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. 5

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.

Well, I suppose I asked for it. In the last few reviews of this series I kept mentioning how the mechanics of the series meant that Hestia, the supposed female lead, kept getting less screen time than everyone else. Now we have a book where she actually comes along on a dungeon crawl in order to rescue Bell, and it’s sadly fairly cliched. She can’t use godly powers in there, so she’s useless in the fighting. She spends much of the time post-rescue jealous of the fact that every girl in the entire series has fallen in love with Bell (though honestly, I think what Aiz is feeling is deep jealousy of Bell’s progress, but that doesn’t matter to Hestia), *and* she gets kidnapped and has to be rescued.

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The others fare better. Bell too needs to be rescued, but that’s not really his fault, and he, Welf and Lilly show off their excellent teamwork here. (Lilly also shows a lot of jealousy, but she’s more cynical and sarcastic about it, and thus appeals more to Western readers.) Bell’s reputation is starting to precede him, and much of this volume is devoted to the fact that if you are an overpowered character in what is for all intents and purposes an RPG, you’re going to have players assuming you’re cheating, or getting help, or just plain old “who does he think he is?”. And so we see the return of some old bullies from Book 2, who decide to teach Bell a lesson – and by that I mean beat the crap out of him. The trouble is, Bell is just too good for that to work.

The big debut this volume is Hermes, who’s the standard trickster god type, also out to teach Bell a lesson: stop being so naive and realize that some humans are bad people. This lesson does not work, because Bell is Bell, and this isn’t Black Bullet. Hermes is amusing, and I love the fact that everyone just accepts that he’s something of an asshole – indeed, when we get the standard “whoops, Bell is peeking on the girls at the hot spring, lol” scene, literally everyone there knows this isn’t something Bell would do, and blame Hermes instead. I was ecstatic to see that. He also lets the cat out of the bag about Bell’s ancestry, but honestly I think everyone had guessed that by now anyway.

For those who enjoy battles, the one in the last third of the book is very epic, with a huge cast of characters all teaming up to take out a nightmarish monster. Lyu, one of the waitresses from our favorite pub, gets a tragic backstory and a serious chance to show off. In fact, I’d argue the series has more women kicking ass than men by a large margin – which is partly for the service, but it’s also simply nice to see. In the ‘odd’ department, we meet one of the Japanese gods and his all-Japanese human team, who do well but feel out of place in this land of Greek fantasy archetypes. On the whole, though, it’s another strong volume, though I hope Hestia can get over her jealousy soon. (Yes, I know.) Also, we’ve now caught up with the anime, so the next book should be new to viewers.

The Irregular at Magic High School: Enrollment Arc, Part 1

By Tsutomu Sato and Kana Ishida. Released in Japan as “Mahouka Koukou no Rettousei” by ASCII Mediaworks. Released in North America by Yen On.

Sometimes, when I review a new series, I come into it relatively unspoiled beyond a basic premise. And then there are times where the series is somewhat infamous, and so I’m spoiled no matter what I do. The Irregular at Magic High School, aka Mahouka, is one of the latter. It’s become somewhat infamous on the internet for its immense volume of technobabble, for its bizarre and skewed views of world politics, but most of all for its hero, who tends to get even more flak than Kirito for being perfect in every way. The term “Mary Sue” has been used to incorrectly in recent times that it’s become meaningless, and “Gary Stu” was never really anything more than a desperate attempt to try to not look sexist. That said, one has to admit: Tatsuya’s pretty cool.

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The basic premise is that our hero and his adoring sister (more on that later) go to a school for magic users. Miyuki is a magic prodigy. Tatsuya, while brilliant in every other way, does not have much in the way of actual magic power in him. As a result, which she’s handpicked for the student council and the freshman representative, he’s placed in Course 2 with the other students who have skills but not actual power behind them. And, this being a typical high school with typical teenagers, that means there’s a lot of bullying and prejudice against Course 2 students. Tatsuya, though, is not going to let a little thing like magic power stop him from using his analytic abilities and natural-born intelligence to be the best. Oh, and his martial arts. So he’s scouted by the discipline committee in order to help keep peace on the campus.

