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.

Franken Fran, Vols. 1-2

By Katsuhisa Kigitsu. Released in Japan by Akita Shoten, serialized in the magazine Champion Red. Released in North America by Seven Seas.

This has been one of the long-awaited licenses, and it’s easy to see why with this first omnibus. Franken Fran is terrific. That said, one or two caveats. I feel, once again, Seven Seas’ rating is lower than it really should be. Also, this is absolutely not for anyone easily creeped out by body horror. Not for nothing has it been nicknamed ‘Squick: The Manga’. If you don’t like insects, gore, horrific scientific human/animal hybrids… again, not a manga for you. But if you have enjoyed the Kurosagi Corpse Delivery Service, or yearn for a return to some of the weirder Black Jack stories, then Franken Fran is right up your alley.

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As the cover might demonstrate, there is some theoretically salacious nudity. I say theoretically because every time you see a naked breast in this series, it’s immediately offset by something horrible happening to its owner. The premise is that there is a mad scientist known throughout the world for his incredible medical skills and ability to save anyone even after death. This is not his story – he’s absent. But he’s left behind his daughter Fran, who seems to be more ‘built’ than ‘conceived’, and she too has amazing medical skills and can do anything. The stories in Franken Fran, much like Black Jack (which the series admits it’s indebted to), involve people coming to Fran asking for operations, her performing these, and the unforeseen consequences that arise.

Because make no mistake about it, there are consequences. Unlike Black Jack, or even Kurosagi Corpse Delivery Service, Fran has no real identifiable sense of morality beyond ‘life must be preserved at all costs’. Yes, even if it means that the person whose life has been saved is living on in agony as some kind of monstrous hybrid. They’re alive, so it’s OK, right? Fran also has a tendency to do things because she wants to see what will happen, which has led to a girl’s entire body being rebuilt so she can live as just a head, giving a man who is losing his sight eyes that can see ANYTHING, including other dimensional beings, and experimenting on cockroaches for the lulz, and then ending up taking their side after realizing she’s lost the war against them. Fran is usually impossible to understand.

She’s hilarious though. The reason that this series is so popular is not just the monstrous horror, but the combination of it with a truly black as pitch comedy. High school students get their every whim catered to by Fran (I want to be taller, I want bigger eyes, etc.) and the results are hysterical. A crime syndicate’s insane leader has to go up against his increasingly difficult to handle clones, and the chaos is glorious. And then there’s Kuho, the unfortunate detective who is misfortunate enough to be the only normal character in the series… or at last she is until Fran gets a hold of her. People suffer horribly in this book, and it’s funny. Trust me on this.

This omnibus gives us the first two Japanese volumes, ending with the introduction of Fran’s assassin sister Veronica, who looks to be psychotic and dangerous but turns out to be nothing next to Fran’s ‘hey, it’s for science’ mentality. In the meantime, if you enjoy any of the titles I mentioned above, or stuff like Dorohedoro, absolutely give Franken Fran a try. Don’t mind the salacious covers. This ran in Champion Red, which is only read by horrible people. They had to throw them a bone.

School Judgment, Vol. 1

By Nobuaki Enoko and Takeshi Obata. Released in Japan as “Gakkyu Hotei” by Shueisha, serialized in the magazine Weekly Shonen Jump. Released in North America by Viz Media.

It can sometimes be difficult, particularly for a Western audience, to remember that Weekly Shonen Jump’s demographic remains young boys in Japan, with the ideal age between 8 and 13 years old. They know the reality of writing for children, which is kids want to read about other kids a few years older than they are, which is why the less fantasy-oriented Jump series feature a bunch of middle and high schoolers. (Speaking of which, when did Bleach last attend high school anyway?) But sometimes there is a series which does give us elementary schoolers, and we have that in School Judgment. There’s a catch, though – some of the students are lawyers, and what follows is, if not exactly a ipoff of the Ace Attorney franchise, at least highly influenced by it.

