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.

Sacrificial Princess and the King of Beasts, Vol. 1

By Yu Tomofuji. Released in Japan by Hakusensha, serialization ongoing in the magazine Hana to Yume. Released in North America by Yen Press. Translated by Paul Starr.

I’ve been reading manga for quite some time now, and it’s long enough that I’m starting to see the new generation that grew up reading the old manga classics that I was reading a good twenty years ago. Japanese manga artists are not afraid to wear their influences on their sleeve, and the readers seem far more forgiving of it than Western readers might (hi, Black Clover), especially if it’s simply influenced by and not straight up copying. I mention this because, while the story and characters are not really the same, there are moments at the start of Sacrificial Princess and the King of Beasts where I read a scene and thought “yeah, I loved that scene in Fruits Basket as well”. This isn’t a criticism – it felt almost like a musical quotation that the guitar player would insert in the song, something that makes the reader nostalgic (well, as much as a reader wants to be nostalgic for one of the most abusive families in Furuba). Does the rest of the book hold up? For the most part, yes.

As you may have gathered, there’s a lot of Beauty and the Beast involved here as well. Our heroine is Sariphi, a girl of indeterminate age (more on that later) who is the latest human to be selected as a sacrifice to the King of Beasts, who rules over a land that is composed mostly of beastmen and women, with humans in a minority. Unlike most sacrifices, however, Sariphi is not terrified or furious, but rather endlessly curious and rather sweet – again, if you’re thinking of Tohru, you’re not far off. As with many Hakusensha series, the resolution of this dilemma is resolved in one chapter, then, when the series gets picked up, we get more chapters, as Sariphi and “Leanhart”, as she dubs the Beast King, learn more about each other and deal with the troublesome kingdom, which is very much anti-human and would rather Sariphi be sacrificed and the Beast King take a real queen. Oh yes, the Beast King wants to make Sariphi his Queen.

Let’s just say up front that Sariphi looks pretty damn young. That’s not exactly a red card by itself – Japanese manga is filled with heroines who look far younger than their actual age. But I’d like to hear what the actual age is, as this is a sweet romance between an adult Beast man (who changes into a hot bishie human every so often, of course) and our sacrificial protagonist, and a lot of my enjoyment of it will be dependent on her not being as much of a child as she looks. Of course, this is a Hana to Yume title, so any romance we get is not going to go further than the occasional kiss, but you know what I mean. Apart from that, I found this series to be a very good start. I like how most of the kingdom is not immediately won over by the power of Sariphi’s shininess – Anubis, the King’s servant, is looking to shape up to be a difficult antagonist, and I look forward to seeing how he will eventually fall in the face of that bright, innocent smile.

So to sum up: good new shoujo series, sweet girl and gruff but likeable beast man. If you liked Fruits Basket or Kamisama Kiss this might be up your alley.

Invaders of the Rokujouma!?, Vol. 12

By Takehaya and Poco. Released in Japan as “Rokujouma no Shinryakusha!?” by Hobby Japan. Released in North America digitally by J-Novel Club. Translated by Warnis.

Rokujouma is, of course, a balanced harem sort of series that in all honesty feels like it’s going to end up with some sort of polyamorous resolution. That said, obviously as a reader I have my favorites. After after realizing that the three volumes where she gained character development are my three favorite volumes, it’s time to admit it: Yurika is my jam. (I may have admitted this before, but forgive me for the slight return.) It’s a somewhat unusual choice given that Yurika’s default state is essentially Usagi from Sailor Moon: a whining, clumsy, somewhat bad at life sort of girl. But, like Usagi, when you put her into a situation where she has to protect the world and her friends, she comes through with flying colors. In addition, her scenes with Koutarou in this book really have a nice amount of romantic tension, even if it’s just on her part. And finally, praise the Lord, everyone admits that Yurika is indeed a real Magical Girl. This book is basically everything I want in a character arc.

