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.

AX 2015 Licensing Roundup

So AX 2015 has come and gone, and everyone remembers it as the con where everyone’s dreams came true. Each company had a title that made everyone’s jaw drop, down the line. The ‘impossible’ titles. And there were lots of others as well. Particularly from Yen Press, who dropped 22 titles on us.

I will start with Tokyopop, who had a panel to announce they were back, sort of, and might be getting back into manga, sort of, but had no titles to actually announce. As for its attempting to get creators to sign up with them again, see this.

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Let’s move on to Viz Media. The big, BIG announcement here was from Haikasoru, Viz’s science-fiction novel imprint, who announced the acquisition of the first three Legend of Galactic Heroes novels, with more coming if sales are good. It’s possible that this may be too old a property for many readers, but for anime fans of a certain age, this is HUGE. One of the most famous space operas out of Japan. Oh yes, and the anime was licensed as well.

Viz’s Shojo Beat imprint also had two licenses, by some of its more famous mangaka. Bisco Hatori’s Urakata!! is her newest LaLa series, about a drama club. And Matsuri Hino has Shuriken to Pleats, about a young ninja girl who has to start over as a normal high school student, also running in LaLa. Neither of these is particularly surprising, but both are welcome returns for best-selling authors.

Seven Seas was not at AX, but took the weekend to announce a new title of their own. Angel Beats: Heaven’s Door is a prequel to the anime series, and is apparently by the folks behind Air, Kanon, and Clannad, so I expect it might be depressing. It runs in Dengeki G’s magazine, and is ongoing with 8 volumes in Japan.

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Vertical was next, and I will admit that their big surprise was possibly the least shocking of the big con surprises. But still made me very happy. Nichijou is a gag manga famous for being wonderfully strange, and inspired an equally strange yet adorable anime. It runs in various Kadokawa magazines, including Shonen Ace, and is 9+ volumes. It is worth the purchase, especially if you enjoy My Neighbor Seki.

There’s also Fuku Fuku Nya~n, which is the latest in a series of Nya~n titles about an old woman and her cat that technically is a josei title, but really is more of a cat lover’s title. It’s by the author of Chi’s Sweet Home. Lastly, Vertical announced a new Attack on Titan novel, Lost girls, which has short stories focusing on, among others, Mikasa and Annie, who also get the cover.

Mangagamer is not a manga company, but I would feel remiss if I did not mention that they have licensed the Umineko When They Cry visual novels, which will be released arc by arc on Steam. They’re working with Witch Hunt, the Umineko fan translators, to refine and improve translation, and will, again, have an option of updated sprites. No release date set yet that I saw. Umineko is more cynical and difficult to read than Higurashi, but also has more depth and better writing.

Kodansha Comics had three announcements. In the non-earth-shattering ones, Real Account is a Weekly Shonen Magazine series combining the increasingly popular survival game genre with social media. Maga-Tsuki is a harem comedy from shonen Sirius that will likely fulfill every fan’s fanservice needs. And oh yes, one more thing, Kuragehime.

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Kuragehime, aka Princess Jellyfish, has been one of THE most demanded josei series of the last few years. It runs in Kodansha’s KISS magazine, and involves a shy girl who loves jellyfish and her meeting with a beautiful young… woman? It inspired a popular anime, and everyone assumed it would not be licensed here as a) it’s josei and b) it’s 15 volumes and counting. Kodansha is doing it in 2-in-1 omnibuses, with a larger trim size. And Crunchyroll Manga also announced it will have it digitally, starting July 15.

That’s a lot of stuff. What could be left? Oh right, Yen. Let’s break this down into three waves.

First, digital-only series. There’s supernatural/horror titles (Aphorism, Corpse Princess, Renaissance Eve), another survival game series (Seishun x Kikanjuu), harem comedies (the popular yet polarizing Sekirei), straight-up mysteries (Black Detective), and even gambling manga (Kakegurui). There’s also series where I have no idea at all: Ore no Kanojo ni Nani ka Youkai is by the Working! author, and Manzen Maou Shoujo Ena-sama… I don’t even know. The big one here, though, even if it is only in digital format, is Saki. This long-running mahjong manga with yuri subtext has been an underground favorite ever since the anime came out, and it’s nice to see it getting a NA release.

