Attack on Titan, Vol. 19

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

It feels like it’s been forever since we’ve seen a volume of Attack on Titan that is almost entirely devoted to fighting titans. The stakes are higher this time, though, as we know these titans. Most of the volume is devoted to dealing with Reiner and Bertholt, led by the Beast Titan, doing their best to wipe out the Survey Corps, followed by humanity. Our heroes, of course, are trying their best to stop them, and not only have Armin’s tactics but Erwin’s planning and Hange’s scientific genius. Attack on Titan has done ambiguity well in several past volumes, but there’s little of that here – though they try to portray themselves in a sympathetic way, there’s no doubting Reiner and Bertholt are the bad guys, and both seem to have accepted that, though we still don’t know the big ‘reason’ everyone has to die.

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The most interesting thing here plotwise is the extended flashback we get to Marco, and how he died. Marco was killed off at the very beginning of the manga, but his picture appears in the cast list every time regardless, with a big X through it. This is for a reason – his death was very much a turning point. Now we find out it wasn’t just a turning point for the main cast, but for the secret Titan infiltrators as well. I still have trouble seeing the normally stoic Annie as emotional and panicky as she gets here, but Reiner is handled perfectly. We’ve seen before how he sometimes disassociates himself from the actions he has to take as a traitor, and that certainly comes through here. There’s also an astonishing contempt for Bertholt throughout the book – he’s always been a meek follower, but this just underlines that, with Reiner saying “I’ve never considered you reliable.”

It’s telling therefore that Bertholt’s big screaming confrontation is with Armin, who I think has also felt a bit weak at times, though unlike Bertholt he has the strength of his convictions. Bertholt’s ridiculous demands – give us Eren, and kill all of humanity – cause everyone to just stop and stare, and rightly so. Of course, humanity is not giving in so easily. Hange’s “thunder spears” are quite clever, even if they can also be extremely dangerous, and they may have actually dealt serious damage to Reiner. That said, he is a named character, and for all of Attack on Titan’s reputation as a dark and brutal series, named characters have done pretty well for themselves – Word of God said Sasha was supposed to die in the ninth volume but the editors asked for her to be spared.

That may change soon, though. Did we really see Hange killed off in the last page? Probably not, not in an offscreen manner like that. What about Reiner or Bertholt? And have we totally forgotten about the Beast Titan – what are his plans aside from letting those two try to destroy everything? This volume had a lot of noble fighting and impassioned screaming. I suspect next time may bring us a bit more tragedy.

One Piece, Vol. 79

By Eiichiro Oda. Released in Japan by Shueisha, serialization ongoing in the magazine Weekly Shonen Jump. Released in North America by Viz. Translated by Stephen Paul.

Well, I did not quite get my wish, as we’re still in Dressrosa at this end of this volume, but the final battle has finished, and Doflamingo is seemingly defeated for good. This is done through a combination of Luffy, who uses his Gear Four rubber monster and a bunch of haki to finally punch Doflamingo into next week, and the rest of the cast, who help Luffy when he needs ten minutes to recover by fighting off minions, pushing back on unpushable deathtraps, knocking over entire buildings, or even (sigh) being a pretty princess and not fighting, because yes, Rebecca is still a massive failure of a character. One Piece shows what happens when everyone puts differences aside and fights for a common goal, and even when the goal is mere survival, it’s still cool.

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The fight is good, but the aftermath is where things really pick up. One Piece has never been too much about current political events, insofar as Oda would much rather base Marines on caricatures of old Japanese actors then connect them with military atrocities. But there is a point in this volume where Fujitora, having seem enough (metaphorically speaking) of what’s going on in Dressrosa, gets onto his hands and knees and bows to the ground, apologizing to the King what what has happened, and saying that the World Government allowed it. This wouldn’t be so bad were it not being broadcast worldwide, and he ends up in a huge shouting match with Akainu later (Akainu, you may recall, murdered Luffy’s brother Ace, so is the opposite of a moral compass). There is a great discussion about ‘losing face’ vs. accepting blame and gaining trust. It’s really hard not to imagine this may be commending on some real-world events (Iraq, perhaps).

