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.

Log Horizon: A Sunday in Akiba

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

Unlike Sword Art Online, which in many ways was less about the game itself and more about the romance between Kirito and Asuna, Log Horizon tries not to focus too hard on romantic pairings. This is not to say they aren’t there, of course, but they’re never going to take over the plot. The closest we get may be this book, in which Akatsuki and Minori both independently realize that they’re in love with Shiroe. This initially starts off being fairly mediocre – the cake eating scene is not as funny as it thinks it is, and reads as quite cliched – but it begins to get good when each of the two girls spies on the other bonding with Shiroe and is forced to deal with ugly feelings of jealousy and self-hatred. Minori, being a middle schooler, has never felt like this before. Akatsuki’s older, but she has a different issue – Minori sees the bigger picture better than she does. In fact, Akatsuki has trouble with the big picture in general.

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As you might imagine from the romantic sideplot, this is a bit of a ‘break’ volume for Log Horizon, with the crisis being less epic and more annoying. We get to see more of what we’ve enjoyed from prior volumes – Marielle being genki, Raynesia and Krusty snarking at each other, etc. The adventurers are holding a festival in their town, and people are coming from all over the area to join – both other adventurers and People of the Earth, many of whom have ulterior motives. The idea that these are just NPCs has long left town, and indeed the loathsome Lord Malves could hold his own with some of the other Adventurer villains we’ve seen before. But we save the true villain for the epilogue – we’d seen Shiroe worrying about another large town’s issues at the start o the book, and now we see why: it’s a dark mirror imagine of Akiba.

Nureha is clearly being set up as a major villain, though I’m not sure if she’s really the one manipulating everything here. She’s quite content to turn on her seductive wiles to lure Shiroe to their side, and they really, really want him – rewriting reality last volume to make Rundelhaus an adventurer was something that got noticed, and suddenly Shiroe, who was always the introverted social nerd – is dealing with unwanted attention. This is likely why he’s so comfortable making himself the ‘scary villain’ in Akiba, despite Minori’s protests. Being the center of attention, being wanted, is something that he desires, but makes him too uncomfortable. Not even Nureha’s manipulative sob story about her background (I do think it’s true, but it was still manipulative) or revelation that they may have a way back to the real world can sway him.

For a volume that seemed to be marking time, there was a lot going on here, and some good setup for future volumes. Log Horizon continues to be one of the best of the ‘people trapped in a game world’ books, and deserves attention.

Kagerou Daze IV: The Missing Children

By Jin (Shinzen no Teki-P) and Sidu. Released in Japan by Enterbrain. Released in North America by Yen On.

As we reach the end of this book, our heroes are getting a lot closer to figuring out why they have these strange eye powers and what the powers actually are. In fact, they get a lot closer than the reader, as we’re shown parts of a diary that Marie’s grandmother kept, but they get to read the whole thing. Admittedly, we can connect some dots, but I am reminded once more that this is a light novel series based off of a series of songs, and that the intended audience is meant to be familiar with those songs. In particular, Shinigami (Reaper) Record, which introduces us to Azami’s story that is fleshed out here.

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Azami is a mysterious supernatural creature – called a Reaper, she seems to also have many traits of a medusa, something which she’s apparently passed along to her granddaughter. Speaking of Marie, the bigger revelation in this book may be just how old she actually is – it’s somewhat startling, particularly given her fairly childlike personality. But of course, when you live alone in a cabin in the woods, there’s not as much chance to evolve or learn. And there’s also Konoha, whose real identity we’ve been able to guess with information from the previous two books, but who looks to be just as different from his other self as Ene is from Takane. Actually, the biggest disappointment here may be Shintaro, who still has a tendency to get dragged along and whine much of the time – indeed, the trip to and from the cabin is an endless stream of irritation from him.

