Log Horizon: The Knights of Camelot

By Mamare Touno and Kazuhiro Hara. Released in Japan by Enterbrain. Released in North America by Yen On.

This second volume of Log Horizon improves on the first, doubling down on its world-building and showing us what it would be like to have to set up an entire governing body from scratch, particularly when there’s a limit to what penalties you can enact for immoral but not technically illegal behavior. Some folks, such as our heroes, regard abusing the rules of this new world for profit and ruthlessness to be no fun. Others are perfectly happy to enslave children to mass-produce what they need. And, despite the obvious black-and-white morality on display there, there’s a long argument that talks about what can actually be done given the resources and authority they have.

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The young kids seen on the cover are the twins that Shiroe occasionally mentioned in the first book. He had happened across them when they were just starting out, and helped them slowly advance through some beginner quests. Now they’re trapped in slavery, sleeping on hard cement floors and going out to get ingredients for useful potions which are then sold to those who DON’T need them. That said, they did agree to join the Hamelin guild, even in trickery, so, unless Shiroe can buy the entire building and kick who he wants out (which is prohibitively expensive), there’s not a lot that he can do. Which frustrates him intensely. Shiroe’s brilliant tactics keep getting undercut by his own self-hatred, as he keeps justifying making this world a better place as his own selfishness, and framing everything in the worst way.

I hadn’t thought that one of the minor aspects of the first book – food is bland and tasteless, so unenjoyable – would wind up being the main plot point of the second book. Once Nyanta, the Obi-wan Kenobi of this series (though not dead yet), discovers how you can make tasty food, suddenly endless possibilities spiral outward. It’s up to Shiroe and the Crescent Moon Guild to corral those possibilities and make sure that they can be used as a negotiating tool. I really love the look we get at the Crescent Moon Guild here – Marielle proves to be an emotional center, and we see a lot more of her self-doubt here even as she tries to cover it up with her dazzling smile. Meanwhile, Henrietta proves to be even smarter than Shiroe when she’s not busy trying to molest Akatsuki.

I had one or two niggles – when discussing what the new government should make illegal, rape was mentioned only as ‘between those of the opposite sex’, which left a bad taste in my mouth, especially given the aforementioned molestation being used as a running gag with no actual concern about Akatsuki’s lack of consent. And again, for non-gamers there really is a lot of technical detail in this book that goes over my head sometime. The Round Table meeting also introduced a bunch of people all at once, and I hope that we’ll see more of them in future books, but I could barely match names to lines – only Soujiro Seta made an impression, and that’s because he got to be the cute bishie.

Overall, though, this novel expands on the possibilities of the first and gives us a lot more cast, along with introducing a few ‘regulars’ – I look forward to seeing how the twins do in Shiroe’s new guild. I also look forward to more of Naogetsu and Akatsuki, who had surprisingly little to do in this book. Definitely recommended.

License Roundup – SDCC/Otakon

Summer is always the biggest time for new announcements, and after a huge license post for AX, I took a break to find my newsfeed drowning in new licenses for SDCC, Otakon, and various other places. Let’s see what’s coming soon, OK?

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Yeah, I’m starting with Udon Entertainment. Known over here in North America mostly for their deluxe expensive artbooks, and the occasional foray into children’s titles, Udon quietly blew everyone’s mind at SDCC with the announcement of the Rose of Versailles manga, thought to be one of the impossible licenses (you know, like Legend of Galactic Heroes). Originally running in Shueisha’s Margaret back in the 1970s, if you’ve seen any anime that has a woman with a sword, it’s influenced by this. It is, even with all we have to get through, the most important title we heard about at these two cons.

In more modern manga news, Udon also has the license to Steins;Gate, the annoyingly punctuated manga based on an anime series. It’s a 3 volume series that ran in Media factory’s Comic Alive. And, in a complete 180 from typical Comic Alive stuff, they’ve also license rescued Sugar Sugar Rune, which came out back in the Del Rey days but has since fallen out of print. It ran in Kodansha’s Nakayoshi.

Sekai Project is a translator.publisher mostly of visual novels (such as Clannad, which comes out this October), but they too have decided to enter the manga business, with another anime tie-in. Gate – Jietai Kare no Chi nite, Kaku Tatakeri runs in Alpha Polis’s eponymous magazine, and is 7+ volumes. Not sure of too much about it, but the artist clearly likes drawing ‘wartime’ stuff, judging by past titles.

As is traditional during con season, Seven Seas announced a title online, as they don’t do cons. Secret no Mukougawa is 3+ volumes, runs in Comic Alive, and is the only thing the author has done not tagged in Manga-Updates as ‘Borderline H’. Which is not to say it isn’t trying hard.

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Vertical had three new licenses to discuss. One is a big cult favorite, though I’ve found it difficult to get into: Mysterious Girlfriend X, a 12-volume series that ran in Kodansha’a Monthly Afternoon, and has been available digitally on Crunchyroll. It’s well-written and cute, but there’s a big drool fetish in this series that’s hard to get past if it’s not your thing.

The title I find most interesting is Kami-sama ga Uso o Tsuku, a one-shot that also ran in Afternoon. It apparently features soccer, which always sends warning bells in my head ever since Sasameke. That said, I think this may be more along the lines of Vertical’s recent quiet teenager drama titles. The author may also be known to older fans for Immortal Rain, a Tokyopop title.