As with most epilogues in One Piece, we get several chapters showing off where everyone else has been and what they’ve been doing while Luffy and company fight. We see more of the Eleven Supernovas, including fan favorite Eustace Kidd. We see Fujitora resolving to continue to chase after and capture Luffy and company, thus literally taking the place of Smoker, still recovering from the Caesar Clown stuff, and Tashigi, who seems to have literally turned into a kindergarten teacher. We get the backstory for Sabo at last, showing how he was indeed rescued by Dragon but had lost his memory, which is why he never tried to find Luffy and Ace afterwards. It was only seeing news of Ace’s death that triggered his old memories to resurface again. (Also, again, I totally ship Sabo x Koala, as much as any couple in One Piece can ever be shipped.)

And, at last, we see the rest of the Straw Hat Pirates, who have apparently been having unpleasant adventures of their own, being chased after for harboring a mystery girl. I can’t tell you how happy I was to see Nami doing what she does best after all this time: scream in frustration about being surrounded by idiots. I am very hopeful that the next volume will unite all the Straw Hat Pirates, and most importantly get them the heck away from Dressrosa, though I fear we are going to be seeing a few Pretty Princess Dresses and No Swordfighting Ever Again before it’s over.

Yona of the Dawn, Vol. 1

By Mizuho Kusanagi. Released in Japan as “Akatsuki no Yona” by Hakusensha, serialization ongoing in the magazine Hana to Yume. Released in North America by Viz. Translated by JN Productions, Adapted by Ysabet Reinhardt MacFarlane.

The cover to this first volume features our heroine, Yona, surrounded by swords, and on the back cover we see her confidently wielding one. But on the front she’s looking at them with a look of melancholy, and I feel that this fits the tone of the volume. For although this is the story of a princess who will take up the sword and become a warrior, we’re not there yet. Instead, what we get here is a sweet, sheltered young girl with a crush on her cousin and childhood friend and an antagonistic relationship with her bodyguard and other childhood friend. In other words, were it not for the fantasy castle setting, this could easily be any other shoujo high school romantic comedy. Then… things happen.

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The layout of this volume actually ends up being very odd. We start off with the love triangle setup, and then things rapidly turn serious and deadly with the murder of Yona’s father, the king. We’re told that, as a king, he wsa rather conciliatory, so it’s no great surprise that someone wishes to replace him, but it’s still a chapter of Yona avoiding also being put to death and running for her life. The second half of the book is a series of flashbacks, told as Yona and Hak (the aforementioned bodyguard) hide in the woods and deal with things like leeches and snakes, things that Yona is clearly totally unfamiliar with. The flashbacks show us more of the relationship between Yona, Hak and Su-won (said cousin she’s in love with, and again it’s really sweet and shoujo-ey, as she turns to Hak for advice on how to deal with suitors she doesn’t want, and how they all get colds as kids after a snowball fight and the King tries to make broth for them, which is ridiculously awful but makes her happy.

In other words, we are shown a tragedy, then we get to see why it was so tragic after the fact. Yona’s father does indeed seem to be a rather ineffectual king most of the time, though there’s a hint or two that this is all just a facade. There’s also some backstory that I’m sure will be developed more later, with Su-Won’s father having been killed before the book began, and various tribes (there are five, and one is the “wind tribe”, so I won’t be surprised if we see a water and fire tribe at some point down the road) all jostle for political influence. And then there’s Hak, who is apparently an incredibly strong warrior, but is also devoted to Yona, both because he was “tricked” into doing it by her father, and also because he clearly loves her, though he keeps that hidden for now.

Yona of the Dawn’s first volume is good setup, with an interesting story structure, and I look forward to seeing how its naive and sheltered heroine becomes the confident swordslinger on the back cover. Oh, and we also have a serious dark-haired good guy and a nice but secretly evil blond bad guy as rivals for Yona’s affection, for those of you who play shoujo manga bingo.