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.

A Certain Scientific Railgun, Vol. 11

By Kazuma Kamachi and Motoi Fuyukawa. Released in Japan as “Toaru Kagaku no Railgun” by ASCII Media Works, serialization ongoing in the magazine Dengeki Daioh. Released in North America by Seven Seas.

I usually decide which series get full reviews and which ones get a review of the first volume and then shuffled off to the Briefs section fairly quickly, but Railgun muscled its way up over the last several volumes with a combination of dramatic plot, action, and excellent characterization. Sadly, that’s not all the series is. As part of the Dengeki line, there’s a certain amount of otaku pandering in its chapters (the same is true of its parent series, Index, and in fact many of the things I’m going to be complaining about originated there). And Railgun just wrapped up a big plot, and clearly wants to fool around a bit before it gets to the next big one. And so we get a volume like this.

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I’m still attempting to save my complaints about Kuroko for the review of the 8th Index book in August, which stars her, so I will simply note that Kamachi and Fuyukawa seem to think “lesbian” and “sexual predator” amount to the same thing, and they are oh-so-hilarious. We also see a macguffin introduced here, Indian Poker, which lets you see the dreams of someone else – supposedly with their permission, but of course, horny Academy City teens are already using it to dream-screw the hottie of their choice – including Mikoto and Misaki (who at least get a reasonable amount of revenge here). Much of the last third of the book is devoted to Mikoto and Saiai (from ITEM about 6-7 volumes earlier, in case you’d forgotten) attempting to get a special Indian Poker card that increases your breast size, and many, many bust jokes follow, with the final punchline being that the card DID work but on some bystander. Oh, and to top it off, there’s an entire CHAPTER devoted to Awaki Musujime and her shotacon fetish, which if you haven’t read Index must baffle you (and honestly, even if you have read Index it’s baffling.)

Speaking of Awaki, while one can still read Railgun without being cognizant of what’s going on in Index, it’s becoming more and more difficult, due to both sly continuity cameos and callbacks/callforwards. Some time seems to have passed since the last volume of Railgun, which took place during the athletic festival. The astute Index reader can tell this because ITEM now has a lackey, Shiage Hamazura, who will grow very important as the Index series goes on, but not yet. We’re likely sometime between Index books 13 and 15 (we can’t be after 15, for reasons I won’t spoil). Moreover, the entire volume is filled with Index characters – the guy selling the cards that allow you to dream-screw Misaki and Mikoto is “the blue-haired piercings” friend of Touma’s; Frenda mentions her little sister; Mikoto’s dream of a girl wanting huge breasts is clearly Aisa, the vampire killer girl; and yay, we get more hints of the incestuous relationship between the Motoharu siblings. It’s continuity porn, even if you may not want it.

Amongst all this, there is a serious story in the middle, as Kuroko and Uiharu help a young boy with precognition try to save people from various accidents that he has seen. That said, its placement in between the two Indian Poker storylines reads like it was put in to fill out the page count as the author hadn’t quite decided which direction to go yet, and while it shows off how much of an excellent Judgment member Kuroko is that just makes it all the more frustrating that we get the “pervert” talk as a punchline. Railgun can be excellent when it ditches the cameos and fanservice and is about women kicking ass. This is mostly not that volume.

Fruits Basket Collector’s Edition, Vols. 1 & 2

By Natsuki Takaya. Released in Japan by Hakusensha, serialized in the magazine Hana to Yume. Released in North America by Yen Press.

If ever there was a series that cried out for a license rescue and re-release, it was Fruits Basket, one of the biggest gateway manga of the 21st century. First released in North America between 2004 and 2009, the story of a young girl and her encounter with a “cursed” family is one of the most beloved shoujo manga of all time over here. It was also big in Japan, and the re-release we’re seeing is based off of the Japanese re-release. I say that because I know some people will be annoyed that the original author’s sidebars are missing – this is very common with re-released manga, simply as the sidebars tend to be very dated – as Takaya herself says in her afterword. We do see new cute SD-art to replace them, but sadly it repeats itself, so we see the same bookmark-ish art over and over. There’s also a new translation, which reads fine, though of course those who have the old one memorized may find it jarring. It feels a bit freer than the Tokyopop one. Worry not, though, we do have honorifics here.

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As for the content, what is there to say? If you haven’t read this series, do so right away. I will try not to spoil it, though it’s honestly very difficult not to do so, as the fun of re-reading is going back and seeing all the little hints that I never picked up the first time I was reading the series. I’ve made little secret that my favorite character is Shigure, for example, and I recalled his character getting darker and more manipulative as the series went on. But no, there it is as I reread it. He was like that from the very beginning, it’s just we were distracted by the whole “high school girls!” and flirting with Ayame going on. Likewise, Tohru’s relationship with her late mother, which I think the reader is first meant to see as sweet and touching, already shows some of the dark undercurrents to come.

