About Sean Gaffney

Sean Gaffney has been reading manga since 1996, writing fanfiction in the manga and anime world since 1996, but only decided to start a manga blog in 2009. No one is quite sure why, as talking endlessly is one of his favorite things. He’s also written guest posts at Erica Friedman’s Okazu. His favorite manga things to discuss are shoujo with cheerful yet oblivious heroines, defending angry tsundere girls, and pretending he doesn’t ship. His favorite non-manga things to discuss are classic cartoons from the 1930s to 1960s, William Shakespeare (and other Elizabethan/Jacobean playwrights), and Frank Zappa. But really, he’ll happily talk about anything, even if he has to Google it first to pretend he knows all about it. He lives in Connecticut.

Haven’t You Heard? I’m Sakamoto, Vol. 1

By Nami Sano. Released in Japan as “Sakamoto Desu Ga?” by Enterbrain, serialization ongoing in the magazine hertz. Released in North America by Seven Seas.

I’ve been waiting for this series for a long time, and it’s been worth the wait. This may be surprising, given that on the surface, the title seems like a simple gag manga. But the execution of its one gag is what matters, and, like its eponymous character, Haven’t You Heard? I’m Sakamoto does it with coolness, flair and style. This is not a manga to be read ironically – if you go into this waiting to see the jokes getting undercut, you will be sorely disappointed. This is a straight up look at one of the coolest kids ever, and how not even his enemies can possibly stand up against his sheer force of personality. The humor comes from what Sakamoto does and how he does it – and the realization that he’s not only incredibly cool, but also incredibly strange.

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Of course, Sakamoto on his own is only half of the joke. Because of his very nature, he inspires frustration, jealousy and desire in those around him. We see the school bullies, angry as all the girls have totally fallen for him, trying to teach Sakamoto to know his place. We also see one of the bullied ones, who gets training on how to develop self-respect and fight back from Sakamoto (who also makes the most amazing McDonald’s clerk you’ll ever see). Another classmate wants desperately to stand out, be it via trendy fashions or just being the class clown. And though all the girls may swoon over Sakamoto, they’re not any better off – his total obliviousness to subtle love overtures leads to frustration and jealousy among the female classmates.

It’s interesting to think about how much of Sakamoto’s straightforward cluelessless is just an act. Clearly some of it is – he seems to get that the girls are fighting over him and tries to resolve it in his usual eccentric way, and early on has reactions to the attempted bullying that almost seem like a sneer. But as the book goes on we begin to realize that Sakamoto is not merely the coolest man alive, but also incredibly bizarre and sometimes incredibly obtuse. Keeping the balance is important – you’re never quite sure in the final chapter whether he’s driving another bully into fending for himself by being over-solicitous, or is genuinely, terrifyingly unaware of how creepy he’s getting.

Nami Sano’s art is also excellent, and fits the type of humor she’s trying to tell – this wouldn’t work if the art were more cartoonlike. Sakamoto’s poses, seen throughout, are drawn to look as amazing as possible, and he can make even the most trivial task seem easy – though he’s at his best when the tasks are almost impossible, such as skewering a hornet by its stinger with only his compass point. There’s not really any character development or plot to speak of here, but this isn’t that type of manga. Instead we are here to be amazed at Sakamoto, watch his antics along with the rest of his class, and wonder if he really is human after all – and if so, how can we be more like him? Even if you aren’t normally a fan of gag manga, give this a try – I guarantee you’ll laugh out loud at least once during the volume.

Log Horizon: The Knights of Camelot

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

This second volume of Log Horizon improves on the first, doubling down on its world-building and showing us what it would be like to have to set up an entire governing body from scratch, particularly when there’s a limit to what penalties you can enact for immoral but not technically illegal behavior. Some folks, such as our heroes, regard abusing the rules of this new world for profit and ruthlessness to be no fun. Others are perfectly happy to enslave children to mass-produce what they need. And, despite the obvious black-and-white morality on display there, there’s a long argument that talks about what can actually be done given the resources and authority they have.

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The young kids seen on the cover are the twins that Shiroe occasionally mentioned in the first book. He had happened across them when they were just starting out, and helped them slowly advance through some beginner quests. Now they’re trapped in slavery, sleeping on hard cement floors and going out to get ingredients for useful potions which are then sold to those who DON’T need them. That said, they did agree to join the Hamelin guild, even in trickery, so, unless Shiroe can buy the entire building and kick who he wants out (which is prohibitively expensive), there’s not a lot that he can do. Which frustrates him intensely. Shiroe’s brilliant tactics keep getting undercut by his own self-hatred, as he keeps justifying making this world a better place as his own selfishness, and framing everything in the worst way.

I hadn’t thought that one of the minor aspects of the first book – food is bland and tasteless, so unenjoyable – would wind up being the main plot point of the second book. Once Nyanta, the Obi-wan Kenobi of this series (though not dead yet), discovers how you can make tasty food, suddenly endless possibilities spiral outward. It’s up to Shiroe and the Crescent Moon Guild to corral those possibilities and make sure that they can be used as a negotiating tool. I really love the look we get at the Crescent Moon Guild here – Marielle proves to be an emotional center, and we see a lot more of her self-doubt here even as she tries to cover it up with her dazzling smile. Meanwhile, Henrietta proves to be even smarter than Shiroe when she’s not busy trying to molest Akatsuki.

