My Week in Manga: June 15-June 21, 2015

 My News and Reviews

I was on vacation last week, much of which was spent in the middle of the woods in the middle of Ohio camping with my family. This meant I had very little Internet access. But even so, I did manage to post two reviews last week. My monthly horror manga review project continued with a review of After School Nightmare, Volume 4 by Setona Mizushiro. This was the first volume in the series that I hadn’t previously read before embarking on the review project. The second review was of Satoshi Wagahara’s prize-winning light novel The Devil Is a Part-Timer!, Volume 1 which is very amusing and silly. But, having watched the anime series last year, I already knew that.

As previously mentioned, I was occupied with other things last week, so I probably missed out on all sorts of interesting reading, news, and announcements. However, there were a few things that came across my radar before I left for Ohio. Kathryn Hemmann at Contemporary Japanese Literature wrote about The Cultural Cross Pollination of Shōjo Manga. And speaking of shōjo manga, Digital Manga’s most recent Tezuka Kickstarter is aiming to publish Storm Fairy. (The project also aims to reprint Unico with better image and color quality, which makes me wonder why Digital Manga didn’t do that for the first printing, but I’ve given up trying to understand Digital Manga’s decision making.) Finally, Udon Entertainment announced a new manga license: Shuji Sogabe’s adaptation of Persona 4.

Quick Takes

Attack on Titan: Junior High, Omnibus 3Attack on Titan: Junior High, Omnibus 3 (equivalent to Volumes 5-6) by Saki Nakagawa. Out of all the various Attack on Titan spinoffs, Junior High is the one that probably has the smallest audience overall and is the one that is the most uneven for me specifically. Sometimes the manga can be a slog to get through, but sometimes it’s absolutely hilarious. At its best, Junior High can actually make me laugh out loud; I keep reading the series for those moments because when Junior High is funny, it is very funny. The manga continues to be a very weird mix of Attack on Titan and a generic school setting with all of the standard tropes that that entails. Sometimes the combination works better than others. This particular omnibus features the school culture festival, a battle of the bands, eating contests and cooking competitions, club activities, lots of cleaning, and school rivalries among other things. I was very pleased to see that characters and storylines from other Attack on Titan spinoffs like No Regrets are now being incorporated into Junior High as well.

Lies Are a Gentleman's Manners, Volume 1Lies Are a Gentleman’s Manners by Marta Matsuo. Since for whatever reason Digital Manga often seems to be hesitant to include “Volume 1” in the title of a new manga, I didn’t initially realize that Lies Are a Gentleman’s Manners is actually an ongoing series in Japan. The first volume stands well enough on its own, but I do hope that any subsequent volumes will be licensed as well. Despite the fact that neither of the leads in this boys’ love manga are particularly likeable—Jonathan, an unscrupulous medical student selling drugs to his fellow classmates, and Paul, his equally unscrupulous (and married) college professor who uses that fact to blackmail him into a relationship—I actually do want to read more. Though some of the situations are unquestionably unsavory, the manga can also be very funny and even sexy on occasion. One of the most interesting things about Lies Are a Gentleman’s Manners is its setting. The manga takes place on America’s modern East Coast among the country’s wealthy, aristocratic upper class. While certainly a fictional representation, some of the social dynamics ring true.

TowerkindTowerkind by Kat Verhoeven. Originally self-published as a series of mini-comics, Towerkind was recently collected and released by Conundrum Press in a single volume. I was not previously familiar with Verhoeven’s work; Towerkind was a TCAF-inspired impulse buy. I’m very glad that I picked it up though because I’m loving this comic to pieces. Towerkind certainly won’t be to everyone’s liking, but there’s just something about the comic that I find oddly compelling. It’s surreal, strange, chilling, and ominous. Verhoeven effectively uses a small format to create a claustrophobic atmosphere that emphasizes the feeling of impending doom experienced by the characters. The volume opens with a foreword by Georgia Webber explaining the importance of the backdrop of Towerkind—Toronto’s first vertical neighborhood of high-rise apartments St. James Town—which helps to set the stage and tone for the comic itself. Towerkind follows a group of children gifted with unexplainable supernatural abilities who live in the towers of St. James Town while what may be the end of the world approaches.

