Haikyuu!! Full Series Review

I was apprehensive about sports manga at first. Whenever I saw my father watch football, I was like, “Why are so many Americans’ entire lives defined by a game made for entertainment purposes?” (he says despite how videogames and stuff define his life). As a result, I never chose to read sports manga… until I read Haikyuu!!, published in English by Viz. With its rather lengthy run in Weekly Shounen Jump, simple story, and massive fanbase, Haikyuu!! has definitely become mainstream. But despite my aversion towards said mainstream, I think it deserves the praise.

In Haikyuu!!, a short boy named Shoyo Hinata dreams of becoming a volleyball champion. Despite his height, he has great reflexes and jumping skills. Unfortunately, in junior high, he is utterly schooled in a match against setting prodigy, Tobio Kageyama. In the aftermath of this humiliating defeat, Hinata attends Kararsuno Highschool, the same as his idol, the Little Giant. However… Kageyama ends up attending the school as well! With their abilities, they just might bring the school back from its long volleyball slump.

Like I said, Haikyuu!! is simple; straight as an arrow. Since it’s a sports manga, it’s an underdog story about a couple of young upstarts and their volleyball team. Compared to Eyeshield 21 and Kuroko’s Basketball, it’s really nothing special. But I always believe the execution is more important than the idea, and the execution is where Haikyuu!! delivers.

The best thing the series does is buildup. Haikyuu!! is really good at creating anticipation for upcoming matches. From Karasuno’s rival school, Nekoma, to the powerful Shiratorizawa, there’s a reason behind every fight. Unfortunately, there’s only so much that can happen in a volleyball match. It’s an inherent problem with sports narratives, but volleyball is literally just hitting and blocking a ball. Basketball and football at least have different directions and formations, while in volleyball, players are stuck on set sides of the court, and in a set position that rotates throughout the match. 

Furthermore, Karasuno’s team kinda sorta has plot armor in a sense, more so than in usual shounen manga. For the uninitiated to volleyball (myself included), the sport is played in sets. This basically means that all volleyball matches are a best two out of three (or three out of five in rare cases). From a writing standpoint, it’s a no-brainer for the really, really important matches in a volleyball narrative to last the full amount of sets. As such, I concede that the matches in Haikyuu!! aren’t too exciting during most of the early sets.

But once they hit that third set, it becomes a pure adrenaline rush. At that point, it’s easy to get fully immersed in Haikyuu!!, despite the pretty obvious plot armor. The climaxes of fights are when the manga is at its peak, and putting up with the other shounen tropes is well worth the payoff.

Even with the adrenaline rushes, Haikyuu!! wouldn’t have been the same if I couldn’t be invested in Karasuno’s volleyball team, which I’d consider to be one of the best teams in all of sports manga. Almost every one of its members has a definable personality trait, as well as some major hurdle to get over. This might be cliche, but the chemistry between Hinata and Kageyama is the best in the whole manga. Their clashing attitudes, and desire to one-up each other make them always entertaining to see.

I also must acknowledge some of Karasuno’s opponents. While the mangaka doesn’t flesh out every SINGLE member of those teams, they each have at least one or two memorable characters. They also go through the backstories of these teams during the matches with them, to hammer in the fact that Karasuno isn’t trying to beat an “evil volleyball team”, but a team of normal, likeable people who have the same aspirations that our protagonists do. It’s effective, but it gets kind of redundant over time.

Of course, no sports manga can be good without amazing art, and Haikyuu!! has some amazing art. While the artstyle looks disjointed and sketchy at first, the mangaka ramps it up to eleven when the emotional tensity warrants it. They’re also a master at gesture drawing, which really sells the power and speed of each shot. The panel flow is amazing, and always kept me on my toes; I never knew if a spike was actually going to count until the little scoreboard popped up in the panel.

However, there’s one last thing about Haikyuu!! that sets it apart from its contemporaries. But I can’t mention it without spoiling endgame content big time. On the flipside, it’s something that could make or break the entire series for you. As such, I made the following paragraphs the same color as the background. If you want to read the spoiler, then highlight the section of your own free will. Otherwise, skip to the end of the post.

