Planetes, Vol. 2

By Makoto Yukimura. Released in Japan by Kodansha, serialized in the magazine Weekly Morning. Released in North America by Dark Horse Comics.

The 2nd omnibus volume of Planetes has as many powerful moments as the first, including possibly the most iconic marriage proposal in all of manga. But, just like its subject, one gets the feeling that the series has proven a bit too big for its author. The 2nd half of the series has a series of story arcs that feel like endings, but it keeps going on for a bit, and reminds me somewhat of a series that has been extended by its editors rather than its author. Of course, this offers us the opportunity for a magnificent arc focusing on fee, so I shouldn’t complain too much. But space has no ending, and neither does Planetes, which simply keeps rolling along till the very last page.

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Of course, Hachimaki is still the star, and after his vision quest he’s almost a different person, though it’s touch and go as to whether he’ll survive at all – not that he did himself any damage, but he seems to have lost the will do live his life, something that Sally has to bully out of him with a combination of yelling and nudity. Moreover, he needs someone like Tanabe, even if marrying means they immediately won’t see each other again for seven years. The aforementioned marriage proposal, done as a game of shiritori, is justifiably famous, but I think may be surpassed by two other scenes – Hachimaki comforting a sobbing Tanabe as she reveals she has no idea what she can possibly write in her will should she be killed in space, and Tanabe’s complete inability to explain why she loves Hachimaki or why she married him – except that she loves him a lot. Tanabe is still the heart of this series.

And then there’s Fee. (Sorry, Yuri, you are forever “the other one”.) Fee has always tried to avoid making the personal political, probably as it’d be so easy for her to do, as we find out here. But with the world superpowers waving their dicks around and blowing up so much stuff in space that an entire orbit is now forever lost, even one person finds it hard to make a difference. We contrast adult Fee’s attempts to balance a job, a family life, and a newfound, unwanted fake with Fee’s childhood, which she liked to spend with her uncle out in his shack in the woods. This allows Planetes to take on the quiet racism of the countryside, adding in a handful of prejudice against the mentally disabled as well. It’s handled with a surprisingly gentle touch, and also allows Fee to realize that she and her son are far more alike than she’d like, but also that she belongs in space.

There’s more I haven’t touched on – Locksmith continues to be a very ambiguous villain, and Hachi’s father gets a nice flashback chapter. But as I said, the manga does not end, but keeps flowing onward till the last page. Hachi’s message to the Earth from Jupiter reflects that, talking about the need to explore space, and how it needs to be done while not losing sight of humanity. It’s a subtle rebuke to Locksmith, and also a great, down-to-earth speech. Planetes remains one of the best space-oriented titles out there, and I’d recommend it to any reader.

Emma, Vol. 4

By Kaoru Mori. Released in Japan in two separate volumes by Enterbrain, serialized in the magazine Comic Beam. Released in North America by Yen Press.

After the last omnibus proved to be quite depressing at times, it’s a relief to see that this new one contains a happy ending, of sorts. Given this is still an interclass relationship in Victorian England, of course, the definition of happy is a lot more repressed than you’d expect, but it works. I was somewhat relieved to see that Emma’s arranged abduction by Big Daddy Campbell was less ‘let’s have her murdered’ and more ‘let’s dump her far away from London and remind her she is merely a working-class girl’, something which Emma sadly takes to heart. Luckily, after a thorough search of all of England (the coincidences fly thick and fast in this volume, but I suspect Mori is well aware of how ridiculous it is – it feels Dickensian), William and Emma are reunited, he managed to break off his engagement to Eleanor (and also his family’s upward mobility, though hopefully that’s temporary), and Emma prepares to enter high society.

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While things are mostly dramatic, there are moments of humor that serve to lighten the mood. Eleanor has been treated horribly by the narrative, and her emotional breakdown would be incredibly depressing were it not for the presence of Hakim’s identical triplet concubines doing their best “staaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaare” at her. And the scene of Mrs. Jones, Mrs. Molders, and Emma trying to sort out the many and varied rules of etiquette, some of which contradict each other, is pure gold. That said, William and Emma’s romance is played with the utmost seriousness, and seeing her decked out in fine fashion at the end of the main story is breathtaking. Mori can draw, and it’s still one of the best reasons to get her works.

