Attack on Titan, Vol. 12

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

We’ve had a lot of revelations in the last few volumes of Attack on Titan, revelations that the group really haven’t had time to take in what with the kidnappings, fleeing and screaming at each other. And we get one more big one at the end of this volume, as we discover the reason why Eren is so important to the Titan cause (and no, it’s not his temper). Mostly what this volume does, though, is strengthen and reinforce the themes of the series in a ‘battle to the death’ context: friendship vs. duty, love vs. safety, and what it means to be a human.

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Let’s start with Ymir, who gets the largest picture on the cover, even if it’s in her titan form. Ymir’s devotion to Historia has been apparent almost from her first appearance, and this volume pretty much spells out how much Historia means to her – she’s willing to side with the rest of the Survey Corps unless Reiner and Bertolt can meet her demands. (This does lead to two of the only pieces of humor in the entire volume – first, when Historia delightedly spots Ymir’s titan only to go ‘eh?’ as she’s promptly swallowed in her mouth; and 2nd, Ymir’s defense of titans, where ‘eating people’ gets a Some Like It Hot response – nobody’s perfect!) Once Ymir and Historia are reunited, they spend no time in trying to out self-sacrifice one another, and Historia shows that the obsession is not merely a we-way street. (I’ll be using Historia, by the way, in the future, as this is the name she now wants to use for herself – Krista is a pseudonym.) In the end, though, they simply CAN’T be together, not right now.

As for Reiner and Bertolt, they’re still guilt ridden over what they had to do, and Bertolt screams out how they don’t enjoy killing anyone and that no one would choose to do this. This doesn’t stop them from needing to take Eren and Historia to the Titans. Armin, who is getting craftier (and more morally grey) with each volume, starts needling them about their comrade Annie, who Armin says is currently being tortured by the scientists back home. I’m not entirely sure this is true – in fact, I highly suspect it is false – but that doesn’t matter. Armin can see how torn the two of them are by what they’re doing, and uses it to his best advantage. God help us all if that boy turns evil.

Mikasa mostly spends this volume screaming and beating the crap out of people, but her most telling moment comes when she’s too injured to protect Eren anymore, and a Titan is upon them… the same Titan that ate Eren’s mother so many years ago. Mikasa tends to show her softer side only to Eren, and even then only when she senses one of them is near death. Here she wants to show Eren the depths of the familial love (I refuse to ship them, shut up) that she has for him. Speaking of familial love, they are both promptly rescued by the sacrifice of Hannes, who was important at the very beginning of this manga but has since fallen out of focus. It makes thematic sense that, after losing Eren’s mother, we would now see a father figure fall to the same titan. This does not make it any less depressing, though.

And so the long battle is over, and arguably our heroes won. Eren and Historia are back with the Survey Corps. Erwin lost an arm, but is alive. Reiner, Bertolt and Ymir got away to an uncertain future (it’s hinted Ymir may be walking to her death, something that she’s surprisingly OK with – Historia’s ‘goddess’ habit is rubbing off). Where do we go from here? I’m not sure, but this volume certainly will give readers more of what they like to see in this series. Still recommended. (Needs more Sasha, dammit. Where is she, anyway?)

xxxHOLIC Rei, Vol. 1

By CLAMP. Released in Japan by Kodansha, serialization ongoing in the magazine Young Magazine. Released in North America by Kodansha Comics.

(This review is based on an advance copy provided by the publisher.)

There is a genre of fanfiction that is quite popular these days called ‘fix fic”. This is when you have a beloved series that then does something horrid to your favorite character or pairing, and moves in a direction you hate. You then write something to resolve this dilemma, either bringing the character back, breaking up the hated pairing, etc. You could also try simply ignoring that anything happened after a certain point. Tara fans who watched Buffy like doing this, saying their fanfic ignored everything from Seeing Red onwards. And now we have CLAMP, returning to their own work only a couple of years after wrapping it up with a contested ending. And we have what seems at first to be a bizarre case of the creators writing their own fix fic.

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If you enjoyed the early volumes of xxxHOLIC, boy, is this the volume for you. We see the return of the entire cast. Yuko is getting drunk, harrassing Watanuki, and acting mysterious. Watanuki is angry at absolutely everything, and tends to have supernatural events drawn to him. Doumeki continues to be the stoic not-boyfriend (the BL tease is through the roof here, something noted by Yuko). Himawari is there to, well, bounce plot ideas off of – for some reason Watanuki’s crush on her isn’t focused on quite so much, possibly as CLAMP know their audience. And there are some nice moments of existential horror, such as when we see what’s been following Watanuki around and asking him questions. I also loved the customers of the volume, which continues a theme of xxxHOLIC of supposedly mild, pretty women hiding amazingly petty depths.

