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.

Attack on Titan Anthology

By Various Artists, based on the manga created by Hajime Isayama. Released in North America by Kodansha Comics.

This review is based on an advance copy provided by the publisher.

The moment this was announced, its potential was always going to be sky-high. Yes, Japan also has some anthologies based on prominent titles, and we’ve seen a few of them over here, but they’ve tended to be either a) only comedic (Evangelion), or b) not very good (Code Geass). But a cross-cultural anthology like this is unusual. Plus the talent announced made the American comics reader sit up and take notice. Faith Erin Hicks, Gail Simone, Scott Snyder, Paul Pope, Evan Dorkin… names so well-known that even the manga-only fan will be familiar with them. And so yes, there was always going to be a high bar to clear. I am pleased to say, though, that it soars over it easily, and manages to be one of the most riveting titles I’ve read this year, taking the world of Attack on Titan and opening it up to become so many other different things.

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For the most part, the main cast of Attack on Titan are used sparingly here, though if you do want to see them there is Evan Dorkin and Sarah Dyer’s hilarious Attack on Attack on Titan, which puts the cast in a Milk and Cheese style gag comic that goes WAY beyond what we’ve seen in Junior High or Spoof on Titan. But you don’t really miss the cast. We do get some stories set within the series proper, or before it, as humanity fights against the titans or against the oppressive rule that constricts them. If you enjoy the fighting in the series, you’ve love Michael Avon Oeming’s Live And Let Die, which shows us a conflict between safety and freedom. There’s also Gail Simone and Phil Jimenez’ Good Dog, an almost wordless tale of a woman and her dog taking on a titan with the best possible derring-do. On a more tragic level, Asaf and Tomer Hanuka’s Memory Maze shows us how the Titans’ existence can devastate one family, even as the years go by.

There are also stories that use the Titans in different settings or in different genres. Genevieve Valentine and David Lopez’ An Illustrated Guide to the Walled Cities starts off cute and gets darker as it goes along, showing us one woman’s attempt to show off the wonders of the city while dealing with a repressive, cruel monarchy. Rihanna Pratchett, Ben Applegate and Jorge Corona’s Skies Above shows us what could have been under that same cruel monarchy, and all the opportunities that were lost, as well as some lovely action and tragic romance. Si Spurrier, Kate Brown and Paul Duffield’s Fee Fie Foh sees the invading titans as a Celtic fantasy, with an added dose of the corrupted hero who must relearn what heroism truly means. And while I found Ronald Wimberly’s Bahamut the most difficult to get into of the stories in this book, it manages to succeed on evocative mood alone.

Be assured, it’s not all grim tragedy in here. Aside from the aforementioned Evan Dorkin comics, we get Faith Erin Hicks’ The Titan’s Laugh, which shows the use of a good jokebook (and also shows us how grim and desperate the battle still is – the punchline wouldn’t be as hilarious if the serious consequences weren’t played up beforehand). Sam Humphries and Damion Scott’s Attack on Playtime is every young child’s revenge fantasy come to life, rebelling against cruel teachers, sadistic gym instructors, and unfeeling administration. And Brendan Fletcher, Cameron Stewart and Babs Tarr show us in Attack on Demoncon that when it comes to sexual harassment at a comic convention, turning into a Titan can be quite empowering.

If you like Attack on Titan, this is a great chance to see its world used to tell dynamic and evocative stories. If you enjoy Western Comics and have heard of the title through the creators, you may be surprised at the grim yet hopeful universe that we see. Both fans should be happy with this anthology, as it is an absolute delight.

Accel World: Armor of Catastrophe

By Reki Kawahara and Hima. Released in Japan by ASCII Mediaworks. Released in North America by Yen On. Translated by Jocelyne Allen.

Accel World is about a group of elementary and junior high school students fighting battles to the death, and the novels are not afraid to show you the emotional fallout from such a situation. In fact, the first quarter of this book is devoted to a giant flashback to several years prior (when the best you could do is Level 5), where a young couple who have fallen in love in the Brain Burst world (despite not knowing who their real life identities are – oh, and she’s dying in real life as well) discover one of the seven Big Powerups in the game, and as a result are quickly turned on by their supposed friends and fellow players. It’s played for maximum tragedy and drama, and helps to explain why the Disaster Armor currently infecting Haru has a mind of its own.