Emma proper ends here, but there were three volumes of side stories which were collected as well, and the first of these is the second half of this omnibus. We get to see a young Kelly Stownar and her long-dead husband when they were young just-barely-getting-by newlyweds, trying to save up to see the Great Exhibition, in a very sweet and touching chapter. Eleanor, having been exiled to Brighton as a disgrace by her evil father (presumably she is a disgrace for now being good enough to keep William Jones’ attention despite his being – ugh – a merchant), gets to meet a young student who turns out to have been William’s underclassman at school, and they bond, although I am pleased to see it doesn’t seem to be a rebound relationship – indeed, Eleanor seems to want to emulate him more than romance him. I also liked the chapter devoted to Tasha, the clumsy maid who befriended Emma, and her huge family that she goes home to visit.

Emma is always best when it evokes mood and shows us gorgeous things, and there’s a lot of that in this omnibus. And, of course, if you like William and Emma’s romance, you will be pleased as well. More side-stories follow in the final omnibus, including, I understand, an actual wedding, though it does take place several years after the main plot.

Is It Wrong To Try To Pick Up Girls In A Dungeon?, Vol. 5

By Fujino Omori and Suzuhito Yasuda. Released in Japan as “Dungeon ni Deai o Motomeru no wa Machigatte Iru Darou ka?” by Softbank Creative. Released in North America by Yen On.

Well, I suppose I asked for it. In the last few reviews of this series I kept mentioning how the mechanics of the series meant that Hestia, the supposed female lead, kept getting less screen time than everyone else. Now we have a book where she actually comes along on a dungeon crawl in order to rescue Bell, and it’s sadly fairly cliched. She can’t use godly powers in there, so she’s useless in the fighting. She spends much of the time post-rescue jealous of the fact that every girl in the entire series has fallen in love with Bell (though honestly, I think what Aiz is feeling is deep jealousy of Bell’s progress, but that doesn’t matter to Hestia), *and* she gets kidnapped and has to be rescued.

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The others fare better. Bell too needs to be rescued, but that’s not really his fault, and he, Welf and Lilly show off their excellent teamwork here. (Lilly also shows a lot of jealousy, but she’s more cynical and sarcastic about it, and thus appeals more to Western readers.) Bell’s reputation is starting to precede him, and much of this volume is devoted to the fact that if you are an overpowered character in what is for all intents and purposes an RPG, you’re going to have players assuming you’re cheating, or getting help, or just plain old “who does he think he is?”. And so we see the return of some old bullies from Book 2, who decide to teach Bell a lesson – and by that I mean beat the crap out of him. The trouble is, Bell is just too good for that to work.

The big debut this volume is Hermes, who’s the standard trickster god type, also out to teach Bell a lesson: stop being so naive and realize that some humans are bad people. This lesson does not work, because Bell is Bell, and this isn’t Black Bullet. Hermes is amusing, and I love the fact that everyone just accepts that he’s something of an asshole – indeed, when we get the standard “whoops, Bell is peeking on the girls at the hot spring, lol” scene, literally everyone there knows this isn’t something Bell would do, and blame Hermes instead. I was ecstatic to see that. He also lets the cat out of the bag about Bell’s ancestry, but honestly I think everyone had guessed that by now anyway.

For those who enjoy battles, the one in the last third of the book is very epic, with a huge cast of characters all teaming up to take out a nightmarish monster. Lyu, one of the waitresses from our favorite pub, gets a tragic backstory and a serious chance to show off. In fact, I’d argue the series has more women kicking ass than men by a large margin – which is partly for the service, but it’s also simply nice to see. In the ‘odd’ department, we meet one of the Japanese gods and his all-Japanese human team, who do well but feel out of place in this land of Greek fantasy archetypes. On the whole, though, it’s another strong volume, though I hope Hestia can get over her jealousy soon. (Yes, I know.) Also, we’ve now caught up with the anime, so the next book should be new to viewers.