Manga Review: The Dark History of the Reincarnated Villainess Vol. #1

Isekai has really overtaken the anime/manga scene the last several years. My Next Life As A Villainess: All Routes Lead to Doom! added a fresh twist to the genre by reincarnating the main character into the antagonist role. With the series’ success, it’s no surprise similar titles would rise in its wake. The Dark History of the Reincarnated Villainess is one such story. Read on for my review of Volume 1.

Back Cover Blurb

Konoha Satou has a dark history. Although she’s not the only middle schooler who’s dreamed about romance and adventure, Satou takes it to the next level when she writes herself into a reincarnation fic as the main heroine. But little does she know, her fantasies will become reality when she wakes up in her Dark History! There’s just one small complication…Instead of playing the role of heroine, she’s the most despicable villainess—Konoha’s little sister, Iana. Which means if she wants to avoid tripping her own death flags, she’ll have to remember every last detail of her story.

The Review

Unlike many isekai where the main character is reborn/soul-dropped into a videogame world or an unknown landscape, Konoha Satou winds up in a story she herself created. A borderline shut-in when she was a teenager, she actually believed she’d one day be transported to a fantasy world and spent her days writing out the adventures that she, as the angelic heroine, would undergo. Lo and behold, it actually happens – except she’s reincarnated not as the story’s heroine Konoha but the protagonist’s villainous younger sister Iana.

Thus the main character is indeed transported with the ironic twist that she’s having to avoid the death flags she herself planted. What makes her task more difficult is that the Iana character didn’t last beyond Chapter 1 in her story. Apparently, Iana gets caught for her misdeeds in the prologue and is subsequently offed by Sol, a butler intensely loyal to the heroine. Thus the meat of the plot is the main character trying to show she’s not at all evil and protect the heroine (so she won’t get blamed for any ill that falls upon her).

While that aspect of the story is somewhat entertaining, especially the other characters’ misinterpretations of the main character’s actions, the plot is rather predictable, and the supporting cast is one-dimensional. Although the main character is not exactly flat, she is difficult to relate to. An aspect of her that I found particularly troubling is her almost cavalier attitude toward sexual assault. The main character wrote the story with herself as the heroine and with full belief that she’d actually live out its events. However, she has her heroine raped in Chapter 1 and then sexually assaulted in Chapter 2. Illustrations aren’t overly graphic but this offhand treatment of a serious subject means I won’t be recommending this title to my friend’s thirteen-year-old daughter.

The manga also contains a noticeable amount of fanservice. Not of the guys (although they are definitely eye candy in their dapper European-style suits) but the females. Judging from the bonus material, Dark History was published in Lala, but despite it being a shojo magazine, Konoha’s large bosom is the stuff of male fantasies. Iana’s chest is more normal sized, but she’s constantly flashing leg up to her stocking garter despite her long skirts. The rest of the illustrations (flower-filled backdrops, enormous sparkly eyes, etc.) are more in line with standard shojo artwork.

Volume 1 only serves up three chapters before concluding with a fifty-page standalone story. “The High School Necromancer” is a paranormal set in the Meiji Era with a male lead and rival. The plot and action are a little difficult to follow, but if you like bishounen in period clothes, it will give you something nice to look at.

Extras include translation notes, author’s afterword, and four-panel comic strips.

In Summary

The villainess subset of the isekai genre has been gaining steam as of late. Unfortunately, Dark History feels like a weak pretender rather than a strong representative of that category. While Iana’s efforts to avoid triggering death flags is amusing, the plot is predictable, the premise is lukewarm, and most characters are woefully flat.

First published at the Fandom Post.

Nonfiction Review: TV Milestone Series: Batman: The Animated Series

 

61tkn9sggql-1I’ve always enjoyed animation more than live-action, but in the 1990s, my preferences decidedly shifted to anime. American cartoons seemed unsophisticated and childish in comparison, and it was a rare domestic production that could hold my attention. One of those rarities was Batman: The Animated Series (BTAS), and academic Joe Sutliff Sanders recently published a study on the series. Read on for the review.

Back Cover Blurb

It’s possible that no other version of Batman has been more influential than the one that debuted as a children’s cartoon in 1992. For millions of fans around the world, the voices of Batman and the Joker introduced in Batman: The Animated Series (BTAS) remain the default. The characters, designs, and major themes of the show went on to shape other cartoons, films, and bestselling video games. In this study, Joe Sutliff Sanders argues that BTAS is not only a milestone of television but a milestone in the public persona of one of the most recognizable characters in the world.

The Review

Batman: The Animated Series (BTAS) was a landmark production. It was dark, dramatic, and possessed an innovative visual style that set it apart from anime and its mainstream American counterparts. As part of Wayne State University Press’ TV Milestone Series, Joe Sutliff Sanders delves into the different aspects of that hit show from an academic perspective.

