Attack on Titan Guidebook

By Hajime Isayama and the editors at Kodansha. Released in Japan by Kodansha in two separate volumes, “Inside” and “Outside”. Released in North America by Kodansha Comics.

Shonen manga in Japan get quite popular, and as you’d expect, fans want to know absolutely everything about their favorite characters, things that wouldn’t necessarily come up in the manga proper. For those people, there are guidebooks like these – they consists of bios, recaps, examinations of all the little fiddly bits, character popularity polls, favorite quotes, etc. They allow the creator to reveal some information that would likely fit awkwardly if it had to be inserted into the story proper, and let fans understand the characters and story better – OMG, Jean is an Aries! Just like me!


For those familiar with these sorts of guides, the style is unsurprising, but if you aren’t, be prepared for lots of superlatives. At times it reads like a gossip magazine, with lots of punchy headlines and exclamation marks as it tells the story of the 104th training squad. These are two books released separately in Japan joined together, and sometimes you’re able to see that – the book has spoilers through Vol. 11 of the series, but much of the first half seems to have spoilers only through Vol. 9. It can also be somewhat inconsistent – the book takes pains not to discuss Reiner and Bertholt’s secrets in their bio, but has no issues revealing Ymir’s.

There’s a long interview with Isayama where he discusses the major influences on the series – many may be surprised to here one of the biggest was Muv Luv Alternative, though those who have read the visual novel itself may be less surprised – it’s darker than Higurashi. I was less surprised to hear about the influence of Saving Private Ryan in regards to the emotional reactions of the soldiers. The workings of the manga industry are briefly shown, as Isayama discusses how he was asked to move to a more expensive apartment so that he could fit his assistants in it – but then had to make the series a success or he couldn’t afford the apartment!

Where the guidebook excels is in giving a name and backstory to the minor characters like “girl who dies in Volume 2″ or “that one guy whose name I can never remember”. Isayama’s art is terrible, especially at the start, and this guide is a boon for those who can’t really tell apart the 5-6 different soldiers with short blond hair. There’s also a lot of discussion of the mechanics of titans and how the vertical gear works, and to show it’s not all grim darkness there’s also some cute fake interviews with the cast, and Isayama drew some AU art based on reader suggestions, such as Sasha, Connie and Reiner forming a band.

Obviously this is not something that you want to pick up if you’re new to the series and wish to see what it’s about. Read the actual manga instead. For those who are fans of the manga, though, this gives you lots of facts and figures, reminds you of your favorite moments, and is a good go-to reference guide. Also, I think the original must call Sasha a boke about 80,000 times. “Airhead” is the translation here.

Ranma 1/2, Vols. 7 & 8

By Rumiko Takahashi. Released in Japan by Shogakukan, serialized in the magazine Shonen Sunday. Released in North America by Viz.

I’ve joked several times in the last few weeks about warning people that this volume features the debut of Happosai, but there’s a kernel of truth to that warning: Happosai is repugnant, and a polarizing figure both within Ranma fandom and within the series itself. Not because anyone really likes him – even his fans think he adds some fun comedy but don’t like him personally – but whether the comedy he adds to the series is really needed. Because Happi is defined by being a pervert – yes, an incredibly strong martial arts master pervert, but a pervert just the same. He feels up women, he steals their underwear, he literally gains strength through contact with females. He is a walking trigger warning. He’s meant to be the male version of Cologne, but Cologne’s actions all serve a greater purpose – at least so far – and Ranma learns a great deal from her. For all that Happi is supposed to be training Ranma as his successor, there’s no lessons, no training, and no point. He is a pox on Ranma 1/2, and will be here till the end of the series. He doesn’t even make horrible puns, like Cherry, his spiritual predecessor from UY, did.


(breaths out) I feel better. Now let’s talk about what was fun this volume. Ranma has settled into doing what it does best, which is ‘almost anything goes in the name of comedy’. (It’s not *quite* as over the top as UY, so I added the ‘almost’.) There’s lots of martial arts battles, as we see Ranma, Akane and Shampoo compete in martial arts takeout delivery, as well as Akane and Ranma fighting to defend the name of their supposed school when a Dojo Destroyer comes to town (the Destroyer himself looks like a ridiculous over the top stereotype, and barely speaks, but I’ll gloss over that for now. And there’s plenty of comedy, as Ranma’s class puts on a production of Romeo and Juliet, which means a lot to Akane (who was Romeo as a kid, but now finally gets to be Juliet), but little to any of the various competing Romeos, including Ranma. (I was highly amused to see her yelling at Ranma for not reading the play, as in the end all Takahashi takes from the original is ‘balcony scene’ and ‘kiss’.)

