Category Archives: Manga Review

Manga Reviews

Manga Review: Liselotte & Witch’s Forest Vol. #4

Natsuki Takaya’s Fruits Basket was one of the most popular shojo titles in the United States in the previous decade. Now Yen Press has released Takaya-sensei’s Liselotte & Witch’s Forest, which showcases the mangaka’s distinctive art style, a new upbeat heroine, and a fantasy setting. Read on for the review of Volume 4 (For reviews of other volumes, click here).

Back Cover Blurb

Liselotte’s house in the east of the east of the east has become even livelier with the additions of the witch Hilde and her familiar, Myrte. But one day, Vergue, a witch who hates all humans, attacks the household to drive Lise and the others away! Why is it so difficult to live a peaceful life?

The Review

Till now, little information has been given about the place in which the characters reside. Now we learn that The Land East of the East of the East is part of Erstes, a country that once achieved military victory with the help of witches. Considering it’s already Volume 4, these basic details about Erstes are late in coming, plus the way they’re presented (in the form of a schoolchildren’s lesson) is rather heavy-handed. However, they do give us a clearer picture of the society from which Liz has been exiled.

This provides a good place to introduce our next new character. Captain Erwin is head of the frontier outpost near the witch’s forest. However, he’s originally from the capital where he served Liz’s brother. He not only monitors Liz’s activities but seems aware of the true circumstances behind her banishment. He also has his own power when it comes to witches. Despite the lazy front he puts up, he is definitely not an ordinary human, and given his complicated background, he’s likely to get into the thick of Liz and Engetsu’s future affairs.

In the meantime, Liz continues to bravely strive forward in her hinterlands life. For fans of Fruits Basket, Liz is definitely a Tohru-type heroine: a cheerful dimwit who remains intensely positive despite the tragedies in her life. She’s also able to connect with social outcasts, as evidenced by the six people now living in her house. Now that Hilde and Myrte are part of the family, it’s almost a given that Liz will find a way to draw Vergue in, despite his violent efforts to drive her away.

As for the romantic arc between Liz and En, there are a couple poignant moments between the two, but overall, the mood is more comic than sweet. En without memories is sarcastic and blunt, which makes him a lot more interesting than when he was so unconditionally agreeable toward Liz. Judging from a brief interaction with Erwin, this new En is closer to his true personality and hints about a past I’m curious to learn more about.

Extras include four illustrations in full color, story-thus-far and character line-up, embedded author’s notes, translation notes, and a nine-page preview of Volume 5.

In Summary

This volume doesn’t so much move forward as it delves backward. Lessons, remembrances, and flashbacks provide a better understanding of the factors separating humans and witches and the circumstances that brought our characters where they are now. So aside from Vergue wrecking Liz’s house, not too much happens in these six chapters, but they fill in a lot of holes in the story.

First published at the Fandom Post.

Manga Review: The Royal Tutor Vol. 1

Rich, handsome young men, each with his own distinct personality…this type of bishounen cast is a staple in shojo manga. And if you like yours with a generous helping of chibi humor, you should definitely check out Higasa Akai’s The Royal Tutor. Read on for my review of Volume 1.

Back cover blurb

Accepting the post of Royal Tutor at the court of the king of Grannzreich, Heine Wittgenstein is a little professor with a big job ahead! Each of the kingdom’s four princes has a rather distinct personality. Does their diminutive new instructor have what it takes to lay down some learning? It’s a comedy of educational proportions!

The Review

The Royal Tutor is an interesting take on the reverse harem genre. It includes several standard elements including four handsome princes and a luxurious, palatial setting. However, the protagonist is not a teenage girl through whom readers can live vicariously. Our main character is the princes’ tutor, Heine Wittgenstein.

Summoned to the royal palace by the King of Granzreich himself, Heine is charged with grooming the king’s troublesome younger sons into suitable candidates for the throne. Heine though is not your ordinary academic. Although he is an adult with a certain degree of weakness for female charms, he looks like (and is constantly mistaken for) a little boy. Yet his intellect is second to none, and he is physically capable of chasing down his much larger students. At the same time, his small stature causes all sorts of inconveniences, which affords ample opportunity for visual humor, and he occasionally gets handled like a plushie toy. In fact, Heine at times looks like a cute mascot for this princely lineup.

