Fantasy, romance, and shonen feature prominently in our reviews this week, but so, too, do two rarer releases for manga-associated brands. They include Guardian of Fukushima, a Franco-Belgian work inspired by Japanese culture and the 2011 earthquake, and Tezcatlipoca, a Japanese novel combining Aztec mythology and modern organized crime. Read on to see what we thought of these departures from the usual, as well as more typical light novel and manga fare!
Ayashimon (Vol. 1) • The Girl I Like Forgot Her Glasses (Vol. 1) • Guardian of Fukushima • I Kept Pressing the 100-Million-Year Button and Came Out on Top • Sweet Poolside • Tezcatlipoca • Unnamed Memory (Vol. 6)
Unnamed Memory, Light Novel Vol. 6
FYI: this is the final volume of the series, so some mild spoilers are unavoidable. The first volume of the story introduced magical mystery man Valt…and promptly killed him. Well, he’s back in a big way. This series has often had a mystery-of-the-week feel, but certain plot threads—Valt, time travel, witches, the anti-magic sword Akashia, a pair of mysterious orbs, etc.—have helped link the various narrative episodes about Oscar the king and Tinasha the witch, and many of them come together for this finale. I found it a little confusing, but some of that is probably because it’s been too long since I read the preceding volumes, and some of it is probably because time travel is supposed to be a bit puzzling. Be warned that this is a wild ride and you shouldn’t expect everything to be wrapped up in a tidy package. I found the ending is reasonably satisfying, but it’s definitely more “and the adventure continues” than “happily ever after,” and it left me with questions. The Afterword even hints at the possibility of a sequel series. The banter/bickering and mutual trust between Oscar and Tinasha remain charming and enjoyable, and (some) mysteries get resolved. If you’re looking for a fantasy-mystery-romcom, I definitely recommend the completed series that is Unnamed Memory. ~ Jesk
Unnamed Memory is published by Yen Press.
Guardian of Fukushima
This isn’t a manga; it isn’t even Japanese. Instead, it’s a Franco-Belgian bande desinée in the tradition of Asterix and Tintin, but one that tells a very Japanese story: of the earthquake of 2011, the devastation it wrought, and the one man who arose amid the chaos as the “guardian of Fukushima,” Naoto Matusumura. He is the one who returned to the restricted zone in order to care for the animals that had been abandoned during the evacuation—pets and farm animals alike (even ostriches!)—and who has remained there ever since, breaking the law on a daily basis and becoming the most irradiated man alive in the process. But Guardian of Fukushima is not just another retelling of an inspiring true story. Instead, Matsumura’s tale here is “liberated by fiction” (foreword), as writer Fabien Grolleau and artist Ewen Blain re-envision a 21st-century hero in the context of centuries-old Japanese folk tales, legends, and spirituality, in a manner reminiscent of Studio Ghibli’s eco-activist films and Kawatsura’s The House of the Lost on the Cape. The work draws on a rich tapestry of references: from yokai and guardian spirits to the giant catfish Numazu whose thrashing is responsible for earthquakes, to the tale of Urashima Taro, the fisherman and champion of sea life who returns home to find a world transformed—much like Matsumura himself, as the foreword points out. And it works really well, most of the time (the yokai sequence being the exception—it’s not very well integrated into the overarching narrative). Matsumura’s story is moving, but the volume wisely resists becoming overly sentimental and instead emphasizes the protagonist’s steadfast commitment to his conviction that the value of animal life is on par with that of humanity. The graphics are stunning, with the brilliant color work characteristic of bande desinée and a charming hand-drawn feel, right down to the quavering panel lines. The animals are full of personality, and much care has been taken to render the natural landscape with the vibrancy of spring, even amid the destruction. All in all, this volume is a treat for the eye and the heart as well, and a fitting tribute to a man who has laid down his life for creation. ~ claire
Guardian of Fukushima is published by TOKYOPOP.
