Gleipnir First Impressions (Volumes 1-5)

How many more edgy battle shounen manga can one person read?! It’s become a running theme on my blog, and it’s not stopping any time soon. Let’s examine Gleipnir, published in English by Kodansha Comics.

In Gleipnir, Shuichi Kagaya just wants to fit in, which is difficult. While he doesn’t have puberty to deal with, he can turn into some kind of Chuck E. Cheese reject for some yet-to-be-explained reason. After saving some girl named Claire Aoki from a fire, he ends up going on a quest to find her older sister.

But of course, it’s never that simple. By the second volume, the search for Claire’s sister turns into the search for a bunch of coins for some alien guy. Oh, and giving said alien guy a coin is what actually causes the transformations (even though Shuichi doesn’t remember anything about that happening). 

This manga asks so many questions. Shuichi has some personal connection to Claire’s sister. The true nature of Shuichi’s power remains a mystery. Who really killed Claire’s parents? Why aliens? The plot seems fairly straightforward in the moment, but as soon as you stop to think, it becomes a massively tangled knot.

Fortunately, the characters are pretty creative in terms of design and abilities. Of course, you saw the volume 1 cover art, and know that Claire and Shuichi fight by having the former enter the latter’s body while he’s in Chuck E. Cheese mode. She often does this in her bathing suit. Yeah, say goodbye to being master of your domain. There are other crazy characters, like a literal cameraman, and a kid who summons a demon in the form of his parents stitched together (and naked of course). 

Speaking of naked, get ready for fanservice galore. It’s not just limited to a sweaty teenage girl entering a teenage boy’s body. There are a lot of “nips”, including the groping of said “nips.” There’s also an almost-sex scene. Being the edgy thing that Gleipnir is, it’s doing all of the fanservice with a straight face.

Unfortunately, the characters aren’t as great on the inside as they are on the outside. Shuichi is a generic whiny protagonist who gets emotional support from Claire, who happens to be a yandere. It’s YA-levels of unnatural when it comes to how easily she will commit murder, even on her own sister. Speaking of which, her sister, Elena, has a bizarre contrast of mysterious and socially awkward, but otherwise she isn’t that interesting, besides her unknown role in the overarching story. There are a lot of other characters, but they fall under tropes such as, “Skimpily Dressed Busty Lady”, “Jealous Guy”, “Pervy Guy”, “Catgirl Loli”, etc.