There’s quite a lot of time devoted to Ranma (and sometimes Genma) trying to find a cure for the curse, and there are a few temporary cures but nothing really permanent. While this will still play out across the series, as we get further in Ranma simply gets more accepting of his dual nature, and seeing the desperation shown here is interesting. As for Ranma and Akane themselves, they’re both quite attracted to each other and sympathetic to each other’s pain once they pause to think – but they hardly ever do that anymore, so when we do see such moments (Akane bringing Ranma warm food and drink in the backlot), it’s nice and heartwarming. (The box Happi hides under in that scene, by the way, has a reference to Nura: Rise of the Yokai Clan. Wrong company! Shogakukan should be turning in its grave! Don’t tell me they aren’t dead, I’ve seen what Sunday sales in Japan are like lately.)

Miscellaneous thoughts: At one point, when Genma is at his absolute sketchiest, Kasumi calls him annoying. For Kasumi, this is a devastating comment, particularly this late in the series. Both Genma and Soun come off particularly badly in this volume, both as former disciples of Happi who want to be free of him but can’t do anything about it, and as parents who try to trick their children into marrying each other. Nabiki still exists mostly as the “normal” character – we see her deny she’s related to her family more than once in this volume – and Takahashi’s habit of showing her constantly eating is in full force here. Kuno and Gosunkugi are also as loopy as ever – Gosunkugi in particular suffers so much and is loathed by so many you can’t help but laugh at his pathetic awfulness.

Another solid volume of Ranma, though those who found the series beginning to grate at this point and hoping for more plot resolution are only going to get more annoyed as it goes on. Next time around we’ll introduce our final main cast member, and one who’s even more polarizing in her own way. Not because of her own characteristics, but because of how she gave fans who hate Akane a real alternative, and the ship wars truly began in earnest. Next time, we’ll talk Ukyou Kuonji.

Hayate the Combat Butler, Vol. 24

By Kenjiro Hata. Released in Japan as “Hayate no Gotoku!” by Shogakukan, serialization ongoing in the magazine Shonen Sunday. Released in North America by Viz.

This is probably my favorite volume of Hayate the Combat Butler to date. It manages to resolve the Athena storyline with a lot of fighting spirit, emotional turmoil, and one big “call my name” rescue by Hayate. But is also has a great deal of heart, as we see Hayate’s reunion with Athena, Hina’s heart-to-heart with Ayumu, and some strikingly normal and non-insane life advice from Yukiji. And don’t worry, there’s a good amount of humor here as well, mostly featuring the minor cast back at the hotel having to fight off a pack of mythological beasts. This volume packs a lot of stuff into it, and it’s no surprise that the emotional resolution of Athena’s storyline will carry over into Volume 25.


We also see Nagi at perhaps her most mature, even as she insists that Hayate can protect her from anything. Nagi has been a bit of a polarizing character, being both underage *and* tsundere, but even her detractors seemed to like this scene, where she crushes the stone that represents Hayate’s moral dilemma, and announces that she will deal with the consequences no matter what. Of course, I doubt she really realizes what it’s like for a girl like her to live without money, but it’s still great to see.

Likewise, it’s always nice to see Yukiji as the big sister that she usually tries to avoid being. She senses Hina’s abject depression even over the phone, and so flies over there to set things right. (Hina lampshades that this is possible, as she notes Yukiji would have to fly all the way from Italy… which isn’t that far away from Greece, in fact.) Yukiji’s advice is blunt but necessary, as Hina (and Ayumu) both need to be reminded that even in a manga, you sometimes can’t get the happy ending you want, and that this is what life is – a series of struggles. The friendship forged by Hina and Ayumu is important right now, as they can console each other – and also note that it’s nice to be in love with a man who’s loved the same woman for 10 years now, rather than an indecisive player (which Hayate is often accused of being.)

Hina also gets to be at the final battle, as Ayumu and Aika coerce her into dressing as Red, the super sentai hero. Then a magical sword drags her to the battle (literally) that Hayate is having with a possessed Athena and King Midas. There’s little to no humor here, as we see Athena’s struggles and Hayate’s anguish in raw, unfiltered scenes. Yet even here, Hata can’t resist making cultural references – the entire finale is an homage to the end of Shoujo Kakumei Utena, with Athena trapped in a dark place surrounded by swords, and Hayate breaking through in order to rescue her from her despair. It’s hard not to cry with happiness as they embrace, Midas vanquished at last – even as Hina, making a quick exit, is trying not to cry in emotional pain.

The last chapter is pure romantic shipping fluff, as Athena gives into to her grumpy tsundere side (that 3/4 of this cast seems to possess) and tries fishing for compliments while at the same time being upset by them – witness her attack on Hayate after he notes how he was surprised how large her breasts had gotten. As the volume ends, Athena starts to tell Hayate how she escaped from the castle ten years ago, but I have a feeling that we’re also due for a parting soon – after all, Hayate is up to Vol. 41+ in Japan, and did not end with Hayate and Athena ending up together. So expect the next volume to nudge back towards the comedic status quo. For now, however, this was an amazing volume of shonen manga, and well worth the temporary departure from comedy.