A lot of sports manga- and Jump manga in general- are meant to be inspirational and lighthearted. They give hope to the underdogs out there, and have themes oriented around never giving up and achieving your dreams. However… Haikyuu!! is not a manga about success, but a manga about failure. Karasuno fails. Sure, they lose some early tournaments, but that always happens in sports manga. If the team loses, there’s usually some loophole in the tournament rules, or a magical secret tournament that they can use to reach some sort of glory. But that doesn’t happen with Haikyuu!! Karasuno FAIL-fails. Even after the third-years graduate, the first-years are not able to avenge them. Despite my aversion towards cynicism, I actually love that this happened. I have mad respect for the mangaka for taking such a big risk with a mainstream I.P. like this. I have no idea if any sports manga has ever done this before (except Hikaru no Go, but that manga doesn’t count because it’s not very good and it doesn’t go into any sort of aftermath either), but Haikyuu!! does it really well.

I know, I sound like a hypocrite, saying that this tonal shift is a good thing. It makes me sound like the people (*cough* Western critics *cough*) who say that cynical narratives are more “realistic” because “people don’t achieve their dreams by force of will alone” and that “life is meant to be miserable”. Normally, when we see a cynical narrative, it’s a long process of seeing the main character fall into pieces and wax poetic about how “suffering is the only truth in the world”. But Haikyuu!! takes cynicism and twists it into something truly unique. Instead of wallowing in misery, the cast of Haikyuu!! just… lives. Haikyuu!! is about being able to make like a cat poster and “hang in there” even if you never achieve your dreams. Sad to say, I do truly believe that a lot of people can never achieve their dreams, just because of how our society works. But that doesn’t mean you kill yourself. That’s the lesson. The final arc of Haikyuu!! is just adult Hinata having fun playing volleyball with new and old friends. Narratively, it’s not very exciting, but it ends in the best way possible: a rematch between Hinata and Kageyama, using all the skills they’ve learned throughout the course of the story.

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Final Verdict: 9.25/10

Haikyuu!! is an amazing manga, and is definitely among one of my favorite Jump manga of all time. It’s more grounded than most shounen, so I can more easily recommend it to critics. For once, Haikyuu!! actually deserves swimming in the mainstream, and I’m glad that a lot of people love it.

The Promised Neverland Full Series Review

Weekly Shounen Jump manga often get bashed for being the same thing over and over again, with a different coat of paint. But sometimes… sometimes, a Jump manga will attempt to break free of the mold while still embracing the core values of Jump and its demographic. The Promised Neverland (published in English by Viz), is one such manga.

The children of Grace Field House are as happy as can be, living under the loving eyes of their caretaker, Isabella, while waiting for their adoption. It’s just a bit weird that they have to take tests, and that they have numbers tattooed onto their necks, and that the house is surrounded by walls, and that they never hear from the kids who go out to get adopted… Yeah, something’s off with this place, and the ones who find out first are the three smartest kids in the house: Emma, Ray, and Norman. What they find out is that the kids are all livestock being bred for consumption by a race of terrifying demons. Naturally, they put on their thinking caps and figure out how to get everyone out safely.

So, in short, The Promised Neverland is amazing. Instead of screaming “FRIENDSHIP!” and brute forcing their way out, these kids have to use their wits to fight, or- more often than not- strategically retreat from combat. It is incredibly suspenseful, with new plot twists waiting just around the corner. It is amazing how it’s able to capture that familiar Jump feeling, while exploring uncharted territory for the magazine. 

However… small spoiler: the escape from Grace Field House is only the first arc. After this, we begin to find out about the world that The Promised Neverland is set in, and it only gets more complicated from there. I know that critics have exclaimed that the whole story goes to sh** from here, as it becomes more about figuring out what the hell is going on than about conducting stealth operations. And to be honest… I kind of felt the same way for a while. The manga was still good, but it didn’t have that magic from the first arc.

Fortunately, things pick up when it enters its climax. Once the puzzle pieces finally start fitting together, it becomes just about as intense as it was at the beginning.. It’s a real shame that you have to go through a pretty big chunk of inferior content to get there, but if any part had to suck, be glad that it’s the midway point! There’s no doubt that critics hate the ending, but that’s to become expected of pretty much any Jump manga, especially a popular one like this. As far as most manga go, The Promised Neverland feels satisfying enough, as far as resolving plot threads is concerned.