The art in Gleipnir is great. The action shots are done well, and the uncharacteristically large panels make individual volumes easy to read. And most importantly, the fanservice shots are on fleek!

~~~~~

Current Verdict: 8.3/10

Gleipnir is a pretty standard edgelord manga. It’s perfectly readable, especially when compared to a lot of bad YA novels, but it’s not quite as good as stuff like Tokyo Ghoul. Check it out if you like sexy murder girls and fanservice.

Hinowa ga CRUSH! First Impressions (Volumes 1-3)

I haven’t talked about Akame ga Kill! on my blog, so let me give you a short gist on how I feel about it: I love Akame ga Kill! It is a fun, edgy battle shounen with dark undertones and a surprising amount of emotional tension. Oh, and of course, the manga’s better than the anime! So with that out of the way, let’s dive into Akame ga Kill!’s sequel series, Hinowa ga CRUSH!, published in English by Yen Press.

The nation of Wakoku has been caught in a civil war for, basically, ever. Our main character, Hinata- who changes her name to Hinowa, taking after her mother who died in battle- dreams to end said war (pretty typical). It’s definitely a lofty goal. But fortunately, a familiar face washes up on the shores of her village, and just so happens to be pretty stinking powerful. (Spoilers: It’s Akame! *fan gushes*)

Despite the whole, you know, war going on, Hinowa is noticeably lighter in tone compared to its parent series. The first thing that’s easily noticeable is the fact that Hinowa’s friends don’t get slaughtered to death within the first volume, which is what happened to Tatsumi’s redshirted buddies in Akame. In fact, not a single protagonist dies in the volumes that I’ve read, other than Hinowa’s mom way at the beginning. This is a huge tonal shift compared to Akame, which had been memed as the “Game of Thrones of anime” while it was airing.

So while Akame got backlashed for having too many deaths “just for shock value”, Hinowa seems to suffer from the opposite; plot armor. We only see bits and pieces of training throughout the story, and it mostly comes down to them getting whooped by Akame in mock duels. It’s not enough to show how darn good these kids are during their very first battles. One particularly bad example is when this redshirted commanding officer gets one-shot by some other guy, while one of Hinowa’s friends- who’s still a greenhorn- manages to hold their own against the same exact guy. Maybe the author responded to the backlash in Akame? Or is this all a red herring before a dark tonal shift later?

Unfortunately, the characters have been downgraded from Akame. The whole cast of Akame either had a very expressive personality, memorable character design, or a creative ability. In contrast, the titular Hinowa and her buddies are just generic teenagers, and seem to handle being in the military as well as going shopping at the local mall; no moral quandaries here! The weapons in Hinowa are similar to the ones in Akame, but are nowhere near as interesting thus far. 

But what about the character we all came to Hinowa ga CRUSH! for: Akame? It has been a couple of years, but I remember her being way better than she is here. Akame goes from being a “tough-exterior-unstable-interior” type of girl to kind of a “perfect girl” type; powerful, but kind and supportive. While it is possible to follow Hinowa without reading the prequel, the context of Akame is important, or else you might think it’s strange that such a powerful woman just magically turned up when it happened to be convenient.

Another concern is the change in the artist. Overall, the new artist did a good job making Akame recognizable, but there’s a noticeable lack of oomph compared to the previous artist. All the over-the-top gore and expressions are toned down a lot, which makes Hinowa more “grounded”, but I’m still not a big fan. It could’ve been worse, I guess.

~~~~~

Current Verdict: 7.25/10

I don’t want to be one of those fans that’s like, “It’s not EXACTLY like the original series I loved so much, therefore it’s objectively bad”, but I feel like Hinowa ga CRUSH! is lacking the chutzpah that made Akame ga Kill! so great. With how different it is, I definitely can’t easily recommend Hinowa to Akame fans. Honestly, I’m gonna have to sit on this one for the time being.

Radiant First Impressions (Vol.1-7)

I’m not a very good artist. What’s worse, whenever I’ve tried to draw manga, it somehow comes out looking Western, even though I don’t like how most Western GNs look! Maybe I should take lessons from Toni Valente, a French mangaka, whose ongoing series, Radiant, actually managed to get an anime adaption in Japan. Viz Media has brought us English speakers this series, so let’s see if it’s any good.

In Radiant, the world is plagued by Nemesis, who is not a hungry waifu, but a hungry race of demons. These demons are repelled by wizards, who sadly, only earn blatant disrespect from citizens and the Inquisition. But hey, Seth has a dream, and it’s to defeat the Nemeses at the source; the mythical, titular realm known as Radiant.

It’s not surprising that Radiant is a battle shounen, which is the most internationally recognized (and almost synonymous with) anime genre of all time. Fortunately, Radiant actually manages to capture the spirit of the genre in a way that doesn’t come off as mockery.

In fact, it feels almost too shounen-esque, as in- say it with me- it’s a bit generic. Valente doesn’t really put any “French”-ness in this manga at all (I know that Hiro Mashima said that there is in one of the afterwords, but I have no clue what he’s seeing that I’m not). The comedy and personality are all there, but it’s stuff you’ve seen before. I guess I’ve learned that humans really, truly all have the same desires and interests when it comes down to brass tacks.

Some of the characters are pretty uninspired. Seth is a generic battle shounen boy, Doc is comic relief, and Grimm is the mysterious guy. The series is at least graced by the presence of Best Girl Melie, who is a spiritual successor of Lunch from Dragon Ball in that she has a crazy good and crazy mean split personality. She’s just about as much of a hoot as Lunch was, and she’s still pretty powerful even when she’s in nice mode. Strangely enough, most of the minor characters seem to have the more interesting personalities, such as the conman headmaster of the Artemis Institute, or this old guy who can never list off two reasons for anything without mumbling the second one. 