Let me repeat–an academic perspective.

This isn’t a light read or a glossy coffee table book. It’s a text-heavy paperback slightly larger than my palm. It contains twenty black-and-white images (four of which are not from the TV show) that function as references, not splash art. While there are some behind the scenes anecdotes, like the Days of Our Lives sketch that led to the creation of Harley Quinn, most of the book is devoted to a detailed analysis of the series’ “Dark Deco” style, themes that shaped the characters and storylines, and how the cartoon both reflected and commented upon 1990s society. In other words, it’s the type of study normally associated with college-level literature classes.

Not that it’s a bad thing. When I was growing up, cartoons weren’t considered worthy of this kind of academic consideration. It’s a nice sign of the times that TV shows, comics, and cartoons have gained legitimacy in scholarly circles.

In terms of the actual content of the book, it opens with an introduction that lays out the state of the Batman franchise at the time BTAS was created, the talent and producers involved, and the shows that sprang in its wake. Sanders then delves into three topics in three separate chapters.

The first chapter, “The Shadow of the World’s Fair,” explores the visuals of the show. Branded “Dark Deco” by its creators, it draws heavily on the early twentieth-century Art Deco style. Sanders assumes readers have a high level of familiarity with the show, which becomes immediately apparent at the beginning of Chapter 1 where he spends eight pages deconstructing BTAS’s iconic opening. This section is fairly engaging and insightful, but in the second half of the chapter, Sanders insists upon pointing out a “mistake in these universal allusions to Art Deco.” Namely that the artwork featured in BTAS was not so much Art Deco as it was streamlining. Not having studied art history, I hadn’t heard of streamlining (though I recognized the style once Sanders put up some examples). He goes on to argue how Art Deco stood for elitist excess while streamlining embodied middle-class efficiency and how those two philosophies conflict through their on-screen representations in BTAS. At that point, Sanders’s discourse not only felt over my head but like he was making a mountain over a very small molehill.

I got a similar feeling from Chapter 3, “Harley Quinn, Victimhood, and Blame.” As you might guess, the subject matter is Harley Quinn, who is, according to one source, “more popular than every DC character except Batman.” The chapter begins with Harley Quinn’s creation and popularity, then proceeds to discuss female representation in the BTAS cast and the influence of the women who worked on the show. The first part of Chapter 3 is pretty fascinating from a layperson’s perspective. Midway through the chapter, however, Sanders purports Harley Quinn is a “feminist villain” and proceeds to discuss how her portrayal reflects the strife between left- and right-wing feminists in the 1990s. Despite being a female university student during the 1990s, this internal conflict within the feminist movement wasn’t one I had prior knowledge of (probably because I was toiling away in my engineering classes). To hear Sanders describe it, the feminists of that time period were a fractured group, consumed with quibbling over labels like victim and abuse, and he contends that Harley Quinn’s actions and personality highlights different aspects of that debate. That presentation of Harley Quinn didn’t particularly resonate with or interest me, but it might to someone more knowledgeable with the feminist history.

Chapter 2, however, is much more digestible and comprehensible for the casual reader. “Bruce Wayne vs. the ‘Simpering Elite’” discusses BTAS’s different representations of wealth and the wealthy and how Bruce Wayne with his particular childhood trauma stands apart from his monied peers. Unlike Chapters 1 and 3, you don’t need an art or political history background to understand the points of this discussion. If Sanders’ intent was to make the book accessible to more than just historians or media scholars, it would’ve behooved him to write more of the book like Chapter 2. As it stands, his work feels more like fodder for extremely hard-core Batman fans or media studies majors.

In Summary

BTAS was a milestone of television, and now it gets true highbrow treatment as a University of Cambridge scholar puts it through academic analysis. There’s no full-color illustrations or exclusive interviews here. Rather, it contains critical analyses about artistic, social, cultural, and political influences. So if you want an exposition on BTAS the way a university-level literature class might dissect a 19th-century Russian novel, Sanders’ work is worth a try.

First published in The Fandom Post.

Nonfiction Review: The Liberation of Marguerite Harrison: America’s First Female Foreign Intelligence Agent Review

American history has traditionally been written from a largely white and male-centric lens, but modern historians and researchers have been making strides to highlight the experiences and contributions of people of color and women. The recently released The Liberation of Marguerite Harrison is the culmination of one such study. Read on for the review.

Back Cover Blurb

In September 1918, World War I was nearing its end when Marguerite E. Harrison, a thirty-nine-year-old Baltimore socialite, wrote to the head of the U.S. Army’s Military Intelligence Division (MID) asking for a job. The director asked for clarification. Did she mean a clerical position? No, she told him. She wanted to be a spy.