As for characters, er… this is where The Promised Neverland is at its most Jump-like. Even though Emma is among the smartest kids from Grace Field, she’s about as abrasive and reckless as any Jump protagonist. Fortunately, Ray and Norman are much better and smarter than her. The biggest problem with the cast is that it gets pretty large over the course of the story, with some minor characters not being that memorable. There are even a lot of characters whose names I can’t remember.

The art is what brings it all together. The Promised Neverland is drawn in an elegant, storybook-like style that can go from beauty to terror rather quickly. The designs of the demons are phenomenal, even if a lot of them look the same. The panel flow is also a key factor in building suspense; something that the anime sadly lacks due to the nature of its medium.

But if there’s any truly divisive flaw with The Promised Neverland, it’s Emma. If you couldn’t tell from this being a Jump manga, she’s a bit of a Mary Sue. Late in the series, it becomes really easy to succeed in the ultimate goal, except that it involves committing xenocide on the Demons. Since she’s such a good person who’s willing to forgive an entire race that’s indiscriminately bred and eaten human beings, she jumps in (or Jump’s in, rather) and tries to offer a more hunky-dorey solution. I’ll admit, it’s annoying, but hey, I also like lighthearted junk at times.

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Final Verdict: 8.9/10

It’s not perfect, but The Promised Neverland is a great manga; definitely one of the better ones in recent days of Jump. It genuinely tries to do something that isn’t mere pandering to testosterone-y boys (like Kimetsu no Yaiba), and while it stumbles, it definitely succeeds to some extent. The manga truly has its own identity. I recommend it to any shounen fans who want something just a tad different.

Demon Slayer: Kimetsu no Yaiba Full Series Review

This was honestly a very tough review to write. I got into Demon Slayer: Kimetsu no Yaiba (published in English by Viz) months before the anime- that freaking anime- aired. At that time, it had a pretty niche fanbase, like any anime-less manga would in the West. But my whole perspective of it changed when the anime launched- especially the viral nineteenth episode- and made the franchise mainstream overnight. Kimetsu no Yaiba has become one of Jump’s bestselling manga in recent years, even overtaking One Piece as the #1 bestseller of 2019. It has now become the embodiment of everything I hate about mainstream culture and marketing, similar to how I feel about BABYMETAL (which I’ll cover in a future post). I was going to give it a relatively high-ish score at first, but how much will my contrarian-ness affect the score now?

So, Kimetsu no Yaiba’s premise is as simple and unoriginal as it gets. In Taisho Era rural Japan, Tanjiro Kamado lives a happy life with his mother and siblings. But of course, he comes home one day to find his whole family dead (easy emotional hook, check), i.e. slaughtered by a demon. Only his sister, Nezuko, has survived, but she’s become a demon herself (cute girl who needs to be protecc, check). He then goes on a journey to become the #1 Demon Slayer (lofty goal, check) and kill the guy who orchestrated it all.

If you couldn’t tell, Kimetsu no Yaiba is mainstream to the Nth degree, following each shounen trope with little to no deviation. Fortunately, the mangaka at least seemed pretty aware of this, and chose to breeze through a lot of training and entrance exams to get to the real demon-whooping that readers actually want. After Tanjiro joins the Demon Slayers, he basically goes out with Nezuko (who is conveniently small enough to carry in a box) and fights whatever demon is terrorizing whatever area. The only saving grace of the narrative is its fast pacing.

The characters aren’t much better. Tanjiro is your typical, wish fulfilment protagonist. He runs on plot armor, and is inexplicably loved by everyone, even the demons that he cuts down; every single one of them goes through their “tragic backstory” to make you sympathize with them at the last second before Tanjiro kills them, and then they thank him for being a good person in their final breath. His sister, Nezuko, is marketing incarnate. She basically exists to be cute (which works, as I have seen on the message boards when the anime aired). Sure, she can actually hold her own in combat, but her cuteness is definitely a higher priority and a big factor to the franchise’s success.

There are a couple of saving graces, however. Joining Tanjiro are Zenitsu and Inosuke. Zenitsu can be annoying, given that he’s a big fat wuss who exists to provide comic mischief, but when he falls asleep like Bodkin from Wizards of Once, he becomes a super powerful bad-ass. Inosuke is a buff chuunibyou who wears a cool boar mask. These two aren’t the best characters in the world, but they’re enough to make Kimetsu no Yaiba more enjoyable.

