Reader’s Corner: Helck (Vol. 5), Imitation (Vol. 1), and Sengoku Youku (Vol. 2)

This week, we feature releases from a variety of manga and light novel publishers with DENPA, Yen Press, VIZ Media, TOKYOPOP, and Seven Seas all showing up in the column. Readers receive an overall better experience when there are a variety of publishers, so we’re happy to see these and others putting out so much work. But are the volumes high quality? Hit the jumps below to read our reviews and see for yourself!

Dead Company (Vol. 1)The Ephemeral Scenes of Setsuna’s Journey (Vol. 1)Heavenly Delusion (Vol. 5)Helck (Vol. 5)Imitation (Vol. 1)The Saint’s Magic Power Is Omnipotent (Vol. 1)Sengoku Youko (Vol. 2)Silver Spoon (Vol. 14)

The Ephemeral Scenes of Setsuna’s Journey, Light Novel Vol. 1

A weary pilgrim passes on his legacy and lifespan to a bedridden, failed hero. A forlorn father finds new strength in a warm fire and a hearty meal. Another seizes on a peculiar adventure with a stranger to grow closer to his intrepid son. An enslaved beastfolk child chances upon a new lease on life. These are some of the ephemeral scenes of Setsuna’s journey. Like a tour guide inviting us into a tranquil art gallery, the 68th hero Setsuna guides readers through a series of bittersweet, impressionistic vignettes from his life. But art galleries tend to be dull if curated improperly, and Setsuna’s Journey is no exception. The book is as ephemeral as the scenes it’s depicting; I would put it down and come back in a few hours having completely forgotten what I read. True, the point is to slow down and appreciate life in all its fleeting and intricate beauty, but that doesn’t mean dragging your feet as you walk. The pacing dulls the impactful moments, casting a drab shadow over what would otherwise be a vibrant story. And to be honest? I was expecting all that. I put off reviewing this volume for a while out of fear that it would be a budget recasting of Kino’s Journey, and I wish I could tell you that I was mistaken. Nonetheless, the volume does have moments of deep beauty. In particular, the fiery imagery of camellia flowers lingers among the pages, a reflection of Setsuna’s resilient resolve to live in a world that seems bent on snuffing him out. “Live like the camellias.” That’s the cry of his new life, a declaration that he will make the most of the fleeting life given to him under the sun. I can’t help but find myself drawn to that declaration. So I’ll be checking out the next volume, as well as the manga adaptation, which will hopefully add a splash of color to the duller scenes of Setsuna’s journey. ~ sleepminusminus

The Ephemeral Scenes of Setsuna’s Journey is published by Yen Press.

Imitation, Manhwa Vol. 1

Maha Lee is now the most hated person on the Internet. After she was thrust into the spotlight by an unfortunate public incident involving a popular male idol group, audiences and producers have Maha pegged as a fake, one of those performers who chases clout with cheap gimmicks and borrowed routines. In some ways, it’s true. Maha bears a striking resemblance to Lima La, one of the industry’s greatest female talents. Once she found that out, she couldn’t help but imitate Lima’s mannerisms to a T. Still, she dreams of making it big as her own idol. Free from Lima’s shadow. All eyes looking only at Maha Lee. Is that too much to ask? Will the cruel words of producers and fellow performers weigh down her heart? How will she distinguish her authentic self from her imitation of Lima La? Or can she? Also, who is Ryoc Kwon, and why is he so infuriated with Maha? This first volume sets up a incisive, emotive story about what it means to find self-worth apart from your value in the eyes of expectant audiences and ambitious coworkers. That struggle might seem far removed from the lives of us ordinary folk, but KyungRan Park earns full marks for bringing the question down to the level of everyday conversations, simple relationships, and ordinary hopes. Maha Lee is a character who struggles with the same insecurities about her identity, talents, and purpose that many of us do, and I found myself resonating with her story. Unfortunately, I can’t say the same about the other characters. All the female leads fail the Bechdel test, and Ryoc, whom the author seems to be setting up as a love interest for Maha, should pull up a dictionary and read the entry on “boundaries.” I wish I didn’t have to say this, but flirting doesn’t mean making unwanted advances on people. That’s not hot; it’s manipulative, no matter how it’s framed. Still, amidst a wealth of manhwa about celebrity culture, Imitation manages to tell a unique yet all-too-common story of isolation, authenticity, and ambition. I’m rooting for KyungRan Park, for Maha, and for this series. ~ sleepminusminus

Imitation is published by Yen Press.