Harrison, a member of a prominent Baltimore family, usually got her way. She had founded a school for sick children and wangled her way onto the staff of the Baltimore Sun. Fluent in four languages and knowledgeable of Europe, she was confident she could gather information for the U.S. government. The MID director agreed to hire her, and Marguerite Harrison became America’s first female foreign intelligence officer.

The Review

The title The Liberation of Marguerite Harrison can be interpreted in a couple of ways. Liberation can refer to the way Harrison bucked early twentieth-century social conventions to roam the world in her very unusual field of work. Liberation can also refer to the fact that Harrison got caught by the Soviets and had to be bailed out of a Russian prison – twice.

I haven’t studied spies or journalists, so I’d never heard of Margaret Harrison prior to this book. Her main claim to fame is that she was the United States’ first female foreign intelligence officer. Most of what is known about her comes from her 1935 biography (which is referenced repeatedly throughout this book). However, that work apparently omitted and distorted key aspects of her espionage activities. What the author Atwood has done is to delve into documents from the United States National Archives and the Russian Federal Security Bureau that are now available to researchers and use them to paint a different and often contradictory picture of Harrison’s life.

The initial chapters focus on Harrison’s family background, her upbringing and marriage as a Baltimore socialite, and her career as a journalist following her husband’s death. Most of these pages are based off Harrison’s autobiography and supplemented by details from newspaper social pages or newspaper articles Harrison wrote. The chapters establish that Harrison was a woman of privilege who was only able to accomplish what she did because of her connections. For instance, she was fluent in four languages because her family vacationed in Europe every summer. After her husband died, she immediately got a job as assistant society editor of the Baltimore Sun despite having no writing experience. She didn’t even know how to operate a typewriter. However, she got in through the door because she was a friend of one of the newspaper’s owners.

As a result of this opportunity, Harrison eventually got assigned to writing articles promoting America’s efforts in World War I, which was taking place at the time, and became interested in foreign affairs. She made up her mind that she wanted to be a spy, and thanks again to personal connections (this time her father-in-law), she got hired to be a Military Intelligence Division (MID) foreign agent and was sent to Europe shortly after the end of the war.

It should be noted that Harrison wasn’t the sort of spy who went in disguise under assumed names. Rather, she used her real name and social connections to obtain access to those in power and used her job as a journalist as an excuse to ask questions and conduct interviews. Some of this information went into newspaper articles; the rest went into MID reports. The chapters about Harrison’s espionage years lay out the details of her activities, and where records conflict, which they often do, the author offers conjectures for the discrepancies in details.

As with journalism, Harrison had no training in espionage, and in winging it, she made major mistakes. She blew her cover to her roommate, female British journalist Stan Harding, because she left scraps of reports around their apartment. She was indiscreet in the way she conducted herself and wound up caught by the Soviets and coerced into becoming a double agent. However, she managed that task so poorly the Soviets eventually threw her into prison. Even her claim to fame as the only American woman to survive the infamous Lubyanka Prison is a dubious compliment. One might argue she was the only American woman foolish enough to wind up there. Moreover, Stan Harding also survived detention there, and Harding only wound up there because Harrison fed the Soviets inaccurate information about Harding being a spy. Yet the narrative for some reason continually describes Harrison as a prized and valuable agent.

While Harrison definitely led a unique life, it reeks of privilege. She went into espionage because she was bored and wanted excitement. When she got caught, she had relatives in high political positions to petition for her release. Not even five years after she got out of Lubyanka, she wound up there a second time because she couldn’t give up playing at espionage, and again, she got out through the efforts of a distant relation with Russian connections.

Subsequent to her second release, she became part of a collaboration with Merian Cooper and Ernest Schoedsack, two men who would eventually go on to create the King Kong film. Harrison’s project with them, however, was Grass, a kind of docudrama about a Persian tribe’s search for pasture. While their footage was eventually turned into a feature film, the film project was also a cover for the three to gather intelligence for the United States at a time that Britain, America, and Russia were competing over control of Persia’s oilfields. This chapter draws from the writings of Harrison, Cooper, and Schoedsack, and as in the chapters about Europe, Atwood points out differences in their narratives and offers conjectures for discrepancies and omissions.

Harrison’s life after the release of Grass is quickly wrapped up in a single chapter. Although this period spans forty-two years, Atwood doesn’t offer many details about Harrison’s second marriage, her son and grandchildren, or how she died in possession of a sizable estate despite her inability to hold a steady job or manage finances. The focus of the book is Harrison’s time as an agent, an opportunity I can’t help but think should’ve gone to someone more capable and deserving.

The book includes several black-and-white photos of Harrison and the people in her life, footnotes, bibliography, and index.

In Summary

Despite being the first woman in her field, Marguerite Harrison isn’t exactly an inspiring trailblazer. Although the author continually presses the point that Harrison was an agent valued by her superiors, the anecdotes in the text paint her as a bored socialite who had all the right connections, but not necessarily the right skills. Still, Harrison did lead a unique life, and for those interested in how espionage was conducted by the United States in the early twentieth century, this book might prove valuable.

