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

My News and Reviews

Last week was a two-review week here at Experiments in Manga. I read and loved Ellery Prime’s Gauntlet, the first novel to have both started and finished in Sparkler Monthly. I’m not sure the review really does the book justice—the story is difficult to write about without spoiling it—but Gauntlet is really good stuff. Ever since reading the novel, I haven’t been able to get it out of my head. (Coincidentally, both Gauntlet and Jen Lee Quick’s marvelous comic Off*Beat are currently on sale!) The second review posted last week was of Setona Mizushiro’s After School Nightmare, Volume 2. So far, the series remains a disconcerting but compelling work. The manga has a lot of dark, psychological drama, which I tend to enjoy, although that can also make it a difficult read from time to time. Many of the characters simply aren’t very nice people. The review is a part of my monthly horror manga review project; next month it will be Mushishi‘s turn again.

On to other interesting reading and news from elsewhere online! The Young Adult Library Services Association has released its 2015 Great Graphic Novels for Teens. The annual list is always worth a look. The manga for 2015 include All You Need is Kill, My Little Monster, My Love Story, Seraph of the End, Summer Wars, Voice Over! Seiyu Academy, Wolf Children: Ame & Yuki (the only manga included on the top ten list), and World Trigger. Over at Organization Anti-Social Geniuses, Laura from Heart of Manga provides The 2015 Shoujo Manga Forecast, a comprehensive overview of the shoujo manga that has so far been announced for this year, listed by publisher and expected release date. And on the Vertical Tumblr there is a post Reviewing the “Best Manga of 2011” from a licensing angle which I found to be particularly fascinating. Speaking of Vertical, three new licenses!—Seraph of the End light novels, Ninja Slayer manga, and KizuMonogatari.

Quick Takes

Air Gear, Volume 32Air Gear, Volume 32 by Oh!Great. This is actually the first volume of Air Gear that I’ve ever read, and the only other manga by Oh!Great that I’ve been exposed to is the very beginning of Tenjo Tenge. From that limited experience, I expected there to be violence and a fair amount of fanservice in Air Gear, and there certainly is. Since I’m not particularly familiar with Air Gear, its plot, or its characters, unsurprisingly I was a bit lost reading the thirty-second volume. It didn’t help that Oh!Great’s use of flashbacks and flashforwards seems haphazard, making it difficult to maintain a firm grasp on the manga’s chronology, and therefore was not as effective as intended. There are only five more volumes in the series and even though I’m unaware of all of the details, it is quite obvious that there has been a tremendous buildup to reach the thirty-second. The volume concludes at least one major battle and leaves several important characters dead. Even though I wasn’t able to follow everything that was going on story-wise, I could still appreciate Oh!Great’s dynamic artwork (beginning with the stunning cover illustration) and the series’ over-the-top action. If nothing else, Oh!Great can draw.

Assassination Classroom, Volume 1Assassination Classroom, Volumes 1-2 by Yusei Matsui. The junior high students of class 3-E are the academic underachievers and juvenile delinquents whom no one else in the school wants to deal with, but they’re apparently also the only ones who have any chance of saving the world from being destroyed. The teens have less than a year to assassinate their teacher, a superpowered tentacle creature who plans on disintegrating the planet after their graduation. Although he has a few weaknesses, Koro Sensei is extremely powerful, impervious to most weapons, and able to move at Mach 20. A successful assassination will require a significant amount of creativity and teamwork. Surprisingly, even though he intends to destroy Earth, Koro Sensei is actually a great teacher who seems to genuinely care about his students, challenging them to better themselves and encouraging them not only in their studies but in their assassination attempts as well. Assassination Classroom is a strange but enjoyable series. 3-E is a class of losers and outcasts who, when given the opportunity and shown that someone actually believes in them, are able to overcome challenges even if they haven’t figured out a way to kill Koro Sensei yet.

From the New World, Volume 6From the New World, Volumes 6-7 written by Yusuke Kishi and illustrated by Toru Oikawa. The manga adaptation of From the New World frustrates me immensely. The story is fantastic, the setting intriguing, and the atmosphere incredibly dark. But overall the manga just isn’t very satisfying, suffering from tonal imbalance and uneven worldbuilding and plot development. Although there’s still some ridiculous fanservice—Saki’s breasts in particular are constantly being emphasized to the point of distraction—these volumes fortunately are mostly lacking in the explicit sex scenes found throughout the rest of the series that seem completely out-of-place and interrupt the narrative flow of the story. The final volume with its dramatic conclusion of the war between the morph rats and the humans, would have been one of the strongest in the series except for the fact that the last chapter, which serves as a lengthy epilogue, slightly fumbles what is perhaps the series’ biggest twist. Quite a few of the reveals in the final volumes likely would have been more powerful if they had been encountered earlier in the story. In the end, I still think what I really want is to read Kishi’s original novel.

Stones of PowerStones of Power by Isora Azumi. A few years ago I read and enjoyed the first quarter or so of Stones of Power when it was initially being serialized in the Gen anthology. The manga has since been collected into a single volume, including material that I believe hadn’t previously been released. Stones of Power is admittedly unpolished and its artwork fairly generic, but there are things I really like about the manga. It mixes the mundane with the supernatural in rather curious ways, especially in the beginning. Fujita is a young man with a passion for fish who ends up being hired to maintain the aquarium at a small cafe. That might not be a particularly strong hook for most readers, but I happen to really like fish and used to keep a tank of my own. It just so happens that the fish Fujita’s been put in charge of are actually dragon gods and the two siblings he works for are fox spirits. From there Stones of Power spins off into an increasingly strange and dangerous situation in which Fujita, who apparently has an unexpected affinity for the occult (or at least the dragons), is unwittingly dragged into a battle between the foxes and an ancient power that threatens the life of an innocent young girl.

