Attack on Titan: Kuklo Unbound

Attack on Titan: Kuklo UnboundAuthor: Ryo Suzukaze
Illustrator: Thores Shibamoto

Translator: Ko Ransom
U.S. publisher: Vertical
ISBN: 9781939130877
Released: May 2015
Original release: 2012

Between 2011 and 2012, three light novels written by Ryo Suzukaze and illustrated by Thores Shibamoto were released in Japan, forming a prequel trilogy to Hajime Isayama’s massively popular manga series Attack on Titan. All three novels were translated into English by Ko Ransom and published by Vertical. The first novel was released as Attack on Titan: Before the Fall, which is the title that the entire trilogy is known by in Japan. The second and third novels, originally published in 2012, were released together in English as an omnibus in 2015 called Attack on Titan: Kuklo Unbound. The manga series Attack on Titan: Before the Fall adapts the same story found in Kuklo Unbound. I’ve been reading the Before the Fall manga and I enjoyed the first Before the Fall novel well enough, so I was interested in reading Kuklo Unbound as well.

Roaming the earth in search of humans to feast upon are the Titans–giant, monstrous creatures of mysterious origins which nobody completely understands. In order to protect itself, humanity literally walled itself off from the outside world. The Titans are nearly invincible and very few people manage to live through a direct encounter with them, but Kuklo is one such survivor. Swallowed whole by a Titan while still in his mother’s womb, against all odds Kuklo was somehow saved. However, he has never been able to completely rid himself of the stigma of being born the “son” of a Titan. Feared and hated during a time when very few people have actually even seen a Titan, Kuklo is an orphan who is abused, held captive, and treated as a sideshow oddity. As he grows older he desires nothing more than to escape his cruel fate and to prove to himself and others that he is indeed human. And though his birth was ill-omened, Kuklo may in fact be the key needed to unlock humanity’s full potential in the fight against the Titans.

Attack on Titan: Kuklo Unbound, page 52Since I have been reading the ongoing Before the Fall manga series, I was already familiar with a fair amount of the story of Kuklo Unbound and wasn’t especially surprised by any of the developments. I do think that out of the two versions the original novels are the stronger, though. The manga doesn’t always capture the internal thoughts and feelings of the characters very well, and that perspective is very important to understanding Kuklo Unbound. I feel that Kuklo Unbound is better written than the first Before the Fall novel, too, or at least it was overall more enjoyable to read. Parts of Kuklo Unbound did feel very repetitive–there was a tendency to restate obvious and well-established plot points and even use the exact same descriptions over and over again–but for the most part the pace of the narrative is quick enough that the redundancy wasn’t too frustrating. As a whole, many of the characters in Kuklo Unbound seemed to be slightly better-developed and less reliant on worn tropes when compared to those of Before the Fall, too.

Kuklo Unbound works well as an omnibus, telling Kuklo’s entire story, but the two novels contained are distinct in their focus. In the first novel, Kuklo is the undisputed star. In the second novel attention is still primarily turned towards Kuklo, but by that point in the trilogy the story is really about the Vertical Maneuvering Equipment, the most recognizable technological innovation to be found in Attack on Titan. The predecessor of the Vertical Maneuvering Equipment was created in the Before the Fall novel, so this ties the prequel together quite nicely. While being different from most other Attack on Titan stories, the prequel trilogy also feels familiar, incorporating the types of scenes that have been seen before, including deadly battles with Titans, political intrigue and religious turmoil, and intense military training sequences. What makes Before the Fall and Kuklo Unbound particularly interesting is that they serve as an origin story, showing not only the development and implementation of the Vertical Maneuvering Equipment, but also the beginnings of the Survey Corps when it was still celebrated instead of despised.

Manga Giveaway: Kodansha Shoujo Smorgasbord

The end of November is almost here, and you know what that means! It’s time for another manga giveaway at Experiments in Manga. As is tradition for November’s giveaway, in celebration of Thanksgiving in the United States (my favorite holiday) I’m offering up a manga feast. You all will have a chance to win not one, but four volumes of manga this month: LDK, Volume 1 by Ayu Watanabe; Let’s Dance a Waltz, Volume 1 by Natsumi Ando; My Little Monster, Volume 1 by Robico; and Say I Love You, Volume 1 by Kanae Hazuki–a veritable smorgasbord of shoujo from Kodansha Comics! And, as always, the giveaway is open worldwide.

