Manga Dogs, Vol. 1

By Ema Toyama. Released in Japan as “GDGD-DOGS” by Kodansha, serialized in the magazine Aria. Released in North America by Kodansha Comics.

Ema Toyama’s career over here in North America has been a bit slow to build. Pixie Pop came out back in the Tokyopop days, and if I recall had a heroine who was a bit flat. Del Rey then brought over I Am Here!, whose heroine, while slightly better, was still not quite there. Then came Missions of Love, which introduced us to the love quadrangle from hell. Yukina is on a whole other level from her other heroines, and even though some fans are grumping about her losing her ‘snow princess’ facade as she falls in love, there’s no doubt she’s fascinating. And now we have Kanna, the heroine of Manga Dogs, a high school girl who’s also an active manga artist with a story in the back end of a shoujo magazine. What will her character development be like?

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As it turns out, any character developemnt is completely irrelevant! Because Manga Dogs is not another shoujo romantic comedy. Toyama has said in the past how Kumeta Koji is one of her favorite authors, particularly Sayonara, Zetsubou-sensei and Katteni Kaizo. It shows here. Manga Dogs is an episodic gag manga mocking the manga industry, with Kanna surrounded by three pretty but vapid young men who are determined to become rich and famous drawing manga. The goal here is not to see which young man in the reverse harem Kanna will end up with, but to see if she can keep her sanity and health (already somewhat iffy given her weekly deadlines).

I’d joked on Twitter that, like Missions of Love, Manga Dogs had a main cast who were basically horrible, but Kanna is the Tsukkomi here, which makes a difference. By now the Western audience should be used to this type of humor, but I will say that if you dislike jokes that are framed as “Character A says something stupid, character B shouts at them that the thing they said is stupid”, with optional table flip, this isn’t the title for you. Kanna is mostly the straight man, though even she backslides at times, such as when she’s gathering reference photographs, or forgets she’s not drawing a BL manga.

Toyama jokes in her endnotes about Bakuman, and there is the occasional nod at showing what the life of a manga author is like, but it always takes a backseat to the gags. There are also many little references that fans of manga will get interspersed throughout – my favorite was the gentle mocking of the magazine Manga Dogs runs in, Aria. Aria is a smallish, cult shoujo magazine (though the Levi manga may have changed that), and the boys comparing it to Shonen Jump and Shonen Sunday is ridiculous (we do, at last, get a new guy who mentions Magazine – but he turns out to be a villain).

There’s not much to this manga in the end – so far the emotional depth is zero – but no one’s going to read it for that anyway. They have Missions of Love for that. This is 100% stupid comedy, and it does it quite well. It’s also only 3 volumes long, so won’t risk going on long past what folks expected, like… well, also like Missions of Love.

Magical Girl Apocalypse, Vol. 1

By Kentaro Sato. Released in Japan as “Mahou Shoujo Of The End” by Akita Shoten, serialized in the magazine Bessatsu Shonen Champion. Released in North America by Seven Seas.

Those who know my usual reviewing patterns and preferences may be surprised to see that I’m reviewing this title at all, and you’re mostly right. I picked this one up expecting that it wasn’t going to be my cup of tea, but wondering if it was some sort of magical girl deconstruction along the lines of Madoka Magica (which, ironically, I also don’t like). Unfortunately, at least in this volume, the ‘magical girl’ part is mostly irrelevant. The monsters here could be demons, angels, or clowns for all that it matters. They are a massive force of death and gore, who just happen to be magical girls. They certainly do bring the apocalypse, though. That said, I did want to review this title, as it’s a classic example of a title that I personally dislike but where I recognize its good qualities that other readers will greatly appreciate.

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The buildup to said apocalypse is short, only taking up the first few pages. Our hero, Kii, is (sigh) an average everyday high school student, who wants to get through his school days peacefully. Sometimes this means ogling the class beauty from afar, sometimes it means turning away when his childhood friend is getting viciously bullied in a nearby bathroom. As he takes a test, he looks outside and notices his teacher stopping a young girl who is dressed quite oddly. That’s her on the cover. The girl then proceeds to blow his head off with her ‘wand’, then goes after the rest of the school. As the slaughter commences, it turns out that the entire world is being invaded by so-called magical girls, who are also able to reanimate the dead to do their bidding.