And we also have Devil’s Line, a 5+ volume series that runs in Morning spinoff Morning Two, which fans may recall is where Saint Young Men began. I suspect this title will do very well for Vertical, as it has vampires. (resets ‘days since running gag’ counter to zero)

Kodansha announced a few things as well. At SDCC the news was they were releasing Kosuke Fujishima’s Paradise Residence. This has been running for a few years, but it’s always been taking breaks as the artist was more involved with his main title – a little thing called Oh My Goddess!. But that’s over with, so he can now get back to his girls’ dorm manga, which has run in both Afternoon and its sister title good! Afternoon.

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Kodansha had hinted, after Rose of Versailles was announced, that they too had a classic manga announcement, and it ended up being Leiji Matsumoto! Queen Emeraldas will be two hardcover omnibuses, and comes from the 1978 shonen manga that ran in Kodansha’s Weekly Shonen Magazine. If this sells well, maybe someone can get Harlock or Yamato (both Akita Shoten, I think), or perhaps Viz can try Galaxy Express 999 again. Please let it sell well. Space opera manga is desperately needed.

Soredemo Boku wa Kimi ga Suki is also a shonen title, running in Bessatsu Shonen Magazine. It seems to be a romantic drama.

Lastly, Complex Age looks intriguing. The story of a 34-year-old newly married woman who loves to dress up in costume, you’d think this would be more suitable for Kiss or Be Love, but it’s actually a seinen title, running in Morning. This will apparently come out here in a larger format, and I’m really interested.

Viz is the last publisher to talk about, and they had a couple of exciting titles to talk about. The biggest is Oyasumi Punpun, an Inio Asano title that has long been desired by fans, particularly after Viz released Solanin and What a Wonderful World. It’s 13 volumes, ran in Young Sunday, then when that died moved to Big Comic Spirits, and is incredibly well written and incredibly bleak. I suspect this will get a nice Viz Signature treatment.

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I always love seeing titles from Hakusensha’s LaLa DX, particularly as its schedule lends itself to shorter series. Ojou-sama no Untenshu is only 2 volumes long, but should fit right in with those who love Shojo Bat. It also takes place in the Taisho era, and seems really cute.

Lastly, I would be remiss if I did not mention, if only for Melinda’s sake, that Viz will release a Takeshi Obata art book sometime next year, with Death Note, Hikaru no Go, and Bakuman no doubt included. Art!

Which of these has you most excited? (Rose of Versailles for me, though there’s some competition.)

No Game No Life Vol. 2

By Yuu Kamiya. Released in Japan by Media Factory. Released in North America by Yen On.

I am starting to come to terms with No Game No Life. All the problems I had with the first volume are still there, with underage nudity, pointless ecchi fetishes, and another token loli added towards the end. But all the strengths are still there as well, this being a world with two strong lead characters, a fascinating premise, and enough humor that doesn’t revolve around panties that I found myself laughing quite a bit. More to the point, all the questions I had at the end of my first review are actually answered, always a plus for a light novel series. And unlike the first book, this one ends on a nasty, if rather sudden, cliffhanger that will leave you wondering what disaster has befallen Shiro and… um, was there someone else?

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The girl staring saucily at us from the cover is Jibril, who is essentially an Angel, and probably the best addition to the cast this volume. She has a lust for knowledge (pretty much literally), a surprisingly vicious streak (the angels used to do mass slaughter till the ‘game board rules’ were enforced, and she misses killing), and a truly flaky personality that leads to the funniest section of the book, where she greets our heroes in broken gratuitous English. (The translation, by the way, gives this as broken gratuitous Japanese, which works, as well as a Kyoto dialect (Southern US) and ‘l33t-speak’ to convey just how silly and irritating Jibril is being.) The shiritori battle which follows is jaw-dropping, once again showing how smart and forward-thinking [ ] are (Here the translator is forced to simply give the Japanese word right after the translation, as it simply can’t be translated).

Stephanie, as you might expect, is mostly used as a figure of humiliation and humor, though she does get a few chances to shine, as she’s basically running the entire country while Sora and Shiro research how to possibly win against any other race. Speaking of which, we’re introduced to the first big challenge, the Werebeasts, who supposedly can read minds and also have animal attributes that make them scary, but to someone like Sora, that means only one thing – cute girls with animal ears and tails. And that’s exactly what he and Shiro get, as they meet the ‘ambassador’ of the Werebeasts, an 8-year-old with a tendency to swear copiously as she’s not used to the human language and doesn’t know better. She’s such a fetish figure that I almost have to shake my head and laugh, but I hope she gets character development later as the others here do.

I said in my first review that I wish the series could just drop the service and get on with it, but I suspect that part of the reason why No Game No Life is so successful is its ability to balance the two sides equally. The game theory is interesting, the plot twists usually surprising and well-thought out, and Sora as a large ham is fun. Shiro has less to do, but she’s far more introverted, and given the cliffhanger, I suspect a lot of Book 3 will have to feature her taking charge. And the fanservice is truly ridiculous (the chance of something pornographic happening, as with most Japanese ecchi series, is below zero), clearly not taking itself seriously – Sora even gives the naked girls Barbie Doll Anatomy at one point. If it weren’t for the fanservice, I’d happily recommend this to anyone. As it is, I recommend it to people who already know the series.