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.

Gou-dere Sora Nagihara, Vol. 1

By Suu Minazuki. Released in Japan as “Gou-dere Bishoujo Sora Nagihara” by Hakusensha, serialized in various Young Animal spinoffs. Released in North America by Yen Press.

I tend to try to read a lot of Volume 1s that are released by manga companies, even if the premise makes me sort of rear back a bit. Sometimes I find I’m pleasantly surprised, such as, say, Haganai. Sometimes I can’t quite make it through the volume, as happened with Monster Musume. And then there’s this title, where I made it through the volume out of sheer morbid fascination at how appalling it was going to get, and whether it could keep up its pace of sexual assault jokes with no breathing space. Unfortunately, the answer is “not really”, but it made a valiant effort, at least.

gou-dere1

The creator is better known over here for a series called Sora no Otoshimono, and I’ve no doubt fans would rather be seeing that series, but it’s 20 volumes, while this is four. This particular series revolves around a young nebbish man who spends most of his life being sexually attracted to the girls in his bishoujo magazines, particularly the star of Tama x Kiss (a thinly veiled parody of Kimi x Kiss and all those other ecchi visual novels), Sora Nagihara. Then suddenly, for reasons that are still not particularly clear, Sora comes out of the magazine and appears in his lap. Only this is not the cute, shy, soon to die heroine he’s familiar with. She’s a Gou-dere, which I think is a tsundere-esque word that means she’s crude and appalling (with a hidden depressive side, which we see towards the end of this volume). She desires to have her new “master” rule the world by sleeping with every girl around him.

And here’s where the part of this book that’s an over the top parody and satire comes in, as she proceeds to kidnap, strip, and sexually assault young women for her so-called master (who then gets the blame, arrested, and beaten half to death by the police officers in town). The assault *is* the point of the manga – the heroine is constantly carrying around little packages of milk in order to allow her to create “facial’ shots as she finds a new victim. There is a childhood friend of the hero’s, naturally, who is appalled at what’s happening but mostly just yells and screams at the hero to stop Sora. The other girl on the cover is the president of the boxing club, who is assigned to destroy our hero (he has a name, but makes so little an impression I feel reluctant to use it), and who Sora ends up magically giving huge breasts, because of course she does.

As I said, the key here is over the top. This is not particularly meant to be titillating, it’s meant to make your jaw drop. When it’s at its most appalling, I admit I had to admire its sheer effort. Unfortunately, it also tries to have a typical harem plot while also parodying it, and that’s a high wire act it can’t quite achieve. I don’t buy that all these girls are in love with this guy for any reason other than “the plot says so.” There’s also a hint towards the end that even Sora herself may have a more serious storyline in her, and I don’t really want serious stories in this series. It makes the service harder to take.

If you’re a young man, and want to see what a parody of the typical “ecchi Japanese harem” series is like (and most North American examples we’ve seen over here are far less explicit than this), then you may want to pick this up. For people who really like fanservice no matter what, definitely pick this up. For everyone else… I don’t think the parody is good enough to justify buying it.

Higurashi: When They Cry, Vol. 26

Story by Ryukishi07; Art by Karin Suzuragi. Released in Japan as “Higurashi no Naku Koro ni: Saikoroshi-hen” by Square Enix, serialized in the magazine Gangan Joker. Released in North America by Yen Press.

As the readers of Higurashi plowed their way through the series, they gradually began to notice that the protagonist was changing before their eyes. At the start, this looked like a typical datesim variant, albeit a dark one, and therefore Keiichi Maebara was clearly the hero. After all, in the visual novels he didn’t even have a sprite. But as we got deeper into the plot, we realized who was really the driving forced behind this: Rika Furude, the young shrine maiden who was the only person who could remember all the past worlds. Indeed, she seemed at times to be much older than her unstated tween age, having lived her life till getting killed June 1983 over and over again. The main series, being more concerned with figuring out why this was happening and how to stop it, rarely stopped to consider the psychological implications of this. This epilogue, the “Dice-Killing Arc”, is here to do that.

higurashi26

The basic premise is simple enough: Rika, who is no longer threatened by impending death, becomes too careless when biking down a seldom-used hill and is struck by a truck. She wakes up in a world unlike all the others she’d been reliving over and over again. Keiichi isn’t here, Satoshi is alive, and so are her parents. In this new world, all the horrible things that happened in everyone’s pasts seem to have been avoided. It’s a “sinless world”… but is there a place for Rika in it? Can she return to the Higurashi world we know and love? And who is Rika Furude anyway?

As Ryukishi07 wrote this, he was also writing and planning his next series, Umineko: When They Cry, so it’s unsurprising that elements of that are seen in this. Most obvious is Rika feeling disassociated with her child self – she’s lived so many lives by now that she doesn’t feel like Rika Furude anymore, and when she makes the transition into this world she feels like she’s possessed the real Rika Furude. In a drunken stupor (we’ve seen Rika dilute wine and get drunk on it before, and she does here as well – be warned) she stares at the label on her father’s wine bottle and declares that her alternate self is actually Frederica Bernkastel.