Given the traditional battle shounen structure, Kimestu no Yaiba is full of throwaway antagonists who rarely last more than an arc. But among them is the actual main antagonist, Muzan Kibutsuji. He is a legitimately intimidating villain who has a very suave aura about him. He might be an a-hole to his minions, but he’s at least dressed fabulously.

Sadly, that’s pretty much it for the cast. What remains to be discussed are the many other Demon Slayer people that Tanjiro looks up to. I always forget who they are almost immediately after every reading session of the manga, so that really speaks of how unremarkable they are. The only one I remember is Giyuu, but that’s just because he’s the first one encountered, and his name is funny.

In the end, the one thing I can appreciate about Kimetsu no Yaiba is the fact that it ends startlingly quickly; clocking in at 205 chapters despite its insane popularity. Out of everything in the manga, the best thing that could’ve happened was for it to end, so that the mangaka didn’t have to worry about shoehorning in unremarkable antagonists just to pad it out for ten more years (like DBZ and Naruto).

The art is, uh, an effort. I’m not gonna crap on the art like everyone did when the anime came out. Sure, it’s not as “clean and crisp” as the anime, but it has a unique charm to it. Also, the fights are more than visually appealing enough. But like what critics said about the anime, the great art can only go so far to offset such a cookie-cutter narrative.

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Final Verdict: 6.75/10

Demon Slayer: Kimetsu no Yaiba is a fairly enjoyable manga that managed to end on the best possible note. Is its popularity undeserved? Hell yes. Is it the worst thing ever? Not quite. Like I said in the beginning, I’m being extra harsh on the manga because the anime was insanely successful due to the inherent appeal of Tanjiro’s simple and idealized personality, Nezuko’s cuteness, the visual spectacle, and the presence of famed composer Yuki Kajiura. Raw, human emotion, not perturbed by critical thinking, is imperative in order to enjoy Kimetsu no Yaiba; enough to have your heart melt from the backstories of people that you know for five seconds. By now, it should be obvious if this manga’s your cup of tea, so decide accordingly.

Levius Manga Review

Boxing narratives are all well and good, but they kind of tend to be the same. The main character loses, trains, gets told by several peers that he’s killing himself, trains anyway, manages to beat the bad guy with sheer force of will, then lather, rinse, and repeat until the fanbase is tired. But can some cyberpunk overtones make it a bit more interesting? Let’s find out in the short manga, Levius, published in English by Viz.

In 19th Century… somewhere (lol I don’t actually know), the titular Levius Cromwell is constantly haunted by the scars of a cyber war, which resulted in his mother ending up in a coma. For reasons that are a combination of him wanting money to fund her recovery, mysteriously seeing her as a child, and the organization that caused her coma being involved, he takes up mechanical boxing.

It’s a bit hard to follow at first because it takes a while to get acclimated to how the world is, but overall it is as straightforward as boxing gets. Fortunately, it doesn’t beat around the bush, and starts the story off with Levius at the second highest grade of boxing. He also gets a head start to enter the highest grade once a famous boxer from that bracket passes away. The fight to see which person enters that bracket is basically the entirety of Levius.

Of course, it’s not that simple. Remember that organization I mentioned? It’s called Amethyst, and its people are quite mean. They create some emotionless cyborgs that specialize in killing. As expected of a boxing narrative, Amethyst is a pretty one-dimensional evil organization for the time being. 

And the characters, sadly, match that description as well (the one-dimensional part, to be exact). If you’ve seen Rocky, you’ve seen the cast of Levius already. Levius is a typical, brash boy who’s AAAAANGRY at Amethyst and SO AAAAAANGSTY all the time. His uncle, Zack Cromwell, is the coach who constantly tells Levius to not kill himself. The female lead is an Amethyst machine: A.J. Langdom. She’s a cute girl who’s been heavily modded, and basically serves as a damsel in distress. The main villain, Dr. Clown Jack Pudding, is literally Battle Angel Alita’s Desty Nova cosplaying as Final Fantasy VI’s Kefka, and he’s pretty great. 