As such, there are no romantic overtones whatsoever between this teacher and his students. (In fact, the only females in the cast are the princes’ grandmother and three-year old sister.) Even so, Heine, like many reverse harem heroines, is able to win over these difficult bishounen in short order. Despite its late 19th century European setting, these princes have very modern sensibilities and of course extremely distinct personalities. Thus, we have Kai, the taciturn delinquent; Bruno, the rigid intellectual; Leonhard, the prideful athlete; and Licht, the frivolous playboy. These brothers have driven all preceding royal tutors to resignation, yet Heine is able to quickly discern the true natures behind their public facades and earn their acceptance.

Heine himself though is a bit of a mystery. For all his abilities, he has no formal credentials. And although he was summoned to the palace by the king, Heine has his own–and as of yet unknown– personal agenda for accepting the position. While this does make him more intriguing as a character, Volume 1 is for the most part lighthearted comedy stemming from Heine’s unusual appearance and abilities and the princes’ antics.

For those familiar with the anime, the storyline is not an exact match for the TV series, but it is pretty close. The artwork is clean and well-drawn with lots of chandeliers and Rococo style decor and dress. Character designs alternate between shojo-style bishounen and chibi-style for princes and tutor alike (although Heine gets chibified more frequently than anyone else).

Extras include bonus manga printed on the inside of the cover flaps; first page printed in color; a note from the creator; and translation notes.

In Summary

If you’re the type that enjoys princely eye-candy against a luxurious backdrop, you’ll probably like The Royal Tutor. This series is also worth checking out if you like light comedies with characters that don’t fit the mold. The bishounen princes are somewhat standard, but their tutor is in a class of his own in this near reverse harem comedy.

First published at The Fandom Post.

Manga Review: My Love Story!! Vol. 12

Takeo Goda, the male lead for Viz Media’s  My Love Story!!  is quite unusual. Bishonen tend to dominate the cast of shojo manga, but Takeo’s looks are about as far from a stereotypical pretty boy as you can get. Still, he possesses tremendous appeal in this hilarious romantic comedy. Volume 12 has been released, and you can read on for the review. (For my review of other volumes, click here.)

Back cover blurb

Tanaka, a boy who transferred to Takeo’s school, keeps hanging around Sunakawa for some reason. At first, Takeo thinks nothing of it, but when he hears that Tanaka is just using Sunakawa, he immediately goes to help his friend! And later, Takeo finds out some distressing news from Yamato! Will Takeo and Yamato actually be separated?

The Review

It was initially unclear where the plot was going with the introduction of fashionable transfer student Tanaka, but it winds up a hilarious arc that shows a hitherto unseen aspect of both Takeo and Suna. Takeo’s strong point since the very beginning is his popularity among other males, and Tanaka’s the first guy we’ve seen (other than the groper) that dislikes him. However, Takeo’s clashed with other boys before and actually has a proven strategy for turning enemies into friends. To be sure, this strategy is the sort a grade school kid would rely on, but that’s okay because Suna is acting a bit childishly as well. Suna’s definitely the most mature character in the cast, and despite all the crazy stuff Takeo drags him into, he’s never gotten really mad. Now we get to see what Suna is like with someone he seriously dislikes.

Meanwhile, Tanaka is a much more typical teenager, insecure in his relationships and obsessed with looking good on social media. I’m not sure if Tanaka’s chat group lies are meant to be social commentary, but when the three go out for a day trip and Takeo takes all of Tanaka’s posts at face value, the results are a riot. I’m not a fan of Aruko-sensei’s particular art style, but the expressions in this arc deliver huge comedic impact nonetheless, and I really wish I could see these chapters animated.

Then it’s back to Takeo’s love story and the next challenge for our main couple: the Yamamoto family is moving–to Spain! The announcement takes everyone by surprise, and although he’s crushed by the news, Takeo does his best to be a supportive boyfriend and reassure Yamato of his commitment to her even while they’re apart. Thus, Yamato’s last days in Japan go pretty much as one would expect–until she runs away from home! It’s a shock to everyone, Takeo included. But even though she’s been portrayed as a model daughter, her actions–though drastic–are not out of character. Still, it’s anyone’s guess how this arc will end, and I look forward to its resolution.