LDK, Volume 1Let's Dance a Waltz, Volume 1My Little Monster, Volume 1Say I Love You, Volume 1

When I used to think of Kodansha Comics, shoujo manga never really came to mind. However, over the last couple of years, the publisher has made a point to expand its shoujo offerings. As a result, Kodansha has started to develop a nice catalog of shoujo manga, including titles that feature science fiction, mystery, action, romance, comedy, drama and more. For the most part, I’ve really been enjoying Kodansha’s shoujo series and I like seeing the variety in the manga.

So, you may be wondering, how can you win a Kodansha Shoujo Smorgasbord?

1) In the comments below, tell me a little bit about your favorite shoujo manga released by Kodansha Comics. (If you don’t have one yet, simply mention that.)
2) If you’re on Twitter, you can earn a bonus entry by tweeting, or retweeting, about the contest. Make sure to include a link to this post and @PhoenixTerran (that’s me).

And there you have it! Each person can earn up to two entries for this giveaway and has one week to submit comments. If you have trouble leaving comments, or if you would prefer, entries can also be emailed to me at phoenixterran(at)gmail(dot)com. I will then post the comments here in your name. The giveaway winner will be randomly selected and announced on December 2, 2015. Good luck to you all!

VERY IMPORTANT: Include some way that I can contact you. This can be an e-mail address in the comment form, a link to your website, Twitter username, or whatever. If I can’t figure out how to get a hold of you and you win, I’ll just draw another name.

My Week in Manga: November 16-November 22, 2015

My News and Reviews

Only one review was posted at Experiments in Manga last week since I’m still on my more relaxed blogging schedule. I’m a little behind in reviewing the series, but I finally took a closer look at What Did You Eat Yesterday?, Volume 8 by Fumi Yoshinaga. I’m still really loving the manga, especially the realistic portrayal of its characters and their relationships. The eighth volume had some heartbreaking moments as well as heartwarming moments and just the right touch of humor to keep it all entertaining.

I came across quite a few interesting things to read online last week. Organization Anti-Social Geniuses has a great post about the skills and education that are helpful for pursuing a career in the manga publishing industry. The Guardian looks at some recent and past manga controversies in the article “Manga rows show why it’s still Japan’s medium of protest.” Also of note, Dark Horse, partnering with Le Vision, will apparently be adapting six Chinese comics into English. Compared to manga or even manhwa, hardly any manhua has been published in English; there is only one other publisher that I know of off the top of my head (JR Comics) which is currently releasing manhua in translation.

Elsewhere online, Manhattan Digest interviewed Graham Kolbeins, talking about gay manga, MASSIVE, and the group’s hopes to expand into more queer content, which is very exciting. Wondering about the state of the English edition of Takako Shimura’s Wandering Son? Crunchyroll gathered together some of the comments made by Matt Thorn (the series’ translator) about the manga’s current status. Sadly, it’s not especially encouraging. Although Fantagraphics has stated in the past that it intends to release the entire series, the publication date for ninth and next volume has yet to be set. Fantagraphics is still working on manga projects, though–Moto Hagio’s Otherworld Barbara should hopefully be released sometime in 2016.

Quick Takes

My Neighbor Seki, Volume 2My Neighbor Seki, Volumes 2-4 by Takuma Morishige. I continue to be utterly charmed and delighted by My Neighbor Seki. The anime series was wonderful, too, but I’m especially glad for the chance to read the chapters that where never adapted. My Neighbor Seki is an episodic manga, but there are a few running jokes that have emerged. Several scenarios feature the robot family, for one; Seki’s younger sister repeatedly appears after being introduced; and Yokoi and Seki’s classmate Goto more than once erroneously believes their relationship to be of a romantic nature. And of course there is the primary gag that underlies the entire series: Seki goofing off in class in impressively ridiculous ways and Yokoi being completely caught up in it all despite herself. My Neighbor Seki is marvelously funny and imaginative. Seki’s antics and Yokoi’s reactions (and overreactions) to them never disappoint. Reading the manga always leaves me smiling and has even been known to make me laugh out loud. I’m very glad that Vertical ultimately decided to release the entire series rather than just a “best of” collection.

