A Silent Voice, Vol. 2

By Yoshitoki Oima. Released in Japan as “Koe no Katachi” by Kodansha, serialized in the magazine Weekly Shonen Magazine. Released in North America by Kodansha Comics.

After the pressure cooker that was the first volume of this series, it was somewhat inevitable that things would slow down and get a bit less traumatic with this second one. this is not to say that nothing happens, but we need to take a step back from the brink and see where our hero and heroine are now. Indeed, taking a step back from the brink is exactly what Shoya does, as after seeing Shoko again he makes a decision not to kill himself (which leads to one of my favorite parts of the book, where his mother confronts him about it and accidentally burns the money that he saved up for her. She’s presented as sort of a grown-up airhead much of the time, but I loved her reasoning in this scene as to why it was fine she burned the money.

silent2

As for Shoko, there’s a nice bit of narrative fooling that makes us think that we’re hearing her fairly negative thoughts about seeing Shoya after all these years. but in fact after a brief moment Shoko proves to be as sweet and understanding as you’d expect from a manga like this, and it turns out the narrative voice we heard hating on Shoko was her younger sister Yuzuru, who understandably thinks that Shoya ruined her sister’s life. This leads to her amusingly pretending to be Shoya’s boyfriend, which I didn’t buy for one moment, mostly as I assumed she was just a young tomboy from the start. Unlike Shoko’s mother (who not only does not remotely forgive Shoya for what he did to her child, but seems to have the ability to literally teleport in order to slap someone across the face), Yuzuru finally sees that Shoya really is making an effort to make amends, and starts to warm up to him by the end of the book.

Of course, it’s not as easy as that. I was impressed with how Shoya can still be resolutely unlikeable at times, even as we see him trying to deal with the fallout of various events (including serving a suspension for leaping into the river to save Shoko’s notebook), he’s still bad at understanding other people to a great degree. He makes friends with Tomohiro, who also seems to be bullied in his classroom, though that’s more for the traditional “I am pudgy and a bit of a nerd” than anything else, but we still get his POV of his fellow students as having X’s over their faces, which is a stark reminder of how in many ways his basic worldview hasn’t changed much. His guilt about Shoko drives him to learn sign language and apologize, but he needs to make more effort with everyone else. And that’s hard, given what happened in Volume 1, as no one will allow him to make that effort.

I’m not sure if this is going to go in a romantic direction – the ending seems to imply it might, but I’m not sure if that’s the best thing for this series, and in any case the two leads still have a lot more to sort through before that can happen. In the meantime, the second volume builds on the success of the first, and is not nearly as discomfiting.

Accel World: Flight Toward A Blue Sky

By Reki Kawahara and Hima. Released in Japan by ASCII Mediaworks. Released in North America by Yen Press.

One of the issues with Sword Art Online, particularly as it goes on, is that we keep seeing these deadly MMORPGs that wind up being abused for nefarious purposes, yet somehow more of them continue to be made, and are not banned or made illegal in any way (at least so far). I think Kawahara understands that, as in Accel World we have Brain Burst being very much an isolated thing, only playable to a certain (very young) age and unknown to the greater populace or government. And then there’s what happens at the end of this book, which helps to explain why revenge and real-world consequences of battles are not an issue here, even though it feels like Nomi wasn’t really punished enough for what he did. Indeed, the worldbuilding in this series is intriguing me more than the characters.

aw4

The Brain Burst system, in fact, is starting to look more like a form of therapy than anything else. We’ve already seen how Haruyuki’s wings represented his own personal demons from reality. Now we see how even the powerups – which do so much damage to the psyche they’re practically forbidden – take their form based on childhood traumas, something bluntly stated by Niko, who shows up again in this book to mentor Takumu in how to properly use this technique (and by mentor I mean “beat up”, but this is a shonen fighting series, basically). Also, we finally figure out what Chiyuri’s ability is – not healing, but literal reversal of time – which is an amazing game power but also really depressing when you think about her relationship with Haruyuki and Takumu – she wants to return to when they were happy kids.

