Aaaaah… shoujo. The manga term for romantic relationships, giant sparkling eyes, and hearts being set a-flutter. Every time I read a shoujo manga, I didn’t exactly like it, including some of the household classics. Well, maybe that’ll change, thanks to Ritsu Miyako’s Usotoki Rhetoric. I was offered an advanced copy of One Peace Books’ first published volume (you know, the small team built on The Rising of the Shield Hero and a dream?), and I took it. You’ll know why once I tell you its novel premise.
In Usotoki Rhetoric, Urabe Kanako exiles herself from her rural village, because everyone hates her due to her psychic power to hear lies. In the big city, she runs into a financially unstable detective named Iwai Soma. Naturally, he has her help him solve cases so he can make fat stacks. Presumably, they’ll fall in love.
Oops, I forgot to mention the setting: Japan during the Showa Era, i.e. the 1920s. If you’re a real weeb, then Usotoki Rhetoric will feel quite interesting. People have the old-school hair and the kimonos. It also makes sense for Kananko to be discriminated against, since people would’ve been more superstitious at the time.
Unfortunately, nothing is perfect, especially if you’re not a shoujo fan. On the bright side, the art is more tolerable than other shoujos, where characters have gems surgically implanted into their eye sockets and chins that can impale someone. However, it’s still shoujo art, trading intricacy for intimacy. The humor feels identical to literally all other shoujo manga I have ever read. There are plenty of the “person says something stupid and begets an overeaction from someone else” trope, but being a shoujo, the energy and spontaneity is toned down a lot from what I’m used to in shounen. Also, the constant running joke of Soma being poor just feels kind of unremarkable.
Furthermore, as a caveat of reviewing just the first volume, the duo already seems—as the kids say it—dummy busted. Kananko’s power is limited only to people who lie on purpose, and when dealing with criminals themselves, it’s not really that vexing. So far, they run into the perp immediately, and it’s only a matter of acting accordingly. Meanwhile, Soma is—you know—a detective. He latches onto small details and is actually more competent than his pockets would lead you to believe. As it stands, Kananko just seems to be an insurance policy.
So far, Usotoki Rhetoric is set up to be an episodic mystery series. They solve a case, and since malt shops weren’t invented yet, they just move onto the next one. They vary wildly in urgency, from attempted arson on a child to petty theft. I was hoping for a murder case, but that does not occur in this volume.
As far as characters are concerned, there are only three mainstays: Kanako, Soma, and Soma’s friend, Hanasaki (I think that was his name?). Well, if you know your shoujo, then you might as well have met them. Kanako is that weak and awkward girl who has to get used to not being hated for being unique. She starts to get more confident in this volume alone. Soma is handsome and aloof. He’s kind of a troll, and his willingness to swindle people in between cases—such as by using Kanako so he can read minds as a street performer—is supposed to juxtapose his hunkyness with some flaws. Of course, if you’re familiar with a lot of shounen and seinen, he’s still a saint by comparison to some OTHER people.
Current Verdict: 7.5/10
This volume of Usokoti Rhetoric lays the groundwork for what could be a decent mystery series, but that could easily fall apart if the cases don’t get complex enough. The portrayal of Showa Era Japan feels quite minimal to the point of seeming entirely irrelevant. The main characters’ relationship isn’t cringy, but I’m not exactly attached to them either. I’m sure shoujo aficionados would love Usotoki Rhetoric, but I am simply not that kind of person.
I learned of this magazine thanks to my local library stocking the first tankobons from them. Saturday AM is one of several magazines by a small outfit called MyFutPrint Entertainment, that publish manga made by people who aren’t Japanese. I thought it was a really good idea, but it’s not perfect. For starters, serialization is way slower than in Japan, either due to the company being smaller or because they treat their mangaka like humans. Also, my library didn’t bother to order some of the titles I was particularly interested in, which means I’ll have to subscribe. With no mention of a trial period, I decided to read the first volumes of several of the series that the library did have, to gauge whether or not such a risky investment would pay off in the long run. I don’t normally read manga when they only have their first volumes out, but I’m doing this because I also need to gauge whether or not it’s worth waiting for more volumes in the first place (given how slow serialization is). After all, my only other gaijin manga experience was Radiant, a manga that I found to be very middle-of-the-road, and haven’t resumed reading since that review was published. Anyway, preamble aside, let’s just hope that I don’t hold these titles in the same regard as Radiant.
Apple Black by Odzune Oguguo
Well, for a battle shounen, Apple Black is way more involved than expected. To put it simply, it stars a boy named Sano, whose left arm—Arodhis—is the last legacy of his late dad, Merlin. It’s the ultimate weapon that can trigger the cataclysmic Infinite Night. Sano, being a battle shounen protagonist, instead wants to end all war (and become the #1 Sorcerer Hokage of Pirates probably). However, there’s a lot more to it. A LOT more. There’s all these organizations, and not to mention, a magic school with its own intricacies. It took me an hour to read this volume, which is not at all the normal reading time for a shounen.
