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.

Requiem of the Rose King, Vol. 1

By Aya Kanno. Released in Japan as “Baraou no Souretsu” by Akita Shoten, serialization ongoing in the magazine Princess. Released in North America by Viz Media.

There should probably be “And William Shakespeare” somewhere in the credits above, but I don’t begrudge anyone for leaving it out – this is a very loose interpretation of four of Shakespeare’s earliest works: the famous historical tragedy Richard III, and the less famous and more problematic trilogy, Henry VI, Parts 1, 2, and 3. That’s Henry and Richard on the cover, both looking bishonen and troubled, and surrounded by rose thorns, as is appropriate to the Wars of the Roses. Kanno sticks with much of the basic plot of the Henrys here, but adds her own twists, primarily by having Richard and Henry meet in a secret grove without recognizing each other, and feeling a bond between the two f them. It’s not quite BL, and certainly won’t be once Richard realizes who Henry is, but it’s very shoujo manga.

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Richard himself is the primary focus, and rightly so. As you’d expect, the portrayal of Richard here is a lot more sympathetic than the villain of Shakespeare’s works. Rather than a deformed hunchback, Richard here seems to be intersex, much to the horror and loathing of his mother. His father doesn’t seem to mind as much, but still thinks Richard is a bit too frail and sickly to go into battle with him against the king – even though he can hear his son’s thoughts at dramatic times in the battle. There’s a nice shot of Richard as a child in the early part of this volume, before we realize that Kanno has shifted things up a bit with his background, where we see him looking almost exactly like Kitaro from the old 60s horror manga. Richard’s identity and body hatred fuels most of his anger and frustration.

Some of the Shakespeare has been left intact, of course. Queen Margaret is handled beautifully – one of Shakespeare’s strongest female roles, she gets short shrift these days as she’s not from a ‘famous’ play, but from the Henrys. She has no respect at all for her husband, and is fully prepared to step onto the battlefield and lead men against those who might claim the crown – and indeed innocents who may happen to be in the way. As for Henry himself, his piousness and weakness as a ruler is also portrayed very well here – he doesn’t want anyone to be hurt, but has no solution to offer except to keep praying. Kanno’s art excels here – a shot of Margaret looking down on Henry curled up in a ball, her face filled with disgust, is probably my favorite in the whole book. Oh yes, and the late Joan of Arc is here as well, her spirit seemingly haunting Richard, which fits with the negative portrayal of her in Shakespeare’s works, and adds a nice supernatural element to the mix.

Those who loved Otomen won’t find too many similarities here – this is a deliberate tonal change of pace from her previous series, filled with drama, intrigue, and betrayal. And a few battles, including one with Richard’s father the Duke of York that forms the cliffhanger of this volume. If you like Aya Kanno and Shakespeare, this is a very good pickup for you.

Lucifer and the Biscuit Hammer, Vols. 3-4

By Satoshi Mizukami. Released in Japan by Shonen Gahosha, serialized in the magazine Young King Ours. Released in North America by Seven Seas.

I’ve discussed before how series can sometimes be plotted in “short/medium/long” ways in Japan. The short is if the series is a failure – 2-3 volumes and it’s done. Long is when a series is a huge hit and basically can run as long as the author needs or editors demand. And mid-sized tends to be in the 10-20 volume range, where it’s a big enough hit to get room to grow. Biscuit Hammer falls into the second category, and I am happy that it has its ten volumes (or 5 omnibuses). That said, sometimes you can hear the screeching noises as the author realizes it’s not going to be cancelled and rolls out the rest of the plot. Having spent the first two volumes keeping the focus primarily on three people, these next two add the entire rest of the cast, plus the villain over the space of only a few chapters. It can feel exhausting.

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That said, the cast is not without interest. Seeing two middle-school girls as two of the knights is rather jarring, and I liked the determination of the oldest of the knights to keep them out the battles, even as that quickly becomes moot. We get what seems to be the standard ‘childhood friends with secret crushes’ pair, only to realize that the girl is not only odd but a little worrying – given what happened with the Dog Knight, I wonder if she’ll survive the book. There’s not just youngsters, though – a 42-year-old ex-cop is one of the knights, an agent for justice whose cynicism won’t let him believe in it anymore. And the Swordfish Knight, now dead, gets probably the best backstory of the group, though it starts off in a ridiculous manner.

