Black Clover, Vol. 1

By Yuki Tabata. Released in Japan by Shueisha, serialization ongoing in the magazine Weekly Shonen Jump. Released in North America by Viz.

If you’ve been reading manga for a long time, you not only start to read series that are clearly influenced by another, but also series that are influenced by their successors. When Fairy Tail debuted, a lot of people were highly amused at how blatantly it wore its One Piece influence on its sleeve (despite the author not remotely being a newbie, as Rave Master fans can tell you). Well, now Fairy Tail is 54 volumes and counting, and it’s starting to have artists who are influenced by its own plot and attitude. Which brings us to Black Clover, a story of a firey hothead who ends up in a magic guild that’s home to a bunch of eccentrics. But in Jump, not in Magazine, so it’s OK.

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As I’ve noted consistently in these reviews, unoriginal and cliched does not always mean bad, particularly in the manga industry, and Black Clover did hold my interest throughout, and was a good deal of fun. But it was highly amusing coming up with a drinking game on the fly when each previously overused cliche kept dropping into the bucket. Asta, our hero, is a kid who in any other series would be happy, upbeat and relaxed, but in this particular series suffers from having no magic talent in a world where magic talent defines your place in life, and therefore he is defined more by extreme frustration adn slight obnoxiousness, which thankfully gets a bit better when he actually discovers what he can do – anti-magic.

The other characters are also types, but they seem to be the sort of types that will grow and develop into real people as the series goes on. Asta’s best friend is cool and collected, and has a giant pile of magic talent – needless to say, there’s a seemingly wide gulf in their friendship, but this is Jump, so it’s only seemingly. We also meet the supposedly terrifying master of the “evil magic guild”, who actually turns out to be the master of a lovable gang of magic users who are Just Misunderstood (TM). And then there’s Noelle, who’s from a royal family but is running into the same issues Asta has – she has magic, but can’t control it, so is thought of as useless. Putting on a haughty princess attitude to mask feeling worthless – again, not unfamiliar.

I suspect that defending the ‘have-nots’ will make up a good chunk of this manga. We see a group of villains toward the end who think nothing of using a village of commoners simply as they’re in the way, and they’re typical good, sneering villains who inspire our hero and heroine to level up. One thing I did like is Asta’s response to not having any magic for years and years – he’s been developing his body to the point where he’s freakishly strong (though he still looks like a typical wiry Jump hero), which manages to surprise many. (He also hits on nuns, but I suspect that aspect of him will go away as the series goes on.)

Black Clover may be trying to be Fairy Tail for Jump, the same way that Fairy Tail was One Piece for Magazine. but it’s off to a decent start, and I’m happy to see where it goes next.

Anne Happy, Vol. 1

By Cotoji. Released in Japan by Houbunsha, serialization ongoing in the magazine Manga Time Kirara Forward. Released in North America by Yen Press.

There is a sort of subgenre of school life manga that flits across all genres, be it shonen, seinen or shoujo. This is the ‘separate class filled with special students’ genre. They can be special in the bad way, as with Assassination Classroom’s 3-E class of low-graders, special in a superpowered way, with both Medaka Box’s Class 13 and Class -13, or special in the doomed way, as with many a survival game manga where the class finds itself in a situation where they all die one by one (Battle Royale, Dangan Ronpa, etc.). And now we have Anne Happy, a mostly lighthearted comedy about a group of girls who are all ‘unlucky’ in some way, be it poor health, misdirection, or what have you. The title character (though not, oddly, the protagonist so far) is Anne, a girl whose bad luck is SO bad that it almost comes out the other side.

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Our heroine is Ruri, who at first seems out of place in this class, till we realize that she has a fetish for the construction sign of a cartoon worker who directs you to move out of the area. I hesitated to reveal this, as honestly it’s the best joke of the volume, and it’s really the only thing keeping her in the class at all, as otherwise she’s a fairly normal, if dour, young girl. Anne is just like you’d expect from a series like this: overly upbeat and peppy to an unreasonable degree, whether she’s being picked as 49th most lucky in a class with only 40 people in it or accidentally falling into a river and almost getting mauled by a bear. There’s also Botan, who is the ‘calm airhead’ sort (apologies if I call her Mugi by accident) whose body is so fragile that a mild handshake can break all her fingers.

Everyone in this class has been put there supposedly to change their bad luck and find happiness, which mostly seems to involve a series of endurance tests given by their semi-sadistic teacher (who seems to have a split personality). There’s a sense that Anne is worse than the others – she is the title character, after all – and at one point she loses her hair clip and her luck turns to negative fifty zillion. Honestly, though, the plot is mostly an excuse for a series of school gags based around goofy, unlucky girls. We also meet Hibiki, a tsundere sort who seems to be in love with her Takarazuka-esque classmate Ren. I assume that everyone will get to know each other better in the 2nd volume.

This isn’t really a must-read, even for fans of comedies like this one. But it’s pleasant enough, and there weren’t many points where I was irritated or wanted to stop reading. And, aside from a few jokes about Botan’s chest, there’s less fanservice than you’d normally expect in a title like this, possible as Kirara Forward lacks that sort of thing in general. Anne Happy falls into the category of ‘Not bad, will try another volume’ for now.

orange: The Complete Collection, Vol. 2

By Ichigo Takano. Released in Japan by Shueisha and then Futabasha, serialized in the magazines Bessatsu Margaret and Manga Action. Released in North America by Seven Seas.

I’d mentioned while reviewing the first omnibus of orange that it wasn’t a slam dunk that Kakeru was going to be saved. Fortunately, the author agreed with me, and most of this 2nd omnibus shows us that trying to change the future is hard, especially when you’re dealing with someone who killed themselves – it’s not always something you can fix just by being really nice. Naho and the others don’t really screw much up here, and they try their hardest, but there’s a lot going on in Kakeru’s head, and even Future Vision can’t solve his own inner demons. This leads to a devastating chapter that is easily the best of the book, as we see from Kakeru’s POV the thoughts and actions that led to his suicide in the original world.

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And there is, of course, the romance between Naho and Kakeru as well. I’m pleased that the future flashforwards we see here show that Naho and Suwa’s marriage isn’t an unhappy one – they’re two people who’ve led a good life, and even have a kid, but they’re both still devastated by the boy they couldn’t save. Perhaps this is why, despite all the suggestions and hints, the romance is mostly left on the back burner, and we don’t get a definitive “and they married and lived happily ever after” here. Much like A Silent Voice, this is a series that’s trying to be about friendship and overcoming difficulties. Because in the end, after everything they changed, and every way they tried to make Kakeru feel loved and welcome, he *still* tries to kill himself.

But they did make a difference – he pulls back at the last minute, realizing he doesn’t want to die. (Admittedly, Hagita breaking his bike helped – Hagita is mostly used as comic relief throughout, being the “friend nobody likes” sort, but he’s also quite clever and absolutely one of the gang here.) I was rather surprised that, in their tearful talk after his attempt, they all confess they got letters from the future, and show them to him. The science of how this happened is very vague, and I don’t think we’re meant to dwell too hard on it. In the end, appropriately, the six friends bury the time capsule we’ve seen before, only now dedicated to a new future.

There wasn’t quite enough orange to fill a 2nd omnibus, so we get a short multi-part romance from the same author, Haruiro Astronaut. It’s not as good as the main story, but isn’t too bad, and has some good twists – the romantic setup is theoretically between the cool guy and the sweet guy, but ends up taking a third option, and there’s some talk about actually trying to care about what girls think rather than just trampling all over them. It’s good, but the main draw of this collection is orange itself. It’s excellent, and both omnibuses are absolutely worth your money.