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.

Shoulder-a-Coffin Kuro, Vol. 4

By Satoko Kiyuduki. Released in Japan as “Hitsugi Katsugi no Kuro – Kaichu Tabi no Wa” by Houbunsha, serialization ongoing in the magazine Manga Time Kirara. Released in North America by Yen Press.

Sometimes, when I’m reading a series with as much ambiguity as this one, I find it difficult to discern which parts I should be picking apart as clues to what’s going on, and which parts I should just let wash over me as part of the overall mood. That’s slowly starting to go away – we get more information on Kuro, Sen and the witch here than in any previous volume – but there’s still large chunks of the story where I feel like I’m trying to connect the dots without a pencil. Luckily, the style and mood of the series are still superior, so it’s an excellent read even if I am sometimes baffled at what’s really going on.

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The volume opens right away with a lot more info than previous ones, as we see a young, grumpy man meet a cute young girl who he reluctantly takes in as his apprentice. The girl is clearly meant to be a young, innocent(ish) Kuro, but the man eludes us at first, until the horrific cursing itself, which we finally see in a bit more detail, and which rebounds horribly on not just Kuro but her master as well. After this flashback, the story (seemingly) picks up where it left off in Volume 3, with Kuro still in a coma and Nijuku and Sanju patiently waiting for her while trying to deal with the fact that her face is starting to fade in their young memories the longer they wait.

Kuro has never been a bright and upbeat series (it’s a contrast with the overtly happy and content GA Art Design Class), but this volume really seem to go above and beyond by dwelling on Kuro’s search for the one who cursed her, which also ties into what is clearly Kuro’s deathwish. We see several stories with Kuro traveling by herself, meeting people who are going on a long train journey, and she plans to go with them but doesn’t seem optimistic. Sure enough, as the train is about to leave she realizes she suddenly left her hat and coffin – which she never lets leave her sight – outside on the platform. You don’t have to read Night of the Galactic Railroad to know what this is a metaphor for.

Once awake and recovered, Kuro’s journey continues, but even then it seems to be a bit more fatalistic. She meets a young girl waiting for her parents who have never come home, and helps convince her to move on with her life. We see a long forgotten kingdom that destroyed itself in search of a perfection that doesn’t actually exist. And Sanju gets a nasty lesson regarding the fragility of things that are not her when she rips the arm off another girl’s cat by “playing too hard”, and they have to deal with the consequences. Kuro makes it very clear in this book that the two young girls she travels with are her “baggage” keeping her tied to this world, far more so than finding the witch who cursed her, and one worries what will happen when they finally have to part.

Shoulder-a-Coffin Kuro comes out so infrequently that it can be a hard series to connect with at times, but when you do it rewards the connection handsomely, being thoughtful, intelligent, moody, and somewhat depressing. Kuro’s heavy coffin is a metaphor, but it’s also real, and seeing her without it feels deeply wrong. I do wonder if the next volume might be the last – we seem like we’re near the end of our journey. There will likely be a long wait till we find out, though.

The Disappearance of Nagato Yuki-chan, Vol. 6

By Nagaru Tanigawa and Puyo. Released in Japan as “Nagato Yuki-chan no Shoushitsu” by Kadokawa Shoten, serialization ongoing in the magazine Young Ace. Released in North America by Yen Press.

In my last review of this title, I seemed somewhat grumpy. The manga had gotten to a place that seemed ideal to wrap up, but trundled past and kept going anyway, with any love confessions quietly brushed under the carpet. I have no doubt that, with the main manga having ended in Japan, and no light novels or anime on the horizon, there is strong impetus to keep the remaining cash-cow spinoffs running. That said, I enjoyed this volume a lot more than the last, as Puyo settles in to do what he does best: take the Haruhi characters, soften them and give them alternate traits without quite turning them into another person, and write as many heartwarming, smile-inducing scenes as possible.

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I had discussed Kyon’s confession (and Yuki not hearing it) last time, and while I’m annoyed he backed off, I’m pleased to see that his experience with the alternate Nagato has affected him. He can’t pretend to go out with Sasaki, even if it’s to help her deal with a guy that’s being too forward, because it wouldn’t be right to Nagato’s feelings. Not the Nagato he knows, but the alternate Nagato. This is very Kyon, and nice to see in a series which lacks his sarcastic inner monologue and thus sometimes has him be more of a cipher than necessary. As for Sasaki, like the rest of the female cast, she seems to be aware she loves Kyon but unwilling to admit it directly. You get the sense that the ‘date me to fend off my admirer’ plan was a bit of a ruse.