First published in The Fandom Post.

 

Nonfiction Review: Whaling Captains of Color: America’s First Meritocracy

American history has traditionally been written from a white and largely male-centric lens, but modern historians and researchers have been making strides to highlight the experiences and contributions of other people groups. The recently released Whaling Captains of Color is the culmination of one such study. Read on for the review.

Back Cover Blurb

The history of whaling as an industry on this continent has been well-told in books, including some that have been bestsellers, but what hasn’t been told is the story of whaling’s leaders of color in an era when the only other option was slavery. Whaling was one of the first American industries to exhibit diversity. A man became a captain not because he was white or well connected, but because he knew how to kill a whale. Along the way, he could learn navigation and reading and writing. Whaling presented a tantalizing alternative to mainland life.

The Review

In 2014, Skip Finley wrote a magazine article about William A. Martin, a black whaling captain who was based in Martha’s Vineyard. In researching this historical figure, Finley became fascinated by the history of people of color in the American whaling industry and did a deep dive into the subject. Whaling Captains of Color: America’s First Meritocracy is the result.

Like many historical narratives, the role of nonwhites has been downplayed or omitted in the annals of whaling. For instance, Finley mentions that William Crapo, founder of the Old Dartmouth Historical Society, insisted that the whaleman statue outside the New Bedford Public Library “depict a fair-skinned Yankee harpooner instead of a Gay Head Indian, a black man, or a Cape Verdean, even though they performed overwhelmingly in that role.” By delving into ship lists, logs, and genealogies, Finley brings to light the contributions and lives of people of color and the factors that led to their participation in such a dangerous occupation. And it was dangerous. The text mentions at least twice that whaling was America’s second most hazardous occupation. (Only mining was more dangerous).

However, in its early years, whaling was opportunity. In an era before petroleum, whale oil was the world’s energy source. And in pre-Civil War years, when discrimination against nonwhites abounded, a whaling ship was a rare place where a man of color could not only command respect but make his fortune.

The first part of the book details the oppression faced by blacks, Native Americans, and those of mixed blood in colonial and pre-Civil War America. It then describes the whaling industry and what life on board a whaler entailed. The book concludes with the slow decline of the industry. Even as petroleum replaced whale oil and plastic replaced whalebone, opportunities opened up for black Americans, and they left whalers to be replaced by Cape Verdeans, whose homeland was hit by multiple disasters in the nineteenth century.

While this book contains a lot of information about social conditions, the whaling industry, and individual whalemen of color, its organization leaves something to be desired. Scattered through the chapters are over fifty mini biographies of whaling captains and seamen. However, the context for fully appreciating their circumstances isn’t presented in the clearest fashion. In fact, Chapter 1 is simply a set of biographies (of a group of related captains) without any context other than what can be gleaned from the biographies themselves. The text has a tendency to refer to things in passing then discuss them in detail much later. For instance, numerous mentions are made of the Wampanoag in the first few chapters, but it’s not until page 90 that a description of that people group is provided. Overall, the book lacks a strong narrative arc and reads like a combined “Who’s Who” and encyclopedia of whaling.

Not to say that the book is without interesting moments. For instance, the biography of Henry John Gonzalez, the last known captain of color, includes colorful anecdotes connected to an Arctic expedition. However, information on the vast majority of whalemen are limited to countries of origin, birth and death dates, the ships they sailed in, and possibly a bit of genealogy, and the lack of detail unfortunately makes them less memorable. The way the biographies are ordered within the text also comes across as haphazard; if a system was used to designate their place in the book, it isn’t clear at all.

Ultimately, the book reads like an academic reference and probably will serve as a valuable resource to researchers. While there are no maps to orient the geography-challenged, there are tables aplenty detailing whaling data mined from various sources. Probably the strongest indicator that this was written for academics is the final chapter which closes with a series of blurbs about whalemen that Finley thought deserved additional study.

In Summary

This is definitely a scholarly text. While it contains information worthy of preserving for posterity, this is not a layperson’s text. Portions may prove handy for a student writing a history report or a genealogy study, but it is not a cover to cover read for the casual reader.

First published in The Fandom Post.

 

Graphic Novel Review: The Night Witches

I never had much interest in war narratives until I came across Tanya the Evil. It’s a completely fictional isekai, but its war nerd creator did such a wonderful job dramatizing the varied aspects of military conflict that it completely hooked me. Since then, I’ve checked off titles such as Tom Hanks’ Greyhound and the Ken Burns documentary The War from my viewing list. On the graphic novel front, I recently reviewed The Night Witches. Read on for the review!

