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.

Baccano!: The Rolling Bootlegs

By Ryohgo Narita and Katsumi Enami. Released in Japan by ASCII Mediaworks. Released in North America by Yen On.

If you’re familiar with Durarara!!, then you may know that this was the author’s first major series. It also had a (far less successful) anime. That said, the two fandoms don’t really interact, particularly in North America. DRRR’s fandom is very much about two or three characters that people obsess over, while Baccano’s tends to be more about the books themselves, and overanalyzing its cast to death. Given that DRRR is doing well over here, it was a natural pickup, and I am very pleased to see that Yen On is releasing it. This first volume introduces us to much of the main cast, and shows us how they became involved with demons, alchemy, and immortality.

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Those familiar with the anime may be disappointed, as we don’t jump around between various time periods in this book (you’ll have to wait till Book 2 for the train). It’s all about what happens in 1930, where various plots are all happening at the same time. A young punk named Firo is joining the ranks of the Camorra (think Mafia, only less Sicilian and more Italian); two incredibly eccentric thieves are trying to turn over a new leaf by stealing for the right reasons, only their reasoning is highly suspect; and an old man and his female chauffeur and bodyguard are trying to resurrect a liquor that will grant complete immortality to anyone who drinks it – something the old man already has, but he wants to recreate it anyway just to show that he can. Gradually these plots and others interact with each other until it all ends in one giant confrontation and there are many dead bodies… of course, given we’re also dealing with immortality, are they really dead?

I suspect the average Baccano! reader over here will already be spoiled as to its plot, which is a shame, as there’s a lot of twists and turns to let us wonder who’s really immortal, who really knows who’s backstory, and what exactly is going on. Like DRRR, the ‘heroes’ of the book are morally ambiguous, in this case mostly being mobsters. Firo is a sweet young kid, except he’s also got a way with a knife, is unflinching at running an illegal gambling den, etc. It’s a matter of degrees. The worst is clearly Szilard Quates, the aforementioned old man, who will use anyone and anything to get what he wants. That said, if you’re looking for a protagonist of this particular volume, I’d say that it’s Ennis, the chauffeur/bodyguard. Thanks to interaction with the cast, she grows and changes more than anyone else, and her inner monologue is both heartbreaking and heartwarming at the same time.

And then there’s Isaac and Miria. They may never be the protagonists of the individual books, but they are the poster children and mascots for the series itself, and their glorious idiocy is on full display here. They both possess an illogical logic, reminiscent of Gracie Allen, and I suspect an entire book of them would be exhausting. But as a spice, they’re perfect. The book gives depth to several characters via thoughts and actions not seen in the anime, and even Isaac and Miria are no exception. It’s never clear if they’re actually lovers or not, but they are most certainly in love with each other. They are a joy and a treat.

It’s hard for me to look at Baccano! with a fresh mind, as I’m so familiar with the series as a whole. For fans of the anime, you’ll see new and changed things. For those who like DRRR, it has a similar chaotic style. If you like characters who are completely trash scum, Dallas Genoard is right up your alley. I would argue that if you are unsure and want to sample the absolute top of the line books in the series, you might wait to sample books 2 and 3 (which come as a set). And the art gets better, honest – it’s very sketchy here, with some characters bearing only minimal resemblance to what they look like 6 or 7 books later. But honestly, this is also an excellent introduction to the clamor and noise that is Baccano!.

Ranma 1/2, Vols. 27-28

By Rumiko Takahashi. Released in Japan by Shogakukan, serialized in the magazine Shonen Sunday. Released in North America by Viz.

The difficulty with these omnibuses is that they can feel very unbalanced. This volume contains one of the strongest emotional and physical battles in the series… in its second half. To get there, you have to wade through Vol. 27 first, which features far more Mousse than is really recommended, Principal Kuno returning when no one wants him to, more possessed inanimate objects, and Hinako falling for Soun Tendo, a storyline that was a bit creepy when it was first released in the 1990s, but now reads as SUPER CREEPY today. Hinako may really be in her 20s, and have the body of a statuesque woman when she sucks out ki, but she looks (and acts) like an 8-year-old most of the time, and that fact makes the entire sequence a bit beyond the pale. Fortunately, Soun is totally oblivious to her, still being very much in love with his late wife.

