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.

Sword Art Online, Vol. 2

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

The author of this novel admits in his afterword that the first book was an excellent stand alone, but did not really make for much of an ongoing series. So, in order to fix that, he’s going back and adding a few elements that might a) expand the cast and draw in a few more fans of those ‘types’, b) expand the world of Aincrad a bit more before everyone is free of it, and c) give a bit more depth to Kirito’s mental and emotional issues while continuing to show off how amazing he is (really, if Kirito bothers you as a super awesome guy, you should probably find some other series to read. I’ve no real issues with it.)

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This novel consists of four short stories, and while they all achieve something, I’d have to see it’s the last two that hold more emotional weight and are better written. In the first story we meet Silica, a young girl who has a rare beast and has let it go to her head, with potentially tragic circumstances. Kirito straight up admits (though later he reveals that part of this was a ploy) that he’s helping her as she reminds him of his younger sister. Having read Fairy Dance’s manga, I don’t really see it, but again, ploy. We see a bit of how criminal activity works in the world of SAO, and also how a young girl on her own would have to deal with creepers – Silica is well-known, popular, and underage, a dangerous combination even in a MMORPG.

Next we meet Lisbeth, a blacksmith who is friends with Asuna and indeed shares many of her qualities. Kirito comes to her looking for a second sword, and so they have to go on a quest for the mystery metal that can make it. I found this the weakest story in a few ways, but it does manage to highlight what it must be like for an outsider on coming across the relationship between Kirito and Asuna. The author may be adding more cute girls to fall for Kirito (we get three in this book alone), but never lets us forget that Kirito and Asuna are THE couple, and Lisbeth, much as it hurts, can’t bring herself to try to come between them. (She also gets first person narration, the first we’ve seen that isn’t Kirito’s.)

The third story was my favorite, and not coincidentally focused on Kirito and Asuna right after they get married, when they come across a young girl in the forest. The manga adapted this, but I hadn’t realized how much it was compressed – here we meet several more cast, and it’s revealed that most of the young kids in the game are not leveling up like Silica, but just wanting to survive. Sasha corralling them is a definite good thing. It’s also nice seeing a romantic couple that isn’t the main one – Yuriel attempts to frame Thinker as her commanding officer, but it becomes clear early on she’s deeply in love with him. Mostly, though, this is the heartbreaking story of an AI who overcomes mental blocks to help her parents, and a coulpe that experience the exquisite pain of losing their child.

The last short story is the shortest, and is the only story in first-person Kirito narration. It expands on the story he’d told us in the first book about the guild he joined that was wiped out – in particular Sachi, the young woman he reassures but can’t quite save. This is Kirito at his darkest and most driven, and it’s stated several times that he’s in a suicidal state. It’s stark and emotional, though the actual guild and their fate is more of a catalyst than anything else – this is not about them, it’s about how Kirito can get over his grief and start to recover.

As you’d expect, this was a lot more uneven than the first book, but I enjoy its leads, and I like the expanded worldbuilding. Now that we’ve done that, hopefully Book 3 will show us Kirito and Asuna happily reuniting in the real world. Well, unless something goes horribly wrong…

A Mostly Yen Press License Roundup

I was away for a few days, so naturally the license DELUGE hit. As such, let me ask you to turn to A Case Suitable for Treatment, for the very last in news. :) Let’s see what 17 million titles are coming out soon, however, and talk about them a bit.

First the non-Yen stuff. Seven Seas has three more Alice spinoffs coming, featuring, I believe, Gray, Elliot, and the Twins. They sell well, and there are PILES of the things, so I see no reason why Seven Seas shouldn’t license them till they run out.

Dark Horse just announced today the license of Fate/Zero, the prequel to Fate/Stay Night that runs in Kadokawa’s Young Ace. It’s based on a couple of light novels that tell the story of the ‘fourth Holy grail War’. I admit I didn’t read F/SN when Tokyopop was putting it out, but it’s certainly quite popular, and Fate/Zero seems to be the most respected of the side projects.

Karneval

Now it’s time for Yen Press. On the manga front, a big recent license is the Karneval manga from Ichijinsha’s Comic Zero-Sum. There’s over a dozen volumes to date, and it’s been a highly discussed series. Featuring two innocents on the run from forces beyond their control who end up with a defense organization called Circus, it’s the sort of title that defines the words ‘fantasy manga for young women’ and should sell like hotcakes.

There’s more Madoka Magica manga, as we get Orico Magica’s side story which posits a different meeting between its leads, which I’m sure will lead to puppies and rainbows instead of tragedy; and Tart Magica, which features Jeanne D’Arc and three fellow pseudo-historical young women as magical girls in the 15th century, thus showing that Kyubey can ruin EVERYTHING.

And on the Disney front, sort of, we have Big Hero 6, which just debuted in Kodansha’s Magazine Special. Based on the film due out this November, it looks to be geared towards the younger set, and is a rare Kodansha license from this publisher.