Chiyuri also showed the most sense in actually calling Kuroyukihime so that she could join the final battle – Haruyuki and Takumu are too invested in personal revenge and in not wanting to rely on her that they lose sight of how fatally dangerous this situation is. It’s always best to remember in situations like these, when you want to grit your teeth and beat some sense into the protagonists, that these are teenagers – not even that in some cases – dealign with needs and desires they’ve never felt before. Particularly Haruyuki, who has Chiyuri strip down and offer herself to him (something I id not like at all) and Kuroyukihime accept his accidental proposal (with a heavy blush – SHE at least gets it), but still too tied up in self-hatred to notice.

There’s definitely some seeds of future plotlines laid out here, as Nomi is backed by some sort of shadow organization that doesn’t like Kuroyukihime much, and I still get the sense that the psychotic sentient armor from Book 2 is not entirely formant, judging from some of Haruyuki’s OOC moments. On the down side, I’m fairly certain the resolution of the “Haruyuki is a peeper” plotline was far too easy, and there’s no way his reputation would be repaired that fast normally. Also, the reunion of Sky Raker and Kuroyukihime was far too abrupt and last-minute, and there had better be more to it in the next book. A good solid volume overall, though, and I will see what new twists the next in the series has – and hope Haruyuki continues to gain real-world confidence.

Also, for those who only saw the anime, this catches up to it, so Book 5 will have unanimated content.

Haven’t You Heard? I’m Sakamoto, Vol. 1

By Nami Sano. Released in Japan as “Sakamoto Desu Ga?” by Enterbrain, serialization ongoing in the magazine hertz. Released in North America by Seven Seas.

I’ve been waiting for this series for a long time, and it’s been worth the wait. This may be surprising, given that on the surface, the title seems like a simple gag manga. But the execution of its one gag is what matters, and, like its eponymous character, Haven’t You Heard? I’m Sakamoto does it with coolness, flair and style. This is not a manga to be read ironically – if you go into this waiting to see the jokes getting undercut, you will be sorely disappointed. This is a straight up look at one of the coolest kids ever, and how not even his enemies can possibly stand up against his sheer force of personality. The humor comes from what Sakamoto does and how he does it – and the realization that he’s not only incredibly cool, but also incredibly strange.

sakamoto1

Of course, Sakamoto on his own is only half of the joke. Because of his very nature, he inspires frustration, jealousy and desire in those around him. We see the school bullies, angry as all the girls have totally fallen for him, trying to teach Sakamoto to know his place. We also see one of the bullied ones, who gets training on how to develop self-respect and fight back from Sakamoto (who also makes the most amazing McDonald’s clerk you’ll ever see). Another classmate wants desperately to stand out, be it via trendy fashions or just being the class clown. And though all the girls may swoon over Sakamoto, they’re not any better off – his total obliviousness to subtle love overtures leads to frustration and jealousy among the female classmates.

It’s interesting to think about how much of Sakamoto’s straightforward cluelessless is just an act. Clearly some of it is – he seems to get that the girls are fighting over him and tries to resolve it in his usual eccentric way, and early on has reactions to the attempted bullying that almost seem like a sneer. But as the book goes on we begin to realize that Sakamoto is not merely the coolest man alive, but also incredibly bizarre and sometimes incredibly obtuse. Keeping the balance is important – you’re never quite sure in the final chapter whether he’s driving another bully into fending for himself by being over-solicitous, or is genuinely, terrifyingly unaware of how creepy he’s getting.

Nami Sano’s art is also excellent, and fits the type of humor she’s trying to tell – this wouldn’t work if the art were more cartoonlike. Sakamoto’s poses, seen throughout, are drawn to look as amazing as possible, and he can make even the most trivial task seem easy – though he’s at his best when the tasks are almost impossible, such as skewering a hornet by its stinger with only his compass point. There’s not really any character development or plot to speak of here, but this isn’t that type of manga. Instead we are here to be amazed at Sakamoto, watch his antics along with the rest of his class, and wonder if he really is human after all – and if so, how can we be more like him? Even if you aren’t normally a fan of gag manga, give this a try – I guarantee you’ll laugh out loud at least once during the volume.