The art for Levius is rather unusual. First off, the manga is published backwards (forwards in a Western sense). “CENSORING JAPANESE CULTURE, IN 2020?! TRIGGERED!” you exclaim. Look, I have no idea what the factual reasoning is, but according to a comment on Viz’s page for Levius, it was actually published backwards in Japan as well because it’s supposed to be set in the U.S.? I don’t know… But regardless of the direction, Levius is a manga through and through. The panel composition is still what you’d expect for a battle manga, so you don’t have to worry about it being too Westernized.

But it’s not just the format that’s unusual, it’s the actual drawings, too. Levius has a very sketchy and gritty style for a sci-fi manga, even more so than Attack on Titan. For what it is, it looks fantastic, with great action, and phenomenal close-ups. The color pages are also amazing as well (PS: nudity warning, by the way).

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Verdict: 8.75/10

It might not be wholly original, but Levius is a pretty solid read. But notice that I don’t have “Full Manga Review” in the title or “Final Verdict” in this section? In case you haven’t noticed, Levius was not axxed; no, it’s only just beginning. There is an ongoing sequel, Levius/est, and I am hyped to read it. For now, I recommend Levius to fans of boxing, battle shounens, cyberpunk, and steampunk.

Bakuman Full Series Review

Cover of volume 1

I know that working in the manga world can be harsh; I’m even aware of how it’s literally killed people. That’s why I never read through Bakuman (published in English by Viz) until just now. And wow… where has this been all my life?!

Bakuman stars Moritaka Mashiro, whose uncle died from overworking during his manga career. However, when he leaves his notebook at school one day, a starving writer named Akito Takagi sees it, and says that they should make a manga together. He refuses until the girl he likes, Miho Azuki, who’s trying to become an anime voice actor, promises to star in the anime of their manga. And just like that, boom! End goal established!

Despite my dislike of slice-of-life manga, I have to admit Bakuman does pretty much everything right. The story is fun and engaging, plus the characters are very expressive and have great personalities (more on that later, though). Despite the fact that Mashiro’s uncle died from overwork, which is a real life problem in Japan’s society, the manga is pretty lighthearted for the most part.

Naturally, the big appeal of Bakuman is its theme: manga publishing. This is one time where I’ll admit that I enjoyed something because I related to the characters, even though I hate factoring that into the actual final score of the story. Since they’re publishing manga, the characters of Bakuman spend a lot of time talking about all the topics that I think about everyday: tropes, marketing, mass appeal, and taking risks.

The cast is also surprisingly good. One of the biggest problems I have with slice-of-life is that writers seem to think that characters need to have dull expressions and no interesting personality quirks in order to seem more “human,” which isn’t really true. The characters in Bakuman are “human” done right. While Mashiro is a bit generic, he’s at least very expressive, along with everyone else. I knew that Takagi was going to be my fav the moment I saw him; he’s just so aloof yet driven. They work with one of two editors at any given time: Akira Hattori and Goro Miura. Although the latter is inexperienced as an editor, they both genuinely care about Mashiro and Takagi’s careers. 

There are also a number of rivals in Bakuman. My favorite is Eiji Nizuma, who is a true prodigy, but is a total eccentric. He doesn’t seem to take his job seriously, or even know how Jump works, and he just draws whatever he wants and leaves the pages neatly lying on the floor. He also walks in Jojo poses, which you need to see in order to believe. Along with him are the brash Fukuda and the terminally antisocial Hiramaru, among other people. Although they’re competitors, they’re also good friends, and their chemistry with each other brings out the absolute best in all of them.

My least favorite characters are probably the two main characters’ love interests, the aforementioned Miho, and Takagi’s girl, Kaya Miyoshi. They’re good girls (Miyoshi’s the better of the two, though), but they kind of exist just for moral support. Sure, Miho has plot relevance, but you don’t really get to see her progress that much; you only see the results.

Now for the art. Holy crap. I think that is the best art Obata has ever provided. Sure, Bakuman isn’t as detailed or complex as Death Note or *shudders* Platinum Freaking End, but it brings the atmosphere of Bakuman and it’s characters to life. Also, he has to draw his own characters’ manga, which each have their own styles. This really showcases what an absolute mastermind of art Obata is, and I have the utmost respect for him. If you’re a fan of more chill, CGDCT-type stuff, then Bakuman’s cartoony art style will likely be a turn-off for you.