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And these are kids, even if they supposedly have more emotional maturity from all the time they spend in accelerated time. Nowhere is that more clear than with the confrontation Haru has with Takumu at the end of the book. Takumu’s jealousy of Haru was, of course, part of the plot of the very first volume, and it’s actually good to see that it did not magically go away, because those sorts of things don’t. It’s also not being helped by the new ISS pseudo-Disaster program, which is corrupting him so it’s hard to tell if these are his own thoughts or not. But you also see it with Haru, who is also still just a kid, and whose desire to punch hope into Takumu somehow is shown in the end to be just as foolish and short-sighted in a world where nothing is ever quite as easy as you expect. Which of course, means this is not a two-book series, but an arc, and we’ll see what happens next time.

Elsewhere in the book, Haru and Utai manage to at least get closer to escaping from the Imperial Palace world they’re still stuck in in the Unlimited section, helped along by a mysterious samurai-type who happens to have been in the section all along but refuses to tell them how he got there. It’s fairly clear this young boy is supposed to be a member of the Imperial Family (which explains why he’s there – he lives there), but Kawahara is being very coy about it for reasons that are also fairly clear. And Haru and Kuroyukihime get some nice shippy moments, much to the frustration of Chiyuri and Fuko, which leads to probably the book’s funniest moment (and also makes me think that Fuko is more interested in Kuroyukihime than Haru). And of course Haru remains marked for death, both from the Kings and from a group that has put a bounty on his head, as we realize that the flashback we see at the start of the book may come full circle.

This is mostly a setup book that will likely pay off with big fights in the next volume, but as always it’s eminently readable, and for once the cover is not something you have to hide from the outside world. And there should be less of a wait for the next one – the series seems to be shifting to four times a year.

My Youth Romantic Comedy Is Wrong, As I Expected, Vol. 1

By Wataru Watari and Ponkan 8. Released in Japan by Shogakukan. Released in North America by Yen On. Translated by Jennifer Ward.

This is a highly anticipated light novel title, for many reasons. First, the anime proved quite popular in the West, and people wanted to see how the original was, particularly as the anime apparently compressed 11 books into 26 episodes. Secondly, Shogakukan has a number of popular light novel titles, but haven’t really licensed to the West before now except maybe via Viz. But most importantly, this series does not feature anyone trapped in a fantasy world, or trapped in a fantasy game, or anyone acquiring amazing superhero-like powers, or immortals, or dullahans. Heck, there’s not even a girl who eats books. No, instead we get something a bit more down to Earth: a Japanese high school where a cynical and belligerent young man with a sullen face is ordered to join a club devoted to helping others.

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Of course, just because there’s no fantasy content does not mean that this series is not going to remind long-time anime and manga fans of other series. The retorts between Hachiman and Yukino may remind readers of the caustic relationship between Araragi and Senjougahara in the Monogatari series. And the idea of the club itself, as well as it consisting mostly of people who have difficulty interacting, is a lot like Haganai. But the title of the book si not wrong, at least not right away. Araragi starts off pseudo-cynical but quickly drops that as he gets swept up by events. Kodaka may have the face of a thug and the social kills of a newt, but he is fundamentally a nice guy. Hachiman, on the other hand, is an obnoxious dick throughout much of this book. He spends much of his time disparaging the people around him, including his teacher, his sister, and even the cute popular girl who seems to have taken a liking to him, who he refers to as a “slut” when they first meet. Enjoying this series requires getting over the very difficult hurdle of the hero’s mentality.

If you can get past that, though, there’s much to enjoy. Because the series is (at least at this point, no doubt it will change later) avoiding any serious romantic interaction, we can sit back and enjoy Hachiman, Yukino and Yui spit venom at each other (well, the two girls seem to like each other, they save their venom for him). The insults and comebacks here are very amusing, and don’t rely as much on the obvious ‘tsukkomi shouting’ as some other series. And of course there’s the fact that underneath his obnoxious, caustic front Hachiman does actually seem to want to help people, as he does throughout this book, usually complaining all the while. He’s not rewarded for it, as that would defeat the purpose. But there’s a spark that will no doubt catch fire as the series goes on. Till then, enjoy the fact that the most romantic tension he has in the whole book is with the cute bishie guy, who he can’t stop thinking about.

I suspect this is the sort of series that will reward more as it goes along, much like many series that begin with unlikable protagonists. Till then, I will at least enjoy these somewhat broken high school students snipe their way through their day, while also helping others along the way. And the fact that, at least through one volume, the youth romantic comedy is indeed kept on the back burner.