For a manga I wasn’t looking forward to, Apple Black has been much better than I initially thought. It definitely looks the part, with phenomenal artwork and spectacle. The ideas are also off-the-wall, and the humor checks out as well. The large cast of characters is quite good, but due to how many there are in this volume alone, I feel like I’ll only remember Sano and his classmates. Sano himself is a typical dumb shounen boy, but his upbringing in isolation justifies how dumb he is. Oguguo combines the nerd and the pervert tropes to make Symon, a sleazy four-eyes who likes the in-universe equivalent of Wonder Woman comics. Ryuzaki is a typical brash boy, but the end of the volume shows he’s more complicated than that. The female lead is a girl named Opal, who seems pretty awesome, but hasn’t gotten too much screentime yet. There are many other characters, including a very sexy grandma, but this post’d be too long if I discussed them all.
Unfortunately, the biggest flaw with Apple Black that I foresee is a matter of circumstance. It does appear to be one of the more consistent series, since it’s apparently a reprint of the series as of ten years ago. However, like I said before, Saturday AM is a lot slower than Jump. With how ambitious and complex Apple Black is, Oguguo better put recaps in future volumes, or people might forget MANY of the finer details. Sure, you can reread the older stuff, but I’m someone who rarely—scratch that, never—has the time. Sadly, this is something that’s going to bite the bums of every mangaka under this publisher.
Current Verdict: 8.5/10
Titan King by Tony Dawkins
Titan King is significantly simpler than Apple Black: a boy named Eli Santos is abducted from Earth and forced to compete in an intergalactic tournament. The participants are able to summon a bonded titan to fight alongside them and have anime powers. Like I said, simple.
With the entire manga being a tournament arc, there is a much higher focus on action than in Apple Black. I definitely enjoyed the artwork and fighting more. However, I don’t know if it’s because of being nervous to read these manga or what, but I didn’t enjoy it as much? Honestly, it was probably the nerves, because the manga is pretty damn great from an objective standpoint. The only real flaw is that the characters are way more by-the-book. They have awesome designs, but are everything you can expect from a battle shounen cast.
Current Verdict: 8.45/10
Saigami by Seny
Full transparency: I wanted this section to be The Massively Multiplayer World of Ghosts, which is the one I was looking forward to the most, but my library doesn’t have any copies. So, here we are with one of the titles I was least interested in: Saigami! Like Apple Black, it seems to be a flagship series, so I should probably give it a fair shot out of respect.
The reason why I wasn’t interested in it is because it’s a traditional isekai: a girl named Hanasaki Ayumi is miserable, and then gets sent into another world. She then discovers that she’s one of the titular Saigami for a hitherto unexplained reason. However, even with badass fire powers, her new life is hard as nails and a lot of folks don’t like her.
The idea of isekai where the other world isn’t exactly a bed of roses feels as dime-a-dozen as your typical harem power trip. However, Saigami was initially penned by Seny many years ago, so it’s technically one of the first instances or possibly THE first instance of this. However, given my timing with reading it, that whole aspect of Saigami lost its novelty fast.
In any case, there’s nothing overtly abhorrent about the manga so far. It looks like it’s going to be quite lengthy, with this volume just introducing the world, its characters, and setting up for the first major arc. It’s a slow start, but by being a manga, it’s SIGNIFICANTLY more tolerable and faster-paced than 99/100 isekai light novels. It could be a yuri, assuming that the RWBY reference at the beginning was foreshadowing, but for now, Ayumi is the only girl…
Which is a perfect transition into discussing the characters! Ayumi herself is what you’d expect: someone who constantly gets dunked on, and has to learn to embrace her inner power. She’s weak and whiny now, but I’m assuming she’ll be a badass down the road. The other three characters introduced are all boys. Sean is a silly, fun guy, who is basically Ayumi’s BFF in five seconds. Angsty Reyji doesn’t trust her at all, since she’s not from Saigami-land but has Saigami powers somehow. Last but not least is Daiszke, another underdog who gets treated like crap, this time because his powers were taken too far.
Sadly, I do find the artwork to be the weakest of what was discussed today. It hits all the right notes, sure, but compared to the others, it’s just the weakest. It has a shojo-y look to it, but thankfully, the characters actually look like people instead of Grey aliens wearing human suits; that’s one big positive at least. There haven’t been any major fights, so I can’t really say how good the action looks. In conclusion, this volume was the least impressive, but I imagine it’ll only get better with time.
Current Verdict: 8.25/10
Hammer by JeyOdin
Hammer is, believe it or not, EVEN SIMPLER than Titan King! It stars a boy named Stud Hammer, who has all the relatable quirks of being lonely, having a missing mother, and a dad who’s always going to work. In a depressed stupor, he finds his dad’s journal, and gets Blue-Skadooed into it. He then proceeds to have adventures.
The opening arc of Hammer revolves around the mysterious murder of the Ocean Kingdom’s king. It’s basically a setup volume, because it’s clearly implied that there’s more to this murder than meets the eye. Otherwise, it’s a very Dragon Ball-ish, comedic battle shounen with great fights.
Hammer is, visually, the one that stands out among the manga discussed today. That’s because its artsyle seamlessly blends American cartoon aesthetic with monochromatic manga goodness. It looks awesome, and is by far its greatest strength.