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It becomes fairly clear a few pages into this series that you really have to leave your suspension of disbelief at the door. While true for most Jump series, the combination of 12-year-old lawyers, some of whom are also ex-convicts, and 4-year-old baby judges may make a few people at least raise an eyebrow. But it fits with the manga’s overall mood, which is over the top, a bit loud, and somehow both painfully earnest and deeply cynical at the same time. The main reason that it succeeds is the hero, Abaku, is *not* your standard Jump hero. In fact, he’s more like the cynical, grinning mentor who’s gradually won over by the shiny idealism of the normal hero. No idealism here – Abaku is obnoxious, superior, selfish, and acts refreshingly like a 12-year-old at times.

The cases we see and characters we meet are fairly standard shonen fare – the boy with the pudding bowl haircut is disliked by everyone, who knew? There’s scholastic rivalry, nascent crushes, and intense drama over whether or not to eat the classroom’s pet fish. In the midst of all this, we start to get a bit of a larger ongoing plot – Abaku clearly has a past, and may have at one point been imprisoned in Japan’s maximum security elementary school prison island. (I’m not making this up, you know.) He’s in that classroom for a reason. I was less impressed with the prosecuting attorney, Pine, who seems to be the standard “I pretend to be sweet but am secretly angry all the time” girl, destined to always lose to our heroes. I hope she gains depth in the next volume.

This is not terrific by any means – the mysteries are rather perfunctory, and I’m not sure I agree with using the Japanese word “ronpa” throughout instead of just translating it as “cross-examination” or somesuch. And the baby judges are a hideously stupid idea. Despite Obata’s usual excellent art, this reads like the work of a Jump newbie, and it will not surprise anyone to hear it only has 2 volumes to go. But it held my attention, and is ridiculous in a way that makes you smile wryly, rather than just want to put the book down. Worth a look.

How To Raise A Boring Girlfriend, Vol. 1

By Fumiaki Maruto and Takeshi Moriki. Released in Japan as “Saenai Kanojo no Sodatekata” by Kadokawa Shoten, serialization ongoing in the magazine Dragon Age. Released in North America by Yen Press.

I think you have to be very careful when part of your work has “boring” in the title. I’m not sure if the original Japanese conveys quite the same meaning, but if the core of the work is that you feature a heroine who is meant to be uninteresting, then you’re already climbing up a larger hill than normal. Now, of course, this is something of a comedy, and the point of the whole exercise is that we have a hero who is surrounded by stereotypes of the standard light novel girl, and yet he decides to take the average, nebbish girl and turn her into heroine material. Unfortunately, at least by the end of this first volume, most of what I get from it is that the other two girls really *are” more interesting.

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That is not, of course, the boring girl in the foreground – it’s Eriri, the hero’s tsundere childhood friend who’s a famous doujinshi artist who has at least four different traits for a harem romance. The actual boring girl is sitting in the seat at the back. Our hero’s other close friend is Utaha, who is a bestselling novelist and fills the ‘cool yet snarky’ part of the otaku equation. Naturally, they dislike each other hovering over our hero Tomoya, who is something of an otaku who has grand ideals for a dating sim, but no actual talent to turn them into anything beyond cliches. He needs his two friends to actually do the work and make it good… particularly since his heroine in this dating sim is based on Megumi, who is simply there.

This is one of those series where Yen On did not pick up the light novel it’s based on, and I suspect that it would do better without the manga format. The writer of the original story jokes about the fact that the titular heroine “will never be in the center of the panel frame”, but even a cursory glance can tell you that’s not true – Megumi is present and paid attention to throughout, she’s just dull. This is the sort of series that cries out for exaggeration, and I could see her being drawn in a way like Sunako from The Wallflower, who only appears out of “superdeformed” mode in cool moments. Instead, Megumi’s presence and the delivery of the lines feel like the author explaining a joke that isn’t as good as they think it is. The premise is that we’re meant to wonder why this obvious visual novel hero is pulling away from the two cliched girls to find the ordinary one. But as a reader, I know why – cliched or not, Eriri and Utaha are far more interesting than Megumi is, and I’d like to actually know about *them*. Saekano (not to be confused with apocalyptic romance Saikano) sells its tedium a bit too well.