A bold attempt to mix ancient myth with a modern crime tale, Tezcatlipoca is creative, heavy, and for long stretches an absolute page-turner. But it’s also ultimately underwhelming. The modern-day myth traces the lives of a number of characters caught up in a horrifying crime trade (I won’t spoil it here except to say that it’s very 21st century), but two men in particular: a neglected boy with extraordinary strength who is confined for an act of violence he committed as a juvenile, and a drug lord whose family has been assassinated by another drug cartel. The latter, Valmiro, is fueled by his grandmother’s stories about the Aztecs and their great warrior kinsman, as he bides his time in building a new empire with ancestral determination and through cruel, ritual killings; his is a story of revenge against those who killed his family. Tezcatlipoca is an epic tale, beginning decades earlier and an ocean away from Japan, where the main story eventually moves to. It reminds me of another novel involving cartels, Clear and Present Danger, in how absorbing the straight-forward explanation of events are in both novels and how deep the authors dive into character descriptions. Unlike that Tom Clancey book, however, Kiwamu Sato’s similarly lengthy tome spends a great deal of time in the abstract world of Aztec myth and religion, as Valmiro creates a “familia” that is centered on that fierce and brutal culture. In fact, Sato spends too much time on the Aztecs. As compelling as they are, the gangsters’ imitation of the ancient warriors becomes a bit repetitive in the tale, and there are too many gods and terms to follow along closely. While weaving the past with the present, the author seems to lose sight of the drug lord, who is the most interesting character in the novel; it’s a major oversight, particularly because the entire book hinges on weaving together his story with Koshimo’s, and it doesn’t happen with the same care as how their backstories are crafted. Instead, that and most of the elements in Japan are rushed, including a slam-bang climax and a final scene that is wonderfully poetic but would have made a deeper impact if given more time to develop. It’s a disappointment because if Sato had written the final act with as much patience as he did the earlier ones, Tezcatlipoca very well may have been a special novel rather than the mixed bag it ultimately is. ~ Twwk
Tezcatlipoca is published by Yen Press.
Ayashimon, Manga Vol. 1
One of newest entries into the “beat-’em-up” category of shonen manga, Ayashimon is bursting with energy while sticking to the tried and true of the genre. And it appears that the formula has produced a winner. Ayashimon‘s protagonist is Maruo, an impossibly strong young man who is dissatisfied with life since it’s nothing like the shonen manga he adores. His worldview totally shifts when he encounters Urara, the daughter of the deceased leader of the now-fractured Enma crime syndicate, who contracts with him to be her muscle in a quest to take power. The one-on-one battles, which take place within the concept of “ritual” duals, are cleanly drawn and dynamic. The characters are stylish and the world is creative, flipping Kabukicho into a den of demonic yakuza—the titular ayashimon who wear human faces to disguise their monstrous identities. It’s a violent series, featuring beheadings and amputations, but it doesn’t feel graphic, perhaps helped along by the ayashimon “dying” for only 99 years and their bodies transforming into cash upon “death” (I’ll let you make the symbolic connections there). Meanwhile, Urara and Maruo make for intriguing anti-heroes, criminals who are not-so-bad compared to the awfulness around them. Volume one ends on a cliffhanger involving what appears to be one of the series’ main antagonists, creating high stakes for a series that feels like it shouldn’t have any because of the immortality of the ayashimon and the OP qualities of Maruo. It just goes to show what a talented mangaka can do with an entertaining concept. What a great start! ~ Twwk
Ayashimon is published by VIZ Media and releases on March 7th.