If there’s a larger issue with these books, it’s the length – they’re much, much shorter than the average Japanese light novel, and you barely get into the book before it’s already finished, padding out its page count with lots of character design art and advertisements for the manga. Each of the last three volumes has featured a segment of the main plot and a more serious side story that gives us backstory and hints, but the backstory really is not connecting fast enough for my taste, and some of the things I was most interested in last time (Kano confronting Shintaro in Ayano’s body) is glossed over here, as Kido reassures Shintaro in a way that makes it seem like just a bad nightmare.

This volume was delayed two months, so the next one will come sooner than expected, and I’m hoping that less lag time will allow me to get into it a bit more. It would seem to involve Kano in a big way, so maybe I’ll finally get the answers to my questions. Kagerou Daze is enjoyable, particularly to fans of the multimedia franchise, but I still wish it wasn’t so fragmented. And short – even this review is underlength when I try to discuss it.

Durarara!!, Vol. 4

By Ryohgo Narita and Suzuhito Yasuda. Released in Japan by ASCII Mediaworks. Released in North America by Yen On.

Narita’s books, be it Baccano!, DRRR!!, or what have you, all enjoy being endlessly re-readable. Not only do you get the single-volume habit of various disparate and seemingly unconnected plots all crashing together at the end, which certainly happens here, but you also see this as part of a series whole, as he also teases out future major plot and characters that don’t pay off here but will several books down the line. I’ve called DRRR!! a nerd series, and it’s not just because Erika and Walker talk a lot about anime and manga types (their discussion of whether Celty is a tsundere or not is one of the highlights of the book). It’s because his series cry out for Tumblr analysis and bullet points explaining what’s going on and how it affects things down the road.

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As an example, this volume is very good about taking the metatext and making it textual. In addition to the analysis of Celty’s character and how it applies to a seemingly ‘real life’ person, we meet Izaya’s twin younger sisters, Mairu and Kururi, who are not as loathsome as him but do seem to be just as difficult to stop. They’re polar opposite twins, as per the TV Tropes article, but Izaya helpfully tells us they deliberately engineer this in order to balance each other out, the better to be one person in two bodies (which is what they think they are). This isn’t the sort of exposition you expect to be casually laid out in the book itself. Things get even weirder when, at the end of the volume, Izaya has to meet with an even higher level of manipulator to find out about events he wasn’t around for (most of them, in fact). We don’t learn all that much about him, but what we do get seems to imply that Izaya is literally meeting the book’s omniscient narrator.

This is not to say the book does not function as a normal book as well. There’s a lot going on, as always, but if you pay enough attention it’s easy to follow and have fun (indeed, the narrative helpfully spells out the difficult bits, like the fact that all the money Celty lost ends up returning to her by the end of the volume). There’s car chases and fights, Shizuo throws people across the city and hits them so hard they need reconstructive surgery. We meet Aoba Kuronuma, who is a new high school student who is clearly there to manipulate Mikado for evil ends, but at the same time he himself is thrown off by the higher-levels weirdness of the Orihara Twins. (Speaking of the Twins, those who disliked Namie’s creepy incest subtext in previous books won’t be happy to see Mairu and Kururi making out here – again, they deliberately invoke tropes, even distasteful ones.) My favorite subplot was probably that of Shizuo’s brother, who runs into the cutest serial killer you’ll ever see, and helps her redefine what it means to be a monster.

Speaking of said killer, I mentioned how DRRR’s novels tie into each other and reward re-reading, and the same can be said for “The Naritaverse” as a whole. Nebula, the evil corporation we’ll see in Baccano!, is still the evil corporation 70 years later in DRRR!!. We hear about a couple of thieves who liked to dress in costumes, clearly Isaac and Miria. And while Ruri’s ‘monstrous’ nature is kept deliberately vague, anyone who reads Narita’s unlicensed series Vamp! will have figured it out already. DRRR!! is a nerd series that rewards overanalysis, and also a lot of fun and action packed. It ends with everyone in the cast having food with friends and loved ones, except Izaya, who is alone and unloved. Needless to say, this pisses him off and he will no doubt be far more active in future books. Can’t wait.