Possibly the funniest moment in the series involves Mikuru, another character who’s been reduced to a minor role in this spinoff due to the AU. Here she sees Nagato trying to decide what to do about Kyon seemingly having a better choice in Sasaki, and plays up the part of the wise older student, telling Yuki that jealousy is a perfectly valid feeling to have. That said, when Yuki asks how best to approach Kyon, Mikuru gradually falls apart, as it’s clear she has little to no experience in that area either. (Yuki and Mikuru in this series are somewhat defined by the friendship they have with more extroverted, pushy people who spur them on.) Mikuru being a “failure as a sempai” is hilarious, and Yuki’s response to this is sweet.

Haruhi spends most of the volume on the edges, as she’s pissed off at Kyon and Yuki for not letting her do a band with the literature club. Interesting, the ENOZ thing happened at last year’s cultural festival, where Haruhi was just a visitor, only with Tsuruya playing the brilliant guitarist. Even more interestingly, she gets Mikuru to willingly join the band on tambourine for this year (Mikuru is less shell-shocked by Haruhi here, even if she still has confidence issues). This all leads up to the last scene in the book, though, where Haruhi goes to get Ryoko to make sure she attends the concert. Ryouko snarks on her bunny outfit, but the important thing is Haruhi willingly thanking her for taking care of getting the band on the schedule, and Ryouko saying she did it as a friend, not as a class rep. (Also, ship tease out the wazoo, but that’s just me.)

I haven’t even gotten into all the tiny little Haruhi refs buried in here (I wonder if the Endless Eight joke was in the original Japanese…), or the fact that of COURSE Kuyou is at Haruhi and Sasaki’s school in this AU, and of COURSE she’s meek and shy just like Yuki is, and of COURSE she has an adorable meet cute with Taniguchi. This is not exactly a series to read if you want surprise, or, if I’m being honest, depth. But it’s got a good heart, which is pretty much its entire reason for being, and in that respect fulfills the reader’s needs. Haruhi fans should be pleased once more.

GA: Geijutsuka Art Design Class, Vol. 6

By Satoko Kiyuduki. Released in Japan by Houbunsha, serialization ongoing in the magazine Manga Time Kirara Carat. Released in North America by Yen Press.

As ever, one reason that GA is probably my favorite “4-koma about girls in a school setting and their daily lives’ manga is the art school setting. Art pervades the entire title, and we get explanations of art history each time by the cast, who are trying to understand it themselves. This volume it’s the periods of art history, ranging from the Ancient Greeks to the Renaissance to Baroque and Rococo periods, with each represented by a cast member in the appropriate pastiche. If a point needs to be made that falls outside the scope of modern life, we can have the cast members having a dream, which Kisaragi (typically) does at the start, and Namiko (far less typically) does later on. The characters’ eccentricities drive the comedy, but art drives the plot. (Such as it is – this is still a 4-koma at heart.)

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Speaking of the characters’ eccentricities, this series usually has one chapter per volume that takes a closer look at quiet, reserved Miyabi, and this one is no exception. When asked to identify student’s artwork from a random selection, hers is the first they pick out, because it’s the best. As we discover, she’s been talented her entire life, but getting told that she’s good in everything she does has become somewhat meaningless to her, to the point where she seeks out advice from a teacher. Miyabi has a lot of other issues North American readers don’t have to deal with (her impending arranged marriage, for one), but I think many will feel for her here, and be intrigued by her obsession with the color black, which has mostly been used comedically in the past. Of course, it’s Kisaragi who ends up pulling her out of her funk – the two have the deepest bond among the cast.

The other chapter that really caught my eye was the one that traveled back in time to 1972, looking at a period when the school’s fashion department was separate from the art school. We see five students – who of course look amazingly like our own cast, but with different names and slight variations – dealing with their own issues, mostly revolving around current trends in fashion. They try to imagine what the school uniform will look like in 2014, and come quite close to Kisaragi’s own uniform. This odd time machine-like chapter is one reason why I never really get tired of GA despite its comedy antics – there’s always a new perspective on things.

There are also typical school plots here, though done with an art school touch. In the athletic competition, they have to create art to be used, and one boy overdoes it with a giant paper mache crane (which ends up, by various wacky events, becoming more of a riceball). The best gag here is probably the relay race and its resolution, which relies on family resemblance. Towards the end we have the school festival, where Awara and her art club members are pulling out all the stops in creating a 3D art exhibit, and rope in Kisaragi and her friends to help. It’s nice to see the groups, which rarely interact within the series, coming together like this – something lampshaded by Awara herself.

The usual caveats apply – if you don’t like 4-koma comedies with lots of one-liners and cute but eccentric girls, this will not change your mind. If you do but are a bit tired of the sameness, give GA a try. If nothing else, you’ll learn about art.