I don’t quite have an opinion on the characters because I really didn’t feel like I’ve gotten to know them well enough. They have memorable designs, but are pretty basic for the most part. Two of them, Stud and a young police officer named Dan (who I enjoyed imagining Dan from Game Grumps as his V.A.), currently rely on classic emotional hooks to get brownie points from you. Dan’s older sister, Diane, is cool, but she’s a pretty typical onee-sama trope herself (not that there’s anything wrong with that).
Current Verdict: 8.5/10
So, Will I Be Subscribing to Them?
The answer, for the time being, is “undecided.” If I was richer, I’d do it in a heartbeat. However, I have hundreds of dollars worth of subscriptions, including a $300 annual fee for WordPress that I need to pay off, all off of minimum wage! Crunchyroll is something I’d be willing to abandon, since I have gone on record saying that I don’t enjoy anime outside of the movies, but I actually have a relative who’s using my account in my stead pretty consistently.
Even if I could afford Saturday AM, I still don’t quite know what I’d be getting into. The website is pretty bare bones, and according to the description of their app, they don’t even have a series-by-series list like Viz; you still have to pay separate, flat rates for “chapter packs” specific to each series. Also, I’ve known about them for three months now, and they haven’t added a single new serialization since. There was a recent collection of one-shots, but I don’t know if they’re doing the Jump tradition of “the most popular one-shot gets to start as a full series” or not. Also, due to the aforementioned slow publication, I’d be flushing money down the toilet just playing the waiting game for more content. The other caveat is the world itself. Every day, we’re getting showered with news about global disorder, the war in Ukraine, the climate crisis, China, etc. The talking heads estimate that we don’t even have a decade left before the next mass extinction. Saturday AM might not even be worth investing in, because there might not even be enough time for them to grow into something truly great; they’ve been doing this for almost ten years, and are only just now printing their first tankobons.
If I could find a way to get out of Crunchyroll, then I’d probably be subscribed to them now; the monthly rate—even if you factor in the chapter packs—is cheaper. However, whether or not I go through with it remains to be seen; after all, what if there’s a TV anime that’s actually good for once? In any case, if you’re reading this, and you have a much better income than me, then I implore you to check these guys out if you’re interested. I don’t want to sound like I’m forcing you… but this little team needs support, and the price of admission is peanuts. I hope you enjoyed this post, and that you highly consider subscribing to Saturday AM!
If you’re an anime nerd, you’ve probably heard of Taiyo Matsumoto’s classic manga Tekkonkinkreet; it was made into a critically acclaimed movie after all. Of course, me being me, I instead gained an interest in No. 5, a sci-fi manga of Matsumoto’s that I doubt any Westerner would’ve even heard of if it weren’t for Viz’s recent omnibus publication; it didn’t get adapted, so it might as well not exist over here. I don’t even know what it’s about, except that I should expect it to be weird because Matsumoto is famous for weirdness. Well, when it comes to Japanese literature, I shouldn’t expect anything less, should I?
No. 5 is set in the distant future, where the peace is protected by the Rainbow Peace Brigade, an elite squadron of genetically modified soldiers. The best of the best are designated under the numbers one through nine, and they all answer to an old man in a pair of bunny pajamas. Things aren’t so peaceful, however, when the titular No. 5 kidnaps and flees with a strange woman for no apparent reason. He travels with her as the rest of the Rainbow Brigade hunts him down.
Lemme tell you, this manga is as weird as it looks, if not weirder. Matsumoto’s art is strange and extraordinary, operating under no rules whatsoever; sometimes it’s detailed, sometimes it’s cartoony, and sometimes you don’t even know what you’re looking at. What’s even better is that panel changes tend to jump from POV-to-POV several times per page, all to maximize your confusion.
To add to that confusion, No. 5 doesn’t exactly give you exposition dumps. All the characters talk as if you—the reader—already understand how the world works, and you have to adapt fast. Everything is context-sensitive, and I’m sure as hell I missed a lot of important nuances during my read-through of the manga. There was probably some allegory to the true meaning of being human in there somewhere, and it flew right over my head.
Fortunately, this is a case where you don’t really need to know what’s going on. I was pretty damn engaged with the story despite being confused the whole time. The reason is all in the aforementioned art. Matsumoto really knows how to keep an audience on their toes no matter what’s happening, and there’s always something happening. The plot is followable on the most basic level, but good luck figuring out the purpose of any of it.
Because of how confusing the manga is, I don’t exactly know what to think of the characters in No. 5. The titular character is a very hard-boiled ex-cop-type, who doesn’t seem capable of any emotion except hard-boiled-ness. Unfortunately, we don’t exactly get the full details on why he wants to protecc the woman, Matryoshka, like an anime nerd’s favorite waifu; when we get the full backstory, it actually skips(?) the time between No. 5 first meeting her and ultimately kidnapping her.
It’s also not easy to tell why he loves Matryoshka so much, or rather, why everyone in-universe seems to loves her. You could argue that beauty is in the eye of the beholder, since she’s not the stereotypical ideal woman in terms of physical features. However… she’s kind of awful? She acts like the perfect picture of innocence, exclaiming everything she sees like a child, but it seems like she just follows whoever gives her food, as evidenced by a part where this one guy grabs her and she doesn’t resist at all.
