Kagerou Daze IV: The Missing Children

By Jin (Shinzen no Teki-P) and Sidu. Released in Japan by Enterbrain. Released in North America by Yen On.

As we reach the end of this book, our heroes are getting a lot closer to figuring out why they have these strange eye powers and what the powers actually are. In fact, they get a lot closer than the reader, as we’re shown parts of a diary that Marie’s grandmother kept, but they get to read the whole thing. Admittedly, we can connect some dots, but I am reminded once more that this is a light novel series based off of a series of songs, and that the intended audience is meant to be familiar with those songs. In particular, Shinigami (Reaper) Record, which introduces us to Azami’s story that is fleshed out here.

kagerou4

Azami is a mysterious supernatural creature – called a Reaper, she seems to also have many traits of a medusa, something which she’s apparently passed along to her granddaughter. Speaking of Marie, the bigger revelation in this book may be just how old she actually is – it’s somewhat startling, particularly given her fairly childlike personality. But of course, when you live alone in a cabin in the woods, there’s not as much chance to evolve or learn. And there’s also Konoha, whose real identity we’ve been able to guess with information from the previous two books, but who looks to be just as different from his other self as Ene is from Takane. Actually, the biggest disappointment here may be Shintaro, who still has a tendency to get dragged along and whine much of the time – indeed, the trip to and from the cabin is an endless stream of irritation from him.

If there’s a larger issue with these books, it’s the length – they’re much, much shorter than the average Japanese light novel, and you barely get into the book before it’s already finished, padding out its page count with lots of character design art and advertisements for the manga. Each of the last three volumes has featured a segment of the main plot and a more serious side story that gives us backstory and hints, but the backstory really is not connecting fast enough for my taste, and some of the things I was most interested in last time (Kano confronting Shintaro in Ayano’s body) is glossed over here, as Kido reassures Shintaro in a way that makes it seem like just a bad nightmare.

This volume was delayed two months, so the next one will come sooner than expected, and I’m hoping that less lag time will allow me to get into it a bit more. It would seem to involve Kano in a big way, so maybe I’ll finally get the answers to my questions. Kagerou Daze is enjoyable, particularly to fans of the multimedia franchise, but I still wish it wasn’t so fragmented. And short – even this review is underlength when I try to discuss it.

Durarara!!, Vol. 4

By Ryohgo Narita and Suzuhito Yasuda. Released in Japan by ASCII Mediaworks. Released in North America by Yen On.

Narita’s books, be it Baccano!, DRRR!!, or what have you, all enjoy being endlessly re-readable. Not only do you get the single-volume habit of various disparate and seemingly unconnected plots all crashing together at the end, which certainly happens here, but you also see this as part of a series whole, as he also teases out future major plot and characters that don’t pay off here but will several books down the line. I’ve called DRRR!! a nerd series, and it’s not just because Erika and Walker talk a lot about anime and manga types (their discussion of whether Celty is a tsundere or not is one of the highlights of the book). It’s because his series cry out for Tumblr analysis and bullet points explaining what’s going on and how it affects things down the road.

drrr4

As an example, this volume is very good about taking the metatext and making it textual. In addition to the analysis of Celty’s character and how it applies to a seemingly ‘real life’ person, we meet Izaya’s twin younger sisters, Mairu and Kururi, who are not as loathsome as him but do seem to be just as difficult to stop. They’re polar opposite twins, as per the TV Tropes article, but Izaya helpfully tells us they deliberately engineer this in order to balance each other out, the better to be one person in two bodies (which is what they think they are). This isn’t the sort of exposition you expect to be casually laid out in the book itself. Things get even weirder when, at the end of the volume, Izaya has to meet with an even higher level of manipulator to find out about events he wasn’t around for (most of them, in fact). We don’t learn all that much about him, but what we do get seems to imply that Izaya is literally meeting the book’s omniscient narrator.

