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.

A Certain Magical Index NT, Vol. 2

By Kazumi Kamachi and Kiyotaka Haimura. Released in Japan as “Shinyaku To Aru Majutsu no Index” by Dengeki Bunko. Released in North America by Yen On. Translated by Alice Prowse.

I’ve talked before about how much I don’t like Kamachi trying to be funny. His idea of good humor for the books is very much in the “whoops, I just fell into your boobs and you hit me so hard I became a star in the sky” sort of humor. That doesn’t happen here, but we do get about ten different love interest attaching themselves to Touma like lampreys, Itsuwa beating her superior officer to death in order to help him save face, seemingly every single female character grading themselves on breast size, etc. That said, it didn’t grate on me quite as much as usual. Maybe I’ve gotten used to it, but I think it’s more that it was needed in this book for a greater purpose. No, not to balance anything depressing. But rather, to balance out Leivinia Birdway Explains It All For You. She’s got an exposition hammer and she’s gonna use it, and even Index can only go along with her and chime in. Oh, hey, it’s Index! Hi, Index.

Introduced in this volume: Maria Kumokawa, Mjolnir. And by the end of the volume we know the next major antagonist group will be GREMLIN, and so no doubt they’ll start popping up as we go along. This takes place immediately after the first book in NT. As for the plot, well, Touma’s back in Academy City, and all his love interests are very relieved, though not above biting his head. (To be fair, Touma asked for it.) Eventually, he, Accelerator, and Hamazura end up back at Touma’s dorm room, where, as I noted above, Birdway (with occasional interruptions from Index) explains the differences and similarities between magic and science, the goals of each side, how World War III started, and what happens next. What happens next is the plot with Kaori Kanzaki, who is trying to stop a Colony Drop in the making.

I will admit, I left out a bit of humor in the list above, mainly because it was not “this is a wacky anime” style humor and also because it was genuinely funny. I laughed out loud, but also cringed. Mugino introducing herself to Fremea by saying “Hi, I’m the one who killed your sister” is jaw-droppingly awful but also deeply in character, and it was glorious. That said, the rest of ITEM, as well as Accelerator’s double Misaka combo and Touma’s own original flavor Misaka, take a back seat. Again, though at least Mikoto is trying to stop it in regards to the next book. Instead we get our three heroes coming together to save Academy City, each using their own strengths. And if it’s badass action you want, Kaori has it covered, with a fight against a Nightmare at 20,000 Feet. She is quite badass. Shame no one sees it.

It appears the next volume will head over to America. Will Mikoto manage to succeed in getting Touma to take her along while he tries to save people “for his own sake”? Will the cast get even more unwieldy? We’ll see. Till then, enjoy the humor that is the spoonful of sugar to help Birdway’s exposition go down.

Young Lady Albert Is Courting Disaster, Vol. 6

By Saki and Haduki Futaba. Released in Japan as “Albert-ke no Reijō wa Botsuraku o Goshomō Desu” by Kadokawa Beans Bunko. Released in North America by J-Novel Heart. Translated by Ray Krycki.

Over the course of this series, we’ve had the original book, with the plot of the otome game, where Mary has to try to avoid… pardon me, create… her own doom. Then we had the second book which brings in the plot of the sequel, where she has to figure out how to interfere in a plotline that never involved her at all. And of course there is the anime adaptation, which ended up bringing in a THIRD woman trying to change things who runs up against the force of nature that is Mary. But most of those have been along the same lines. The heroine (really the antagonist) is defeated, and ends up, mostly, being won over by Mary. But what if we had a guy end up in the world of the game? A guy who is a minor son of a minor house in another country, not interacting with the plot at all. And he sees Mary defying her fate, and gets really pissed. Is the world of this otome game tough for a mob?

