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.

Soul Eater, Vol. 21

By Atsushi Ohkubo. Released in Japan by Square Enix, serialized in the magazine Shonen Gangan. Released in North America by Yen Press.

After the horror of the final chapter in Volume 20, I think readers needed a break, so it was nice to see the Spartoi out on a normal silly mission to help some Moby Dick-esque villagers harpoon a giant sky whale (ethics of this aside). It’s sort of a last hurrah for simple missions, and for that matter a last hurrah for Black*Star doing something dumb and silly. Because things are coming to a climax, and this volume’s cover is even darker than the grey of last volume, so we know things are going to get even worse, starting from when the group returns to find that an order has been given to have Crona executed.

souleater21

I like that the ethics of this are debated somewhat, and it’s clear that Maka wants a chance to talk Crona down from the insanity (this despite, as has been pointed out, by this point Crona has killed an ENTIRE CITY). And it’s a sign of Kid’s maturity that he allows them to do this rather than sticking to the strict letter of the law. (Speaking of Kid, it’s becoming more apparent that Shinigami-sama has been waiting for Kid to reach this stage of maturity, and I suspect that of all the characters who might die before the end, he’s near the top, if only so that Kid can inherit. He even implies as much to Maka’s father.

Speaking of Maka, she really gets to show off, albeit accidentally, when she finds the Kishin’s bolthole while searching for Crona using her soul sense. And naturally, given the prominence of it in art since the start, Kishin and his evil minions are on the Moon. And so, leaving Maka and company to deal with Crona, most of the older main characters (plus Kid, Liz and Patti) head off to the moon to go and stop Justin and his fellow insane believers. The latter half of the volume is very much an action-oriented scene, with lots of back and forth and signs of the unstoppability of the enemy being combined with hope for our heroes. The storyline has reached truly epic proportions.

Which is why I find it interesting that all my favorite moments in this volume were small things. Maka’s conversation with her father, where he gives her his wedding ring. The incredible sadness that is Liz and Patti, being forced to write their wills before they go off to a battle of almost certain death, discovering they have no one to leave anything to. The incredibly stupid “H-ey” pun that Yen sadly tries to translate and doesn’t quite pull off, though they at least point out the original in the footnotes. And Eruka Frog, hanging out in her cell at DWMA, realizing that Medusa’s snakes are no longer in her body and simply saying “She’s dead!”

Crona only had a brief role in this volume after the tour de force that was the previous cliffhanger, and I expect we’ll see a lot more of that plot in the future. But for the most part, enjoy the cast of Soul Eater, fighting on the Mountains of Madness on the Dark Side of the Moon.

Terra Formars, Vol. 1

By Yu Sasuga and Kenichi Tachibana. Released in Japan by Shueisha, serialization ongoing in the magazine Weekly Young Jump. Released in North America by Viz Media.

I should note up front that I actually noted this as a license request a long while back, as part of a post where I looked at Japanese bestsellers and gauged which was most likely to succeed over here. This take on the ‘Starship Troopers’ type story looked like a winner, and indeed I think still will do pretty well. It has some very good action sequences, the art is well-defined with every character easy to recognize, the horror and gore are overflowing (this is a title whose primary readers I think may be horror fans), and the villains are truly loathsome. And no, I don’t mean the roaches, I mean the human villains. That said, there are a few reasons why I think this is not the title for me.

terraformars1

Let’s start with what was discussed on the Bookshelf last week when we did our picks: the aliens that are being fought here are the descendents of cockroaches, which were dropped on Mars to help terraform the planet, with humanity planning to simply kill them off once they’d achieved their purpose. Now, they’re evolved, and look much like homo erectus, a somewhat controversial ancestor of humanity. The problem here is they look African, and they spend most of the book silent and killing off the mostly White and Asian cast. There is a crewmember from South Africa, notably… but she’s a villain, betraying the team in order to get a specimen back to Earth. I don’t think this was intentional racism on the part of either author. But it’s an unintentional racism that I’ve been discomfited by in Japanese manga before, reminding me of other Jump series like One Piece, where Luffy wears an Afro to give him the strength of black men, or Eyeshield 21, where the football players extol black tendons.

