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.

The Master of Ragnarok & Blesser of Einherjar, Vol. 1

By Seiichi Takayama and Yukisan. Released in Japan as “Hyakuren no Haou to Seiyaku no Valkyria” by Hobby Japan. Released in North America digitally by J-Novel Club. Translated by Amber Tamosaitis.

I think we may finally have hit saturation point where I have simply read too many isekai books in a row. This is not surprising, given that I doubt the average light novel company expeects a reader to try to keep up with ALL the titles they put out. Still, it’s hard not to feel a certain jaded malaise as one reads Master of Ragnarok. I was having particular difficulty not comparing it to other series that came out after it in Japan but before it over here in North America. Not that I think Ragnarok has been influential in any way. But it’s hard not to see “isekai guy struggles with how to properly run a kingdom” and not think of Realist Hero, just as it’s hard not to see him save the day with his smartphone and not think of… well,Smartphone. That said, both of those titles try to subvert the norm in at least one or two ways, while Ragnarok is quite happy to play it straight.

(Also, parenthetically, what is it with Japanese isekai and the throne room pose? Almost always, it shows the hero looking satisfied and smug when in the actual book itself he’s nothing of the sort – that’s the case here as well. I just wonder how it got so popular. Robert E. Howard? John Norman?)

Our hero, Yuuto, goes to visit a shrine with his childhood friend and not-quite-girlfriend Mitsuki and, due to a superstition gone horribly wrong, ends up summoned to another world. What happens next… is quickly elided, as we timeskip forward to see he has already gained the trust of most of the kingdom and rules over them all. Admittedly a somewhat odd way to handle thing, but I suppose the author did not want to get bogged down in the “introductory” scenes that plague a lot of isekai. It also helpfully allows him to skip a lot of character development. Now he’s leading his clan into battle with the help of his buxom and intelligent female advisor, who wants to get into his pants; his devoted bodyguard, who we briefly see was cool to him when he first arrived but somehow is now his most loyal fan; a tsundere engineer (no, really, that’s about it); and the princess of the clan he just conquered, who slowly begins to realize how awesome he is.

How is he so awesome? Well, he still gets smartphone reception – somehow – near the mirrors where he was summoned from. He can’t go back, but can talk to the childhood friend, who he now realizes he was in love with (hence the rest of the harem isn’t getting anywhere, at least not now) and he can also download books to his not-Kindle. Thus he saves the world and rules the kingdom by applying modern warfare and concepts to this dark ages-ish period. As I said earlier, if you saw “In Another World With My Smartphone”, just the title, and wondered what the hero would be doing with his smartphone, this is what you’d come up with. Likewise, if you heard about Realist Hero without seeing it, you’d imagine him fighting a lot more battles as a general (as Yuuto does here) and not quite as many civics lessons (though both heroes are fond of, sigh, Machiavelli’s The Prince.)

This isn’t poorly written, and no one’s all that aggravating. It has 14+ volumes in Japan, and apparently an anime is coming soon, so it has fans. But usually I can at least summon something that makes this stand out from the pack and makes a reader want to continue. That’s not happening here. This IS the pack. If someone asks “what’s an isekai?”, this is an ideal book to give them. But have them branch out afterwards to more compelling titles and concepts.

Arifureta: From Commonplace to World’s Strongest, Vol. 5

By Ryo Shirakome and Takayaki. Released in Japan as “Arifureta Shokugyou de Sekai Saikyou” by Overlap. Released in North America digitally by J-Novel Club. Translated by Ningen.

After a few volumes of pretending to be your standard “reader surrogate gains immense powers and a wide variety of women” isekai story, Arifureta has settled down as it finally realizes the type of story it wants to tell, which is a messianic narrative. I’m not actually being facetious here, we have seen seeds of this before, but they come to full flower here. Hajime is here to save the world by being badass at it. Those who believe will be rewarded, those who do not believe will get their asses kicked. We see one of his believers doubt herself in this volume, and Hajime makes it very clear that this is no easy task – believe in him and stop stewing in self-hatred, or get out. Needless to say, we know which choice she makes. We also see Hajime go up against the powerful Church, which regards him as a heretic, and a demon who may as well be filling in for Lucifer. Subtle this ain’t.