Back Cover Blurb

As the German Army smashes deep into the Soviet Union and the defenders of the Motherland retreat in disarray, a new squadron arrives at a Russian forward airbase. Like all night bomber units, they will risk fiery death flying obsolete biplanes against the invader–but unlike the rest, these pilots and navigators are women. In the lethal skies above the Eastern Front, they will become a legend–known to friend and foe alike as the Night Witches.

The Review

History, and war chronicles in particular, tend to omit or diminish the contributions of women. In recent years, there’s been a push to bring to light the forgotten stories of women in the military. Thus, we have The Night Witches, a graphic novel about female Soviet pilots who fought the Germans in World War II. The Night Witches, as Dead Reckoning Press presents it, is a collection of three 3-chapter graphic novels, all of which focus on the Soviet pilot Anna Kharkova. Like many historical works set to this era, Anna’s experiences aren’t based off those of a single person but are a compilation of the exploits of several individuals.

A word of warning. The Night Witches has no rating, but it is definitely in the 18+ category. The creators have not shied from showing war’s awfulness, so the pages contain graphic depictions of violence, disembowelment, and rape.

And a slightly different word of caution. The graphic novel offers no background for what’s happening. It simply begins with a German squad inside Russian borders, and Anna and her fellow female newbies arriving on a Soviet air base. Except for a couple date stamps, the text is entirely dialogue with a bit of internal monologue. Meaning we are limited to the knowledge and viewpoints of the characters. Thus, readers are expected to know who’s invading whom, the toll to date, and the political and social forces at work as a matter of course. They’re also expected to know war slang as well as weapons by nickname and name, and only rarely does the narrative hint at the broader scope of the conflict.

In short, if you’re not a World War II nerd, this graphic novel probably isn’t the best place to start learning about Soviet female pilots. However, if you’ve got at least some history under your belt, The Night Witches will bring to light lesser-known facets on historical events.

The first of the three works, The Night Witches, focuses on the parallel journeys of two new recruits, the German infantryman Kurt Graf and the Russian pilot Anna Kharkova. Although the two don’t meet until the third chapter, they’re constantly interacting throughout as Anna’s bomber regiment is tasked with harassing the German forces of which Kurt’s squad is a part. On Anna’s side, the creators do a pretty good job depicting the prejudices against the women and how their ingenuity allows them to hold their own despite their woefully obsolete equipment. The storytelling’s much more muddled on Kurt’s side. His squad members are introduced as a lengthy list of names applied to an indistinguishable group of men. When Kurt interacts with squad individuals during the story’s progression, I can’t recall who’s who. But while the German cast’s confusing and largely forgettable, the horrors and atrocities Kurt witnesses are not.

The second work, Motherland, begins with a now battle-hardened Anna transferring from her bomber unit to a fighter squad just before the Battle of Kursk. The Soviet strategy boils down to throwing soldiers at the Germans to overwhelm them by numbers, and that’s clearly illustrated by the pitifully young and untrained pilots assigned to Anna and the arrogant commissars who bear no compunction about sending poorly equipped soldiers to certain death. There is a lot of discussion about different aircraft in this arc, and because my knowledge of German and Russian planes is nil, most of this went over my head. Additionally, action in the massive ambush on Anna’s squad is very difficult to follow, although the illustrations do convey the battle’s epic scope.

The final installment, The Fall and Rise of Anna Kharkova, “lacks any direct historical precedent” (as admitted by the writer), and the latter half of its third chapter “very nearly qualifies as fantasy.” Although individual Russians certainly suffered as prisoners of war, stood before counterintelligence tribunals, supported North Koreans in the Korean War, and got condemned to punishment camps, it’s highly unlikely anyone experienced them all. In addition, Anna’s final ploy, though inspiring, is beyond the realm of possibility. What these chapters do illustrate, however, is the Soviet Union’s post-war activities and the evolution of their aircraft technology.

While I appreciate how this book celebrates the achievements of women in World War II and the Soviet Union, I wasn’t enamored of Anna as a heroine. She is depicted as big chested and adorably petite, and she’s the sole blonde among a cast of drab women. She winds up lover to her superior officer in The Night Witches, similarly catches the eye of her superior officer in Motherland, and despite suffering multiple injuries in a crash behind enemy lines, charms the guy attending her in the POW hospital with her beauty. (And none of these supposedly romantic encounters have the least bit of chemistry.) Having this Barbie doll as the female elite of elites makes her less a figure of inspiration for young girls and more of a male fantasy.

Extras include Afterword and a collection of sketches.

In Summary

The Night Witches is the fictional account of a female Soviet pilot during World War II. This book is not fodder for the lighthearted; it’s graphic in its depiction of World War II atrocities and the brutalities of the Soviet government. While the conclusion is improbable, the first two-thirds of the book is grounded in actual events and pays tribute to women’s achievements in the face of discrimination and incompetent leadership.

