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.

Cells at Work!, Vol. 1

By Akane Shimizu. Released in Japan as “Hataraku Saibou” by Kodansha, serialization ongoing in the magazine Shonen Sirius. Released in North America by Kodansha Comics. Translated by Yamato Tanaka.

We have seen a lot of anthropomorphism in manga and anime recently, with Hetalia probably being the most famous example of it. It can be fun to imagine countries, or subway lines, or beers reimagined with human shapes and personalities. It’s been around a long time, and is usually in a humorous vein. But that doesn’t mean that it can’t also be used to teach you things. In Cells at Work!, the things we’re learning about are – no surprise – cells, as the human body is shown as sort of a messy organic factory, where various types of cells try to do their job as quickly as possible while avoiding the seemingly constant threat of invasion. Thankfully, this is not an ‘educational’ manga per se, as the main thrust is human and action, both of which we get in great amounts.


Our Heroine is Red Blood Cell – yeah, don’t expect easy to remember Japanese names here – a cute, spunky, but somewhat dim girl whose job it is delivering oxygen to various parts of the body and then CO2 back to the lungs. Assuming she can ever find the lungs. And assuming she is not utterly destroyed by the various things that go wrong while she’s on duty, ranging from Pneumococcus and Influenza to allergies and scrape wounds, all of which could be complete disasters if not taken care of fast. Luckily, we have our hero, White Blood Cell, who is stoic and deadpan and more than a little insanely violent. He’s there to take out these monsters (some of whom resemble typical magical girl show villains, which is what makes it so amusing) and help explain things to Red Blood Cell, who seems to need a lot of things explained.

Much of this manga gets by on the sheer ridiculousness of what is going on, which helps make all the discussion of T-Cells and Memory Cells go down easier. We see overenthusiastic B-Cells, airheaded Mast Cells, yandere princess Macrophages (possibly my favorite), and trembling and scared Naive Cells. Each of the four chapters shows something going wrong, and what needs to be done to fight it. The fights involve a lot of things blowing up, crowds running and screaming, and lots of property damage, so in that way it’s a very fun shonen action manga. The humor is what I keep coming back to, though – especially a JoJo’s Bizarre Adventure cameo where I was not expecting one to be. And then there’s the Platelets, who are absolutely adorable little moppets who will make you go ‘aaaaaw’.

You really do learn a lot about cells here, and the color frontispiece seems to imply we’ve only just scratched the surface of the cells we can talk about. The main characters are definitely Red Blood Cell and White Blood Cell, though, and while there’s no romance (how on Earth could you pull that off?), their growing friendship is also a highlight. I had no idea what this manga was going to be like when I heard it was licensed, but now I’m totally sold. Give me more.

Yona of the Dawn, Vol. 2

By Mizuho Kusanagi. Released in Japan as “Akatsuki no Yona” by Hakusensha, serialization ongoing in the magazine Hana to Yume. Released in North America by Viz. Translated by JN Productions, Adapted by Ysabet Reinhardt MacFarlane.

I said I had wanted more plot development, and I get a lot of it here, very well told. We do indeed see there is a Fire Tribe in addition to the Wind tribe, and their young prince is appropriately a hothead (and ex-suitor) of Yona who is appalled when his hotheaded plan ends up turning into disaster. We also do not lose sight of Su-won, who may have started off the series by murdering Yona’s father but is not going to be just another insane shoujo villain. The idea that Yona is dead fills him with grief, and also allows us to see more flashbacks. Intterestingly, we see that Hak has actually told Su-won he wants to see him married to Yona and ruling as King. There is a silent “but not like this” that is very palpable, however.


Of course, this series is not 2 volumes long, and Yona is not dead. But before that, we get a nice look at Hak in his natural habitat, as we see another cliche of romance manga used quite well, which is the sheltered rich girl arriving in the town of the peasant boy and seeing how his simple, non-affluent lifestyle is much happier than she could have imagined. Hak is a good general who cares about his tribe, but is also able to let those who are his contemporaries (in age, if nothing else) get away with mouthing off to him provided it’s not an emergency. We also get a Tiny Tim sort, Tae-Yeon, who is adorable and inspiring and also needs his medicine. The world may be filled with political machinations, but here there are just good people.