Then there’s our villain, Animus – assuming you aren’t thinking that the villains are our two heroes, who have after all vowed to destroy the Earth as well. He seems the typical smiling villain – he’s already corrupted one of the Knights, and goes after a second, though he’s unsuccessful – but he’s too laid-back to really fall into that stereotype – indeed, that may be a bit more disturbing, as his calm placidity works even better. I liked his intellectual faceoff with the Cat Knight, whose smackdown that gaining knowledge just for the sake of having it is a useless goal.

Overall, though, much of this omnibus feels like setup – lampshaded by Animus, who calls off the attack golems about 1/3 of the way through the book so that the author can show off his new characters and give us their backstories. It’s nice to learn about them, even if some seem a bit underdeveloped still, such as the Snake Knight. But I didn’t enjoy this quite as much as the first omnibus due to the sound of the grinding gears I heard in the background as the author realized he now has room to stretch things out. I’m still very interested in seeing how things go, though, and the next volume looks likely to have more action, if the cliffhanger is anything to go by.

Nurse Hitomi’s Monster Infirmary, Vol. 1

By Shake-O. Released in Japan as “Hitomi-sensei no Hokenshitsu” by Tokuma Shoten, serialization ongoing in the magazine Comic Ryu. Released in North America by Seven Seas.

As longtime readers will know, I pay far more attention to which company is releasing a manga and what magazine it runs in, for good and ill. Sometimes this can give me a feeling of great anticipation (Love at Fourteen is a good example), and sometimes it can inspire a feeling of dread, such as with this title, which runs in Comic Ryu, home of Monster Musume, which is very, very popular in North America and I simply can’t stand. Luckily, even though it does feature a degree of fanservice and boob jokes, Nurse Hitomi is a far more palatable title, mostly as the fanservice is a distant fourth to its other aims: amusing comedy, amusing drawings of weird creatures, and monsters as a metaphor for teenagers.

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This actually puts it closer to its other Comic Ryu neighbor, A Centaur’s Life. But whereas that’s more of a slice-of-life title that takes great pains in its worldbuilding, Shake-O is not particularly interested in why the world of Nurse Hitomi is filled with mythological people hybrids, or for that matter how a bear can father a cyclops. This is a manga that wants to have fun and be silly. And it certainly succeeds there. Hitomi is a nice teacher who genuinely wants to help her kids, but she has no depth perception, making her clumsy, and she tends to try to do everything herself, something pointed out by fellow teacher and childhood friend Kenjiro (you’d think they would have some unresolved tension between them, but sadly Ken is a lolicon, the final joke in the volume and a lousy one to go out on).

Rather than Hitomi, probably the best reason to read this title would be the kids who come to her with unusual problems, some of which are couched in subtle metaphor but most of which are as unsubtle as they come. One girl is horrified that as she gets older her tongue is getting longer and longer, and she can’t control when it comes out anymore. Two childhood friends are going in opposite directions – one is now a giant while the other has shrunk to the size of a 5-year-old. And a shy girl who has trouble speaking up has now found herself literally turning invisible. (To comedic effect – if you want Translucent, go bother Dark Horse.) As you can see, monster teens = puberty. Most of these titles try to have a heartwarming lesson in them, but the lesson is secondary to the humor, and that’s just fine.

There’s other things going on here – Hitomi’s assistant, Itsuki, seems to be gender-ambiguous, though Itsuki mostly exists to poke gentle fun at Hitomi. The story of the giant girl and her small friend has an undercurrent of yuri – though only an undercurrent – and I hear future chapters may do the same thing. For the most part, though, despite the occasional ‘this looks like tentacles but it’s really not’ art and ‘why are people staring at my large breasts’ jokes, this is a fairly cute and innocent look at teens and their problems, couched in monster language. It’s not essential, but if you like unusual comedies, give it a try.