That said, the reason I’m so cool to the series did not end up being that, but rather the entire attitude of the manga, which falls squarely into the ‘kill 90 percent of your cast so that you can show off the strength of humanity against adversity. (Humanity being the two Japanese guys who are the only members of the multi-racial, multi-ethnic crew to survive.) I’d mentioned that most of this manga is an extended action sequence, but what most of the manga really is is a horror movie, killing the crew off one by one and showing the surprise and horror on their faces. Some of them fight back valiantly, or get to take out a bug or two. (Each of the crew has been genetically modified to have insect powers, which they use in lovingly detailed ways against the enemy – this is another drawback of the manga, as the author expects me to care about the various insect powers more than I really do.) And of course we get a few backstories to make it extra tragic – the tsundere childhood friend who was rescued from an abusive father is the first one to die.

This is all being orchestrated by forces from Earth, all of whom seem to want to exploit the crew in various ways – they were all chosen as they were under desperate circumstances, and are cheerfully told they have no rights and are no longer really human anymore. The villains even conspire against each other, with one set trying to get a cockroach egg to Earth while the other merely watches the carnage from hidden cameras while chuckling. I’ve no doubt that the next volume of this series (it’s 9+ in Japan) will introduce a somewhat longer-lived cast, with this first volume serving as sort of a prologue.

As I said, the series has its strengths – good action, lots of intrigue, some interesting if overly explained sci-fi concepts. But I don’t want to read about a series this bleak and cynical, especially if it’s already making me uncomfortable in how it’s portraying race. So I’m going to move on.

UQ Holder!, Vol. 2

By Ken Akamatsu. Released in Japan by Kodansha, serialization ongoing in the magazine Weekly Shonen Magazine. Released in North America by Kodansha Comics.

I still get the impression as I read this second volume that Ken Akamatsu is doing a victory lap, showing off the fact that he can do what he wants now and is not as constrained by editorial fiat. Much of the time we spend here is seen watching battles between our heroes and antagonists, be they monsters, bad guys, or even jealous girls who are supposed to be on the side of justice. There’s also a healthy dose of things Akamatsu likes to write no matter what – comedy, nudity. The large number of new male characters, however, and the minimal harem antics (they are there, but it’s part of the background events for the most part) must be a relief for him, and I think he’s having a ball here. But are we?

uqholder2

The biggest change between Akamatsu’s prior works and UQ Holder is the role of the hero. Keitaro and Negi both seemed to be of a certain type – somewhat shy, a tendency to worry, a tendency to overthink everything, and a tendency to fall into other people’s boobs. Tota is very much a complete 180 change – he goes by instinct, doesn’t really dwell on anything much, and gets by on having fun and being awesome. He’s a traditional shonen hero in a battle manga, which for the most part this is. And as such he comes with the traditional shonen hero problems – he seems to be painted as exceptional far too fast. Everyone remarks here on how Tota’s ability to learn new techniques is simply superhuman beyond belief. He escapes an inescapable dungeon in only a week, learns shundo in a day, etc. Sure, he may get beat in arm wrestling, but if you don’t like ‘boring invincible hero’ types, this may not be for you.

The other two major characters here fair better, as Evangeline/Yukihime takes a step back for a bit. We finally get the story on the gender ambiguity of Kuromaru, who is actually genderless – reminiscent of the anime Simoun, when he turns 16 he’ll decide if he wants to be a man or woman. I say he as Kuromaru is clearly leaning towards the male choice. Kuromaru not only looks a lot like Setsuna from Negima, who I suspect she may be related to, but also shares many of her self-loathing traits, so it doesn’t take much for Karin to completely destroy her, noting Tota is drawn to inner strength that Kuromaru doesn’t have. Karin herself is also intriguing, having a somewhat disturbing attachment to Yukihime that is mostly played for comedy, and a corresponding hatred of Tota that is played likewise. There’s nothing comedic about the kind of immortality she has, though, and the revelation that she still feels the pain of attempts on her life is rather chilling.

There are a few more Negima teases here (the nun in the slums they’re sent to protect is named Kasuga, and some of the monster girls in UQ Holder are reminiscent of Fate’s minions), but not as much as the first volume. I’m sure we’ll here more of Negi and company later, but Akamatsu is content for now to just take the cast where it wants to go and show off awesome fighting moves. And if it all feels a bit lightweight and fluffy, I’m sure that won’t last long. For now, let’s laugh along with our boring invincible hero.