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.

Otherworld Barbara, Vol. 1

By Moto Hagio. Released in Japan as “Barbara Ikai” by Shogakukan, serialized in the magazine flowers. Released in North America by Fantagraphics. Translated by Matt Thorn.

For many readers, no review is necessary – just seeing the words “Moto Hagio” on the cover will make this a must-buy. But for those of you who have not yet been captivated by one of Japan’s premier artists, let me assure you that this first omnibus volume of Otherworld Barbara is absolutely worth the extra expense of a hefty hardcover. At times melancholy, amusing, heartbreaking and terrifying, it’s a trip through the senses, as with Hagio’s other work that’s recently come out over here (A Drunken Dream). This has the added benefit of being a complete story, and so you can see how she sets up various plot points and then allows them to sit percolating until they can be used again to devastating effect.

otherworld1

I was faked out at first, I admit. We’re introduced to an odd fantasy hybrid of a world, where a little girl who has difficulty flying like her friends do has happy fun adventures, but right away we see that Aoba is odd – eating the book gives it away if nothing else. It’s an odd hybrid of Peter Pan-style fantasy and reality, as there are several quasi-connections with the Tokyo we know. Then all of a sudden we’re away from that, and following the story of Dr. Watarai, a man whose job it is to enter other people’s dreams, and the troubled relationship he has with his teenage son Kiriya, who is a teenage boy in so many ways. I had assumed that the manga would now shift back and forth between the two “worlds”, but no, we don’t go back to the fantasy world till the second half of the book, where it becomes far more relevant – and creepy.

The fantasy stuff is excellent, but the book really shines when getting involved in the interpersonal relationships Dr. Watarai has with everyone from his bitter, slightly hysterical ex-wife to a somewhat overenthusiastic young protege. His fractured relationship with his son feels very real, especially as there are no good, easy fixes. Kiriya is also dealing with difficult times, as aside from his father he’s being courted – well, stalked to a degree – by a classmate, and also dreaming of Dr. Watarai’s latest patient, a woman who’s been in a coma for years ever since a devastating accident involving her parents. Where the two worlds collide is that this woman is named Aoba, and is clearly the same person as the young girl in the fantasy world.

There’s a lot more going on here, including age regression that almost turns into personality overlay, deadly psychic tornados, terrifying killer dolls, and a seeming suicide that makes you go back to the title page for the chapter and say “Really? You really went there?”. It’s definitely not a book for kids. But there’s so much going on here – in plot, which the reader figures out at the same time as the characters do, and in mood, which is always my go-to reason to read Hagio’s manga. things promise to get a lot more complex for the second and final book, as we also find out about a connection to Mars, and a sinister conspiracy led by a not-so-noble priest. If you enjoyed manga that rewards endless rereads with both its art and style, you can’t go wrong with Otherworld Barbara.

Dorohedoro, Vol. 19

By Q Hayashida. Released in Japan by Shogakukan, serialization ongoing in the magazine Hibana. Released in North America by Viz. Translated by AltJapan Co., Ltd. (Hiroko Yoda + Matt Alt).

I’ve missed Caiman. Yes, there’s a question as to who the real Caiman actually is, but I don’t care, I’ve missed THIS Caiman, the big goofy guy with the lizard head. Nikaido clearly has as well, even though she’s a lot more wary about his appearance than I am, even losing her perpetual happy face for a bit as she tries to work out what happened. Admittedly, what happened it not exactly clear to the reader either: it’s very fitting that when she explains to Caiman everything that’s happened to him for the past year, and asks if he understood, his response is an immediate “No”. I feel you, Caiman. We’ve all been there.

dorohedoro19

After the last volume, I was hoping for a bit less blood and guys, and to a certain extent that’s true, as we exchange it for a lot of scenes of people walking around trying to figure things out or avoid figuring other things out. In addition to Nikaido and Caiman, we have Dr. Kasukabe and Haru, who are trying to outthink our main devil leader and failing rather badly; the decapitated remains of En’s gang, who are having trouble doing much of anything at all, though ironically they may achieve more than the rest of the cast here; and Ebisu and her amnesiac slave, who are just trying to get En’s body back to the rest but are unfortunate enough to be the latest ones to run into Zombie Shin. Hope that goes better for them than it did the last group.