The rest of the Rainbow Brigade are even more confusing. We get into the heads of every one of the numbered people. It’s natural to assume that the ones who die earlier are less impactful, but it doesn’t really matter. I don’t get No. 9, who dies first, any better than any of the others. I feel like the most impactful ones are the No. 4s, two twins who create hallucinations, and No. 1, who is… well, I probably shouldn’t spoil him.
Final Verdict: 8.75/10
No. 5 is really something. It’s surreal and intense, and always leaves more questions than answers. If you want to experience a weird, old manga, then No. 5 will serve that purpose well.
Dr. Stone is one of those manga that was in the wrong place at the wrong time. It became exorbitantly popular (deservedly so) during its initial 2017 debut, even winning itself the 2018 Shougakukan Manga Award under the Shounen category. That same year, I got into the hype months before its anime adaptation was even announced, and it quickly became one of my favorite manga of all time. The anime was also very good for a TV anime, and I—along with many other people—watched it while it aired. However, it aired alongside Kimetsu no Yaiba. And as anyone who saw that nineteenth episode go viral and single-handedly put both the anime and its source material on the mainstream overnight, Dr. Stone—while still running for a perfectly respectable period of time afterwards—practically vanished off the face of the earth as a result. As the contrarian I am, I nonetheless committed to Dr. Stone, and—you know what—it’s still one of my favorite manga of all time. Let’s find out why.
In Dr. Stone, a boy named Taiju is about to confess his love to a cute girl named Yuzuriha. However, right at that moment, a bright light covers the earth, turning all humans to stone. Thousands of years later, thanks to his testosterone-fueled drive for the girl, he manages to break out of the stone shell, awakening in a world that has been reclaimed by nature. There, he sees his classmate, Senku, who promises to use his incredible wealth of knowledge to restart all of human civilization.
Dr. Stone is a science-themed adventure manga, which is a very unusual style for the shounen genre. But hey, the manga makes science fun. There’s a lot of cool and interesting things that happen throughout the story, and it’s all very engaging. The humor is ridiculously on point as well. However, Dr. Stone is a science FICTION manga, and thus, you can’t not have creative liberties taken. As many, MANY critics on the message boards pointed out back when the anime aired, the science isn’t 100% accurate. Sure, maybe some chemical or whatever took a bit faster than what it’s supposed to in order to finish cooking, but for the sake of pacing, would you want five chapters of waiting for a thing to be done brewing? There’s also the fact that Senku is literally reinventing the wheel when it comes to all this civilization stuff, so he won’t need to waste time making the mistakes that were made a million years ago because those people already made said mistakes.
Another criticism I’ve seen ad nauseum was the fact that it doesn’t go for any darker tones when the opportunities were present, and that “Dr. Stone would’ve been better if it was seinen”. Granted, Dr. Stone would be a GREAT seinen manga, but I think it’s perfectly fine as a shounen manga because of how hard it commits to being lighthearted. When presented with one of the potential dark questions regarding if it’s actually better to NOT bring back civilization, lest the world return to its old state of corruption and war, Senku literally says that he wants to bring back civilization because he thinks it’d be fun. Fun, that’s what Dr. Stone is at its core. THINGS DON’T NEED TO BE DARK TO BE GOOD *huff* *huff*…
Anyways, the characters are what makes Dr. Stone come to life. My boy, Senku, is insanely narcissistic and I love him. His cunning, as well as his tendency to count in increments of ten billion, make him one of Jump’s best heroes (or anti-heroes) ever. “BUT HE’S WAY TOO SMART FOR A HIGHSCHOOLER! THAT’S UUUUUUUNREEEEEEEEEEEAAAAALIIIIIIISTTIIIIIIIIIIIIIIIC!” you exclaim VERY loudly. I’m not going to get into the endless debate of the limits of suspended disbelief, but if you don’t like what you’ve read about Dr. Stone in this review, then it’s clearly not for you.
But hey, there’s still your fair share of idiots. After all, Taiju maintained consciousness for thousands of years on sheer force of will (“FORCE OF WILL?! ALSO UNREALISTIC!”). He’s always hilariously dumb, and his chemistry with Senku is great. Yuzuriha comes into the mix, but I’ll admit that she’s not too interesting outside of being super cute.
Fortunately, they aren’t the only ones who survive the apocalypse. There’s the super swole Tsukasa, who serves as the first major antagonist, and the charismatic pig-Latin-speaker, Gen. But in addition, there’s a whole tribe of primitive humans (whose existence gets explained). Among the villagers are Chrome, who is literally Taiju, but with a better knack for science. There’s also Best Girl Kohaku, a cute tomboy that you do NOT want to mess with, and the cute Suika, who literally wears a fruit on her head and rolls around in it. Later on is the rich boy Ryusui, whose talent as a navigator, coupled with his all-encompassing desires, make him a refreshing take on the greedy noble trope.
Of course, with Dr. Stone being a shounen manga, I have to put out the usual warning about the ending not being what you might want it to be. I have no idea what the manga’s state was at its end (I wouldn’t be surprised if it got axed), but… I would be lying if I said they didn’t jump the shark, even by Dr. Stone‘s own standards. At the same time, they almost make fun of critics who use the “realism” card, because you’d essentially have to know all the secrets in the cosmos to be able to declare if something is realistic or not. In any case, this manga is more about the journey than the destination.