Sengoku Youko, Manga Vol. 2

We’re back for more adventure with adoptive siblings Tama, a youko or fox spirit who loves humans, and Jinka, a human who hates his own kind and admires instead the katawara or monstrous creatures of their world. The two wander a feudal-like Japan, seeking to defend the weak—human or otherwise—and carry out justice, thereby reforming the world. So far, they’ve been joined by an aspiring samurai boy who admires Jinka’s skills, and a girl who was experimented on by evil priests and is now part katawara—as well as a mighty fine cook! Whereas volume one is an even mix of comedic moments, establishing charming character dynamics, and gripping action, volume two is chock full of battles, as the evil priests get serious about dealing with the siblings who threaten their secret plans. They dispatch first an assassin and then their most fearsome katawara-human after Jinka, and with them come many intriguing revelations about what exactly is going on with all of those experiments. The philosophical element of the story continues to develop, as Tama articulates her values—small acts of kindness and persevering patience—and walks them out in courageous ways, extending mercy first in every confrontation. Tama’s grace leaves Jinka shaken up, but he’s not yet willing to reconsider his rejection of humanity. In contrast, character growth abounds for the two supporting characters in this volume, as they find their place in the group and step into newfound confidence. And so the adventure continues, but it also deepens. As for the art, the panels are explosive yet easily readable, making the action crisp and engaging. Also, the monsters are always unique! Another fantastic installment in this compelling tale. Looking forward to the next installment, whether it be volume three of the manga, or the premiere of the anime adaptation by studio White Fox, due to air in January 2024. Either way, I’ll be there! ~ claire

Sengoku Youko is published by TOKYOPOP.

READ: Sengoku Youko Vol. 1 Review

Dead Company, Manga Vol. 1

Here’s a tip for all the job-seekers out there: When you get an interview for a company with “Dead” or some variation of the word in its name, you might want to think twice about showing up! And if you ignore this advice and then are shown a “murder room” full of creepy true crime memorabilia during said interview, you definitely should excuse yourself and get. the. heck. outta. there. Common sense, right? Well, not for Ryousuke Miyauchi, who seems to be inured to red flags, and ends up working for EDC—Entertainment Dead Company—a gaming company that, in true Ender’s Game style, is secretly running real-life battle royales as “research” in developing the perfect horror video game. To be fair, Ryousuke’s utter lack of basic survival instincts may have something to do with his traumatized state: three years ago, he and nine of his classmates were kidnapped and forced to live out a battle royale, killing each other off until our boy was the only one left standing. (Hmmm…could there be a connection here???) Yep, that’s right, he’s a self-proclaimed murderer (will there be a plot reveal absolving him of guilt later? Maybe…), and one whom the police do not seem to be the least bit interested in. That’s the first of countless instances where readers are required to take a giant leap of suspended disbelief. In fact, this entire volume is simply an unrelenting demand for suspended disbelief, with practically no effort to provide some kind of in-world rationale that would make any of the MC’s decisions the least bit believable. The guy is a walking bundle of ridiculousness, and a bit of a nincompoop to boot. I understand that it’s common to start the MC off weak and a tad idiotic to provide room for character growth, but this is outlandish. There’s also a fair bit of lampshading going on in the writing, which is just lazy. The plot twists aren’t so much twists as simply new plots plopped onto the page, without any attempt to integrate them through foreshadowing or the like. The result is a complete lack of tension, the most vital ingredient of a battle royale/horror series. Adding insult to injury, the panel work is bland and the art, uninspiring. Don’t bother with this one, folks. Go read The Hunger Games or Battle Royale instead. ~ claire

Dead Company is published by TOKYOPOP.

Helck, Manga Vol. 5

Much of the appeal of Helck is how jaunty and joyful the series is. The story so far has been filled with slapstick and the always-smiling visage of the titular hero at the center of it all. However, Helck has become more violent and tense as it has progressed, sprinkling in bits of Helck’s painful backstory along the way. In volume five, however, it goes full-blown painful with Helck revealing to Vermilio in great detail why he defected to the demons, along with the reason he so often smiles (spoiler: it isn’t because he’s happy). The story is unexpectedly devastating; Helck’s recent history—the events that led him to the demon’s kingdom in the first place—is far more tragic than was hinted at in previous volumes. Volume five is a compelling read, digging into the depths of man’s depravity in Helck’s world (and maybe parallelling our own a bit, too) and portraying the protagonist in far more complexity than he has been hitherto. This has been long coming, and I’ve girded myself for it, feeling that Helck would not be as enjoyable a read when it turned more serious. Volume five, however, proves that the manga can be every bit as interesting with a dark tone as it is with a light one. And that bodes well for the series overall, which seems like it will be dwelling in the darkness for some time before it again finds the light. ~ Twwk

Helck is published by VIZ Media. Volume five releases on September 12th.