Welcome to the N.H.K., Volume 5Welcome to the N.H.K., Volumes 5-8 by Kendi Oiwa. Having already read the original Welcome to the N.H.K. novel by Tatsuhiko Takimoto and having already seen the Welcome to the N.H.K. anime series (which, it turns out, was based on both the novel and Oiwa’s manga adaptation), I am already quite familiar with the story and characters Welcome to the N.H.K., but I somehow managed to forget just how dark and hard-hitting it can be. Ostensibly Welcome to the N.H.K. is a comedy, and it can be quite funny in a painful sort of way, but it deals with some pretty heavy subject matter including (but not limited to) drug use, self-harm, suicide, and mental illness. The second half of the series, while at times outrageous, tends to fall on the more serious side of things. Although I’ve always considered Welcome to the N.H.K. to be Satou’s story, the manga also places particular emphasis on Misaki’s story. It’s been a while since I’ve read or watched them, but I believe the manga actually has a unique ending that’s different from both the novel and the anime. All three version of Welcome to the N.H.K. are very good.

Attack on Titan: Junior High, Omnibus 2

Attack on Titan: Junior High, Omnibus 2Creator: Saki Nakagawa
U.S. publisher: Kodansha
ISBN: 9781612629186
Released: November 2014
Original release: 2013-2014

I was actually a little surprised by how much I ended up liking the first omnibus of Attack on Titan: Junior High. Created by Saki Nakagawa with input from Hajime Isayama (both of whom actually attended the same design school, though that fact is more of a coincidence than anything else), Attack on Titan: Junior High is specifically a parody spinoff of Isayama’s immensely popular manga series Attack on Titan. More generally, the series is also a parody of just about any manga with a school setting. Attack on Titan: Junior High is an odd mix of Attack on Titan and contemporary school life that actually manages to work much of the time. The second Attack on Titan: Junior High omnibus, released by Kodansha Comics in 2014, collects the third and fourth volumes of the series’ original Japanese edition, published in 2013 and 2014 respectively. Kodansha was kind enough to send me a review copy of Attack on Titan: Junior high, Omnibus 2 which, because I enjoyed the first omnibus, I was particularly happy to see.

Life isn’t easy for the human students of Attack Junior High. Not only do they have to worry about the normal sorts of challenges encountered at school—getting a passing grade in class, surviving the ire of upperclassmen, daring to ask another student on a date, ensuring their clubs aren’t suspended, and so on—they also have to worry about the rest of the student body, the Titans. It doesn’t help that Attack Junior High’s principal just so happens to be a Titan as well, meaning most of the administration looks the other way as the Titans terrorize the much smaller students, the victims of bullying and stolen lunches. But then there’s the beloved teacher Mr. Erwin Smith who on the surface seems to favor the Titans when in actuality he harbors a deep-seated hatred so intense that it rivals Eren’s. Considering Eren’s single-minded commitment to taking on and taking out all of the Titans, this is rather impressive.

There is no denying that Attack on Titan: Junior High is an utterly ridiculous manga series. In general, I think that overall I probably enjoyed the first omnibus slightly more. The novelty of the spinoff has worn off some, but the second omnibus still managed to make me laugh on multiple occasions. I do find that the series works best for me when it is directly riffing on the original Attack on Titan manga and its fandom rather than playing around with more generic story tropes. Granted, from time to time those parodies can be entertaining, as well. But ultimately Attack on Titan: Junior High tends to be rather uneven with its humor. Sometimes the manga can be absolutely hilarious, but just as often the attempts at comedy just aren’t very funny. Unsurprisingly, many of the jokes in the series require readers to already be very familiar with Attack on Titan to really appreciate them, but it’s those readers for whom the series is intended to begin with.

Attack on Titan: Junior High and its style of humor certainly will not appeal to everyone. It’s not particularly clever and much of the manga can only be enjoyed by readers who are already predisposed towards random, absurd, and frequently nonsensical comedy. The English translation and localization of Attack on Titan: Junior High is fairly loose in sections, adding a few jokes here and there and freely changing pop culture references to ones that will likely be more recognizable to Western audiences. I’m not sure how funny or effective some of the changes will be in a few years’ time since they often refer to recent events, but for now they are amusing. The best gags are those where Nakagawa takes the characters of Attack on Titan and emphasizes and distorts their personality quirks to extremes. One of the most appealing things about the original Attack on Titan is its ensemble cast, and that is true of Attack on Titan: Junior High as well. Fortunately, that’s something that doesn’t rely on timeliness.

