Phantom Thief Jeanne, Vol. 4

By Arina Tanemura. Released in Japan as “Kamikaze Kaitou Jeanne” by Shueisha, serialized in the magazine Ribon. Released in North America by Viz.

Before I get started, I want to note that I remain immensely pleased with this series. It has a lot of what magical girl series should have, a nice sense of humor even in its darkest moments, a good deal of cuteness, and the ongoing plot is fascinating. Everyone should be picking this up. With that said, let me spend this review dwelling a bit on things that felt problematic to me in this volume.

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To be fair, one of these things is sort of unavoidable. In her massive villain rant at the start of the series, Finn Fish reveals that Maron has been manipulated, not just since she met Finn, but since birth, as it was the influence of Satan that led to her parents breaking up. I dislike the agency that this removes, and feel that it makes her parents less interesting people – their almost shallow horribleness was a large part of what made Maron so strong and interesting. But then that’s Finn’s point, and certainly if you’re in a series where God and Satan are real, you have to expect temptation to have more concrete forms.

Less excusable is Maron’s forgiveness of Noin’s actions once they go back in time to meet Jeanne D’Arc. She immediately rationalizes the attempted rape by noting that if he’d meant to go through with it, he would have done it while she slept, and also points out that it was due to both being possessed by a demon and his love for Jeanne. Which, yes, is true, but the whole “It’s OK, you were just overcome in the heat of the moment” forgiveness rankles in many shoujo titles. We also have several moments in the second half where Chiaki is attracted to Maron so much that he forces himself on her multiple times. This is meant to be half-amusing, and he beats himself up over it, but that doesn’t actually stop the attempts, even when he knows she’s in a fragile state.

And then there’s Miyako. She gets less of a role to play in this volume until the end, clearly upset that the “phantom thief” isn’t appearing anymore. The problem is that her plotline is mostly resolved – she’s realized that Chiaki loves Maron, and that she can’t really do anything to change that. So, as she herself notes, all that’s left to do is confess to him, get rejected and move on. She is, therefore, too nice to be an antagonist anymore. And that has to be fixed, so at the end of the volume we see her abducted by Finn, and she later pops up, I suspect, clearly possessed by evil. I wish there were a more natural way to do this.

That said, there’s still so much to love about this volume, don’t get me wrong. Everything about Finn’s past and her relationship with Access is beautifully tragic, and (typical for Japan) paints God as being not all that much better when it comes to forgiveness. Yamato’s confession to Maron, and subsequent rejection, plays out beautifully, and is likely why Tanemura wanted to avoid repeating it with Miyako. And the time travel arc is handled surprisingly well and logically, and among its questionable forgiveness does have Maron assuring Jeanne that being raped does not make you less good of a person.

To sum up, see the start of this review. Even with my issues, it’s still far and away by favorite Tanemura series.

One Piece, Vol. 72

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

When I reviewed the last volume, I said that there was a bit too much going on for me to get a handle on all of it, and that goes double for this volume, which rarely stays on one character for longer than a few pages. As such, I think it’s time to bring out the bullet point review style, which I haven’t done in some time.