Extras include story thus far, two sizable bonus chapters, and notes from the creators.

In Summary

My Love Story!! hits another one out the park! As Takeo discovers, Tanaka is using others to achieve his own shallow goals, which sparks a near rampage out of our main character. However, what’s even funnier is Suna’s reaction when Tanaka airs his unfiltered thoughts about Takeo. It’s male bonding magic when self-absorbed superficiality collides with earnest friendship!

First published at The Fandom Post.

Manga Review: Everyone’s Getting Married Vol. 5

Most romances in Viz Media’s Shojo Beat line are targeted toward a high school audience, but Everyone’s Getting Married is actually aimed toward older readers. It’s twenty-something angst instead of teen angst, and you can read on for the review of Volume 5. (For the reviews of previous volumes, click here.)

Back Cover Blurb

Akito Kamiya has found out that Ryu and Asuka have been dating away from the public eye, but he hasn’t given up his pursuit of her. Ryu means to keep Kamiya in check, but instead a direct confrontation erupts between them!

The Review

The previous volume ended with Ryu and Kamiya looking like they’re about to brawl it out. However, this is an adult cast, and while boys might knock the snot out of each other over a girl in shojo manga, grown up men apparently handle such disputes by going to a bar and making snarky remarks over drinks. It wasn’t the clash I’d anticipated, but Kamiya’s comments do get under Ryu’s skin in a way that shakes his confidence.

Kamiya doesn’t let up either. He continues to finagle ways to be alone with Asuka, even coercing a date by threatening to make her relationship with Ryu public. Although Kamiya’s reasons for choosing her were coldly calculating, he’s not nearly so logical about accepting her refusal. While this might seem like a character inconsistency, Kamiya’s personality is so aggressive that it’s not. It’s questionable whether his feelings for Asuka can be accurately termed “love,” but his actions are certainly those of a competitive man who hates to lose.

And how does Ryu secure his claim on Asuka with such a rival? Sex and lots of it. The last volume was light on the bedroom scenes with rivals Kamiya and Yuko distracting our couple. Now Ryu’s pawing Asuka’s clothes off every time she has a run-in with Kamiya. As usual, the scenes aren’t too graphic, but Ryu does come off as inexhaustible the way he pounces on Asuka despite his supposedly grueling work schedule. And when Kamiya buys Asuka a pair of Altier earrings, Ryu responds with a spur of the moment trip to Kyoto and his own gift to Asuka. No, it’s not a wedding ring, but we do get to see our main couple in a traditional setting and relaxing for once.

Meanwhile, Yuko doesn’t do much in this volume. In fact, she looks like she might be dropping out of the love square entirely. Never fear, a new PTV character gets introduced as she steps away. Yuma Shimizu is a rookie reporter on Ryu’s news show. Although he’s definitely not a love interest for Ryu, he brings out a side of Ryu we haven’t seen before, and it remains to be seen how exactly he will affect the plot.

Extras include a 6-page mini-manga about Ryu.

In Summary

It’s two alpha males vying to get the girl in this volume. Kamiya takes every opportunity to monopolize Asuka, and in the face of such pressure, Ryu must bring his A-game to compete. Most of that involves sex, but based on their trip to Kyoto, perhaps wedding bells aren’t just wishful thinking on Asuka’s part.

First published at The Fandom Post.

Manga Review: Master Keaton Vol. #10

I became an instant fan of Naoki Urasawa in 2004 when I saw the Monster anime. Psychological thrillers are definitely NOT my cup of tea, but he had me hooked with his combination of realistic artwork and gripping plot. As such, I was thrilled when Viz Media decided to release a translation of an earlier Urasawa action/adventure: Master Keaton. Read on for the review of Volume 10. (For my reviews of previous volumes, click here.)

Back cover blurb

Taichi Hiraga Keaton is a busy insurance investigator who yearns to make a living as an archaeologist. Just how long does he have to continue working as an investigator? Keaton is uncertain of his future, but he does know that a string of difficult cases awaits him!