Final Verdict: 9.85/10
The few hiccups in Dr. Stone don’t stop it from being one of my favorite manga of all time (although I’m probably the only human on Earth who gives it this rating). It’s a cute, non-cynical celebration of humankind and its evolution that actually shows some semblance of hope for once. I can’t really recommend Dr. Stone easily because of the kinds of buttons it pushes; you’ll have to decide if this is the kind of thing you’ll like.
The combination of slice-of-life and fantasy seems to be a dream come true; basically, it’s a look at everyday life in a fantasy world, which is probably what a lot of us want. However, I’ve only seen it as a recipe for disaster. They’re slow, with boring characters, and fetishize women as much as any trashy isekai. Despite this, I had high hopes for the popular new manga, Frieren: Beyond Journey’s End.
In Frieren: Beyond Journey’s End, the titular elf and her entourage have just defeated the Demon King. In the aftermath, they go their separate ways. Years later, and Frieren’s comrades die of old age, while Frieren still looks the same.
Unlike other manga of this type, Frieren at least tries. In case you couldn’t tell, the main theme of the manga is death, which is particularly poignant through an elf’s perspective. Almost eighty years pass in the first volume alone, and the abruptness of the timeskips shows how little time that is to Frieren. More on that little aspect of the story later.
The main goal for Frieren is to head to the now-former site of the Demon King’s castle to perform a séance that’ll allow her to speak to one of her companions, Himmel, from beyond the grave. Because of this, the bulk of the manga is the typical, episodic, slice-of-life—well—slices that permeate this type of story to—well—permeate. Here comes the transparent honesty: I didn’t enjoy a lot of Frieren.
One reason is that I just simply don’t understand the theme of death. Of all the things humans have made overly complicated in this world, death remains the one, objective, simple truth. To quote what I’m sure is an old meme: “people die when they are killed.” While I do get the whole thing about Frieren not really knowing her old companions well enough during her original journey with them, I didn’t exactly care. Also, despite death being such a time-honored topic, it really doesn’t get to be as poignant as you’d think; a lot of the time, it just boils down to a running joke where someone says something in reference to a long passage of time and Frieren commenting on how it isn’t long at all.
Something I will give the manga is that the demons are cut-and-dry cruel. They’re so cruel, that they trick people by playing the waifu/husbando card to gain humans’ trust, and then turn around to kill even more people. However, there’s a flipside to this. Once you learn this information, any plot twist to the effect of “the evil-looking guy was evil the whole time?!” is no longer a plot twist but something you’re made to expect.
Slice-of-life is all about laid-back, grounded, nuanced characters. Even as someone who doesn’t always get hooked on this genre, part of me wonders if the cast of Frieren even qualifies by said genre’s standards (which they clearly do since people LOVE this manga). Frieren herself is basically a deadpan loli who cries a whopping one time at the beginning and then remains deadpan for the rest of the two volumes I read. She’s supposed to learn the meaning of life by watching everyone die of old age, which is another one of those weird human quirks that I don’t get at all. Also, it’s very explicitly explained that she’s insanely powerful, which makes any instances of action in the manga completely moot.
Her former companions basically have the same tired tropes, and this being their aftermath doesn’t really make them less tropey. The other lead protagonist is a fledgling mage named Fern who, well, exists. She learns magic, and gets really good at it. Say it with me: “Which means any instances of action in the manga are completely moot!”
To add to how flat Frieren feels, the art is flat as well. The setpieces are your typical Game of Thrones-type world which can easily be mistaken for medieval Europe if you take out the elves and dwarves. Also, the character designs are just… meh. Not even the demons look particularly sexy, which is really saying something.
Current Verdict: 7/10
I really wanted to love Frieren: Beyond Journey’s End, but these two volumes didn’t sit well with me. It’s a case similar to Horimiya, where it takes a viewpoint of the human condition that I—as a man with autism—do not feel. Even with that being the case, there’s probably better you can do.
A lot of writers create slice-of-life dramas about identity, where a young’un has to fight the labels provided by society. But in my opinion, the theme of “identity” would be more urgently called into question if someone’s brain just decided to assume an entirely different personality within the same body. That’s what happens in My Dearest Self with Malice Aforethought, a royally messed up suspense manga.
In My Dearest Self with Malice Aforethought, the main protagonist, Eiji Urashima, is haunted by a dark past that’s about to bite him in the butt: he’s the son of LL, a serial killer. Eiji has been able to live a normal life, but he suddenly starts experiencing time-skips. The reason for this is B1, a split personality that seems to be more-or-less following in his father’s footsteps. Eiji now must find the truth behind, well, himself.
One thing to say about this manga is that it’s really suspenseful. Normally, a lot of these—such as Monster—revolve around finding the established main antagonist. That’s pretty difficult when the protagonist and antagonist share the same body. Eiji finds himself in various situations thanks to B1, and it’s engaging to see how he could possibly get out of them.