This is not to say the book does not function as a normal book as well. There’s a lot going on, as always, but if you pay enough attention it’s easy to follow and have fun (indeed, the narrative helpfully spells out the difficult bits, like the fact that all the money Celty lost ends up returning to her by the end of the volume). There’s car chases and fights, Shizuo throws people across the city and hits them so hard they need reconstructive surgery. We meet Aoba Kuronuma, who is a new high school student who is clearly there to manipulate Mikado for evil ends, but at the same time he himself is thrown off by the higher-levels weirdness of the Orihara Twins. (Speaking of the Twins, those who disliked Namie’s creepy incest subtext in previous books won’t be happy to see Mairu and Kururi making out here – again, they deliberately invoke tropes, even distasteful ones.) My favorite subplot was probably that of Shizuo’s brother, who runs into the cutest serial killer you’ll ever see, and helps her redefine what it means to be a monster.

Speaking of said killer, I mentioned how DRRR’s novels tie into each other and reward re-reading, and the same can be said for “The Naritaverse” as a whole. Nebula, the evil corporation we’ll see in Baccano!, is still the evil corporation 70 years later in DRRR!!. We hear about a couple of thieves who liked to dress in costumes, clearly Isaac and Miria. And while Ruri’s ‘monstrous’ nature is kept deliberately vague, anyone who reads Narita’s unlicensed series Vamp! will have figured it out already. DRRR!! is a nerd series that rewards overanalysis, and also a lot of fun and action packed. It ends with everyone in the cast having food with friends and loved ones, except Izaya, who is alone and unloved. Needless to say, this pisses him off and he will no doubt be far more active in future books. Can’t wait.

7th Garden, Vol. 1

By Mitsu Izumi. Released in Japan by Shueisha, serialization ongoing in the magazine Jump Square. Released in North America by Viz.

For a nation that mostly seems to revolve around Shintoism and Buddhism, Japanese manga authors seem very taken with Christianity. Not necessarily for the actual religious thought behind it, but I think they see the Bible as sort of a Lord of the Rings-type book, filled with epic battles between angels and demons, lots of divine punishment, and a few bouts of sinning for good measure. There have been quite a few stories talking about a battle between heaven and hell with Earth as its grounds, most famously Neon Genesis Evangelion, but Angel Sanctuary is also up there. 7th Garden is firmly along those lines, as a young man with a tortured past finds himself allying with a demon with a tortured past in order to protect his young mistress, who may in fact have a tortured past as well. All of this revolves around the symbols and imagery of Christianity, slightly distorted,

7thgarden1

This actually ended up being a lot more wholesome than the descriptions I saw led me to believe – I probably should have guessed that give that the busty demon on the cover actually has her back turned to the reader, rather than facing them chest first. Said demon is Vyrde, who is accidentally freed by our hero from a thousand year sleep, and proceeds to be the best thing about this series once she wakes up. She’s playful, seductive, and amoral in just the right amount, and even the ‘sneak into the hero’s bed at night’ feels for once as if it didn’t come out of the pages of ‘Love Comedy For Beginners’. Probably because there’s not much love here – yes, there’s a suggestion that Awyn (the hero) and Marie (his mistress) sort of kind of like each other, but make no mistake about it: this is a battle manga, with ridiculous swordfights and lots of corpses.

I mentioned Christianity above, but given that in this series the demons are the good guys and the angels the bad guys (very common in manga), it’s unsurprising that this fantasy world calls it ‘anti-Quoristiantity’, enforced by ‘anti-Knights, who as you might imagine with a name like that tend to mete out anti-Justice. To be fair, we’re told that the mooks we see killing innocents here are not Knights but Apostles – those who were not good enough to be Knights so do the Church’s dirty work. This does allow our hero to be somewhat more cavalier about life and death than you’d expect from a Jump manga – then again, this is Jump Square, and Blue Exorcist can also have very ambiguous morality. The most interesting part of the manga may have been told the end, as we’re fed little droplets of backstory hints that might pay off. Who is Ashriel, really, and what does she know? (With a name like that, the foreshadowing isn’t subtle.) What do they mean by the village not existing? And is there any significance that our demon’s real name is so close to Awyn’s innocent mistress? (That last may be a no. I suspect it’s the Western name equivalent of Isumi and Izumi being nothing alike.)

There’s a lot of tease here but not much beyond promise, and the fighting is good but can get confusing (on a level of 1 to Trigun Maximum, it’s about a 4). But it does show promise, and I am interested enough to pick up a second volume. Recommended for those who like fantasy and don’t mind religion being used as a heavy spice.