READ: Helck Reviews Vol. 1 // Vol. 2 // Vol. 3 // Vol. 4

The Saint’s Magic Power Is Omnipotent, Manga Vol. 1

If Snow White with the Red Hair and The Savior’s Book Cafe in Another World had a baby, this manga would be it! Sei is an exhausted Japanese worker, who when coming home from work one day, finds herself summoned to another world to be a potential saint! The problem is that she doesn’t want to be in this other world, and neither does the prince of this other world acknowledge her. She soon realizes her magical abilities and decides to learn more about them at the research institute, where she makes magic potions and helps those who are in need, which slowly reveals that she just might be the saint after all. I absolutely loved this first volume! It was like seeing a distant relative of Shirayuki from Snow White (who loves learning and studying) live in another world where, just like Tsukina in Savior’s Book Cafe, Sei does not want to be in this other world but is making the best of it. I especially enjoyed the first quarter of this volume because Sei is doing so much exploring and experimenting with how herbs are used to make potions. It’s not very fast-paced, but I found it satisfying seeing her grow as an individual and not just use her magical abilities to make her life easier but also to help others. There isn’t really any romance in this first volume, but I am already hardcore shipping her with a certain someone because he is so sweet! The way he gets so happy around her and is obviously going out of his way to spend time with Sei makes me happy. I’m definitely looking forward to reading more in this series as I think it’s only going to get better and better, especially since the romance seems like it’s about to really start unfolding in the next volume. Eeeeppp! ~ Laura A. Grace

The Saint’s Magic Power is Omnipotent is published by Seven Seas.

Heavenly Delusion, Manga Vol. 5

Kiruko and Maru are finally closing in on Takahara Academy, which may just be the “heaven” they were charged with finding. It seems to have been an organization with many branches though, so the road trip (and shenanigans) continue as the dynamic duo search for the particular facility that holds the answers (and people?) they’ve been looking for. This volume sees more layers added to the lore of the super-powered children, both those living in the mysterious compound (and possibly the past?) and those who were born “outside the outside,” in the post-apocalyptic world. But more chilling are the revelations about the director of Takahara Academy concerning the full extent of her amorality and hubris, and the lengths she intends to go to in order to see her dream (apotheosis) come true. Amid all the seriousness and intrigue, though, this volume continues to delight in sillier ways as well, with a hilarious ear reveal for Mimihime (much funnier than in the anime!), and the arrival of new friends for those both inside and outside. Mangaka Ishiguro’s ability to distinguish each new character while maintaining a consistent style continues to impress, as each new supporting character and background figure retains a distinctive appearance and personality. It’s the same for each new community that Kiruko and Maru encounter, meaning that the series manages to avoid the sense of “been there, done that” which plagues many long-form post-apocalyptic series (ahem, TWD). The writing is top-notch as well, as not only the protagonists but even the insensate monsters of the series receive rich treatment (reminiscent of the Resident Evil franchise). There is far more to the hiruko or man-eaters than at first meets the eye. Even babies are complex entities in this volume, embodying both hope for the future and the terrifying destructiveness that now typifies the world. In short, Heavenly Delusion continues to be a fascinating and rewarding series! ~ claire

Heavenly Delusion is published by DENPA.

READ: Heavenly Delusion Reviews Vol. 1 // Vol. 2 // Vol. 3 // Vol. 4

Silver Spoon, Manga Vol. 14

You don’t necessarily expect surprises out of Silver Spoon. This isn’t like Arakawa’s other classic, the stunning and suspenseful Fullmetal Alchemist. But of course, it shares the same DNA, so maybe I should be surprised after all to discover that surprises await the characters in this series as they near graduation and adulthood, including one for Hachiken in volume fourteen that makes me wholly reassess his arc. Just as in real life, the paths that he and his classmates take are up and down and sometimes lead to places unexpected and where they don’t necessarily want to go. But the joy of Silver Spoon is that despite setbacks, individuals from all walks of life ultimately can find their way with a little support, encouragement, and love. And volume fourteen is basking in those actions, emphasizing the role that we can take with our friends, family members, and kohai. It’s a satisfying volume, one that concludes the arcs for some characters and stories as it enters the final stretch of the series. With one volume remaining, Silver Spoon is once again proving itself to be a coming-of-age story that is full of warmth, intelligence, humor, and heart. This is one of manga’s very best series. ~ Twwk

Silver Spoon is published by Yen Press.

READ: Silver Spoon Reviews Vol. 1 // Vol. 2 // Vol. 3// Vol. 4 // Vol. 5 // Vol. 6 // Vol. 7 // Vol. 8 // Vol. 9 // Vol. 10 // Vol. 11 // Vol. 12 // Vol. 13

“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.

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