At the very least, Radiant is set in a lovely world. Every town is situated on a sky island of some sort, like in Zelda Skyward Sword, and each island has its own distinct personality. There are also some fun setpieces down on Earth itself, such as a forest which acts as the hyperbolic time chamber from Dragon Ball.

The art in Radiant is great. Valente clearly understands the subtle distinctions that make a manga a manga and a comic a comic, and is able to make something that is clearly the former while also giving it its own style. The character designs are great and their faces are super expressive. If only I could be just as good…

~~~~~

Current Verdict: 7.75/10

Radiant is a good manga from an unexpected source, but said unexpected source is really the only thing it has going for it. If you just handed this to me with no context, I would’ve seen a fun but typical battle shounen manga. Read it if you want, but there are many better works from Japan: the country that understands manga better than anywhere else.

Plunderer First Impressions (Volumes 1-3)

Fanservice and edginess have always been a point of contention in the anime community. Good thing the Winter 2020 anime season will grace us with Plunderer, a series that has both. Today, I will cover all of the source manga material that Yen Press has published thus far.

In a world where you’re born with a number indicating the amount of times you’ve done something, and can command anyone with a lower number than yours, moe-blob Hina seeks out the Fabled Ace of the Waste War… for some reason (probably has to do with her mom getting sucked into a black hole). She finds this Ace, named Licht Bach, but he’s a super edgelord and leaves the scene after saving her life (told you he’s an edgelord). 

If I were to describe Plunderer at this juncture, I would call it a modern take on old-school battle shounen manga, like InuYasha, YuYu Hakusho, and Ruroni Kenshin. Its artstyle, which I’ll get to later, is a big reason, but it’s more so because it shares the “lead female protagonist is a damsel in distress” trope with the aforementioned manga . As a side note, those manga are- ironically enough- among my least favorite battle shounen of all time. I am aware that modern manga can treat its women as objects to “protecc” in the same way as the older mangas, but Plunderer‘s execution felt particularly nineties to me (just to clarify).

Fortunately, Plunderer does have some modern flare to it. Usually, most battle shounen manga (especially those older ones) have no real destination in terms of a narrative at the beginning, but Plunderer introduces intrigue during its first volume. The most notable mechanic is the Ballot system. These are items with their own pre-assigned values that add to their owner’s, and they’re where Licht gets his power. The female lead also has one that- based on its number- is far stronger than his, but it doesn’t get any use yet. It’ll likely be used as a Deus Ex Machina later.

But like I said earlier, Plunderer also has fan service tropes. Our main protagonist, Licht, has a count of -1000 thanks to how often he gets rejected by women. The reason? Because he likes to look up their skirts. And in good ol’ battle shounen fashion, he’s also a “righteous dude” who will protect ALL the waifus, especially from random sleezes who will try to use the number system to sexually assault them (well, except for when he’s in his designated “PTSD edgelord phase”).

His main waifu is Hina, the aforementioned moe-blob. Similar to InuYasha‘s Kagome and Kenshin‘s Kaoru, she ends up being a passive character for Licht to save. She might get powers of her own later, but it’ll probably never amount to much of anything. 

The other waifu, Lynn May, doesn’t fair much better. She’s a moe-blob in the military, and a wholly incompetent one at that. She ends up tagging along when Licht stands up for her in front of a more… d***ish officer. Literally everyone around her makes fun of the shortness of her skirt, making her another mascot to sell the manga.

Jail Murdoch, one of only two other male leads, is pretty much the Vegeta or Piccolo of Plunderer; he starts out as an enemy, and becomes a frenemy not much later. Yeah, it’s a pretty bog-standard cast for the most part. 

But if there’s one thing that I love in a battle shounen manga, it’s art. While Plunderer has a very nineties look in it’s character design, the panels are full of life and impact. Fights are especially good, even if the characters don’t put much thought put into their tactics.