And them there’s Yona herself, who does get to wield a sword in this volume, though she’s still shaking off her princess roots. Forced to pretend to be a lady’s maid at first, that doesn’t last long, as there’s no way that she can accept “just live here in hiding for the rest of your life” while people are suffering. I was very pleased that, rather than demand to come with Hak, she announces that she’s leaving, and wants him to come with HER. He calls her quite selfish, but it’s not the bad kind of selfishness. And, as long as we’re counting tropes, I loved the scene where she cuts off her long hair with a sword in order to escape the Fire Tribe leader. Not only is that sort of scene always badass, it gives supposed evidence of her death to the King later on.

But she isn’t dead, and despite the ridiculousness of Yona and Hak surviving a fall from that height (which the author herself points out in a 4-koma at the end), they seem to have been taken in by some allies. I’m not sure what will happen next, but given the type of manga this is, no doubt it will involve destiny and power struggles and possibly cool horseback riding? And more swords! The sky’s the limit, really. Oh yes, and some cute romance would be nice, but not necessary.

Kitaro Meets Nurarihyon

By Shigeru Mizuki. Released in Japan as “Gegege no Kitaro” by (among others) Kodansha, serialized in various magazines. Released in North America by Drawn & Quarterly. Translated by Zack Davisson.

It is interesting reading these old late 1960s Kitaro manga, showing off the wonders and terrors of yokai to a Japanese audience, now that we are in something of a yokai glut here in North America. Oh, yokai are never going to pass vampires, or even monster girls. But you get things like Kamisama Kiss, which puts yokai in a supernatural shoujo romance. And Natsume’s Book of Friends, almost a spiritual successor to Kitaro, as he walks around solving problems and getting involved despite himself. And of course there’s the Shonen Jump series Nurarihyon no Mago, which wasn’t a huge hit, but got over 20 volumes, so could be said to be a mild hit in Japan. It did alright here as well.


The Nurarihyon seen here on the cover is of the same type as Nura from the Jump manga (or, to be more accurate, Nura’s grandfather, who fits the stereotype better), but of course this Nurarihyon is not remotely a hero. He’s closer to the actual legend, an old man who walks into your house, drinks your tea, acts as if he owns the place, and leaves. Compared to the other yokai we see in this volume, he doesn’t have that many superpowers, but that just makes it all the more chilling when he gets rid of Kitaro and Nezumi Otoko so easily. Of course, Kitaro *is* the hero, so he manages to escape and trap Nurarihyon in a place he’s not going to be coming back from anytime soon. In fact, I would argue Kitaro’s solution is equally chilling.

These stories sometimes do feel their age, and not just due to the technology of the times. Kitaro is very much a morally ambiguous hero, getting involved when it looks as if humans are directly threatened with yokai but otherwise mostly getting pulled into things by the morally corrupt Nezumi Otoko, who even this early in the series has made his transition from rapscallion to scallywag, so to speak. He’s such a lovable creature you want to forgive him for being a greedy gluttonous and occasionally murderous swine. Oh yes, and somewhat sexist as well – one story has an old yokai try to seduce Nezumi Otoko merely as she’s watched a TV show with a May-December romance and wanted more fun in her life. Kitaro’s response amounts to “you are an ugly old woman, back where you came from!”, which left a sour taste in my mouth. Kitaro, at this point in the series, does not really reach for sentiment.

It does have plenty of creepy scares, though. The Wanyudo has always freaked me out a bit, and so seeing it in a story involving supposed lost diamonds made me shiver. And did I mention vampires earlier? Well, there’s one here, who’s employing Nezumi Otoko to find him fresh victims, but he runs afoul of a hair-based yokai who’s actually succeeded in possessing Kitaro (is this going to happen once a volume?). In essence, though, what we have here is Kitaro as he was at the height of his powers – warts and all. If you appreciate manga history, or just want a good spooky book for your kids, this is a great title to pick up.