First published in The Fandom Post.

Manga Review: Saga of Tanya the Evil Vol. #11

The Saga of Tanya the Evil anime was a surprise favorite for me in 2017. With a title like that, I was almost too scared to give it a try, but conniving little Tanya turned out to be nothing like I anticipated. Yen Press has released Volume 11 of the manga adaption, and you can read on for the review. (For my reviews of other Tanya the Evil works, click here.)

Back Cover Blurb

After a successful exercise with the Norther Sea Fleet, Tanya leads her battalion to the nostalgic, blood-soaked skies of the Rhine front lines for another mission…Only this time, the mission includes babysitting new recruits?!

The Review

It’s been a while but Tanya returns to the Rhine front, this time with her elite battalion. The narrative’s mostly dealt with ocean battles of late, so to reintroduce the world of trench warfare, Tojo-sensei skillfully brings us back to that battleground alongside new recruits. We get a quick glimpse of Lieutenant Grantz and his fellow rookie mages leaving civilian life, and then the focus shifts to a group of footsoldier newbies following the vets for their first taste of combat.

The new recruits are woefully undertrained. In addition to demonstrating how bad the situation is, their ignorance provides an excuse for the experienced soldiers to explain the what, why, how, and where of trench warfare. Even if you’re not a war nerd, explanations are easy to understand and increasingly engaging as the troops get backed into a corner. Plus, they allow Tanya’s 203rd Battalion to make a heroically impressive entrance.

Tojo-sensei does a stellar job with this volume’s artwork. From the chaos of ground fighting to the diagrams detailing the movements of different units to the breathtaking images of Tanya and her mages, all the illustrations are delightfully on point. Speaking of illustrations, I’d previously complained about the over sexualization of preteen Mary Sue. Well, at the very least, Tojo-sensei demonstrates gender equality in this department with Lieutenant Commander Vianto providing tons of eye candy in a Parisii bath.

The volume closes with the bright eyed, bushytailed new mages joining the 203rd, much to Tanya’s dismay. The dialogue does a great job explaining why the rookies are liability, and the rookies themselves drive that point home with their haphazard introduction to their new commander. Getting stuck with annoying assignments is an ongoing theme for Tanya, and she’s got her work cut out for her having to babysit clueless subordinates on the front lines.

Extras include world map, battle log thus far, character introductions, country profiles, and detailed glossary of terms between chapters. Unfortunately, the font on the character introductions and country profiles is so small (4 point? 3 point?) that reading it feels like an eye exam.

In Summary

Tojo-sensei delivers an excellent installment with Tanya’s return to the Rhine. The chapters don’t contain any game changing maneuvers for this theater as a whole, but we get plenty of action, thrilling illustrations, and new characters. In addition to reintroducing the world of trench warfare, the narrative lays the groundwork for trouble to come, both in the form of a scheming commander on the enemy side and impossibly green additions among Tanya’s ranks. It’s never a dull moment for Tanya!

First published at the Fandom Post.

 

 

Manga Review: A Bride’s Story Vol. 12

Kaoru Mori is best known for  Emma, an exquisite romance/slice-of-life set in Victorian England. Her latest work to be released in the United States, A Bride’s Story, is also a historical/slice-of-life but is vastly different than Emma. Set in Central Asia in a rural town near the Caspian Sea during the early 19th century, A Bride’s Story revolves around a young woman, Amir, who arrives from a distant village across the mountains to marry Karluk, a boy 8 years her junior. Volume 12 has been released, and you can read on for the review. (For reviews of other volumes, click here.)

Back Cover Blurb

Camera in tow, Smith retraces his journey to photograph the people and places that have come to mean so much to him. Though he has vast ground to cover, the inevitable delays of travel afford Smith an opportunity to rest and reflect. On Amir and Karluk, who have since sought the tutelage of Karluk’s hardy brother-in-law. On Pariya, struggling to complete the elaborate embroideries for her dowry. On the young, energetic twin brides, Laila and Leily. On the grand mansion that is to be the first stop on his return journey…

The Review

A Bride’s Story is a slice of life manga, so some sections are slower than others. However, the opening of Volume 12 is a lot slower than typical. That probably has to do with the fact that the subject of the first two chapters is “Spare Time,” and for half the cast, “spare time” translates into “I’m bored time.” So aside from a scorpion blowing into the now-married twin sisters’ new home, there’s no excitement. However, the chapters do the trick of updating us on the lives of the brides we’ve met thus far.

Chapter 80, which focuses on the antics of Pariya’s kitten, and Chapter 81, an intimate yet humorous glimpse into Seleke’s marriage, are amusing but also fairly slow. It’s not until halfway through the volume that the pace picks up with the continuation of Mr. Smith’s venture to photograph the people he’s met on his travels. After joining in a village’s party to celebrate a pilgrim’s return home, Mr. Smith’s group arrives at the mansion of Anis and Sherine.