One Is EnoughOne Is Enough by Love. Gen Manga is one of the very few publishers to release translations of doujinshi in English. The selections are independent, amateur works that unsurprisingly vary in quality, but I generally find them interesting. I believe One Is Enough was the first and so far has been the only boys’ love offering from Gen. I originally read the first half or so of the manga while it was being serialized, but am only now getting around to reading the completed volume. I’m not entirely sure whether it’s intentional or not, but at times One Is Enough almost seems to be a parody of boys’ love, exaggerating some of the genre’s well-worn tropes and plot devices. Although there are some nice individual panels and sequences, the manga’s artwork is sadly very inconsistent. Even the story itself seems to be constantly shifting in tone, as though the creator couldn’t quite decide which direction to take the manga. One Is Enough can be silly, cute, and sweet, but it also occasionally deals with some pretty heavy subject matter like suicide and self harm. Honestly, the manga is a bit of a mess without much cohesion, but it does have its moments.

Say I Love You, Volume 9Say I Love You, Volume 9 by Kanae Hazuki. As the winners of the school idol contest, Megumi and Yamato are expected to go on a date with each other, despite the fact that he already has a girlfriend. While I had to suspend my disbelief for some of the setup, Hazuki actually handles the scenario as a whole very well. I was completely satisfied with the way that the date played out and ultimately ended. I also feel better about Megumi as she continues to mature as a person; the date was a turning point for her. Many of the characters in Say I Love You are dealing with some very personal issues, but there is hope that they will be okay in the end even though the journey itself may be painful. After the date and its fallout has been resolved, most of the ninth volume is actually spent exploring the tragic backstory of Yamato’s brother Daichi and how it complicates and interferes with his present-day relationships. Hazuki promises to return to Mei and Yamato’s story which will be good to see, but one of the things I particularly like about Say I Love You is Hazuki’s willingness to take the time to delve into the lives of the other characters as well.

What Did You Eat Yesterday?, Volume 8

What Did You Eat Yesterday, Volume 8Creator: Fumi Yoshinaga
U.S. publisher: Vertical
ISBN: 9781941220238
Released: May 2015
Original release: 2013

I have been a fan of Fumi Yoshinaga’s manga for quite some time now, so I was very happy when her series What Did You Eat Yesterday? was licensed for release in English. Although I’ve enjoyed all of Yoshinaga’s translated work, I was particularly interested in What Did You Eat Yesterday? because it promised and has since proved to be a manga realistically portraying the lives of two gay men (and boyfriends) living together in Japan. As can be safely assumed from the title of the series, What Did You Eat Yesterday? also happens to be a food manga, which is another niche genre that I especially enjoy. Unsurprisingly, with its well-developed characters a touches of humor, I find the series immensely appealing. What Did You Eat Yesterday?, Volume 8 was originally released in Japan in 2013 while Vertical published the English-language edition of the manga in 2015.

As a lawyer, Shiro often finds himself involved in sorting out other people’s relationships, helping to resolve child custody disputes and providing divorce consultations and such. In many ways, this allows him to better appreciate his relationship with his boyfriend Kenji. Shiro isn’t always the most outwardly or physically demonstrative with his affection, especially when in public or when compared to Kenji’s exuberance, but the two men have built a comfortable life together. Their relationship has its ups and downs, just like any other couple might encounter, though being gay in contemporary Japan still has its own particular challenges. While Kenji’s family is largely supportive, Shiro’s parents are still adjusting to the fact that their son is in committed relationship with another man and has been for years. Thankfully, both Kenji and Shiro have close friends and acquaintances who have no problems whatsoever with the two of them being together.

What Did You Eat Yesterday?, Volume 8, page 53While Shiro and Kenji are obviously a couple, What Did You Eat Yesterday?, Volume 8 offers several scenarios in which they’re actually acting as a couple. I honestly enjoyed all of the stories collected in the volume, but two that particularly stood out to me explicitly showed them as boyfriends. The first story featured a trip where the two of them visit Kyoto together for Kenji’s birthday in which Shiro acts more stereotypically romantic and boyfriend-like than he has during the entire rest of the series, stunning Kenji in the process. Granted, the underlying reason for Shiro treating Kenji to such an extravagant vacation is a little heartbreaking when it is revealed. A story taking place a few months later sees Kenji and Shiro baking brownies together to celebrate Valentine’s Day, which is all sorts of sweet and wonderful. That chapter is also an excellent example of how the food and recipes included in What Did You Eat Yesterday? can be directly incorporated into the story itself. Some chapters are more successful at this than others–occasionally the food in the series comes across as being tangential–but I absolutely love when Yoshinaga pulls it off well.