And yet anyone who read the original series is left to ask “what the hell is going on here?”. Doumeki still has his egg, so this isn’t a total reboot. And there are little hints that this is not really a reset but something of a continuation after all. Is Watanuki trapped in some sort of fantasy where he goes about the early manga shenanigans? Is this the world we’d be seeing if the dreaded name “Li Syaoran” had never crossed anyone’s lips? I suspect this is the case, even though I don’t want it to be, because I really did not like xxxHOLIC’s ending at all, and would really like to avoid ending up back in that place. And so you’re left with the ambiguity, which of course is what CLAMP revels in with this series.

Nevertheless, even if I worry about the endgame, this is a terrific volume to pick up for those who dropped the series around the 30,000th Tsubasa crossover. The art is terrific, still one of the main selling points (just look at that cover!). There’s some examination of human nature that’s cringeworthy – in a good way. And there is Watanuki, still the best creation CLAMP has come up with in the past ten years, back to trying to come to terms with his life and not simply accepting that he has to live in Yuko’s shop for the next 100 years. That alone is worth the price of the book. Let’s see how long it keeps up before the illusion is ripped away.

Say “I Love You”, Vol. 1

By Kanae Hazuki. Released in Japan as “Sukitte Ii Na Yo” by Kodansha, serialization ongoing in the magazine Dessert. Released in North America by Kodansha Comics.

(This review is based on an advance copy provided by the publisher.)

For every manga series out there that the reader immediately falls in love with the moment they read the first chapter, there are four others that take a while to get cooking. This can be dangerous, as readers are very casual these days and can drop a work fast if it doesn’t reach out and grab them. But even in works that aren’t lights out, there is a spark of something, be it a background, a secondary character, or what have you, that keeps you wanting to come back in hopes of getting more. That’s where I am with this manga, whose first volume I found flawed yet intriguing at the same time.

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The author, Kanae Hazuki, may be familiar to reader with long memories and a habit of buying everything – her one-shot volume Voices of Love was published by Aurora under the LuvLuv imprint, their unsuccessful attempt to jumpstart a market for romantic and slightly smutty josei manga here in North America. This title is her breakout hit, and runs in Kodansha’s shoujo/josei borderline magazine Dessert, so I suspect it won’t get as explicit as most of her other works, but you never know – the lead male is hinted to be sexually active, something you rarely see in the fluffier shoujo titles.

The premise is ‘popular boy meets bullied girl and finds her interesting’, not exactly the most original one in the book. But Hazuki, in an afterword, notes how she wanted to focus on the bullying aspects, and it’s done quite well – by the end of the volume Mei and Asami may be friends, but the majority of the class is still not above being vicious to her, and Mei is not about to get any help from others – indeed, at one point after getting beaten by a couple of girls in her class, Mei notes to Yamato, “I fell.” This manga appears to have a more serious tone than My Little Monster, the other Dessert title Kodansha recently picked up, and that all starts with Mei. She has low self-esteem and most of her emotions have been repressed for years, so when Yamato shows interest in her she’s even more confused than before.

As for Yamato, his popular guy conceals a dark past, and we see why he would be nice to someone like Mei, who the rest of the school seems to delight in abusing. (Teacher figures are entirely absent from this volume, of course.) In fact, a lot of his behavior in this volume makes more sense in retrospect after the final chapter where he talks about his middle school years, and I honestly spent most of the volume not really liking him much. It didn’t help that his friend Nakanishi is the loud obnoxious type and his own romantic relationship was resolved, in my opinion, far too quickly, possibly so that there can be a couple that each of the leads can go to for advice later on.

There was a lot of awkward here. The characters didn’t reach out and grab me except for Mei, the pacing read like the author intended it to be another one-shot and was startled at having to expand it into multiple volumes, and there are a few consent issues here as well. At the same time I liked the basic themes, I want to see Mei’s character development, and I want to read more about how the cast battles back against the culture of bullying they live in. This volume is a bit half-cooked, but tasty enough that I’ll stick around for more.