The Girl I Like Forgot Her Glasses, Manga Vol. 1
I never expected Miss Miyazen Would Love to Get Closer to You to have a potential rival when it comes to shonen romcom cuteness, but The Girl I Like Forget Her Glasses is a worthy contender! Komura is excited about his new homeroom and the cute girl next to him…who happens to forget her glasses all too often! While he is happy for the (multiple) instances when he can talk and help his crush, he feels his heart might give out way too soon from how close she has to get to him so she can see his face! This was such a cute read! I was surprised by how fast I read it, but Komura is so, so, so adorable that it was hard not to look ahead to see what his expression would be on the next page! Ha! His reactions are always worth seeing, especially when Mie gets very close to his face. Mie was also pretty funny, and I loved how she would talk like a samurai sometimes because it honestly just added more to her cute charm. After reading this first volume, I’m so excited this will be getting an anime, as I think it’s going to be such a delight to watch onscreen! Definitely recommending this series if you like sweet and wholesome romances with some great art! ~ Laura A. Grace
The Girl I Like Forgot Her Glasses is published by Square Enix.
Sweet Poolside, Manga
Shuzo Oshimi’s first weekly serial has finally been published in a bound volume. Nearly twenty years after it originally ran and followed by many other successes (The Flowers of Evil, Happiness), this one-volume work exhibits Ochimi’s talent but is deeply flawed, as the author admits himself in a cute side manga at the end of the work. Sweet Poolside is about the relationship between two swimmers, drawn particularly from Ota’s point of view as a boy whose body is less mature than some of his classmates. In fact, he has baby-smooth skin and no hair on his body other than atop his head, which is at the opposite end of the spectrum from the beautiful Goto, who feels enough of a kinship with the boy to ask him to help her improve her confidence by shaving her. Strange, yes, but you could see how such a storyline could develop into a warm and meaningful series, can’t you? And there are nice moments in this limited-run manga, mostly in the awkwardness that Oshimi puts on full display through Ota’s thoughts and actions, but there are not enough to make it as warm and sweet as I would have hoped from this coming-of-age story. Sweet Poolside also features erotic elements meant for the male gaze, as Goto is illustrated in sexually charged ways—while Ota, though arguably shown more graphically, is drawn as such only to add to the adolescent awkwardness of the story rather than to its eroticism. Sweet Poolside would have been better and sweeter if Goto was treated more fully like Ota. As it is, we’re left with a story that doesn’t quite come together and a female lead who’s nothing but her body—not a manga I would recommend. ~ Twwk
Sweet Poolside is published by Kodansha.
I Kept Pressing the 100-Million-Year Button and Came Out on Top, Light Novel Vol. 1
Volume one of I Kept Pressing the 100-Million-Year Button and Came Out on Top serves as a reminder that sometimes an adaptation exceeds—in this case far exceeds—the source material. I called volume one of the manga a “pleasant and unexpectedly fine read,” but the original light novel which it adapts is dreadful. The story is precisely the same—Allen, a bottom-tier, no-talent swordsman, punches a “100-million-year-button” that takes him to an alternate dimension where he trains for that amount of time (and then again and again), leading him into OP-hood before he begins to attend a special swordsman academy. Yes, the idea is silly, but the manga tackles it with optimistism and fun. The light novel has the same tone, but the writing is too atrocious for me to enjoy the cute characters and funny events. The narration is only slightly better than “And then I did this…and then I went here…and then this happened…” as the story moves from one scene to another without rhyme or reason. More visual media are able to hide these issues, but awful writing is more obvious in a light novel. Other substantial problems, like a lack of characterization and creativity in the world-building, also derive from the weak writing. I encourage you to skip this volume, but if you want a fun and upbeat fantasy/school story, check out the manga adaptation—it features all the good parts without being weighed down by the bad. ~ Twwk
I Kept Pressing the 100-Million-Year Button and Came Out on Top is published by Yen Press.
“Reader’s Corner” is our way of embracing the wonderful world of manga, light novels, and visual novels, creative works intimately related to anime but with a magic all their own. Each week, our writers provide their thoughts on the works they’re reading—both those recently released as we keep you informed of newly published works, and those older titles that you might find as magical (or in some cases, reprehensible) as we do.