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.

Is It Wrong To Try To Pick Up Girls In A Dungeon?, Vol. 3

By Fujino Omori and Suzuhito Yasuda. Released in Japan as “Dungeon ni Deai o Motomeru no wa Machigatte Iru Darou ka?” by Softbank Creative. Released in North America by Yen On.

The thing that struck me most about the third volume of this light novel series was how tightly paced the whole thing is. The second book followed directly from the first, and this one follows on right from the second, with Bell and Lily discussing the fallout of her leaving the Soma family, and introducing her to Hestia. The narrow focus allows us to really get a handle on Bell, his desire to be the best, and his frustration at being unable to progress as fast as he’d like – this despite the fact that he is making the fastest progress in the history of this world. Many overpowered light novel protagonists try to balance their perfect heroes with a massively low self-image, and Bell is no exception. He’s getting there, though – his goal isn’t to get a harem anymore, it’s to be a hero.

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Of course he’s getting the harem anyway, though he’s totally unaware of this. Hestia and Lily jealously jockeying for position is highly amusing, though once again Hestia is very much a minor character in the book. This is surprising given how much her popularity has exploded in Japan – you’d think she were the only character. Instead, this time around we get a closer look at the mind of Aiz Wallenstein. While she’s not exactly knocked off the pedestal that Bell has put her on yet, he is at least starting to realize that Aiz is quite eccentric in her emotionally stunted way. Another comedy highlight is seeing Aiz beat the tar out of Bell over and over, and his waking up with his head in her lap then freaking out. It’s also a good plot moment, as Aiz really wants to find out how Bell is getting so good so fast – he learns from her teachings (which are mostly “I beat you up a lot”) astonishingly well.

Then there’s the minotaur. The series began with Bell about to die from having a run-in with one of these, and Freya’s underling Ottar is convinced that it’s his fear of that incident that is stopping him from progressing even faster. So, the decision is simple. Have him face off against another one. If he dies, oh well, he wasn’t worthy of Freya. Of course bell does not die. The sequence is utterly badass, even more so that it happens in front of the high-level adventurers of Loki’s family, who offer a running commentary. I will admit that the book pretty much stops right after the fight, as if the author is working to a set page count. But it’s a great fight to go out on. Oh, and I have a suspicion about Bell’s grandfather. Let’s just say I think I know his name, and I bet he’s gotten a harem by appearing as a bull or swan.

Again, I remain very surprised at how good this series has gotten, particularly with that cliched light novel title. Which was apparently by editorial fiat, I’ve found out. If you love fantasy series, absolutely give this a try.

A Certain Magical Index, Vol. 4

By Kazumi Kamachi and Kiyotaka Haimura. Released in Japan as “To Aru Majutsu no Index” by ASCII Mediaworks. Released in North America by Yen On.

The early Index novels tend to follow an unfortunate pattern, which luckily goes away as the series goes on. The odd-numbered books, for some reason, are significantly better and more thought out than the even numbered books. And given that this volume of Index is 4, you can guess how I feel about it. Not that there aren’t great moments in the book, or good characterization. But like the second book, it reads more like the author trying to stall while he figures out to expand his far-more-popular-than-he-expected series into a huge franchise. Also, Kamachi’s attempts at wacky humor are pathetic in every way.

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Introduced in this volume: Motoharu Tsuchimikado (who appears much earlier in the anime, to better effect, as he’s sort of out of nowhere here), Touya Kamijou, Shiina Kamijou (looking like Index), Sasha Kreutzev (appearance only), Angel Gabriel (looking like Sasha). For Railgun manga readers, this takes place around when Kongou is introduced (and quickly brought down to earth). For Railgun anime watchers, the anime-original ending to the Railgun S series (with Febrie) is taking place.

The first 30 pages of this volume are almost painful in the forced, unfunny wackiness that ensues. Even after Tsuchimikado and Kanzaki arrive, things still have to wait for comedy at times, as Kanzaki’s desire to kill Touma seems less due to Angel Fall and more due to her being embarrassed about looking like Stiyl. After this, things settle down to what we’ve gotten used to in the Index novels – pages upon pages of explanation of how magic works and the various systems behind it, which is mixed in here with a healthy dose of bizarro Christianity – in case any devout religious fans were still reading Index, I suspect they’ll likely stop here.