These two volumes show us the first four of the original release, and you can tell right away that no one was quite sure if it would be a hit yet. Takaya’s previous big hit for Hakusensha, Tsubasa: Those With Wings, was only 6 volumes long. And you can see here that Takaya wants to get a lot of the zodiac introduced and show us their deep traumas and tragedies as quickly as possible, just in case it goes the same amount of time. It is almost startling how fast Hatori’s backstory is breezed though, to give an example, or Momiji’s. The exceptions are Yuki and Kyo – as the two male leads, they get the most focus, and we see the development of their characters over the course of both omnibuses – each wants what the other has, and wishes things could be different.

It’s not all sad boys in snow, though. Fruits Basket could be hilarious much of the time, and the humor works very well. Tohru’s friends Hanajima and Uotani contribute the bulk of it, being the sort of girls you;d normally imagine would never hang out with a bright shining object like Tohru but brought together through circumstances we don’t know about yet to form a deep bond. We see how much the two girls care about Tohru, and worry she might be taken advantage of by the Sohma family, even if they seem nice enough. But Tohru needs a place to stay. And, as becomes clear, Yuki and Kyo need Tohru – as does Shigure, who clearly has some scene that requires her to be there and make the others break out of their shells. We see what might be driving that when we get a few glimpses of Akito, the leader of the family, who manages to terrify Yuki in just a few seconds, leading Tohru to physically push him away – something startlingly unlike her.

If you already have Fruits Basket and are wondering whether to get it again, well, it’s a larger trim with new covers and interstitials, and a new translation. Make up your mind from that. If you haven’t, do so at once. The series only gets better as it goes along, and rewards readers who pay attention. A well-deserved classic.

Psycome: Murderer in the Flower of Death

By Mizuki Mizushiro and Namanie. Released in Japan by Enterbrain. Released in North America by Yen On.

Achieving the balance between supposedly new and exciting things and using the popular cliches that everyone knows will sell well can be quite difficult. Once you get the basic premise out of the way, you can feel free to roll out the typical gags and characters. The teacher who’s in her mid-20s but looks about 10 years old; the clumsy crying girl; the classic tsundere (combine with the cool beauty for extra points!), and the eccentric ditz. Throw in a hero who manages to rise above the typical harem lead sightly, but still let him crash into large breasts on a regular basis and have a sister with an unhealthy obsession with him. All this can be added, and is fine – but only if you get the premise that draws people in. With Psycome, the author seems to have found their premise, as all this takes place in a school/prison devoted to “rehabilitating” murderers. Which most of the above ‘types’ actually are.

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Psycome is short for “Psycho Love Comedy”, and they ain’t kidding. Our hero is Kyousuke, who grew to be strong to protect his little sister from being bullied. A bit too strong, in fact, as one day said bullies are all found dead in a warehouse, leading him to be the obvious suspect. He’s sent to the aforementioned prison, where he meets his classmates, also composed of murderers and psychopaths, and their teacher with a hair-trigger temper and no school rules to hold her back. Much of the beginning of the book is devoted to comedy revolving around the premise, with “typical” high school romantic comedy situations made ridiculous by the setting and people doing it. The violence is over the top, but mostly seems to be inflicted on only one person, and you suspect that the majority of the plot of this 6-volume series will be devoted to our hero finding out why he’s been falsely imprisoned and what kind of place this is anyway.

So imagine my surprise when all that’s revealed by the end of the first book. The second half is still amusing, but gets far more serious. The teacher takes her eyes off her usual abuse target to send Eiri (the aforementioned tsundere who tries to be cool) to the infirmary, and we learn that Kyousuke may not be the only one who’s only here on a technicality. Through a series of fights, we also see that Kyousuke has an endurance that’s truly inhuman, which is of course what got him noticed in the first place. And then there’s Renko, the girl in the gas mask on the cover, whose bizarre, over the top genki personality takes a far darker turn when the mask comes off. The fight between her and Kyousuke at the climax is brutal, and the highlight of the book, particularly the resolution being the opposite of what you’d typically expect in this situation.

So yes, another book I expected not to enjoy but did. It’s not perfect – I am very weary with the loli teacher/parent concept, and the fact that Kurumiya appears to be a straight ripoff of Komoe-sensei from Index only evil did not help matters. I’m also not happy we appear to have more brother/sister incest shoehorned in, though at least it’s seemingly one-sided. And then there’s Maina, whose baby-talk way of speaking is grating and irritating, but I’m pretty sure that was deliberate and meant to be the same in Japanese, so I’ll give it a pass. In the meantime, it’s a fairly typical light novel recommendation: if you can deal with the typical romantic comedy cliches, and don’t mind lots of big chested vs flat chested talk, Psycome is an intriguing series, and I look forward to seeing where it goes next.