The characters are, sadly, not too spectacular. Eiji is your typical thriller protagonist, where he starts off as super timid, but ends up becoming more and more like B1 as he’s forced to do uncouth things in order to find the truth. A more interesting case is his girlfriend, Kyoka. She seems like the super-perfect waifu, but that quickly stops being the case. The most likeable (read as: “marketable”) character is this one loli named Rei Shimyoji. She’s that weird girl who’s super big-brain and knows how to do a lot of unconventional stuff that just so happens to be helpful in plot progression.
After the halfway point, Dearest Self takes the cynical route, where B1 is on center stage for the remainder of the series. At this point, it becomes a pretty typical cat-and-mouse chase as he tries to find the true culprit of the LL murders. It feels very Western because of the whole thing where he’s “just as evil as the murderer he’s trying to catch” and it’s supposed to be an allegory to how all humans are awful. The mystery element is still good, but for those suffering from cynicism like I am, it’s not the best route for a manga to take.
At the very least, it all wraps up nice and smoothly. Sadly, the true villain’s motive ends up being the typical thing where killing is the only thing that makes them happy; the perfect “I couldn’t come up with a motive by the publication deadline” motive. I mean, how much more can you ask for?
The art, for the most part, is what you’d expect from a modern thriller manga. The eyes are very detailed, and there are a lot of instances of crosshatching and distortion effects. The faces are very exaggerated, and lips are given a lot of emphasis.
Final Verdict: 8.85/10
My Dearest Self With Malice Aforethought ended up being a much better experience than I initially thought. It was short and engaging, without getting too convoluted (relatively speaking). I recommend it to suspense fans.
There are times when a manga is so unique and otherwordly that you can’t even come up with an intro to segue into a review about it. This is the case for The Girl from the Other Side: Siúil, a Rún. It’s no surprise a weirdo like myself would find this among his favorite manga of all time.
In The Girl from the Other Side, a curse has ravaged the world, turning people into undying beasts (which is also contagious, by the way). A young girl named Shiva is sheltered from it all, in the care of one of these creatures, simply named Teacher. She seems to be immune to the curse, but that only paints a “Kidnap Me!” target on her back.
The Girl from the Other Side is straight up whimsical. The plot is simple to follow, yet it constantly asks new and intriguing questions about what’s going on. I found myself sucked into the narrative, and always wanting more. It felt relaxing, yet suspenseful. It gets confusing fast, but everything is tied together shockingly well towards the end. There really isn’t anything wrong with the story as far as cohesion goes.
Given the fact that it stars a girl and a monster who live together, The Girl from the Other Side is incredibly easy to compare to The Ancient Magus’ Bride (also, both manga are published in the same magazine to boot). In comparison, The Girl from the Other Side is much darker in tone, and has a lot more focus on its overarching narrative. There’s also no hints of romance, unlike The Ancient Magus’ Bride, which has romance to spare. Due to the fact that Magus’ Bride has sort of devolved into a Harry Potter clone in recent volumes, I’m willing to declare that The Girl from the Other Side is the better of the two.
The characters are its only flaw, though. While Shiva and Teacher’s interactions are one of the manga’s greatest strengths, everyone else is kind of just there. Fortunately, the bulk of the story is centered around Shiva and Teacher anyway, so it’s not as consequential as something like Overlord.
Something else you may consider a flaw is that it intentionally leaves some plot threads unresolved, namely, closure when it comes to the curse itself. While we learn of the reason behind it, there is no effort to lift it once and for all; the story is strictly about the relationship between Teacher and Shiva. Call it a cynical social commentary or a liberty taken to help the story flow, but that’s just how it is.
Everything comes together with the manga’s downright enchanting and mysterious artstyle. While the cover art is both dreary and quaint, using simple desaturated colors, the actual manga itself is where the art shines, or rather, where it darkens. The artstyle in this manga uses the Gestalt theory of art, and creates shapes by filling negative space with black in just the right way. It makes an otherwise generic fantasy world stand out really well. I want every page as a desktop wallpaper, please.
Final Verdict: 9.5/10
The Girl from the Other Side is a short and practically perfect manga. It might not have waifus or pulse-pounding action, but it’s something that is very unlike most series of its kind. Hopefully the movie adaptation will be just as good!
I initially come off as someone who only likes happy, fluffy stuff. And while that is generally what I gravitate toward, I do get that variety is the spice of life. I love a good, dark drama; the problem is that there aren’t a lot that satisfy both conditions. But for some reason, I’ve found manga to be my most enjoyed medium when it comes to enjoying the darker facets of the human psyche. And to show how insane some manga can get, here are two examples. Note that neither of these appear on BookWalker’s search suggestions, meaning only one thing: THEY ARE NOT FOR YOUNG’UNS. For fairness sake, both reviews are based on the respective mangas’ first two volumes.
Back When You Called Us Devils
In this messed up manga, you have the most generic-looking kid imaginable: Yusuke Saito. Apparently, looks are deceiving. He’s been coming down with amnesia, but it isn’t long before some people show up who claim that he was a very, VERY horrible person in his past.
And I mean horrible. Basically, the most messed up things you can think of, Yusuke allegedly did. I don’t even want to write the words for them, so here’s a basic TL;DR of his crimes: Goblin Slayer Episode 1. No, that’s not hyperbole. I have a good enough grasp of reality and fiction to not get messed up by it, but that doesn’t mean it won’t mess you up.