And then there’s Jinsaku Hino, the serial killer. As with the 2nd book, the anime decided he was irrelevant and completely cut him. And, as with the 2nd book, I can’t blame them at all, as his plot *is* almost totally irrelevant, serving to pad out the page count till we see who’s really behind Angel Fall and giving us a lot of discussion of split personalities. He’s certainly a creepy psycho, but we never get any sense that he poses a real threat to our heroes, and the main thing his plot seems to have done is show us the Kamijou home and thus show Tsuchimikado who the real culprit is.

Luckily, once we find out who that culprit is, the novel takes a huge upswing, and the 2nd half is much better than the first. Touma’s talk with his father is one of the most heartwarming in the series, as well as a really depressing glimpse back at his horrible childhood. Kanzaki, when she’s not being embarrassed about Touma in general, is also very well done, showing off the fact that she was holding back against Touma in book 1 a lot. Her past is also somewhat tragic, even if she and Touma are meant to be contrasted as polar opposites. As for Tsuchimikado, there’s a bit too much heel-face revolving door here, but you at least get the sense he’s trying to be on the right side, whichever one that may be, and he does get away with a cool (temporary) exit. And I did like him pointing out that Gabriel’s disguise is really obvious to anyone familiar with Russia, as it really, really is.

Yen Press’s translation is decent, though it’s fighting on multiple fronts here. Kamachi’s amazingly wordy prose is simply hard to translate in a way that doesn’t sound like an encyclopedia threw up. Tsuchimikado’s speech quirks are handled pretty well, but his habit of giving everyone nicknames runs up against Yen’s no honorifics policy. So Kamiyan is now Kammy, and Oneechin is now Zaky. Which is OK, but tends to make them sound more like J-pop band members than Index characters.

Luckily, we’re in for a big upswing with Book 5, and the even numbered books get better from here on out. This particular book, though, suffers from a stapled on subplot and bad humor (I did enjoy Misha’s obsession with chewing gum, the most subtle joke and therefore the best). I definitely recommend it for Kanzaki fans, but honestly, the rest might just want to wait till Book 5, where we’ll be discussing another divisive plot twist.

Black Bullet: Those Who Would Be Gods

By Shiden Kanzaki and Saki Ukai. Released in Japan by ASCII Mediaworks. Released in North America by Yen Press.

One of the more difficult things about reading modern Japanese manga and light novels is a certain tendency to follow what’s popular and throw things in that appeal to a certain audience – even if they may not actually be appropriate for the book that’s being written. As an example, Fujino Omori wanted to call their new fantasy novel series Familia Myth, but editorial convinced them to use the ever popular ‘long long title’ in order to get readers, resulting in Is It Wrong To Try To Pick Up Girls In A Dungeon?. Which works OK, because there are other elements of that sort of genre in the books – harems, etc. But when you have a dark, brutal corpse-filled dystopian series about child soldiers, somehow populating it with lolicon jokes and tsundere grumbling seems even more jarring than it normally is.

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There’s a very good dark action thriller in here as well. Rentaro spends most of the book talking about how useless he is, but this makes sense in terms of his characters and allows a genuinely surprising reveal towards the end of the book. Enju, like the other Cursed Children, is a giant bucket of adorable, and unlike most of the other cursed children she generally tends to be happy and upbeat – provided Rentaro is around. The relationship between them when she’s not going on about marrying him or trying to show off her prepubescent body is heartwarming. They’re contrasted well with Rentaro’s dark mirror and the villain of this first novel, Kagetane and his child Kohina. If Rentaro tries to be a big brother to Enju, Kohina sees Kagetane as her father, and he’s raised her, sadly, to be a sociopath. The fights between them are the high points of the volume.

I’d mention Kisara – that’s her on the cover, with a far bigger picture than Enju – except she really has a smaller part in this volume than you’d expect. Indeed, there were points, especially when she arrived in the middle of the council meeting with evidence of a conspiracy, that I really wish the book had a double narrative so that I could see what makes her tick. She seems to be driven by a white-hot anger against her grandfather, but what that is I’m guessing will have to wait till future books. As it is, so far she’s all potential. Oh yes, and Sumire is the classic eccentric weirdo scientist, complete with suggestions of necrophilia and a major role in Rentaro’s past.

If you removed all the elements that appeal to the typical Japanese otaku, this would not be out of place in Viz’s Haikasoru imprint. I know I’ve talked about this sort of thing earlier while reviewing No Game No Life, but that at least is fairly light-hearted and comedic with the occasional dramatic cliffhanger. Black Bullet is a brutal world where all that the heroes can hope for is making the world happy for the Cursed Children in the brief time they have available, and the last couple of pages show that even this rarely works, and that death is all that awaits. I really don’t need “tee hee, Rentaro is a pedophile’ jokes on top of it.