This leads to a fairly interesting encounter. Anis and Sherine lead segregated and secluded lives compared to Talas, so in addition to the excitement of hosting a guest in the women’ quarters, they are intensely curious about the things Talas has seen and experienced. Mr. Smith, of course, is curious about the women’s section, but he’s forbidden even to meet his host’s wives. However, Talas takes the initiative of offering to photograph those quarters, and having received permission from their host, the photographing session turns into a delightful time of sharing for the women. Not to mention, Mori-sensei showcases some lovely pieces of regional architecture.

Then Talas and Mr. Smith continue on, but the narrative lingers on Anis and Sherine a bit longer with another visit to the place they first met: the bathhouse. Whereas Anis was previously an outsider to this female community, she is firmly entrenched now. In doing so, she’s learned things from the other women (like how to find a good wife for her son), and she’s teaching them things in return (like how to write). Surrounded by these friends and her avowed sister Sherine, Anis’ story ends on a firmly positive note.

Extras include Mori-sensei’s manga style afterword.

In Summary

This volume gets off to a rather slow start with the theme “spare time.” However, after a few chapters of bored characters and frolicking cats, the narrative kicks back into gear with Mr. Smith retracing his journey. His first stop gives us an update on the lives of Anis and Sherine, and Talas’ visit to the mansion’s women’s quarters results in a delightfully lively interaction between three very different women.

First published at the Fandom Post.

Manga Review: Hatsu*Haru Vol. 12

Ah…high school romance. It is a staple of shojo manga, and Shizuki Fujisawa adds another title to this list with Hatsu*Haru. Read on for the review of Volume 12! (For reviews of previous volumes, click here.)

Back Cover Blurb

While the class trip may not have been a slam dunk for Kai, Kagura finally accepted her true feelings and confessed to her childhood friend Tora. With nothing left to hide, she’s ready to move on, but womanizer Tora suddenly finds he’s at odds with himself! Luckily for him, reformed playboy Kai knows exactly how to help…

The Review

As you might guess from the cover art, this is the volume where Tarou and Kagura finally get together. Of the four romances, theirs is the least satisfying. After Kagura’s awkward confession in Volume 11, Tarou decides within the span of one chapter that Kagura’s the only one for him and immediately drop his playboy ways to devote himself to her. The resolution comes way too quick and easy and leaves me more annoyed than anything else. After all, there was never any real obstacle to their relationship other than their own personalities.

Thankfully, Fujisawa-sensei makes up for it by throwing an actual obstacle into the path of Misaki and Ayumi. Ayumi’s dad catches them making out in his house and blows his top, refusing to accept Misaki as her boyfriend. Under the circumstances, his disapproval–though extreme–is natural, but what’s really interesting is how Misaki responds to it. Although Ayumi insists he can just ignore her dad, Misaki takes the much more difficult route of trying to win the man’s approval. While the elder Shimura’s personality does make this arc somewhat wacky, it is a wonderful episode that deepens all the relationships involved.

With everyone paired up, it is no surprise that the next volume will be the last. As Kai and Riko are the main couple and Riko’s ever-absent mom has made two appearances in this volume, chances are pretty good she’ll play a role in the series wrap up.

Extras include story-thus-far, mini-manga about Fujisawa-sensei, and translation notes.

In Summary

Tarou and Kagura finally pair up! This is a shojo manga that began with four guys and four girls, so it was inevitable the remaining singles would get together. But considering the intensity and duration of Kagura’s outward hostility toward Tarou, his sudden turnabout from playboy to devoted boyfriend is too convenient for belief. Fortunately, the narrative then shifts to a much more engaging arc about Misaki and Ayumi as they face a parent’s opposition to their relationship.

First published at the Fandom Post.

Manga Review: The Promised Neverland Vol. #16

The Promised Neverland anime was a surprise favorite of mine for 2019. Its blend of mystery, suspense, and heart grabbed my attention and wouldn’t let go. For English-speaking fans who can’t wait to see what happens to Emma and their friends, they can read ahead in Viz’s translation of the manga. Read on for my review of Volume 16. (For reviews of other volumes, click here.)

Back Cover Blurb

While attempting to locate the Seven Walls, Emma and Ray find themselves trapped in a mysterious world. Can they escape this labyrinth and make the promise that will finally bring about peace? Meanwhile, Norman has his own plans…

The Review

The creators have yet again delivered another page-turner. The previous volume had Ray and Emma going through the entrance to the Seven Walls and winding up at a topsy-turvy version of Grace Field House. Their journey continues with them blundering through a chaotic maze of warped versions of places they’ve visited. The kids have had to solve puzzles before, but now they’re physically trapped in a riddle, and they need the answer in order to get out. Interestingly, even though the means by which they arrived at the entrance to this Seven Walls has a fantasy, mystical flavor, the key to solving the riddle involves a lot of sci-fi language as space and time get crazily twisted around Emma and Ray.