Shizuka’s on the cover, but doesn’t appear much, though we do see her bonding with the princess of the royal family, who I had honestly forgotten. Most of the book is taken up with Hajime getting Myu back home, which also involves conquering not one but TWO of the remaining dungeons. Kaori is left behind for one of them as support, which seems quite sensible given that this is the MAGMA DUNGEON, but she comes along on the water dungeon crawl, which leads to her crisis of faith I mentioned above. Said crisis of faith is resolved by Hajime showing that he cares about her by threatening an entity that’s possessed her – indeed, most of the harem’s self-esteem issues are resolved by simply having the undemonstrative Hajime pat their head or vow to protect them or somesuch. In all honestly, as Hajime notes, he’ll basically do whatever they say, but I suspect the typical “I hate OP harem guys” fan won’t mind as Hajime is stoic rather than friendly.

We get a lot more background on the past of the world Hajime and company have been brought to here, and find that if we’re headed for a massive Holy War, it won’t be the first. I suspect the next volume will have Hajime’s group divert their plans to save Aiko, who is being imprisoned and tortured for believing in Hajime. No, really. As I said, if you don’t accept this as a messianic narrative, it may be hard to get past its inherent ridiculousness. Oh yes, we also meet Myu’s mother, who the author admits is straight up a ripoff of Alicia from Aria, and who clearly would be quite happy to be an addition to Hajime’s harem, though I’m not sure it will actually happen. It would be nice to have an “ara, ara” sort in the harem. In any case, the next volume will be as action-packed as this one, I imagine, thoguh knowing Hajime, he is unlikely to be crucified and die for anyone’s sins. Recommended for fans of ridiculously overpowered guys and the women who adore them.

Also, “Fish-san was a fishmancer.” I’ll just leave that there.

Sweet Blue Flowers, Omnibus 3

By Takako Shimura. Released in Japan as “Aoi Hana” by Ohta Shuppan, serialized in the magazine Manga Erotics F. Released in North America by Viz. Translated by John Werry.

Everyone wants to read about the awkward pangs of unrequited love. Will they feel the same way? Will they hate me? Will this destroy our friendship? But it has to be said, and Sweet Blue Flowers does a very good job at conveying this, the issues don’t magically go away after you’ve started dating. Admittedly Akira’s acquiescence is somewhat lukewarm, which is no doubt why Fumi is feeling this way. But let’s face it, Fumi is the sort of person to overthink things anyway, and these sorts of worries DO stick around. Communication does not necessarily become easier when you’ve confessed. In many ways it’s harder. And of course if you want to keep dating, you have to keep yourself interesting and fun, because what if your partner gets bored with the real you? Sweet Blue Flowers may not be getting any closer to resolution of its main romance, but it certainly knows how to convey its painful emotions.

Sweet Blue Flowers does feature an awful lot of relationships between girls, but unlike some other series of this ilk, they aren’t every single relationship. There are men in this world. Indeed, sometimes the reader thinks that the man is the better choice – Ko breaks up with Kyoko here, and you can’t blame him, but I honestly do hope that she gets it together and gets back together with him, as he’s a good guy, and her pining away is not getting her anywhere. It’s weird to feel this way in a yuri manga, where the nature of fandom tends to regard any man who might get in the way of a relationship between two women as evil. We also have different types of relationships here – Akira and Fumi start to date, but it’s very vague, and you get the sense they’re doing it so that Akira can figure things out more than anything else. Some of the girls in the school are clearly in an “akogare” situation that they’re going to grow out of, but some are not – one of the minor characters outright says she’s a lesbian, and Akira’s teacher is in a happy relationship with another woman. This isn’t just yuri’s classic “Story A“. (Well, OK, sometimes it is.)

Sweet Blue Flowers, of course, also has the same issues that it’s had before. Shimura’s character designs are too damn similar, and I find myself struggling to tell some of the girls apart, which makes it harder for me to remember the plotlines. Akira and Fumi’s teenage passion and fears are endearing but also exhausting, especially given this is an omnibus of two separate volumes. And I have to confess, I don’t like Yasuko all that much, and was irritated when she showed up again. Her going to England really helped this series find its feet. That said, this is still a very good volume, and since I believe it ends with the fourth book, there’s no reason for you not to get it so that you can wallow in panga of young love once more.