~~~~~

Current Verdict: 8.75/10

It may sound like I was criticizing Plunderer throughout the bulk of this post, but that’s not quite what I was doing. I, personally, am loving Plunderer so far, but that doesn’t mean I won’t acknowledge that there are some things that would tilt others. I’m not going to be the type of reviewer who will conveniently omit any possible flaw that their favorite things have, for the sake of being “objectively right”. If you like battle shounens, you should have no problem enjoying Plunderer.

Jigokuraku First Impressions (Chapters 1-40)

Artwork from Viz site

You’ve gotta love edgelords sometimes. There’s a little charm in their hackneyed “to kill or not to kill” monologues. Oh, and gore too. And out-of-left-field comic mischief. Jigokuraku: Hell’s Paradise, simulpub in English on Viz’s digital Jump subscription, has got all of that to spare!

In a dark period of Japan’s past (sorry, I’m not weeb enough to tell what era it is just by looking at it), the edgy ninja known as Gabimaru the Hollow is pending execution. However, nothing they try will actually kill him! So, the shogunate recruits him, among other criminals, to journey to a strange island and recover the elixir of life. He is accompanied by swordswoman Sagiri Amaemon, who must watch over him, and immediately decapitate him if he steps out of line. But since this is a battle shounen, she’ll probably never do that to him.

So far, it’s pretty fun. The beginning makes you think it’s going to be a battle royale, but they got bigger fish to fry. And by fish, I mean the giant mutant Bosatsu that live on the island. Basically, imagine if Shou Tucker from Fullmetal Alchemist was Buddhist. The island has a very surreal and creepy, yet whimsical feeling to it, and it makes me curious as to what it has to offer. There are also some powerful, human-looking foes that are super swole and can freely genderswap any time that they want. 

The characters, for the most part, are decent enough. Gabimaru is pretty nonchalant, edgy, and fun. Sagiri starts off as a whiny, “character who gets crapped on for being a woman because it’s historically accurate”-type, but she becomes much more resourceful at ten-odd chapters in. One of my favorite characters is probably the sexy female ninja Yuzuriha. Although she looks powerful, she’s very aloof and doesn’t even seem to take the mission seriously. But she’s still fun to see. I also like Gantetsusai, who is a tall, powerful swordsman that ends up being the “frenemy” of the group, and of Gabimaru in particular.

Sadly, I can’t figure out if these characters are based on actual people from history. The only thing I could recognize were two brothers whose dad was one of the 47 Ronin. Hopefully I’ll be a big enough history buff to be able to say something authoritative during the full review of the series, once it ends.

The art in Jigokuraku is great. It’s very rough and sketchy, with vivid details and great action shots. Word of warning, there is complete female frontal nudity, as well as gore, so stay away if you hate that stuff.

~~~~~

Current Verdict: 8.25/10

Jigokuraku is a fun, enjoyable, and somewhat addicting historical fiction manga. I recommend it to any fans of battle shounen and edgy stuff.

Fairy Tale Battle Royale First Impressions

Cover of volume 1

My introduction to the battle royale genre was Future Diary. It wasn’t a good first impression to say the least. But despite that… experience, I decided to read Fairy Tale Battle Royale, published in English by Seven Seas. Let’s discuss if it’s any good.

Aoba Kuninaka is a classic, emotionally insecure high school girl who gets crapped on all the time. But when she signs a strange contract that makes all of her bullies love her, she’s transported to a twisted fairy tale world in a cosplay costume of her favorite character, Alice from Alice in Wonderland, and all the other characters in this world are zombies.

So, let me be honest. This isn’t the first time that fairy tales have been given a darker dark motif, but what I always find hilarious is this is done with the intention of being cool and edgy, when they’re actually just portraying these stories as they were historically. But in Fairy Tale Battle Royale’s case, there is gore and zombies, so it’s at least edgy to some extent.

What actually makes Fairy Tale Battle Royale a true battle royale manga is the trope of many elaborate rules revolving around the royale itself, that the characters end up learning the hard way (i.e. red shirts getting offed early on). In this manga, it is established that killing the character zombies will free their souls and add them to a player’s book of the corresponding fairy tale (Ex. killing the card soldiers from Alice in Wonderland will add them to Aoba’s book). Doing so will also restore the area back to its less-decrepitness. But since this is a battle royale manga, it’s not as simple as that. It never is, and that could end up being the downfall of Fairy Tale Battle Royale. Fortunately, despite the short volume lengths, some semblance of plot progression always happens within each installment.

Unfortunately, the characters of Fairy Tale Battle Royale up being really weak, and by weak, I mean formulaic. One whiny main protagonist who lives off of sheer luck, one badass that you actually care about, at least one exposition dump character, and the rest are red shirts (characters who are obviously going to die, with the term inspired by a running theme in Star Trek episodes). Aoba is, obviously, the first item on the list. There really is nothing to say about her whatsoever at this juncture. The other characters who show up, besides the mysterious badass, are just as dull.

The art for the manga is solid. It does a good job clashing storybook-moe-style with dreariness. I kind of wish there could be more gore, since the edginess is what I’m enjoying most, but that’s just me. It’s basically a weaker Promised Neverland in terms of the art.