Meanwhile, back at the base, Norman gives Don and Gilda a mission: find Mujika, a.k.a. the Evil-Blooded Girl. They’re not going alone though; accompanying them are Hayato and the new character Ayshe. Unlike the farm-raised children, Ayshe had been kept by a demon and speaks only the demon language. However, she is a sharpshooter and commands a trio of tracking hounds, so she is joining them for the trip.

Interactions between the Grace Field kids get fairly fraught here. Whereas before, they trusted one another and worked toward the same goal, now they’re out of alignment on the issue of the demons, and each side is hiding something from the other. Compounding that is the inability to communicate with Ayshe and therefore the inability to know what she truly thinks of the mission.

Toward the end of the book, time turns back to the original Promise and the separation between the humans and demons. Not only do we see what drove the Ratri Clan head to bargain with the demon ruler, we get insight into the being who lives beyond the Seven Walls. And with Emma approaching the same being with her own request, you can’t help but worry she’ll get shafted the way Julius Ratri did.

Extras include character profiles, the story so far, side scenes, and the creators’ notes.

In Summary

Riddles, action, betrayals, schemes… The creators really pack it in to make a gripping narrative. Although the plot goes forward and back in time (and, in Emma and Ray’s case, does both at the same time), the storytelling’s handled so well you don’t get lost. With the demon army on the move and Emma on the brink of a new Promise, things are plunging toward a head, but I can’t even guess what the outcome will be. Hats off to Shirai-sensei and Demizu-sensei!

First published at The Fandom Post.

Manga Review: Yoshi no Zurikara: The Frog in the Well Does Not Know the Ocean Vol. 1

Mangaka Satsuki Yoshino is probably best known for her country comedy Barakamon. Now she’s back with yet another rustic flavored series: Yoshi no Zuikara: The Frog in the Well Does Not Know the Ocean. Read on for my review of Volume 1.

Back Cover Blurb

Thirty-two-year-old Tohno Naruhiko has been scraping by as a manga creator for ten years, and when his latest series gets canceled, he finds himself at a crossroads. Tohno’s always had his sights set on fantasy, but this time around, his editor’s got another idea—a slice-of-life story set in a remote village not unlike the one where he was born and raised. Could a return to his roots be exactly the change of pace our reclusive manga creator needs?

The Review

The opener of this book is a little confusing. It begins by introducing four modern teenage boys who live in an extremely out-of-the-way village in Japan. After seventy pages of learning about them and their lives on the backwater island of Tonoshima, we discover they aren’t actually the protagonists of Yoshi no Zurikara. Rather, they are the creations of thirty-two-year-old Naruhiko Tohno, a mangaka who is the series’ main character.

Tohno’s been drawing manga for ten years. Despite having written a couple of fantasy series, he’s never had major success in manga. In fact, it’s safe to say he’s only scraped by as a mangaka because he’s never moved away from home. After his latest series gets canceled, his editor suggests he try writing a slice of life manga set in a remote village similar to his own, and to his utter astonishment, this new series takes off.

Yoshi no Zurikara feels like a cross between Bakuman and Barakamon. Bakuman, because the main character’s a manga artist and the narrative often delves into the process of creating manga and the demands of the publishing business. Barakamon, because it has pretty much the same kind of rustic cast and island setting. In fact, it goes deeper into country culture because the main character isn’t a struggling artist who’s an outsider but a struggling artist who’s a local guy.

So if you’ve read Yoshino-sensei’s Barakamon and want more of the same, this series delivers. However, if you were hoping for fresh material from Yoshino-sensei, this might come off as stale. Yes, the ages and occupations of the characters are different, but Tohno’s pretty much the same kind of socially inept artist that Handa was. Tohno’s older by about ten years, but he lives in his grandmother’s house just behind his parents’ place and still relies on them for food. And instead of the energetic child Naru, we have the energetic, childlike manga assistant Toshibou. By the way, Yoshino-sensei doesn’t do a good job introducing Toshibou. He enters the story in Chapter 2 and has quite a bit of interaction with Tohno, but it’s not until Chapter 4 that the narrative clarifies that he is Tohno’s paid assistant.

Extras include translation notes and four-panel comic strips.

In Summary

It’s a slow mangaka life… That pretty much summarizes the series. Tohno is a manga artist in the sticks drawing a story about life in the sticks, so if you like rustic settings and characters, you get a double dose. The parallels between Tohno’s Wakkamon and Yoshino-sensei’s previous series Barakamon are bit blatant, but this manga definitely panders to Barakamon fans so maybe that’s the point.

First published at The Fandom Post.