As if this wasn’t disturbing enough, Rika’s mental state really takes a nosedive in this world. Satoko supposedly hates her and the others are mostly indifferent to her. Her parents are alive, but this doesn’t cheer her up – she simply regards them as nuisances. It all comes to a head when she’s sitting in class trying to work out how to return to her own world and Satoko decides to bully her a little too much – she snaps and punched Satoko, then starts to beat her over and over with a chair. “Fans” of Higurashi who saw this in the anime tended to be a little too happy over this scene, feeling Satoko “got what she deserved”. First of all, if you feel anyone in Higurashi gets what they deserved, stop following the series. Secondly, this scene is meant to be HORRIBLE. It’s preceded by a scene where Hanyuu (communicating with Rika via a relic) states that she may have to kill someone to get back to her world, and Rika hopes it’s her parents, as she has no attachment to them. It’s truly chilling.

What ends up happening, thankfully, is that Rika slowly understands this isn’t just her correct world and a “wrong” world, but two unique worlds with their own virtues. She starts to rebuild a relationship with her mother, who had always been upset at Rika seemingly knowing how to do things (due to the loops) and showing little affection; Rika also tries to remember what being a child who loves her parents was like in the first place. Likewise, Satoshi, Reina and the others help her to realize she can forge new bonds here, and maybe try to be friends with Satoko again. In the end, Rika makes the decision to stay in this world and not kill her mother…

A decision that turns out to perhaps be irrelevant, as she wakes up (after being in a coma for a month) back in the Higurashi world we know and love, with everything seemingly having been a “dream”. This ending is somewhat debated in Higurashi fandom, mostly as it’s implied it was a dream Hanyuu deliberately forced on Rika in order to get her to properly remember and grieve for her parents (and also possibly remind her not to bike into traffic). This would probably read better if Hanyuu had been better characterized throughout the series – we’re not even sure why she’s incorporeal again.

So not without its faults – there’s also a long expodump between Reina (who kept the i in this world) and Rika explaining the differences that’s almost painful – but it’s a story I’m happy we got, as it reminds us that even if there is a happy ending for everyone, lives still go on, and Rika has to make the decision to go forward at last, and not let herself be bound by her repeated loops and assumptions. I’m not sure if we’ll see more Higurashi manga after this (Daybreak and Bus Stop are still out there if Yen is interested), but as epilogues go, this is a fitting ending for the series.

Ani-Imo, Vol. 1

By Haruko Kurumatani. Released in Japan by Kodansha, serialization ongoing in the magazine Aria. Released in North America by Yen Press.

The inside color pages of this book helpfully reveal that the title is short for “Big Brother Becomes Little Sister, Little Sister Becomes Big Brother”, which should help to explain why Yen went for the shorter version. The author, Haruko Kurumatani, has bounced around the shoujo world for many years, usually in Shogakukan’s Shoujo Comic, but I believe this is her first North American license. A quick visit to a page listing her works might tell you why – they’re all riding the edge of what’s appropriate for that age group, and they all seem to focus on ‘forbidden’ passions, particularly between siblings. And that’s what we have here, even though the story makes it clear right away that they are only stepsiblings – in fact, that’s the discovery that drives the plot.

aniimo1

But there’s a twist, as this isn’t just a romantic comedy about pseudo-incest, it’s also a bodyswap comedy. We meet our hero, Youta, as the older brother of a set of “twins”, and he’s the sort of over-the-top “I love my sister so much” type we’ve seen time and again in these sorts of manga. His sister Hikaru is another type, though they aren’t usually paired together – she’s introverted to the point where her mere presence terrifies her family, and seems a bit overattached to her brother, the only one who “gets” her. The twist is that when the stepsiblings reveal comes, Youta is the only one in the family who didn’t know about it… and Hikaru is horrified to find he really *does* only love her like a sister. She then runs off to get hit by a car, he tries to save her, they end up in the hospital, and well, yeah. Bodyswap.

If you’re thinking this sounds out of place in a shoujo manga, you’re not alone, but pseudo-incest in shoujo has been around forever – anyone remember Marmalade Boy? – and Aria is somewhat ‘edgy’ for a shoujo title. In any case, that’s all in Chapter 1, and the rest of the volume is the fallout from what turns out to be the actual big reveal: Hikaru, now in Youta’s body, doesn’t want to switch back, really wants to have sex with her “sister”, and is something of a sadist (in other words, Youta’s personality now matches the character design he’s gotten). He’s helped along by a somewhat perverse doctor (who reminds me of the doctor from Excel Saga in some ways) and the girl in school that Youta always had a crush on, who turns out to be sadistic as well – and gay, with designs on Hikaru’s body. (The character design is also worth noting – the girls look extra young, appearing to be in elementary school even though they’re all high schoolers.)

How much you like this depends on how much you like comedy with overtones of creepy humiliation. I won’t deny there are a few situations here where the sheer ridiculousness of what was happening made me smile, but in the end, I couldn’t help but feel that everyone in the book bar Youta was terrible – and Youta’s a siscon! (I was highly amused at the girls in school noting he’s attractive and nice, and they all just avoided him as his obsession with his sister was beyond creepy.) Take these terrible people and turn them loose in a manga which once again has the offputting “once siblings find out they’re not related, it’s totally OK for them to bang” vibe and you have, oddly, a shoujo manga that I would only recommend to young men who like this sort of vaguely sexual comedy.