~~~~~

Current Verdict: 7/10

Fairy Tale Battle Royale is, so far, marginally better than Future Diary. It’s not the greatest thing out there, but it’s still a fun, while-sitting-on-the-toilet read.

Katanagatari Volumes 1-3 Review

A lot of people love NISIOISIN’s Monogatari series to pieces, but the same author’s 2007 series, Katanagatari, is much more obscure. In fact, I wouldn’t have known about it if my friend who’s been lending me the Monogatari novels hadn’t also lent me this. Published in omnibus form by Vertical Inc., this series can now be experienced in English. Each of my reviews will cover three volumes due to the aforementioned omnibus format.

The big thing about Katanagatari is that it seems deceptively simple. The main character, Yasuri Shichika, lives alone on an island with his sister until he is approached by a girl named Togame. She tells him about these twelve powerful swords forged by a famous swordsmith named Shikizaki and offers to help her obtain the swords. Since there would be no series if he didn’t decide to tag along with her, Shichika decides to tag along with her. Given the amount of swords, the amount of volumes, and the fact that each volume, so far, has been named after one of the swords, it is easy to infer that Katanagatari follows a monster-of-the-week formula, with each volume consisting of going to where the next MacGuffin is, then fighting the person who’s wielding it.

NISI, do you actually think you can fool me? (And well, if the series actually stays this simplistic all the way to the end, then yes, you have fooled me.)

Since this is by the author of Monogatari, you’d naturally expect some phenomenally complex characters (and if you haven’t read Monogatari, just know that this author is known for phenomenally complex characters). But again, they seem deceptively simple! Shichika is kind the antithesis of Araragi. Unlike the iconic Monogatari tragic hero, he doesn’t like thinking too hard, and is pretty much an idiot when it comes to anything other than fighting. He sounds an awful lot like a cardboard cutout battle shounen protagonist… NISI, just what are you playing at? Regardless, the fact that he fights armed swordsmen without using a sword himself is cool.

Togame, meanwhile, seems to be just a waifu. She’s good at tactical stuff, but she can’t fight to save her life. So, Shichika has to protect her (NISI, do you actually want your FANS to like this series?). There are strong implications of ulterior motives on her part, but it shouldn’t be anything that would offset her need to be “protecc-ted.” Despite how bland these characters seem, they still have some great (and long) interactions between each other, as to be expected from NISI.

The biggest challenge from reading this book is visualizing it. As you can tell from the cover, this has an appealing and unusual art style. At first, I had a very hard time picturing things because I couldn’t decide if I wanted to picture it exactly like the illustrations or in a modern anime style. I ultimately settled on a weird combination of both, but it might not be so easy for you.

~~~~~

Verdict: 8/10

So far, so good. Due to its simpler format, this is a much easier series to recommend to people than Monogatari, or if they’re intimidated by Monogatari, then they can use this to get an impression of NISI’s writing style. If there’s any concern I have, it’s that the basic plot formula won’t change much, and I’ll have problems writing posts for subsequent volumes… But for entertainment value, this is shaping up to be a great series for Monogatari fans who need a break from Araragi’s constant existential crises.