My one real complaint with Bakuman is the fact that the protagonists want an anime so badly. I get that there’s a specific context behind why they want to get an anime of their manga, but as someone who’s seen so many great works get horrible anime adaptations, I couldn’t help but cringe, especially since their storytelling style is just the kind of unconventional stuff that can only work in the manga medium. This whole thing is a big nitpick of mine, which is why it won’t affect the final score at all.

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Final Verdict: 9.75/10

Bakuman is the best manga by the Ohba-Obata team. Yeah, I just said that. Everything about it is top-top-notch. I highly recommend it to anyone who loves manga in general, and heck, probably those who love anime too. 

Descending Stories Full Series Review

I think it’s safe to say that there are only two ways that a Westerner would be exposed to the Japanese performing art known as rakugo. One way is the Ace Attorney case that had rakugo and notoriously expected you to know real life information about Japanese cuisine in order to be able to solve the case. The other way is to read Descending Stories: Showa Genroku Rakugo Shinju– published in English by Kodansha Comics- or watch its anime adaptation (okay, so technically there are three ways but the latter two both involve the same thing). Because of the Ace Attorney case, I was left very confused as to what this rakugo thing is. So, I basically read this manga all the way through as a form of research.

And here’s a small warning: DON’T read this manga for research! Descending Stories jumps right into the rakugo theme expecting you to already have a basic idea of what it is. Although you can at least figure out some terms thanks to footnotes and context clues, it doesn’t really serve any purpose as to what the appeal of rakugo is. If you want that, you’re going to have to read the bonus sections where the author literally documents different areas of rakugo. From context, rakugo itself seems to be an event where you watch a man kneel down and tell a story out of a pre-written selection while also doing the voices and mannerisms of all the characters. I didn’t actually do any research on rakugo so that I could dive into this manga fresh and from the perspective of an average Joe who wouldn’t know about it themselves.

Descending Stories is a slice-of-life manga, with rakugo as a narrative theme, more than anything else. The main character, Yotaro, is an ex-convict who has finally served his time in jail. Upon release, he seeks out Yakumo, a rakugo-ist(?) who performed at his prison, because Yotaro was inspired by him. When he finds the man, he’s turned down from becoming a rakugo apprentice, but is allowed to freeload and figure out how to rakugo on his own. Oh, and also, the whole overarching narrative revolves around Yakumo’s friend, the late, great Sukeroku (late, as in dead). This is a manga about coping with loss.

Similar to Ascendance of a Bookworm, I have a hard time discussing the characters because they are just normal people. While Yotaro is the main character, technically, half of the manga is actually focused on Yakumo and Sukeroku’s backstory. Keep in mind that depending on their rakugo status, their names will change like that guy in the Secret Show. It’s not that hard to get used to because the recap at the beginning of volumes 2 and onward tell you who’s who every time.

I think the art is the weakest aspect in the manga. Although it’s got a distinct, humble style, every character looks like they’re making duck-lip expressions, which clashes with the theme of loss, and basically any scene that’s meant to be taken seriously. At the very least, the panel flow is perfectly fine, and has some strong double-page spreads.

Geez… I… I’m gonna be honest, I don’t know what else to say about Descending Stories. My preferred genres are battle shounen and isekai, yes, but I’ve been more than capable of enjoying the more “cultured” manga. Heck, Naoki Urasawa- the mangaka of 20th Century Boys and Monster– is one of my favorite mangaka of all time! Plus, there’s Kasane and ACT-AGE that I love too, and don’t even get me started on the masterpiece that is Space Brothers. I’m more than certain that Descending Stories is a great manga. My beef with it is probably the art, which I find really important for the actual conveyance of the story. If Urasawa did the art for this, I might like it more.

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Final Verdict: 8.5/10

I gave Descending stories a lot of benefit of the doubt. I can see the makings of a great drama manga here, but I just couldn’t get into it like the drama manga I previously mentioned. It also didn’t help me appreciate rakugo itself, which is unusual because I find that manga are the only time that I appreciate a real-world things that I normally find boring. If you want something with more “culture” than those “mindless” battle shounens, Descending Stories has culture to spare!