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.

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.

Attack on Titan, Vol. 13

By Hajime Isayama. Released in Japan by Kodansha, serialization ongoing in the magazine Bessatsu Shonen Magazine. Released in North America by Kodansha Comics.

For a while there Attack on Titan was able to keep its readership breathless, with a chase sequence and rescue that went over multiple volumes, following a long extended siege that revealed stunning information about half of our cast. There’s been no time to catch your breath and think about what’s really going on. And that’s this volume’s job, to try to take a step back and work out what everyone is fighting for and why. And the answer is not really one that anyone is going to find pleasant. Levi notes it himself while discussing things with the team – this has been a horrible, twisted world for 100 years now, and there’s no sense that even stopping the Titans will really fix anything. Do we really want the good guys to win if the leadership in place is so rotten?

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The whole Survey Corps team, minus the four obvious ones, are now back together again and part of Levi’s new squad. Sasha has returned relatively unharmed from her trip to the north, and attempts to bring a certain levity with her – her interactions with Jean about food are meant to be reminiscent of the first few volumes. Even here, though, we cut from the comedic scenes to Levi staring into space, overlaying his old squad – now all dead – with the new team he’s in charge of. Levi is not the most personable guy in the world – between him and Hange, who’s wildly mood swinging through this entire volume, we might almost have a functioning human – but I think he’s good at knowing how to get what he needs, and right now that means he has to be mean to Eren, as being driven into a corner seems to be the only thing that allows Eren to control his Titan abilities.

Then there’s Historia, whose past comes into play here. She explains her childhood to the squad, and it is, needless to say, horrible. Living her life as best she can, and only realizing once she starts reading books and other stories how truly terrible it is. Abused by the other children, and her own mother despises her. Then she’s almost killed, only saved at the last minute by her father denying her own existence. What makes it worse is that there are also bits she can’t recall, as a mysterious young woman, the only person who ever shows her any love and affection (besides Ymir, and trust me she’s cut up about that as well), erases her memory every time they met as kids. This is actually the most plot specific part of the volume, as Eren is also dreaming about that young woman, who may be related to both of them? Who knows.

Meanwhile, back in the city, Pastor Nick has been tortured and killed by the military police, once again showing us how it’s the Survey Corps versus the world here. Erwin is doing his best to try to get on top of things, and in the end makes the decision that the royal government has proven itself unfit to lead, and needs to be overthrown. Which is all very well and good, but he says that at the same time as we cut to Levi and Hange, about to torture the same MP who tortured Pastor Nick. Replacing one group who advocates torture to get results with another one does not fill me with glee, though I may have to save that subject for the next volume.

This has never exactly been a fun series to read, but this volume in particular is grim and grimy, helped along by Isayama’s art, which has improved to “OK” but that’s still a step below most manga artists, including the ones who draw his spinoff stories. I also disliked everything about the subplot with Armin being threatened with rape by a member of Reeves Company, particularly as, seeing some of the cast laughing about it later, I think we’re supposed to see it as a funny interlude rather than disgustingly awful. Attack on Titan is still one of the most compelling series out there, and you’ll want to see what happens next. But when the fighting slows and you start to deal with the city, its citizens, and our heroes, you can’t help but feel weary.

Dorohedoro, Vol. 13

By Q Hayashida. Released in Japan by Shogakukan, serialization ongoing in a Shogakukan magazine to be named later. Released in North America by Viz.

Most of the recent volumes of Dorohedoro have consisted of a lot of what readers are looking for with the series (gore, comedy, the odd gyoza mention) along with small dabs of plot and one big thing that everyone will remember after they finish the book. Last time it was Nikaido’s flashback, which was showing us how traumatized she was as a child and the circumstances that led to her use (and misuse) of her time magic. And I’m pretty sure that after Volume 13, everyone will be discussing what happens in the final moments with Kai and Natsuki. But let’s try to mention a few other things first.

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Given the traumatic nature of what happens at the end of this volume, I knew we would have some humor in here somewhere, and a lot of it comes from seeing genderbent Nikaido, who has to disguise herself using magic to enter En’s mansion, now taken over by the Cross-Eyes. In her male body, she’s still her regular self, and is I believe what anime fans describe as a “keet”. This leads to more fun when she runs into Kai/Caiman, who is still having memory issues and has difficulty dealing with Nikaido being so informal. Particularly when the spell wears off and she transforms back into her buff, stacked, naked body in front of him. (This is a strong volume for fans of Dorohedoro’s fanservice – Nikaido fights as a man bare-chested for a while, and we also see Noi naked after her recovery.

Yes, Noi and Shin have been rescued from being mushroom’d at the end of the last volume. The fact that there’s yet another mysterious En family member with tremendous powers is played for laughs here – this man is able to become invisible, but does too good a job, so people forget he’s there after a while. She’s able to use smoke to heal Shin (via a full-on kiss, which I think startles Shin more than anything else) and they’re back in action. Actually, a great deal of this volume is the En family regrouping, and trying to resurrect their leader. Hasn’t happened yet, though.

And now let’s talk Natsuki. She’s been one of the most optimistic, hopeful and fun characters in the last few volumes, more of a mascot than a real threat. That changes here when a crisis shows off her repressed magic, which has almost godlike defensive capabilities. She’s delighted, but the rest of the cross-eyes are terrified – they know what Kai does to people with strong magic, and immediately plot to get her away from him. But in the end this is *not* particularly an optimistic, hopeful manga, and Natsuki is not one of the main characters. And thus, right before she leaves she runs into Kai, and gets brutally torn apart, in one of the goriest bits of the entire volume. And unlike En, I’m pretty sure she won’t be coming back. Kai is scary. I miss Caiman.

I expect the fallout from this will take up a chunk of Vol. 14, along with Nikaido’s continued practice of her magic and the search for En’s devil-shaped tumor. In the meantime, another fun yet brutal volume of Dorohedoro, which even in its most confusing moments still manages to be exhilarating through sheer verve.