vanishing to a South Sea island, and then getting shipwrecked on a different, more deserted one, may not be the wisest choice. But then, of all the heroines, Marika’s love has always been the most desperate.

So there’s something for everyone here. Fans who know how Japanese harem mangas tend to resolve may have a sneaking suspicion who will eventually win, but Nisekoi does a much better job than most in making the journey fun and heartwarming, mostly as Raku is the type where you understand why they love him. This is still quite highly recommended.