The Review

Those who enjoyed Urasawa-sensei’s Monster will like Volume 10′s two-part tale, The Village that God Loved. It’s got the elements of a good thriller–a seemingly peaceful village, detectives after a criminal on the loose, bizarre ”accidents.” It even has a creepy looking kid (whose expression is extremely reminiscent of Monster’s child twins) watching the events unfold. Because Keaton is involved, medieval history also gets worked into the story in a way that aids his escape from some tricky situations. Between the attacks on the detectives and the mystery shrouding the remote community, it’s a tight, engaging read.

The volume’s other two-part story Resident of a Lightless World also contains elements in common with Monster. Set in former East Germany, it has a cast that includes communists and Nazis, and bloodshed abounds with a serial killer on the loose. Ancient artifacts play a role, but a more recent antique and modern political history are the keys that help Keaton solve this case.

The rest of Volume 10 is an assortment of one-shots. Two involve novice investigators poking their noses into an assignment. In these situations, Keaton usually winds up bailing out the amateur, which is what happens in Volunteer Detective. However, in An Incident Among Women, that dynamic gets shifted around. Not only does the pushy old woman keep up with Keaton, she shows him a thing or two, and even though it involves a murder, the story is largely comedic.

For those who favor chases from armed bad guys, Keaton crosses paths with a target of the Russian mafia in Immortal, and in Detour, he protects a client hunted by former agents of the Romanian secret police. The remaining stories are largely misadventures that arise during Keaton’s personal time. Sadly for Keaton, a university position remains but a dream, and the only teaching he does in this installment is tutoring a rebellious child in Keaton the Home Tutor.

Extras include a sound effects glossary.

In Summary

Fans of Urasawa’s Monster will find much to enjoy in this installment of Master Keaton. A quarter of the tales involve the shadowy dealings of former Eastern European officials, and another story set in a remote village serves a delicious blend of of intrigue and action along with one really creepy looking kid. Our SAS-trained investigator contends against adversaries ranging from fanatical villagers to Russian mafia, but if you’re wanting to see Keaton at a lecture hall or archeological dig, you’ll have to look to another volume.

First published at the Fandom Post.

Manga Review: Barakamon Vol. 13

The contrast between city and rural life has been a source of entertainment since the time of Aesop’s fables. It remains a popular subject in manga and anime today, and joining the ranks of Silver Nina, Non Non Biyori, and Silver Spoon is Yen Press’ series Barakamon. Read on for my review of Volume 13! (For my reviews of previous volumes, click here.)

Back cover blurb

Tagging along on Handa-sensei’s visit home, Naru finally arrives in Tokyo! Trains, tall buildings, the zoo-the big city’s full of amazing first experiences! But what will Handa decide when his dad asks him to come back to Tokyo? Volume 13 promises growth, courage, and farewells!

The Review

The tables are turned when Naru joins Handa on a trip to Tokyo. Now he’s the regional expert, and she can barely comprehend her hectic surroundings. But while she makes an atypical guest in the Handa household, this arc is less about her and more about the interactions Handa has with the adults of Tokyo.

For starters, Yoshino-sensei introduces Ojou, a college student working part time for the Kawafuji business. She’s also the girl Handa was asked to consider as a marriage prospect. After Handa turned the proposal down, I didn’t think she’d be mentioned again, let alone make an appearance. However, she is quite unlike her photo and, despite certain shortcomings, can hold her own in the art business world. Except for Kawafuji, Handa hasn’t had much opportunity to hang out with people his age, and as he and Ojou interact, we get a pretty good idea why he doesn’t have a girlfriend.

Then on the professional end of things, Handa meets the representatives for the major hotel project his father is working on as well as a young calligrapher just starting his career. Because Handa has been producing commissioned works and participating in contests (and is the son of a master calligrapher), I assumed he knew what a career as a calligrapher would entail. This trip to Tokyo shows just how much he doesn’t know about the art business. While Naru does have the opportunity to cause her particular brand of mayhem away from home, these chapters are less about her city experience and more about Handa’s reflections on the trajectory of his life.

However, the village isn’t completely left out of this volume. Kanzaki runs away to the village, supposedly to get away from “society’s strictures,” and Handa gives the kid permission to stay at his house while he’s in Tokyo. Thus the island gets another city boy in Handa’s absence. Kanzaki though is less of a clueless urbanite than he is an annoying, whiny one, and poor Hiroshi gets saddled with the brunt of Kanzaki’s damage.