Mary is suspicious. Supposedly her brothers have revealed to her a necessary part of becoming the next head of the family, which involves touring other countries and showing that you have the right stuff to be a leader of the nobility. She’s suspicious because their supposed book looks an awful lot like a sweet and fun “take a vacation with our beloved sister” plan instead. Still, whatever. She’s happy to go to the nation of Feydella and meet her aunt and uncle. That said, she’s slightly less happy with the customs of the country, which is fine with men and women having multiple lovers, and thus everyone is hitting on her. Constantly. Worst of all, a minor noble accosts her and says that he knows her secret – she remembers this is a game and has been using her prior knowledge to manipulate things for her benefit.

The climax of this book is not unexpected, but it is rather clever, as it relies on something that I’d forgotten about this series. In general, for “I remembered my past life” sort of books, either characters remember almost from birth or at a very young age, or they remember right before the plot of whatever main plot they’re the villainess for has begun. And Mary is the latter – she only remembered her past life right before Alicia started school. She’s been worried about what everyone might think of her if she tells them the truth about her past life, mostly as the mob guy knows how to prey on insecurities. But, as Patrick points out, if she got her memories when she met Alicia, that means that all the time before that she was the ‘real” Mary Albert… and she’s always been like this. There was no change of personality whatsoever. Past life or no, Mary is ultimately a kind and clever (if daffy) heroine who attracts good people to her like flies. Which also means the antagonists of the other game and anime. But does NOT mean mob boy, who I suspect we won’t see again unless it’s in a comedy stinger.

So yes, good book, very satisfying. I think we have two more to go in the series, and there’s a limit to what new plots we can come up with. We’ll see what’s next.

Brunhild the Dragonslayer

By Yuiko Agarizaki and Aoaso. Released in Japan as “Ryugoroshi no Brunhild” by Dengeki Bunko. Released in North America by Yen On. Translated by Jennifer Ward.

About a month ago I gave a rather savage review to a villainess-style novel about a lady getting her revenge because the revenge she got was beyond all possible reason. It made her loathsome. It defied the genre. That’s why I really hated it. That is not, though, to say that I inherently dislike tragedies with the death of innocents. They just need to be set up correctly. Everything about Brunhild the Dragonslayer, from the quote on the frontispiece of the book to the afterword, tells you that this is not going to be a happy book. But the genre is, essentially, opera. It’s Wagnerian, and everything about it, from the start to the end, tells you this will end in blood and gore. When a villainess “gets revenge”, at most it ends in a heroine having to be shut away in a hospital or a prince being exiled. When Brunhild gets revenge, the heavens cry and the city weeps. It’s that kind of book. It’s also really excellent.

A powerful silver dragon lives on an island of Eden, where everything is… well, much like the Garden of Eden. The dragon occasionally has to massacre the humans who come to the island to try to kill him and get the treasures and knowledge from the garden, a somewhat fruitless endeavor given that the moment the dragon dies the garden burns up. But one day a 3-year-old girl, mortally wounded, is found on the island, and she’s covered in the dragon’s blood, which is lethal to humans. Well, mostly. 1 out of 10,l000 humans survive. Guess what, the girl is one of those. For the next several years, the girl grows on the island, and eats the fruit of the island, is friends with the fauna, and loves her dragon dad. Then humans finally invent tanks and poison gas, and the dragon is killed. His final request of his daughter is not to seek revenge. Erm. Bad news there.

Getting the bad out of the way here, there is some weird incest subtext in this that I felt was unneeded, and it comes up a couple more times as the book goes on. IMO, it’s unneeded. (Probably down to the Wagner motifs.) The rest of the book, once we get to the girl (now called Brunhild) and her life in the human world, is riveting. Every time that she asks an innocent character who seems to like her where her father is (her human father, that is), you can hear the metaphorical tolling of a bell. It’s also terrifying how quickly she is able to manipulate the human heart, playing on the same emotions that other see in her in order to try to achieve her goals. There is one case where she actually seems to bond with someone – her human father’s other son, Sigurd, who is dealing with a bad case of parental disinterest and jealousy, genuinely bonds with her. But that bond is not enough. Revenge has to win.

After finishing the book, you will no doubt be as surprised as I am that there’s a second volume coming out soon. Judging by the synopsis, it features the same themes but a different cast. As a standalone, though, this is gloriously bleak, tragic, and upsetting. Recommended.