I had one or two niggles – when discussing what the new government should make illegal, rape was mentioned only as ‘between those of the opposite sex’, which left a bad taste in my mouth, especially given the aforementioned molestation being used as a running gag with no actual concern about Akatsuki’s lack of consent. And again, for non-gamers there really is a lot of technical detail in this book that goes over my head sometime. The Round Table meeting also introduced a bunch of people all at once, and I hope that we’ll see more of them in future books, but I could barely match names to lines – only Soujiro Seta made an impression, and that’s because he got to be the cute bishie.

Overall, though, this novel expands on the possibilities of the first and gives us a lot more cast, along with introducing a few ‘regulars’ – I look forward to seeing how the twins do in Shiroe’s new guild. I also look forward to more of Naogetsu and Akatsuki, who had surprisingly little to do in this book. Definitely recommended.

License Roundup – SDCC/Otakon

Summer is always the biggest time for new announcements, and after a huge license post for AX, I took a break to find my newsfeed drowning in new licenses for SDCC, Otakon, and various other places. Let’s see what’s coming soon, OK?

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Yeah, I’m starting with Udon Entertainment. Known over here in North America mostly for their deluxe expensive artbooks, and the occasional foray into children’s titles, Udon quietly blew everyone’s mind at SDCC with the announcement of the Rose of Versailles manga, thought to be one of the impossible licenses (you know, like Legend of Galactic Heroes). Originally running in Shueisha’s Margaret back in the 1970s, if you’ve seen any anime that has a woman with a sword, it’s influenced by this. It is, even with all we have to get through, the most important title we heard about at these two cons.

In more modern manga news, Udon also has the license to Steins;Gate, the annoyingly punctuated manga based on an anime series. It’s a 3 volume series that ran in Media factory’s Comic Alive. And, in a complete 180 from typical Comic Alive stuff, they’ve also license rescued Sugar Sugar Rune, which came out back in the Del Rey days but has since fallen out of print. It ran in Kodansha’s Nakayoshi.

Sekai Project is a translator.publisher mostly of visual novels (such as Clannad, which comes out this October), but they too have decided to enter the manga business, with another anime tie-in. Gate – Jietai Kare no Chi nite, Kaku Tatakeri runs in Alpha Polis’s eponymous magazine, and is 7+ volumes. Not sure of too much about it, but the artist clearly likes drawing ‘wartime’ stuff, judging by past titles.

As is traditional during con season, Seven Seas announced a title online, as they don’t do cons. Secret no Mukougawa is 3+ volumes, runs in Comic Alive, and is the only thing the author has done not tagged in Manga-Updates as ‘Borderline H’. Which is not to say it isn’t trying hard.

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Vertical had three new licenses to discuss. One is a big cult favorite, though I’ve found it difficult to get into: Mysterious Girlfriend X, a 12-volume series that ran in Kodansha’a Monthly Afternoon, and has been available digitally on Crunchyroll. It’s well-written and cute, but there’s a big drool fetish in this series that’s hard to get past if it’s not your thing.

The title I find most interesting is Kami-sama ga Uso o Tsuku, a one-shot that also ran in Afternoon. It apparently features soccer, which always sends warning bells in my head ever since Sasameke. That said, I think this may be more along the lines of Vertical’s recent quiet teenager drama titles. The author may also be known to older fans for Immortal Rain, a Tokyopop title.

And we also have Devil’s Line, a 5+ volume series that runs in Morning spinoff Morning Two, which fans may recall is where Saint Young Men began. I suspect this title will do very well for Vertical, as it has vampires. (resets ‘days since running gag’ counter to zero)

Kodansha announced a few things as well. At SDCC the news was they were releasing Kosuke Fujishima’s Paradise Residence. This has been running for a few years, but it’s always been taking breaks as the artist was more involved with his main title – a little thing called Oh My Goddess!. But that’s over with, so he can now get back to his girls’ dorm manga, which has run in both Afternoon and its sister title good! Afternoon.

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Kodansha had hinted, after Rose of Versailles was announced, that they too had a classic manga announcement, and it ended up being Leiji Matsumoto! Queen Emeraldas will be two hardcover omnibuses, and comes from the 1978 shonen manga that ran in Kodansha’s Weekly Shonen Magazine. If this sells well, maybe someone can get Harlock or Yamato (both Akita Shoten, I think), or perhaps Viz can try Galaxy Express 999 again. Please let it sell well. Space opera manga is desperately needed.

Soredemo Boku wa Kimi ga Suki is also a shonen title, running in Bessatsu Shonen Magazine. It seems to be a romantic drama.

Lastly, Complex Age looks intriguing. The story of a 34-year-old newly married woman who loves to dress up in costume, you’d think this would be more suitable for Kiss or Be Love, but it’s actually a seinen title, running in Morning. This will apparently come out here in a larger format, and I’m really interested.

Viz is the last publisher to talk about, and they had a couple of exciting titles to talk about. The biggest is Oyasumi Punpun, an Inio Asano title that has long been desired by fans, particularly after Viz released Solanin and What a Wonderful World. It’s 13 volumes, ran in Young Sunday, then when that died moved to Big Comic Spirits, and is incredibly well written and incredibly bleak. I suspect this will get a nice Viz Signature treatment.

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I always love seeing titles from Hakusensha’s LaLa DX, particularly as its schedule lends itself to shorter series. Ojou-sama no Untenshu is only 2 volumes long, but should fit right in with those who love Shojo Bat. It also takes place in the Taisho era, and seems really cute.

Lastly, I would be remiss if I did not mention, if only for Melinda’s sake, that Viz will release a Takeshi Obata art book sometime next year, with Death Note, Hikaru no Go, and Bakuman no doubt included. Art!

Which of these has you most excited? (Rose of Versailles for me, though there’s some competition.)