Extras include two bonus manga, translation notes, and another installment of “Barakamon News.”

In Summary

Handa finally gets his chance to show one of the villagers around his home turf. However, this arc winds up less about city versus county life and more about the direction of Handa’s life. Naru displays some of her usual kiddie antics, but for the most part this arc is an intriguing glimpse into the demands on a professional artist and the relationship possibilities for Handa’s personal life.

First published at The Fandom Post.

Manga Review: Handa-Kun Vol. 5

Fans of Satsuki Yoshino’s Barakamon can now get even more Handa-centric comedy. Yen Press has released Handa-Kun, a prequel series which chronicles the high school days of our favorite genius calligrapher. Read on for my review of Volume 5. (Click here for reviews of other volumes).

Back cover blurb

The class trip has begun, but now it’s not just his own classmates Handa needs to worry about. When a rival school ends up going along for the ride, isn’t it a given that Handa-kun’s going to run afoul of a whole new set of kids? The Handa Army have met their nemesee…nemenisee…neemessss–their rivals! There is no way they will allow their beloved Handa to be diminished by the white shirts! Meanwhile, poor Handa-kun is trying REALLY hard just to fit in…

The Review

Volume 5 covers the class trip that Handa’s been anticipating as an opportunity to make friends. Although it does include the usual misunderstandings and failed attempts at bonding with classmates, most of the plot is dominated by students from another school. Nicknamed the “White Shirts,” they get along with the students of Handa’s school like cats and dogs. And this rival school has its own charismatic leader and minions to match Handa and his army.

By “match,” I do mean match. Ichimiya’s bodyguards are comprised of a burly delinquent, a bespectacled nerd, a pretty fashionista, and a no-name ordinary guy. The most entertaining of them is Sousuke Kojika, who goes to interesting lengths for the sake of beauty and has a unique connection to the delinquent of the Handa Army.

As with Handa and his Army, Ichimiya’s Bodyguards operate largely independent of the leader they idolize. So while Handa and Ichimiya are touring Kyoto’s sights, the Army and Bodyguards are waging war, which alternates between group efforts and individuals facing off against his equivalent. Much of this fighting is just a hyped version of the usual Handa Army antics, but the big surprise is the clash between the average guys. Kondou has been a levelheaded observer for most of this series, but it turns out he’s not completely dispassionate when it comes to Handa either.

A major challenge Western readers will have with the arc is the Kyoto backdrop. In keeping with the tourist spots they visit, characters dress up as Japanese icons and make historical references in jokes and insults. If you’ve studied Japanese history or watched one of the many anime or Japanese dramas about the Shinsengumi/Ryouma Sakamoto/Bakumatsu, you have a decent chance of enjoying these chapters. If not, the translation notes in the back of the book provide a lot of information, but it will require much flipping back and forth.

Extras include the title illustration in color, bonus manga, translation notes, and an installment of “Handa-Kun News.”

In Summary

It’s delusion insanity squared when the Handa Army clashes with students from a rival school during their class trip. While the Kyoto setting allows for fun props and samurai cosplay, these chapters are heavy on historical references, which will go over the heads of most Western readers. And although most of the Handa Army’s hijinks are predictable, the trip brings out a surprising side of Kondou, who isn’t as immune to HND Syndrome as previously thought.

First published at The Fandom Post.

Manga Review: Liselotte & Witch’s Forest Vol. #3

Natsuki Takaya’s Fruits Basket was one of the most popular shojo titles in the United States in the previous decade. Now Yen Press has released Takaya-sensei’s Liselotte & Witch’s Forest, which showcases the mangaka’s distinctive art style, a new upbeat heroine, and a fantasy setting. Read on for the review of Volume 3 (For reviews of other volumes, click here).

Back cover blurb

Liselotte, daughter of a feudal lord, has been exiled to the lands east of the east of the east, now living with her servants Anna and Alto, the mysterious Engetsu, and the impertinent familiar Yomi at the edge of the witch’s forest. Despite Alto’s objections, Lise’s new family somehow continues to grow. But her troublesome past has caught up to them and Engetsu is seriously injured. Can Lise save him and also continue to live as optimistically as her heart desires?