In actual print, we’ll start with Handa-kun, the prequel to Barakamon. It had been previously announced as digital only, but I guess is popular enough that it’s now getting a regular release. For Log Horizon fans, the popular spinoff West Wind Brigade has been licensed. Sword Art Online’s manga continuations have been licensed – both Phantom Bullet and Mother’s Rosario, which run concurrently in Japan. Phantom Bullet’s artist also does Sacred Blacksmith.

There are a few Dragon Age titles, which usually are a bit more fanservicey than most. Kamigoroshihime Zilch seems to be about a teen who’s told he’s secretly incredibly powerful. And Saenai Heroine no Sodatekata, better known as Saekano, is based on a light novel, though Yen have only announced the manga, which is an odd combination of harem manga and visual novel creation. Fans of Genshiken might like this. Lastly, as it wouldn’t be a con without something from Comic Alive being licensed, Taboo-Tattoo seems to be a manga with lots of girls fighting – indeed, I can’t really find much else about it except that.

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But Sean, you’re thinking, where is the jaw-dropping Yen Press title? Well, for that, let’s turn to the light nvoel imprint, Yen On. First, there’s a sequel to the horror novel Another, called Episode S. The second one, Yahari Ore no Seishun Rabu Kome wa Machigatteiru, is very surprising for two reasons. First, it’s owned by Shogakukan, who usually do not let their books fall outside Viz’s purview, even if Viz isn’t actually doing novels at the moment. Secondly, it’s the first Yen On title to be announced that does not involve some element of fantasy or supernatural – it’s a straight up romantic comedy. It also sells like hotcakes in Japan, and has a very popular anime, which likely explains why Yen moved past 1 and 2 above. They’ve also licensed the manga.

But there is also Baccano!. From the author of Durarara!!, this is actually Narita’s first series, about a group of mobsters in 1930s New York who get caught up with a group of immortals. Baccano! is one of those series whose anime was FAR more popular in the West than in Japan, where it bombed. It has a huge online fandom in areas such as Tumblr, and fans had been begging Yen for the novels. I was not expecting this at all – I love Baccano!, particularly the characters of Isaac and Miria, who are very… themselves. Everyone is flipping out over this, and I really hope it sells incredibly well.

Lastly, there is Crunchyroll manga. In addition to the Princess Jellyfish release I mentioned above, we have Fukigen na Mononokean (another supernatural title), Takahashi-san ga Kiite Iru (a gag comedy about an eavesdropping girl), Kuzu no Honkai (a romantic drama seinen series about pretend lovers), and Amaama to Inazuma (a child-rearing manga which should interest those who enjoyed Bunny Drop but disliked the road it went down). I like the variety of series they’re getting, and will definitely be checking these out.

There’s also SDCC next week, but I expect, while there will certainly be some titles announced there, it will be quieter than this week. AX has let everyone exhausted but happy, even those who didn’t attend it.

Sword Art Online: Progressive, Vol. 2

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

One of the problems with a series that’s narrated in first person, which Sword Art Online is (yes, sorry, Asuna fans, this is again all Kirito), is that it can be harder to see the flaws inherent in the protagonist, since you have to remove yourself from the narrative voice to see what’s really going on. Last time we saw Asuna starting out in Aincrad trying to find a noble way to die, and Kirito had to show her that there are better things to try for than that. But he has issues of his own – he’s bad at dealing with people, as he both admits himself and we see time and time again, making bad jokes in order to try to get past the fact that he finds it hard to gauge what others are thinking. And while I think he’s right that Asuna could grow to be a great inspiration to others trapped in the game, I worry he may be putting her on a bit of a pedestal, particularly as he tries to ensure the other players don’t see her as a villain.

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Kirito is also having to have genuine interaction more than he expected, as the elf that they meet up with, Kizmel, not only doesn’t die – as she did in the beta Kirito played – but proves to be far more well-rounded and realistic than any NPCs he’s come across before. Both he and Asuna over the course of the book are amazed at how Kizmel grieves for the sister she lost, has mysterious, prophetic dreams, and seems to be having flashbacks to the beta test that Kirito participated in. This helps to show how SAO is not just another game, but it also lends a bit of intrigue to the series going forward, as this isn’t really explained much beyond “wow, Kayaba was a better programmer than we thought”. Luckily, without spoiling much, I will note that Kizmel survives, and I expect we’ll see her again in Book 3.