The big fight here is between Haru and Nikaido/Caiman, and it goes very badly very fast. So badly that Dr. Kasukabe is actually killed, and when I saw that I knew what was coming next. Sure enough, after Haru went berserk and annihilated Caiman (who must be getting tired of having his head killed in so many ways… melted this time), Nikaido breaks out her sorcerer’s magic and reverses time so she can stop the fight. This is always a dangerous narrative thing to do. Fans seem to have no issues with resurrecting people from a head in a jar, or a literal hell with devils, or all sorts of other kinds of magic, but time travel to rewrite the past still seems somewhat taboo. Still, we’ve seen Nikaido use it before, and I’m sure we will again, as she has two chances let.

This definitely now has the feel of a storyline that’s building to an ending, though it’s not quite over yet in Japan. I am hoping that the En half of Dorohedoro’s cast herd stops being a pile of body parts and gets to do something soon, and it would be nice to see Shin snap out of whatever zombie funk he’s in. And I’m not sure I want Nikaido being a devil either. With most stories you yearn for the characters to grow and change as the story comes to an end, but I have to admit, I just want my goofy gyoza lovers and violence-happy sorcerers back, please.

By the way, best joke of the volume has to be Caiman getting disgusted by a severed hand on the Store Knife, not realizing that it’s his OWN hand from the aborted future. A joke you can only pull off with Nikaido around.

JoJo’s Bizarre Adventure: Battle Tendency, Vol. 4

By Hirohiko Araki. Released in Japan as “Jojo no Kimyou na Bouken” by Shueisha, serialized in the magazine Weekly Shonen Jump. Released in North America by Viz Media. Translated by Evan Galloway.

By now I think the seasoned JoJo reader is used to the ‘Bizarre’ part of the title, to the point that when the vampire horses show up early in this volume it merely earns a slight shrug, as if to say “of course there would be vampire horses, this is JoJo’. And I feel much the same way. That said, the vampire squirrel growing from the villain’s severed hand took even me by surprise, and reminded us of why this title was so successful – it really does not know when to quit. Be it amazingly graphic violence (for a Jump title), badass boasting, cool posing, or even coming back from near death almost a dozen times over the course of the book, Battle Tendency can be exhausting.

jojo4

We’re down to only two villains, each based off of a classic 1980s music reference, and the book is almost entirely devoted to JoJo taking out the two one by one. (What, you thought they would double team him? Get real. This is an HONORABLE fight between MEN!) First we have Wham… pardon me, Wamuu (is anyone else here reminded of the old Bastard!! translations?), who goes all Ben-Hur on JoJo with a chariot race to the death. This gives us a chance to see JoJo’s strength and weaknesses, because trust me, he’s filled with weaknesses. Sometimes you want to strangle the kid for how impulsive he is. It’s also a good way to see how he thinks, though, and to show us that much of his fabled “I’m going to predict what you say/do next” is just bluffing. Then we’re supposed to see his mentor (and, as it turns out, something more) Lisa Lisa fight Cars… sorry, Kars. But alas, this is JoJo’s title, and so she’s reduced to hostage bait. Sigh.

And so we come to the end of another arc. The villain has been destroyed after multiple attempts, but just as in the first series, the hero dies. Or so one might think. As I said in my last review, Caesar’s death allows JoJo to live on, in a parallel of Speedwagon and Erina living on after Jonathan’s death. It also gives us a hilariously silly graveside scene where JoJo shows up with Suzi Q in tow, wondering why everyone is at his grave and surprised to see him. (It also reads as very rushed – I suspect Araki ran out of time, or maybe just didn’t care enough. More Suzi Q, please!) And we see an older, grumpier, and apparently Japanese-hating Joseph at the very end, showing that amazingly, a Joestar *can* live to a ripe old age. This dovetails nicely with the start of the third arc, which takes place in Japan.

I enjoyed Battle Tendency a lot, more, I think, than the first part. It lacks a truly memorable villain like Dio, but Joseph is a lot more charismatic and likeable than Jonathan was. I look forward to seeing how Jotaro is different from both of them. I also look forward to less good-hearted Nazis in the next series. But above all, I hope we can top the vampire squirrels for hands thing, because that’s what JoJo’s Bizarre Adventure, in the end, is all about.