The Review

Engetsu is in dire straits at the end of Volume 2, thanks to the fight with Liz’s would-be assassin, and with help from Yomi, Liz seeks supernatural help from the massive tree that grows though their house. Eiche trees, like witches, are magical, but their power appears innate rather than something learned. And even though witches are the ones with a bad reputation, the spirit of the Eiche tree makes them look positively benevolent in comparison.(It’s not the witches you have to beware of–it’s the trees!)

Far from being swayed by Liz’s bold demands for help, the Eiche cuts her down with a vicious verbal, then physical assault. In the midst of this encounter, we discover what En endured to return from the dead and the limitations of his current existence. Everything about the episode serves to demonstrate En’s extraordinary devotion to Liz, which underscores the true cost of his restoration when the pair returns to the real world.

With the mystery of Engetsu/Enrich connection revealed, a different mystery arises: Enrich’s origins. After the Eiche encounter, En’s behavior changes so drastically it’s as if he’s a completely different person. Faced with this new,  roguish En, Liz makes the surprisingly astute observation that if they think En’s changed that just means they didn’t know him well enough to begin with. Indeed, even though Enrich knew so much about Liz before, she knew very little about him, and that unknown history before he became her servant looks like it will be central to the next phase of the story.

The angst and despair of the first half of the volume is emotionally draining, thus for the second half, Takaya-sensei reverts back to bird-brained humor. Hilde and Myrte return and wind up incorporated into Liz’s household, which, as Alto describes it, is turning into “a supernatural menagerie.” This of course provides the framework for situational humor between grumpy Alto, prickly Yomi, and their high-strung new housemates. While Liz and En’s interactions retain an element of melancholy, the silly squabbling that surrounds them helps to keep the mood light.

Extras include story thus far, character profiles, embedded author’s notes, six bonus illustrations in color, translation notes, and a sneak peek of Volume 4.

In Summary

En has been the one rescuing Liz all this time, but everything changes after Liz begs the Eiche spirit to return En to her. Now she must strive against the impossible to restore the bond they once shared. In the meantime, a witches’ spat puts Hilde and Myrte onto Liz’s doorstep. Between Liz’s love tragedy and everyone’s new living arrangements, it’s a rollercoaster of ups and down in the land east of the east of the east.

First published at the Fandom Post.

Manga Review: Everyone’s Getting Married Vol. 4

Most romances in Viz Media’s Shojo Beat line are targeted toward a high school audience, but Everyone’s Getting Married is actually aimed toward older readers. It’s twenty-something angst instead of teen angst, and you can read on for the review of Volume 4. (For the reviews of previous volumes, click here.)

Back Cover Blurb

Successful career woman Asuka Takanashi has an old-fashioned dream of getting married and becoming a housewife, but popular TV newscaster Ryu Nanami would rather die than ever get married. Kamiya has proposed to Asuka, offering her the future she’s always wanted, but Asuka is seeing Ryu. Is a battle between the men brewing?

The Review

The members of our love square have very different careers, but somehow Ryu’s station, PTV, manages to get everyone into the same space. First Ryu and his old lover Yuko get paired up to host a weekly music show. Then Kamiya accepts an offer to appear as an expert on a business show. As such, Yuko is a constant reminder of why Ryu rejects marriage, but Kamiya’s presence pressures Ryu in regard to Asuka. In addition, the television screen serves to highlight the romantic rivalries for everyone involved.

Yuko isn’t particularly active in this volume. We mainly get a more detailed glimpse into her interactions with Ryu seven years ago. Kamiya, on the other hand, is stirring things up, intentionally and unintentionally. While his unwavering belief that Asuka is the woman he should marry is still a bit difficult to swallow, he does a fine job promoting himself and pointing out the flaws in Asuka’s current relationship. He’s also sharp enough to figure out the identity of Asuka’s boyfriend and use it to his advantage once he does.

This brings an overdue element to Asuka and Ryu’s relationship. Before, Asuka was the only one struggling with insecurity. Now Ryu gets a taste when he realizes his competition is handsome, smart, and already offering Asuka the married life she so desperately craves.

