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.

Sword Art Online: Progressive, Vol. 1

By Reki Kawahara and abec. Released in Japan by ASCII Mediaworks. Released in North America by Yen On.

I’ve already discussed some of the ideas behind this concept in my review of the first manga, so I’ll try to skim over that and discuss what I enjoyed about SAO:P as a novel. Again, I don’t think it’s a sort of ‘reboot’ where you can read it in place of the original – I think knowing the characters already adds to the depth. But the main reason to read this is to see how Kawahara develops Aincrad, a world he introduced and essentially abandoned in the first book, sequels and side stories aside. And we also get the addition of Asuna’s POV narration, though sadly only for part of the first arc, after which it’s back to all Kirito all the time.

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Despite this, Asuna benefits enormously from the added face time. We see her at the start, having essentially decided that she wants to attempt to die with dignity, or at least on her own terms, something that Kirito is able to talk her out of. As the book goes on (and it is a BIG book – at 360 pages, almost as big as Fairy Dance put together) and Asuna starts to actually pay attention to the rules of the game and how to succeed, she becomes just as good if not better than Kirito – the skills she’s used her entire life as a girl who has to be in the top of the class for everything now benefit her in the RPG environment, and she also has more socialization than Kirito, meaning she can see people in a way that he’s unable to – this really becomes apparent in the second half of the book, where Kirito has pegged himself as an evil person, and Asuna has to side-eye him several times and go “really?”. Kirito, meanwhile sees potential in Asuna, and wants her to be the role model for the game world that he feels unworthy of being himself. They’re not a couple here, but you definitely see why they’re perfect for each other – they’re both quite similar, and their differences complement each other.

There’s no Klein, Lisbeth or Silica here, and Agil is mostly just support. The new addition is Argo, though she’ll be familiar to fans of the anime. She doesn’t vanish after the first few pages, however, and actually gets to show off some character depth and an awesome ‘to the rescue’ bit. In addition, the “Interlude” focusing on her and Kirito is hilarious, the second funniest part of the book. (The funniest part of the book involves Asuna’s inventory and Kirito’s complete ignorance of a maiden’s true heart, as well as measuring rage in gravitational units – I’ll leave it at that.)

The most interesting part of the book takes place right at the end, where a scheme is uncovered that led indirectly to the death of a player (or so they hear), and the concept of PKing comes up for the first time, this time as capital punishment. When does justice become vigilante justice? Kirito has definite views on the subject, but he’s already burned so many bridges (or at least he thinks he has) that he doesn’t want to make any rallying speeches. Luckily, things defuse before we can go there, but everyone is now thinking about it. We’re not at Laughing Coffin just yet, but the seed has been planted.

This book covers the first two floors of Aincrad, and the afterword says there should be 2 floors per novel, so things will likely continue to move quite slowly. This is the main goal of this series, of course, and I’m greatly enjoying what it’s trying to do. And of course there’s also an additional bonus – this is 8 years after the author first wrote SAO, and his prose has improved a great deal. Sword Art Online fans will love this. (Also, I appreciate that ‘Kuroko’ was likely impossible to translate without a footnote, but ‘Blackie’? Geh.)

Captain Ken, Vols. 1-2

By Osamu Tezuka. Released in Japan by Shogakukan, serialized in the magazine Shonen Sunday. Released in North America by Digital Manga Publishing.

Say what you will about Osamu Tezuka, he certainly knows how to write for his specified audience. This doesn’t dumb anything down, but it is absolutely 100% for boys around 7-12 years old, and almost every single page is filled with chases, fights, gun battles, etc. The conceit here is that this is a Western on the planet Mars, and indeed if you changes the Martians into Native Americans, little about this book would have to change. There’s a plucky young hero, a hotheaded teenager (usually the same person, but Tezuka generally liked his heroes to be very shiny, so the anger gets offloaded onto Mamoru here), a cute young thing with a mysterious past (well, in this case, that’s not quite true, but I don’t want to spoil). It’s classic boys’ adventure.