Being a Yurika book, it’s no surprise that the chief villains here are Darkness Rainbow, though one of the main plot revelations is that they’re getting help from another group of villains. This means that Maki also gets a large amount of character work, following up on her bond with Koutarou in the 8th volume… in fact, the literal bond created between them becomes almost a chain to Maki, who worries that it means that her feelings aren’t her own. And Harumi, who has always somewhat suffered from being the normal girl in the group (Shizuka can beat up monsters with martial arts, so doesn’t count), gets a power up thanks to the narrative explicitly acknowledging her reincarnation of the princess status, even if Harumi doesn’t quite get it herself. Her scenes with Yurika were also fantastic, as Yurika’s guilt in falling for the guy Harumi loves is wiped away by the power of friendship, and the two end up literally merging souls for a bit when things get rough.

The nature of the Rokujouma license means that’s we’re getting these books once a month, and while it can be hard to catch up, not to mention expensive, I also think it’s helped me appreciate the plot and the way the book tie together in a way I wouldn’t if I was reading these three times a year. The last several books have felt like one continuous narrative, even as they change focus and emphasis, and I’ve no doubt that when Vol. 13 focuses on Theia (as the cliffhanger implies), it will also pick up threads from this book and others. Koutarou too is recognizing his faults out loud, and actually doing something about them. Yurika as well, though she needs a lot more help with her more comedic faults. (The funniest joke in the book may have been the final one, where Shizuka points out to Koutarou that not letting Yurika get any sleep at all will not help her study habits.)

Broken record time: Invaders of the Rokujouma!? is the best light novel series you’re not reading. Catch up as soon as possible.

Golosseum, Vol. 1

By Yasushi Baba. Released in Japan by Kodansha, serialized in the magazine Nemesis. Released in North America by Kodansha Comics. Translated by Kevin Gifford.

There are two scenes that I think between them perfectly sum up the mood of this manga and the demographic it’s going to appeal to. The first has a cute couple, just married, asking a stranger to take a picture of them outside the church. All three are then shot in the head by passing terrorists. In loving detail. The other is when we see a shirtless Vladimir Putin, whose name has been slightly changed to protect the guilty, drinking tea and laughing as bullets vanish before hitting his incredibly muscular body. Which is also drawn in loving detail. In between this, we get the actual story, which is about alien bracelets that protect and strengthen the wearer – sometimes to ludicrous degrees – and a sad yet incredibly violent woman who can see other people’s past. At heart, though, Golosseum reminds me a bit of JoJo’s Bizarre Adventure, in that it’s totally ridiculous, and also filled with ridiculous deaths.

There is a certain element of political satire here, though frankly it can get somewhat lost among the muscular posing. In addition to “Vladislav Putinov”, we also see the United States equivalent, “Billary Quintone”, and one of the villains rampaging through America is clearly an ersatz Hulk Hogan. More than a political thriller, though, Golosseum feels like one of those ultraviolent 90s comic books, attracting your attention through fights, murders, more fights and more murders. Sasha, our heroine, doesn’t really seem to want to do this (she’s the one who reminded me a bit of Crying Freeman, though I suspect she won’t be making love to her cute waitress friend anytime soon), but she’s certainly capable of taking on smug Chinese martial artists if need be. As the volumes go on, I’m hoping that her story remains the priority. Also, I could have done without the narrative saying that, despite her age, she has the body of a mature 14-year-old, with accompanying nudity.

That said, glorifying the body is in many ways what this is about. The main villains throughout are people who are wearing the “Peacemaker” bracelets and using them for evil, which mostly involves being really strong. The best reason to read this is to see these guys show off and eventually get what’s coming to them. It’s a glorious spectacle, though not for the faint of heart – being shot in the head like the newlywed couple is at the start is actually one of the milder deaths in the book. As for the politics and backstory, unsurprisingly, the bracelets are being treated as political capital in a quest to have the most world power, so no doubt we will be seeing a lot more of Vladislav and Billary. That said, it’s a bit sad when the most nuanced of your real-life caricatures is Rasputin. Oh, and for those who like Hijikata, we get two desce4ndents here – one male, one female, and one good, one bad.

In the end, I liked reading Golosseum, but more in a “Good Lord” sort of way than actively being interested in the story. It’s complete at six volumes, which should be enough. If you like ridiculous ultraviolence, or just big muscley shirtless guys, come read this immediately.