Tatsuya, thank goodness, is not your typical schlub light novel narrator. He’s somewhat stoic and emotionally stunted, and frequently has difficulty grasping the basic concept of people actually wanting to be friends with him – I suspect his past is filled with bad things. We already know he’s estranged from his parents. Luckily, he has a close relationship with his sister – too close, possibly, for many readers. There is a whole load of incestuous subtext in this first book, and it’s not all on Miyuki’s end, though she’s the largest supplier. This plot point, plus the fact that Tatsuya sometimes bends the narrative his way like he’s the star of a Dark!Grey!Independent Harry Potter fic, means the book can be hard to take. Oh, and the technobabble is just as bad as people said it would be.

There are some bright spots. Tatsuya’s narration can be quite amusing, and helps to define his character in much the same way that Kyon’s defines his – I wonder how much of his inner monologue was left in the anime. Mayumi, meanwhile, is a delight – my favorite character so far, a classic student council president type who knows she’s that type and plays it to the hilt. Tatsuya’s frank description of her as “evil” is hilarious but not inaccurate. In general, though, I think this series is one for those with a high tolerance for heroes who can do everything without breaking a sweat, and who don’t mind that the younger sister has an obvious crush on her brother. Yes, that does sound a bit like Sword Art Online as well, but multiply both of those factors by two in this case.

The Devil Is A Part-Timer!, Vol. 4

By Satoshi Wagahara and 029. Released in Japan by ASCII Mediaworks. Released in North America by Yen Press.

As this series goes on, and more and moe horrible demons attempt to break into Japan for some reason or another, it has become more and more apparent that Maou and company are eventually going to have to go back to Enta Isla and deal with the giant power vacuum that they have left in their absence. I don’t expect it will be permanent – the whole point of the series would be lost if you take Maou away from McRonald’s for long – but Maou seems a responsible enough guy, and Emi definitely is, to try to fix what they may have inadvertently broken. We see part of that in this book as well, even though if you don’t look too closely it feels like a typical “beach episode”.

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The best part of the volume is when the author builds on the character development we’ve seen in prior books, particularly in regards to Chiho and Emi. Chiho is starting to realize that, as the only person in Maou’s circle without any power, there’s little she can do beyond be emotional support, and is resolving to better herself so she can help in other ways as well. (Her declaration that she wants to be one of his Four Generals is possibly the funniest part of the book.) As for Emi, she’s made of stronger stuff than I had envisioned at the end of the last book, and it only takes a few well-worded lectures from Chiho to have her helping out Maou in both his attempt to restore a beachside cafe and also defeat an invading demonic army – without killing them, much to Suzuno’s surprise. Emi is realizing that not everything is clear-cut.

There were parts of the book that didn’t work as well for me. I enjoyed Amane more as a relaxed and absent-minded shop owner more than I did a Guardian of Earth, and I felt that this was shoehorned in just a bit in order to avoid padding out the already substantial volume with too many fights. And I was just as annoyed as the rest of the cast with Camio’s unfortunate tendency to peep every other sentence due to being trapped as a cute little bird. On the other hand, the best part of the book was once again seeing how well Maou can do middle management when he tries hard. Seeing the run down and decrepit beach cafe transformed into a bustling popular spot is impressive, and shows off everyone’s talents (and comedic foibles) at their best. Yes, even Lucifer, who is still unloved and unlovable, but proves here to be far more aware of external events than some of the other demon generals around him.

While not the best volume in the series – the ending also felt very rushed, and I suspect the book may have been heavily cut in editing – this is still a solid addition to the series, and will please those who have been following Maou and Emi’s adventures in the past. I am hoping that the next volume will give us more fast-food shenanigans – that’s where the series seems to do its best.