That last sentence is the most telling. This is, at heart, a zombie manga. There’s a lot of lovingly detailed horror and gore, and much of the second half involves escaping the school and winnowing down our already small cast. Our hero survives, of course, along with his bullied childhood friend (they would appear to have the closest thing this title has to a possible romance) and a busty upperclassman. They make it out into the city, and find that it’s no better out there. Is there anything to do besides wait for everyone to die?

The author certainly has a sense of style in the way he depicts the mass slaughter. The gore is almost artistic in places, as well as finding new levels of sadism, especially in the scene where a magical girl crumples up about 200 people into a living ball, hefts them high into the air, then lets them drop to their death. The combination of gore and fanservice (busty upperclassman is VERY busty, and we’re not allowed to forget it) makes this a fantastic series for young men who would be reading anything in Shonen Champion, the magazine where this runs. Indeed, in some ways it reminds me of a less silly version of Franken Fran, the cult horror manga from the same publisher.

It’s totally not a series I’ll be continuing, but don’t let that stop you. If you like survival manga, zombie manga, horror manga, or just lovingly detailed depictions of cute high school kids getting their heads blown off, this title will not disappoint you, as it does all those things very well.

Whispered Words, Vol. 2

By Takashi Ikeda. Released in Japan in three separate volumes as “Sasameki Koto” by Media Factory, serialized in the magazine Comic Alive. Released in North America by One Peace Books.

Emotional turmoil is the order of the day with this second omnibus, as our two heroines go through an amazing amount of distress as they try to save their friendship while also dealing with their burgeoning love. Indeed, for Ushio the stress gets so great she has a temper tantrum that ends with her literally breaking her hand. Again, this is unsurprising given the age of the characters, but it can be a bit exhausting to read about, especially given that it’s only at the very end of this book that we see any forward development towards resolution. For the most part, the reader is meant to sympathize with Tomoe, who wishes they’d get it together but wants it to happen on its own.

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Since so much of the first omnibus was either from Sumika’s point of view or focused on her, it’s a relief that this second volume gets to give us Ushio’s side more often. Ushio’s immaturity is aggravating, but at the same time we’re shown the background which has led to it. This is not a book that wants to cover itself by saying that it’s just akogare, the Japanese term for a strong emotional bond between young girls (with the subtext that it’s abandoned when they ‘grow up’ and marry men). Ushio being a lesbian is discussed throughout, almost always in a negative manner. We get a flashback showing her budding friendship with Sumika, who at first is trying to draw her into the rest of the class because it’s her duties as class president, but over time they grow closer through the sheer joy of friendship.

It’s the sort of friendship you don’t want to lose, and much of this second volume sees both of them plastering on fake smiles and saying that they don’t want to ruin everything by confessions. The difficulty here is that they’re both such good friends that they can tell when the other person is fake smiling, and so naturally they spend the majority of the time unhappy, wondering why they’re drifting further apart. At the end of the main section of the omnibus (there’s an extra unrelated short story, which was rather dull), Ushio at least seems to have taken the next step in resolving things, but it remains to be seen whether Sumika will follow up on it.

Being an omnibus, there’s a lot more to discuss here. Akemi’s modeling career comes to an ignominious end, in a chapter that is meant to read as incredibly awkward, and does. There’s also some lovely comedy, mostly involving either Kyori and food or one of the minor side characters, who wears her hair back in a tight bun that makes her look comedic, thus disguising the fact that she’s secretly a gorgeous model. Most relevant is the introduction of two new freshman to the karate club, which now has enough members to actually compete. Mayu and Koi are meant to compare and contrast with Sumika and Ushio, and you get the sense that by the time high school finishes they too may come to a realization of just what they mean to each other.

I didn’t notice any egregious typos in this volume, so there’s no real reason whatsoever not to pick this omnibus up. It’s a must for any fans of yuri or even slow-boiling romantic frustration. In the final volume, due out in March, we should get the payoff.