The main conflict is to get Yusuke to remember everything he did. Fortunately, helping him is his childhood friend who also happens to be one of his alleged victims: Aizawa Yojiro. Since Aizawa actually knows Yusuke, the process is simple: go to the places relevant to his past and jog his memory in said places. The story is fun (albeit a bit messed up), and I’m curious to see where it goes.
The hardest sell of Back When You Called Us Devils is no doubt the characters. If you couldn’t tell, everyone is basically evil. It doesn’t take long for you to find out that Yusuke is indeed what his victims claim him to be, but it feels very unrealistic for a kid to just be like that without the full story. Aizawa is Mr. Ends-Justify-the-Means, and does not hesitate to commit equally bad crimes if he darn well feels like it. Even Yusuke’s favorite victim, Akari Ichinose—whom he supposedly murdered (they have yet to show her dead body, which is a classic trope in pretty much all media)—is pretty messed up as well. She had some bizarre relationship with him where she lets him do whatever he wants to her and hopes it breaks him somehow? It’s something I can’t really describe, honestly; you’ll have to read the manga to find out!
The art is what it should be for this type of manga. It has a sketchy style, and the character design gives me a very 1990s manga vibe for some reason. Thankfully, a lot of the expressions are relatively subdued; a very rare design choice in this medium. Overall, it looks great.
Current Verdict: 8.5/10
My Dearest Self With Malice Aforethought
This manga ended up being, by sheer coincidence, similar to Back When You Called Us Devils; the main protagonist, Eiji Urashima, is also haunted by a dark past that’s about to bite him in the butt. But unlike the other guy, the reason is pretty well-known: he’s the son of LL, a serial killer. Eiji has been able to live a normal life, but he suddenly starts experiencing time-skips. The reason for this is B1, a split personality that seems to be more-or-less following in his father’s footsteps. Eiji now must find the truth behind, well, himself.
Dearest Self ends up, arguably, being more suspenseful than the other manga. Back When You Called Us Devils is built entirely around the anticipation of learning Yusuke’s past, the suspense being in us not knowing information. Here, however, we are fed new information relatively quickly. After all, we’re seeing the consequences of B1’s actions in real time. And every time we’re given that new information, it has the same “Oh crap” feeling that makes suspense good. There’s also a lot more action to boot.
The characters are, sadly, not too spectacular. Eiji is your typical thriller protagonist, where he starts off as super timid, but ends up becoming more and more like B1 as he’s forced to do uncouth things in order to find the truth. The most likeable character is this one loli whose name I actually forgot… oops. Basically, she’s that weird girl who’s super big-brain and knows how to do a lot of unconventional stuff that just so happens to be helpful in plot progression.
The art, for the most part, is much more modern than Back When You Called Us Devils. The eyes are very detailed, and there are a lot more instances of crosshatching and distortion effects. The faces are a bit more exaggerated, however.
Current Verdict: 8.65/10
These were both very fun, and dark manga that will probably never get anime adaptations. Of course, Naoki Urasawa can eat these for breakfast. But at the very least, these will do fine to tide you over if you’re waiting on more Asadora! to release. In fact, that’s basically why I decided to read these in the first place. Since both are finished in Japan, I should be able to put out full reviews of them sometime next year!
Most sports manga tend to be the same from beginning to end (even if Haikyuu!! was VERY different toward the end but that’s only like 15% of the story). It’s the usual thing: school is in the dumps, some special kids meet up at said school, bonds form, and in an inexplicable upset, said school is fighting the world champion team. But if you couldn’t tell from the fact that the cover of today’s manga, Blue Lock, shows characters with an eerie blood lust in their eyes, along with cuffs around their necks… this one’s a bit different across the board.
In Blue Lock, Japan’s soccer team has suffered a crippling loss at the 2018 World Cup. Since sports arbitrarily govern a nation’s entire dignity, we can’t have that crap anymore. So, in an act of desperation, an eccentric coach named Jinpachi Ego is hired to lead the final charge. But if you couldn’t tell from his name, Ego’s approach is pretty unconventional. He builds a brutal training facility, the titular Blue Lock, and hires three hundred promising strikers. In this facility, they don’t train together, but against each other, and only one of these kids can graduate from Blue Lock as supposedly the world’s greatest striker. Our main protagonist, Yoichi Isagi, is one such striker. And after experiencing a brutal loss because he chose to pass to a teammate at a critical moment, he kind of picks up what Ego is putting down.
Just one thing I need to get out there first: I love and hate this premise. I love the premise because, from a storytelling standpoint, it’s a pretty awesome idea. Soccer is the perfect sport to tackle this mindset of playing, since there really is no need for anyone but someone who can score points. The manga quotes real soccer players such as Pelé, who bizarrely enough, support this idea (unless this is an alternate universe where Pelé didn’t actually say that at all). On the flipside, I hate the premise because it’s cynical. I don’t need to read another review of Blue Lock because I know people enough to know what they’re gonna say: “This manga is so much better than other sports manga because it’s darker, which is more realistic, since there is never ever any happiness in real life.” Good thing I abandoned MyAnimeList when I did!