In the midst of this, an indiscreet moment on Ryu’s part results in a photo that has the media buzzing about whether the PTV newscaster has a girlfriend. Asuka is forced to keep her distance until the furor dies down, and Kamiya finds a clever way to leverage it in his favor. As a result, things come to a head between Ryu and Kamiya, which makes for a delightful final scene in Volume 4.

Extras include a 5-page mini-manga about Ryu’s workday and the bonus one-shot story Pure Love Masquerade, which actually is more about sex than love.

In Summary

Kamiya rises as a formidable rival! While Asuka insists that Ryu is the only one she wants, Kamiya does a fine job of making Ryu jealous. Asuka may not have made any headway on Ryu’s anti-marriage views on her own, but with her handsome business associate trying to woo her away, Ryu may be forced to reevaluate his priorities.

First published at The Fandom Post.

Manga Review: Sword Art Online: Progressive Vol. 005

Sword Art Online was undoubtedly one of the most popular anime of 2012. Based upon a series of light novels by Reki Kawahara, SAO’s near-future characters, gorgeous fantasy setting, and life-or-death stakes drew an enthusiastic fan following. Yen Press has released Volume 5 of the Sword Art Online: Progressive manga adaption, and you can read on for the review. (For my review of  other Sword Art Online manga, click here.)

Back Cover Blurb

It’s time for the ‘real’ SAO–the third floor! Kirito and Asuna are hardly out the door when they stumble upon the start of the Elf War quest. When they decide to side with the elite dark elf Kizmel, they’re set on a path that will push them harder than ever before. But together, nothing can stop them…right?

The Review

A brand new arc begins as Kirito and Asuna step onto the third floor. To start, we have a sweeping change in cast. Except for Kirito and Asuna, everyone we’ve met thus far–Agil, The Rat, the Legend Braves–exits the stage, and new characters enter the story. However, these aren’t fellow players trapped in Kayaba’s death game. They’re NPCs.

NPCs of the Elf War quest to be exact. Unlike the rock smashing quest of the previous volume, this campaign lasts several floors and requires players to choose a side. Thus, our heroes align themselves with the dark elves and their female knight Kizmel. Our resident “beater” Kirito continues to guide newbie Asuna by explaining the quest’s general framework, but like so many other things in SAO, this quest has changed since the beta. For one, the NPCs’ AI has improved so drastically that their interactions are near indistinguishable from those of real people. For another, the script isn’t nearly as rigid as the beta’s. As such, Asuna regards Kizmel like an actual person and plunges them down a quest route that Kirito didn’t think possible.

Given that this is the “Elf War quest,” there are plenty of battle scenes. Along with elves, giant falcons and wolves dive into the fray, which makes for interesting action. However, this conflict has nothing to do with humans (i.e. the trapped SAO players). All the passion driving this drama belongs to the NPCs, and the creators dedicate an entire chapter to the dark elves’ backstory (which the players never actually witness). While Kizmel’s tale of loss is gripping, this history–as Kirito reminds Asuna’–isn’t real past events but a mere construct of the game.

This brings Progressive to an interesting point. Before, the players’ life and death struggle dominated the plot; now the story centers on characters who were never alive to begin with. While it does demonstrate how elaborate the SAO world is, having Kirito and Asuna get sucked into the NPCs’ story makes it feel as if the creators have run out of ideas for our hapless trapped humans and are falling back on pure fantasy.

Speaking of fantasy, Kizmel is, as Asuna aptly puts it, “most definitely a male-created fantasy.” Between her, her late sister Tinel, and Asuna, the creators have plenty of material for fanservice. The bathing tent scene in particular lays it on thick. While it does also include comedy at Kirito’s expense and unexpected relationship advice from Kizmel, it’s really just an excuse to show Asuna and Kizmel naked in a tub together.

Extras include the title page and table of contents in color and bonus illustrations.

In Summary

The human co-stars leave the stage and a lineup of NPCs take their place. In treating the NPC Kizmel as a real person, Kirito and Asuna get swept into her narrative of revenge. While it is an engaging tale, it also takes the attention away from the human players’ life-or-death dilemma, which leaves me, like Asuna, wondering how emotionally invested I should get with these elves.

First published at the Fandom Post.