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Tezuka was churning out manga at an incredible pace at this period in his life, and there are times when it shows. I’ve seen Tezuka manga where you can tell he has no idea where things are going from chapter to chapter, or even page to page, but this was the first one where I wondered if he drew one panel at a time and then figured out what would happen next based on that. Sometimes this works to the series’ advantage, though. Apparently Tezuka’s plan had been for Ken and Kenn to be the same person (a la Princess Knight, a series he would revisit two years after this one), but so many people immediately wrote in guessing it that he called that off, and instead made it a competition to see what the real connection between Ken and Kenn was. This works well with the narrative, which starts with it being ‘obvious’ that Kenn is finding excuses to go be Ken, but as the excuses become more outlandish and impossible, we become suspicious along with Mamoru.

Those who enjoy Tezuka’s ‘star system’ of recurring characters will be pleased to see that Mamoru is basically Rock, his young hothead from several other titles. He’s fairly straightforward here, not much like the young man we’ll see in titles such as Alabaster later on. Lamp is also there as a villainous gunslinger. Lamp is actually one of the more interesting characters, not being motivated by greed or power as the other villains are, but simply out of a need to be the best at what he does. Sadly, Captain Ken bests him immediately, and later on it’s shown that he’s actually the worst at the style of fighting he specializes in! Poor Lamp, still no respect.

These two volumes are a lot of fun, and really don’t let a reader catch their breath at all. The message of ‘fighting each other is bad’ is a bit heavy handed at times, but that’s not untypical of Tezuka. There’s also quite a bit of Japanese nationalism tucked in here, which is also not untypical of Tezuka. Still, for the most part this tale of Cowboys ‘n Aliens is on the mark, though those who know Tezuka’s tendencies won’t be too surprised at how it ends. Those who only read his titles for older readers might want to give this one a shot.

Oh My Goddess!, Vol. 47

By Kosuke Fujishima. Released in Japan by Kodansha, serialized in the magazine Afternoon. Released in North America by Dark Horse.

The final volume is not going to have much time for this, so it’s very fitting that this penultimate one is devoted to the greatest love affair in the entire series. No, not K1 and Belldandy, though they’re cute too. I’m referring to the love affair between Fujishima and motorcycles, one which reaches its obvious zenith here as we wrap up a mini-arc where Keiichi must justify his life and earn the right to love Belldandy by driving a really difficult motocross race, something that would sound a bit ridiculous to anyone who hasn’t read Oh My Goddess! before. In fact, ‘really difficult’ may be underselling it – Keiichi’s failure at one point leads to his limbs being broken and his organs tearing apart, something he feels every bit of.

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That said, he ends up perfectly fine, even if his bike is totaled. But wait! A new arrival comes on the scene, who wants to play up the old ‘did you drop this gold motorbike or this silver motorbike’ schtick, but K1 and Bell aren’t having any of that – it’s the Lake Goddess, fresh from the tragic story of Vol. 46. Yes, she is now freed, and yes, it was due to the sheer power of the feelings Keiichi and Belldandy had for each other. This may seem like a hoary old cliche, but honestly, it’s exactly what readers of this title wanted. No one wants to read a grim and gritty Oh My Goddess where our heroes learn that life is pain and suffering.

So yes, she’s free, and able to make fun of Tyr as well. Yes, he’s still testing the couple in his guise as the Gate, even after Keiichi wins the final race, possibly due to the sheer joy of being on a motorcycle – it wouldn’t be the first time he’s won a race for that reason. But there’s one final test, and it’s one that many Oh My Goddess fanfiction writers have theorized about – Tyr offers Keiichi a chance to be a god, so he can stay with Belldandy forever, according to the terms of his deal. Naturally, though, Keiichi is never going to accept that – he is a living embodiment of all that is good about humanity. Take that away and you waste it a bit. Of course, that was a test as well.

The ‘cliffhanger’ ending has Hild explaining exactly over a game of Koi-Koi (and Skuld reading what appears to be Nakayoshi) how she managed to get pregnant with Urd despite losing the same contest that K1 and Bell are going through. But really, the real cliffhanger is knowing that this all wraps up in Vol. 48, and we’re still in the middle of Hell. Will everyone be able to get out? Will K1 and Bell live happily ever after? Is this series really as optimistic as it seems? Yes, yes, and yes. Again, what series have you been reading that these questions aren’t a surprise?