Now let’s talk light novels. I’d mentioned that I thought Yen was pursuing a surprisingly aggressive approach to the new Yen On line, and it’s clear that if anything I was underestimating it. Kurt says they’re going to go even further next year, with over 2 dozen books out in 2015 alone, from a variety of series. Sword Art Online sold quite well, and has I expect inspired the licensing of the Progressive novels that will debut in April.

I have whined on Twitter about the lack of ebooks for SAO and the upcoming Index novels, and I suspect judging from Kurt’s response in the interview that this is not something that will be changing anytime soon. It seems to be the Japanese side more than our side, as Yen says that they make an effort to get them when they’re available. So perhaps I should whine at ASCII Mediaworks instead.

log horizon

As for the new LN series announced, we have four. The first, Log Horizon, has a plot that may seem familiar to fans of Sword Art Online, as it also has a large group of MMORPG gamers who find themselves trapped in a virtual world. Log Horizon seems to have a broader focus, however, and less romance/harem/fanservice elements than SAO does. Yen has also licensed the manga, though we’re not sure yet which manga they have – there are three possibilities, all from different companies. The novel is from Enterbrain, who also do Book Girl, so I’m hoping for ebooks here.

Speaking of fanservices, No Game No Life seems to be the most ‘otaku-oriented’ title that was licensed in this batch. It’s from Media Factory, and involves (try not to contain your shock), an MMORPG. A brother/sister gaming team, who in real life are basically shut-ins, are transported to a fantasy world where they have to use their amazing gaming skills to save humanity.

The Devil Is A Part-Timer!, aka Hataraku Maou-sama!, is a Dengeki Bunko title (i.e., the SAO/Index company). It sounds like the funniest of the new series, as Satan and his lieutenant are on Earth and powerless, and must find work while scheming to regain their powers. To make things worse, the woman who defeated them in the first place is back to finish the job. Luckily, she’s lost her powers as well. This has fantasy elements in it, but the mere fact that it doesn’t involve an MMORPG makes it the most intriguing of these titles for me.

Lastly, for fans of Pandora Hearts, Yen is putting out the novels which contain side stories from the main manga, which are titled Caucus Race. These are also, I believe, from Square Enix.

Judging by their interview, Yen isn’t done yet, and I suspect we’ll have a few more light novels announced at NYCC. Which unlicensed title do you most want? You are not allowed to say Baccano!. Or Durarara!!. Or indeed any title by Narita. But other than those?

The Heroic Legend of Arslan, Vol. 1

By Yoshiki Tanaka and Hiromu Arakawa. Released in Japan as “Arslan Senki” by Kodansha, serialization ongoing in the magazine Bessatsu Shonen Magazine. Released in North America by Kodansha Comics.

I must admit to being unfamiliar with the original Arslan fantasy novels this is based on. Published since the 1980s by Kadokawa, they also spawned a manga in the early 1990s, which ran in Asuka and was drawn by Chisato Nakamura, famous over here for many Harlequin manga adaptation\s. But now the series is being rebooted for a new generation, with the art being done by Hiromu Arakawa of Fullmetal Alchemist fame. This means that the action scenes are superbly handled, and also that our hero, Arslan, just happens to look like the child Ed and Winry would have had in FMA. Which is pretty much what you’d expect. If you hire an artist, you get their art style.

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The story itself is about a fantasy kingdom that seems to be defined as “not quite Persia”, and its young prince who is having difficulty living up to the expectations placed on him, particularly since he doesn’t get much love from either of his parents. He does have some awesome advisors, though, one or two of whom even survive past this first book. After a prologue showing him getting into a prolonged chase with an escaped prisoner from Lusitania, whose country is a bit more democratic and less dependent on slaves than Arslan’s own, we move forward to seeing Arslan at 14 or so, getting ready to fight in his first battle, not knowing how much of a disaster it will be.

As you’d expect for a fantasy series, much of this first volume is devoted to worldbuilding, though there’s also some healthy character development. Arslan has a bit of a complex about wanting to impress his stern and cold parents, neither of whom seem to hold him in much regard – there may be an answer for that, it’s hinted later, as Arslan may not be the King’s real son. He’s the sort of nice, earnest, naive protagonist you enjoy seeing grow to maturity in stories like these. His main ally seems to be Daryun, who is also stern but actually cares about Arslan, even if he has to be prodded to do so on occasion by his father.

I imagine that the next couple of volumes will be trying to figure out how to retake the kingdom now that it has fallen, and attempting to reassess their enemies. The enemies themselves don’t get much of a look-in here – the child who drags Arslan around in Chapter 1 did not return, much to my surprise, in the battle. As for the masked man who appears to be the main villain, he’s driven by a hatred of the King (who, I will admit, is not a caricatured bad King/bad father as I’d expected – he’s a decent King who likely is aware his wife is having affairs and that Arslan isn’t his, and this galls him, as it’s also clear he’d do anything for her). Like a lot of Volume 1s, this seems to be mostly setup, but I’m definitely on board with what is shaping up to be a thought-provoking and exciting new action series.