The relationships between the characters of What Did You Eat yesterday?, often expressed through the sharing and enjoyment of food, are a crucial part of the series. There are many different types of relationships portrayed, but What Did You Eat Yesterday?, Volume 8 in particular reminded me of the importance of family relations in the manga. Just like in real life, the opinions and actions of family members can have a tremendous impact on an individual. The eighth volume reveals more about Kenji’s family circumstances when he returns home on the occasion of the death of his father. The acceptance shown to him by his mother and his sisters and their children was comforting to see, giving hope that in time Shiro’s parents, too, will be able to more fully accept their son. Family isn’t necessarily limited by law or blood in the series, either–Shiro ends up becoming a godfather of sorts when the daughter of one of his friends has a baby. And, of course, there is the small family made up of Shiro and Kenji themselves. Though they have their disagreements, What Did You Eat Yesterday? makes it clear that they greatly care for each other.

My Week in Manga: November 9-November 15, 2015

My News and Reviews

Last week was the first week of the temporary adjustment in my posting schedule at Experiments in Manga. I’ve got a lot going on right now and not enough time to do everything that I need to or would like. Hopefully I’ll have some good news to share soon, though! (I don’t want to jinx anything by saying too much, yet.) Anyway! Last week I reviewed Mushishi, Volume 6 by Yuki Urushibara as part of my monthly horror manga review project. I’ve read the series before so I already know that I like it (in fact, it’s a favorite of mine), but I’ve really been enjoying my reread.

A few interesting things that I came across online last week: Netcomics hinted on Twitter that it would have some exciting licenses to announce soon. Dark Horse has confirmed that it will be releasing Kenji Tsuruta’s Wandering Island. And Kodansha Comics has licensed Hiro Mashima’s Fairy Tail Zero prequel. The English Light Novels site has an interview with light novel translator Stephen Paul. And Shojo Beat posted the first part of an interview with Arina Tanemura.

Quick Takes

Monster Musume: Everyday Life with Monster Girls, Volume 4Monster Musume: Everyday Life with Monster Girls, Volume 4 by Okayado. I suspect it’s at least in part due to the enormous success of Monster Musume that Seven Seas has been able to expand its catalog and take a few more risks with its licenses of late. Monster Musume has been a bestseller since the release of its very first volume. I’m not exactly a member of the manga’s target audience though and so I haven’t really been keeping up with it. But I can easily understand why it’s so popular. And there actually are a few things that I like about the series in addition to the things that I don’t particularly care for. I enjoy the absolutely atrocious puns and wordplay, for one. I also appreciate the variety of monster girls and that new races are always being introduced. Considering the highly-sexualized nature of the manga and the obsession with breasts and nipples, the story can at times be surprisingly sweet and endearing. Kimihito is a legitimately nice guy who honestly cares for the well-being of the liminals that he meets and is put in charge of. Ultimately however, there’s no question that Monster Musume is an ecchi harem fantasy.

Noragami: Stray Go, Volume 6Noragami: Stray God, Volumes 6-7 by Adachitoka. The fifth volume of Noragami ended with one heck of a cliffhanger so I was very much looking forward to reading more of the series. The sixth volume is excellent and probably my favorite volume of the manga to date. It brings Yato and Bishamonten’s battle to an effective close, but there will still be lingering consequences and repercussions of the fight that will have to be dealt with moving forward. After the intense drama, emotions, and action of the sixth volume, Adachitoka takes the seventh in a different direction, bringing back some of the manga’s humor and goofiness while still building the underlying tension of the series. As the next story arc begins, new characters and antagonists are introduced and additional backstories are explored. One particularly important revelation is that Yato’s very existence is somewhat precarious, which is why maintaining his ties to other people is so critical. I’ve largely enjoyed the series since the beginning, but Noragami is starting to get really good. I’m like seeing the evolution of the characters and the changing dynamics of their relationships.

Showa: A History of Japan, 1953–1989Showa: A History of Japan, 1953-1989 by Shigeru Mizuki. Each volume of Showa has been massive, but this final installment covers the longest period of time. In fact, the fourth volume provides an outline of more years than the first three volumes combined. 1953-1989 follows Japan through the country’s postwar period, the falls and rises of the economy, and the political turmoil and change of the era. Woven into the history of Japan is Mizuki’s own personal story. One of the reasons that the fourth volume of Showa especially appealed to me was that it explores a bit of manga history as well, following Mizuki’s start and growth as a mangaka including the management of a studio of assistants. Sanpei Shirato, Ryoichi Ikegami, Yoshiharu Tsuge, and many other prominent creators and editors all make appearances. Mizuki’s interest in yokai is shown to become increasingly important as well. The final volume of Showa also includes some of Mizuki’s color work, which I’d never seen before. Mizuki’s black and white manga is great, but some of the color illustrations are simply stunning.