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However, the 2nd half of this omnibus is top-notch. Ryu Kumon’s backstory, once revealed, may be played up a bit for comedy purposes, but it does feature his only parent killing himself by accident, leaving him alone. As a result, even though he is trying to trick her, Ryu is drawn to Ranma’s mother, who mistakes him for her own son, and he realizes that he can bond with her in ways that Ranma, who is cursed to always be female around her, can’t. This leads Ranma to be more emotional than ever, as his desire to be a good son for his mother, fear of the promise to kill an “unmanly” child that she made, and rage at this upstart taking over his life all coalesce, leading him to be a bit more serious than usual in the ensuing fight.

It helps that Ryu is a top-notch martial artist. As ever, Ranma gets the floor wiped with him till he can figure out how Ryu is fighting and the way to counterattack. It helps that the actual “Martial arts _______” fight this time is one of Takahashi’s all-time cleverest, revolving around entering and leaving a house, and you’d be amazed at how much that can translate into fighting techniques. Of course, the trick is that it’s not a tool for fighting at all – which is why Ryu’s father, who thought it was, inadvertently killed himself trying to use it. As always, Genma and Soun are there to provide running backstory, and Genma seems to be at fault, but for once it’s only accidentally his fault. And the action sequences are really good, Takahashi has found her groove here.

Oh yes, I almost forgot to mention the “Cursed Tunnel of Love” storyline. The anime softened this considerably in terms of Ukyou and Ryouga, the manga doesn’t bother. Ranma and Akane mistakenly think the two are a couple, but the idea is meant to be hilarious – the fights between them are nothing like the fights between Ranma and Akane, they’re just simply Ukyou’s frustration at Ryouga being Ryouga. That said, we’re coming near to wrapping up the series, and it would be nice if at least one of the harem candidates (on either side) got paired off. Oh Ryouga, if only there was a girl out there for you…

JoJo’s Bizarre Adventure: Battle Tendency, Vol. 3

By Hirohiko Araki. Released in Japan as “Jojo no Kimyou na Bouken” by Shueisha, serialized in the magazine Weekly Shonen Jump. Released in North America by Viz Media.

In modern days, it has become a somewhat amusing joke to say that “no one dies in (insert Jump title here)”, be it Bleach, One Piece (until recently), or other such series. There are lots of apparent deaths, but it is a very popular cliche to have the supposedly dead person reappear to much rejoicing, and Jump in particular loves to do it. That said, this is a good 25 years earlier, and so JoJo’s is not afraid to brutally murder major cast members in order to advance the plot and provide much character development and tears of rage from our titular hero. Indeed, the villains are so arrogant that being killed by one of them personally is deemed to be a blessing given to a worthy opponent – attention has been paid.

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Last arc it was Speedwagon who survived, with Jonathan being killed off right at the very end. Joseph is a different, less tragic sort of hero, and so it falls to Caesar to be the one who loses his life so that the others may pursue their goal of defeating the evil whositses – honestly, a lot of the plot details of JoJo still tend to whiz by me as people scream battle poses at each other. Not that this is a bad thing – that is why we read this series, as Araki is very good at keeping a reader’s interest with reaction shots and amazed exclamations. Take, for example, the return of Stroheim, who has returned as something of a cyborg, and manages for a while to go toe to toe with Kars (named after the band, or the Gary Numan song? Or both). This despite the fact that the entire “he’s a Nazi, but I don’t hate him as a person” plotline is deeply uncomfortable, and I won’t cry when we leave World War II behind.

As for Joseph himself, he is, as ever, more of a trickster than his grandfather was, which allows him more success in battle against enemies who are prone to being faked out. Of course, this comes with cocksure arrogance and sometimes a petulant anger as well. He’s at his best here dealing with Suzie Q, who he flirts with for about two pages before she’s possessed by another one of the bad guys. This is why seeing him and Lisa Lisa devastated at the climax of this volume is so heartbreaking. We don’t like seeing Joseph like this. I have no doubt that he will get an epic revenge in the fourth and final volume of this arc, but will he be able to bounce back and show us some cocksurity? Who knows.

By now anyone reading this series knows what they’re getting into. I wish there was less “Nazis may be evil but they sure are cool” here, to be frank, but other than that this is wall to wall excellent shonen at 100% volume.