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— So we get to see Sanji’s reputation as a loser who is easily manipulated by women, but this is undercut a great deal by having him actually be right about her needing help, of course. Sigh. One day I’d like to see a pretty girl who isn’t swayed by Sanji’s annoying chivalry. (Well, one can argue Nami and Robin perform this function…)
— I like the reveal that Donflamingo had the press send a retraction on this quitting the Warlords 12 hours later, right after all his enemies would have taken the bait. It’s quite clever. I also like that Law, given an easy chance, still respects Luffy enough to not take it, and proclaims that they are equal allies.
— Naturally, Usopp playing the hero is getting him into all sorts of trouble, as now he has to lead a Tontatta army to rescue their missing princess (who is apparently a horrible person, but is one of them, so must be rescued). Meanwhile, Robin is resting after using up her one big surprised face last volume, so she’s mostly stoic here.
— Nami, Chopper, and Brook get very little to do, but I have to admit that Oda still knows how to use fruit powers to his advantage. The Picasso fruit allows him to try styles for the characters that are both horrifying and hilarious.
— As I suspected last volume, the big reveal about the toys is that they were once people – and, tragically, they remember this, but the people who they were connected to (wives, children) do not. This is incredibly sad if you think about it, especially as it’s been going on for years. I wonder how this will fall out once the Straw Hat Pirates save the day?
— Much of Luffy’s fight in the ring is taken up by a bunch of seemingly awesome fighters who get taken out by a slew of other even more awesome fighters, as in most tournament arcs. I did like the Ideon ref. The one to note here is Chin Jao, who, as per One Piece tradition, has a backstory both extraordinarily sad and extraordinarily stupid at the same time. (Seriously, without his head being pointy, nothing can happen? He’s that much of a can opener?) That said, in the end it’s Luffy punching the grudge out of him.
–And then there’s Rebecca, who has an even more tragic backstory, which resembles Nami and Robin’s a bit too much for my liking. She’s going out their to kick ass, but I have a sinking feeling that she’s going to need saving. There was much discussion when she appeared that she might join the crew, but her tragic past flashback is only a few pages, so chances aren’t good. We shall see.

Oda is still doing what he does best, and tehre are some very clever twists in this volume. One Piece fans should be quite satisfied.

Noragami: Stray God, Vol. 1

By Adachitoka. Released in Japan by Kodansha, serialization ongoing in the magazine Monthly Shonen Magazine. Released in North America by Kodansha Comics.

It’s rare to see the word ‘Monthly’ next to Shonen Magazine in North American licenses. Between the licenses from the regular Weekly publication (Fairy Tail, UQ Holder, etc.) and the ‘cool’ alternative of Bessatsu (Attack on Titan, Sankarea, Flowers of Evil), Monthly doesn’t really get much of a look. It tends towards longer series, which may be a primary reason, and there’s also a lot of sports titles, including long-runner Dear Boys. Del Rey tried out Pumpkin Scissors, but it fell victim to The Great Del Rey Cull of 2010 (as seen in all good history books). But now we have Noragami: Stray God, a fantasy featuring a god who’s somewhat full of himself and a young girl who struggles to deal with her new-found brush with death.

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As I read Noragami, I was struck by its similarity to another title I follow, Rin-Ne. Another spiritual odd jobs man who helps out people in need, even if they may turn out to not really deserve the help they get, and does so despite being on the edge of poverty. Takahashui’s series, though, has fairly mild characters in the lead roles. That’s not the cast with Noragami. I was struck after finishing the first chapter how hard it was to latch onto anything, which makes it a relief that it was a sort of prologue. A victim of class bullying, Mutsumi comes across as somewhat passive and shallow, and even though I am not fond of ‘it’s the victim’s fault for not standing up for herself’ plotlines, you can see Yato’s point.

As for Yato, he’s a very quirky sort of hero, coming across as a bit of a jerk, to the extent that his old Shinki, the only one in the first chapter who seemed like a decent person, abandons him. Of course, this is not the end. Yato is a decent person at heart, it’s just he keeps up a shell of over-the-top dramatics and uncaring dialogue. Things perk up when we meet Hiyori, who does end up taking the role of the audience identification character. She’s a little weird herself (her obsession with pro wrestling is her character introduction), but comes across as nice and sympathetic, and attempts to figure out what to do after an impulsive attempt to save Yato from a care crash leaves her in the realm between life and death (complete with tail for added service).

At the end of the series we meet Yato’s supposed new ShinkiYukine… who seems very ungrateful to be in this position, and whose discussion of Yato’s faults reminds me a lot of the original Shinki we met. Will he stick around long enough to see Volume 3? More to the point, will I? This is an intriguing new series, but it’s hard to really bond with anyone in it, and its plot is being done elsewhere as well. Those who enjoy fantasy comedies should like Noragami, but it can be as hard to take as its hero most of the time.