So far, Blue Lock does a great job at building anticipation, probably better than any sports manga I’ve read. This is done in Ego’s relatively quick exposition dump on how Blue Lock is set up. It’s divided into five wings, each of which have five groups of eleven kids who are on the same team. It seems that, over the course of the manga, these teams will compete with other teams within their wing, and eventually with the top teams from the other wings. And if my context clues are correct, this will eventually lead to some kind of knockout round between the team of eleven that comes out on top of that kerfuffle. By that point, those characters will have been fighting side-by-side the whole time, and now have to turn on each other. Of course, this is all speculation, since the manga’s barely even started.
So far, Blue Lock’s weakest aspect is its characters. Normally, sports mangas’ casts start off as pretty basic, but become super likeable down the road. However, due to the whole “ego” theme, I do not see the cast of Blue Lock being very likable in the typical sports manga fashion. Of course, with me being the lunatic that I am (what with loving narcissists like Senku), I see the possibility of Blue Lock having my favorite sports manga cast of all time. Yoichi, so far, is sadly the generic character who has the ability no one else has for no reason. The others also seem kind of generic, but time could easily mend that. I anticipate the fan-favorite to be Bachira. He’s the eccentric, mysterious character who takes a liking to the main protagonist (so, basically, he’s Nagito). I also like Coach Ego, for obvious reasons.
No sports manga is worth its salt without awesome art, and Blue Lock does not disappoint. Like the cover art, it’s full of insanity and bloodlust. As with any edgy, psychological series, there is no shortage of exaggerated, creepy faces. The action shots are spectacular, as expected from a manga like this.
Current Verdict: 9/10
As cynical as it is, Blue Lock is shaping up to be a fantastic sports manga. In fact, I’d already consider it my favorite since Haikyuu!! And if it continues to grow at its current rate, I think it could surpass even that. I recommend it if you’re a critic of sports manga and like psychological stuff.
I’m not one to normally read a new series just over a year after serialization. My first impressions of ASHIDAKA – The Iron Hero consist of the first two volumes, but that could end up being half or two-thirds of the story. A lot of manga, especially battle shounen, tend to get axed as swiftly and mercilessly as a Danganronpa character. But sometimes you gotta live life on the edge, and by the edge, I mean invest early in something that could easily get cancelled even after a cliffhanger.
In ASHIDAKA – The Iron Hero, the world is full of robots called droids. Fortunately, people in this world are naturally born with two cybernetic arms coming out of their shoulder blades. However, because we HAVE to have racism, anyone who has more than one pair of arms is considered to be in league with Satan, and are persecuted. The titular Ashidaka (whose name is thankfully not in all caps like the title) is named after the Moses of this world, and he inevitably ends up on a mission to take down Mecha Satan (henceforth known as the Centipede).
The immediate issue with ASHIDAKA is that it kind of dumps a ton of crap on you at once. It jumps right into combat when you don’t even know how anything works yet, you get a Biblical lore dump, Centipede destroys Ashidaka’s hometown that you’re expected to have an emotional attachment toward over the course of five minutes, and he’s roped into some secret Anti-Centipede resistance. Yeah, it’s a lot.
There are also some things that seem inconsistent to me, but it could be because of either the fast pacing, or the mangaka didn’t put much thought into the story. For example, why are people racist against those with four or more arms when the specific count has to be a hundred in order to be Satanic? I feel like that was just thrown in there just to be symbolic for the sake of symbolism. There’s also someone who’s a massive jerk to Ashidaka exactly one time for what seems like nothing more than shock value. Maybe if the manga runs long enough it’ll get to flesh this stuff out.
Another sad thing is that the writing is pretty bare-bones. It’s not as copy-paste as Kimetsu no Yaiba (which I may or not be saying out of spite against Kimetsu no Yaiba but I digress), but it’s enough to where you could probably read the Japanese version and more-or-less know exactly what’s going on. It’s a real shame, since it looks like it has potential to have a pretty good story moving forward.
The big plus with ASHIDAKA is definitely the arms. Usually, only one character in a series would have robot arms, but for that to be the standard for everyone in the world makes it a bit more interesting. There are many types of arms, along with a whole bunch of rules that will likely be amended on the fly because battle shounen love doing that. At least they look cool; that’s what matters most!
Unfortunately, that doesn’t help the characters. Similar to Musashi from Orient, among others, Ashidaka is a case of a “shounen protagonist in a seinen world”. He has absolutely zero rationality, and will throw a hissy fit if anyone dies for any reason, even if it’s for the greater good. He aims to find a less costly way of fighting, but that’s definitely not going to come into play for a while.
Supporting him is Geji, who is a bit more composed, even if he is super abrasive. And honestly, that’s kind of it so far. There’s several people in the aforementioned resistance movement, but they all consist of extremely basic tropes. At least they look cool?
Speaking of looks, ASHIDAKA is decent enough in the art department. The fights are flashy, but it can be tough to tell what’s going on since everything has robot parts.
Current Verdict: 6/10
ASHIDAKA – The Iron Hero is nothing spectacular so far. But hey, I only read two volumes. Hopefully, it’ll get better in the future.