The other big focus of the book is the reveal of Morte, and what kind of player he is. Fans of the SAO anime and Japanese fans who read the books in order may be a bit ahead of those coming at the novels in NA-publishing order, as they are aware of the guild called ‘Laughing Coffin’. I’m pretty sure that’s what we’re seeing the genesis of here, as Kirito chillingly runs into a player who simply has the desire to kill, because he realizes that he can do it here and get away with it. The duel itself is the high point of the novel, menacing, action packed, and a bit terrifying. After that, we get a fight that doesn’t arise, as Kirito (and Asuna, who thankfully tails after him when he’s being a loner idiot) talks down two nascent guilds from fighting against each other and helps them realize the goal is for everyone to work to escape the game.

As for my review, those who read me regularly know the less I talk about the actual qualities of the book and the more I theorize, the better I like it. Sword Art Online Progressive’s prose is more mature than the original works, its steady pace (we only get one floor this time around) allows it to grow more naturally, and Kirito and Asuna are clearly destined for each other but are both in denial, which is cute. (For a killer drinking game, try drinking every time Asuna elbows Kirito in the gut. Actually, don’t do this.) Honestly, I’d recommend this series to an SAO newbie first, even if it does have a lot of callbacks. Probably my favorite SAO novel to date.

Non Non Biyori, Vol. 1

By Atto. Released in Japan by Media Factory, serialization ongoing in the magazine Comic Alive. Released in North America by Seven Seas.

There is, as most fans know by now, a large market in Japan, and a smaller one in the West, for manga for grown men that involve groups of young girl students doing cute things in a comedic and laid-back way. K-On! is perhaps the most obvious example, but there’s also Sunshine Sketch, GA Art Design Class, etc. Most of them tend to involve ‘girls in school doing activity X’. Non Non Biyori (Biyori is ‘weather’, but I think the title is meant to sound nonsensical) doesn’t even get to that point – the series features a group of four girls, and occasionally their teacher, in a country school far removed from anywhere in particular, doing adorable things. That’s the plot.

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The girls are all eccentric, to varying degrees. Hotaru is the ‘normal’ one, being the transfer student just moved from the city, but she’s got quirks too; she’s 11 years old but looks about 17, and she has a big crush on another girl, Komari, though as is standard in these sorts of titles the yuri is one-sided and is there for humor and not much else. Komari is Hotaru’s opposite, as shes 14 but short and childlike. She tries to act the older sister, but her personality keeps failing her. Her younger sister, Natsumi, is 13. She’s the troublemaker, bad at school and tends to try to get a rise out of everyone else, particularly her sister. And Renge, who is 6, is precocious but strange, with that triangle mouth that Lucky Star readers will recognize (and that’s another series that this manga is like.)

You won’t find much originality here (even the teacher, Renge’s older sister, is the usual ‘laid back, one of the girls’ types we’ve seen in Azumanga, etc.), but it succeeds in its one goal, which is being cute as a button. Each short chapter involves an amusing situations, and the laughs come naturally from it. The class rabbit has escaped its hutch and must be captured. The teacher tricks the class into working on her family’s rice field for a day. Komari watches a horror movie and gets scared, so Natsumi trolls her. It fulfills its demographic target amiably. There’s also a minimum of fanservice, with no bath scenes or underwear shots that I could spot. Given this runs in Comic Alive, I’ll consider that a big victory.

There’s a short, unrelated manga at the end that involves a girl who dreams of being in a dream, which is even weirder than the main manga but also probably the weakest part of the volume. Best to stick with the main series. Honestly, this is the sort of series that, based on its premise, you’d automatically assume was a 4-koma – just like every other series above that I compared it to. But no, it’s fashioned like a regular manga, which means you don’t get the gag at the end of every page feel. It allows the humor to be more laid-back and relaxed. Which is a good description for the entire volume.