Thank you to Kodansha for providing a copy of Attack on Titan: Junior High, Omnibus 1 for review.

Attack on Titan: Junior High, Omnibus 1

Attack on Titan: Junior High, Omnibus 1Creator: Saki Nakagawa
U.S. publisher: Kodansha
ISBN: 9781612629162
Released: March 2014
Original release: 2013

Attack on Titan: Junior High is one of several spin-off series inspired by Hajime Isayama’s hit manga Attack on Titan. Saki Nakagawa was selected to work on an Attack on Titan series after entering a manga contest. (Coincidentally, both Nakagawa and Isayama attended the same design school.) Although Nakagawa is the writer and artist for Attack on Titan: Junior High, Isayama has had some input into the series’ development. In fact, he was the one who suggested creating a manga along the lines of Tsutomu Nihei’s parody series Blame! Academy. And so Attack on Titan: Junior High was born—a comedy manga that somehow manages to combine Attack on Titan with contemporary Japanese school life. The manga began serialization in 2012 in Japan and the first two volumes were collected in 2013. Kodansha Comics is releasing Attack on Titan: Junior High in an omnibus edition. The first omnibus, collecting the first two Japanese volumes, was published in 2014 and Kodansha was kind enough to send me a review copy.

It has been five years since Eren was traumatized from an encounter with a Titan. Now that he’s in junior high he finally has the opportunity to seek revenge—both humans and titans are counted among the students and teachers of Attack Junior High. Of course Eren has other pressing matters to attend to even while his hatred of Titans remains at the forefront of his mind: making allies out of his classmates (which he’s not particularly good at), surviving epic games of dodgeball and choosing the perfect after-school club (which are both more dangerous than they might first appear), not to mention trying to stay on the upperclassmen’s good sides (which can actually be rather difficult). On top of all of that, Eren is a member of class four, a group of first years who all have their own quirks and issues to deal with. All together they’re a bunch of weirdos, but none of the other classes at Attack Junior High are much better. It’s really saying something when the Titans are the most normal ones at the school.

To really appreciate Attack on Titan: Junior High requires familiarity with the original Attack on Titan series and to some extent familiarity with Attack on Titan fandom as well. Some of Attack on Titan: Junior High will be funny, or at least amusing, even to those who haven’t read Attack on Titan, but the manga works best when it is directly parodying the original series and using it as its framework. All of Attack on Titan‘s most well-loved and reviled characters make an appearance in Attack on Titan: Junior High with some of their personality traits taken to a comedic extreme (although some were fairly over-the-top to begin with): Eren is a single-minded fanatic; Mikasa is overprotective of him to a fault; Sasha thinks about nothing but food; Jean is an arrogant ass; Hange succumbs to fits of ecstasy at the mere thought of Titans; Levi is obsessed with cleanliness, and so on. These characteristics were true of the original cast, too, but Nakagawa has stretched them to their limits in Attack on Titan: Junior High.

Nakagawa is clearly a fan of the original Attack on Titan series and is having a lot of fun with Attack on Titan: Junior High. In addition to using Isayama’s characters and taking them to their ludicrous yet logical conclusions, Nakagawa also uses pivotal and memorable scenes from Attack on Titan, giving them utterly ridiculous and absurd twists to emphasize their more comedic possibilities. The darkness, death, and destruction found in Attack on Titan is almost completely missing from Attack on Titan: Junior High. It can be just as frantic and frenetic, but as a parody the manga is much more lighthearted in tone. Even characters who have long been dead in the original series have an active role to play in Attack on Titan: Junior High; it seems as though no one really has to worry about dying in Nakagawa’s series. The worst thing that really happens in the first omnibus of Attack on Titan: Junior High is some stolen lunches. Granted, for students that can be an extremely tragic event, indeed.

Thank you to Kodansha for providing a copy of Attack on Titan: Junior High, Omnibus 1 for review.