My Week in Manga: September 8-September 14, 2014

My News and Reviews

Two reviews were posted at Experiments in Manga last week. Coincidentally, they both happened to be for works that are a bit disconcerting. First up was my review of Boogiepop and Others, the light novel by Kouhei Kadono which launched the entire Boogiepop franchise. The book is a fantastic mix of science fiction, mystery, and horror with a particularly interesting narrative structure. I’ll definitely be tracking down more of the series to read. The second review was a part of my Year of Yuri monthly review project. I took a look at Erica Sakurazawa’s Between the Sheets, one of the very first josei manga to be released in English. It’s a story about obsessive love and is legitimately disturbing, but in an entirely different way than Boogiepop and Others.

I’ve been super busy at work recently (actually, life in general has been pretty busy) so I’ve not been able to keep up with a lot of manga news, but I did catch a couple of license announcements from this year’s YaoiCon. SuBLime has a new slate of digital and print manga to look forward to (I was particularly excited to see a Tomoko Yamashita manga licensed; sadly, I think it’s digital-only at this point) and Digital Manga will be releasing a collection of Kou Yoneda’s No Touching at All side stories, among other things. Also, Mangabrog posted translation of a Q Hayashida interview from a few years ago. As a fan of Hayashida’s Dorohedoro, I was very happy to have a chance to read the interview.

Quick Takes

From the New World, Volume 4From the New World, Volumes 4-5 written by Yusuke Kishi and illustrated by Toru Oikawa. I continue to be completely torn by From the New World. There are parts of the manga that I absolutely love, but there are several things that frustrate me immensely and greatly inhibit my enjoyment of the series. I am not a prude and am generally not offended by fanservice, but the sex scenes in From the New World seem so incredibly out-of-place. I know that sexual relationships are an important aspect of the worldbuilding in From the New World, but the manga does not integrate them very well at all. I can only assume the original novel handles it better. Thankfully, the sex scenes in the manga are relatively rare. Unfortunately, they are very difficult to ignore and are only ever shown when young girls are involved. From the New World does much better with the story’s science fiction and horror elements. It is dark and disturbing, and these two volumes are particularly graphic and violent, as well. Despite my reservations—of which I have quite a few—I do plan on finishing the series. There are only two more volumes after all.

Kinoko Inu: Mushroom Pup, Volume 1Kinoko Inu: Mushroom Pup, Volume 1 by Kimama Aoboshi. The first volume of Mushroom Pup may very well be one of the oddest manga that I’ve read recently. And even though I enjoyed the volume, I’m still not exactly sure what to make of it. Calling Mushroom Pup quirky would be putting it extremely lightly. Hotaru Yuyami writes and illustrates horror books for children, but ever since his beloved dog Hanako died his creative impulse has completely left him. One evening a strange pink mushroom growing in his garden turns into an even stranger intelligent dog-like creature which attempts to help Yuyami get over his loss in some very bizarre ways. (This isn’t even attempted to be explained.) Also invading Yuyami’s life as he tries to grieve is his childhood friend-cum-editor and a mushroom researcher (with an amazing mohawk) who just so happens to be a huge fan of Yuyami’s work. For all of its strangeness, Mushroom Pup is actually rather subdued and even the humor tends to be straight-faced, which in some ways makes it even funnier. At the same time, it’s also a bit melancholy and heartwarming.

Raqiya: The New Book of Revelation, Volume 1Raqiya: The New Book of Revelation, Volumes 1-2 written by Masao Yajima, illustrated by Boichi. One Peace Books doesn’t tend to do much in the way of marketing or press releases, so it seems as though the publisher’s manga appears almost out of nowhere. Raqiya is a five-volume series focused around a young woman named Luna who seems to be the harbinger for the end of days. She has caught the interest of a small but extreme cult of heretical Christians as well as the attention of a secret and heavily armed Catholic organization charged with hunting down such heretics. It’s interesting to see Christianity play such a huge role in a manga, even if it is a highly fictionalized version of the religion. There’s also plenty of destruction and action in Raqiya—explosions, gun fights, car chases, and so on. Boichi’s artwork is effectively dynamic and extremely intense, if occasionally a bit over the top. Raqiya is definitely a violent and extreme manga; Boichi doesn’t hold back. Boichi is a Korean artist now working and living in Japan. His series Sun-Ken Rock has been available digitally, but Raqiya is his first manga to be released in English in print.

UQ Holder!, Volume 1UQ Holder!, Volumes 1-2 by Ken Akamatsu. Technically a sequel of sorts to Negima!: Magister Negi Magi (or at least set in the same universe), UQ Holder! seems to stand completely on its own and requires no knowledge of the earlier series. (Which is a good thing seeing as I haven’t read it.) So far I am fairly underwhelmed by UQ Holder!, though there are a few things I like about the series. Akamatsu’s fight and action sequences can be fairly entertaining, for one. Also, I tend to enjoy manga that explore the repercussions of immortality, which UQ Holder! is set up to do. Unfortunately, it hasn’t quite followed through on that potential yet, despite a wide variety of different types of immortals and immortality being introduced (vampires, genetically modified humans, cursed beings, and many others). In general, the story of UQ Holder! is lacking a clear direction with far too many different genre elements, tropes, and cliches being forced to share the same series. It doesn’t help that the goals and motivations of the series’ protagonist are left deliberately vague as well; Akamatsu tries to make a joke of it, but it either doesn’t quite work or just isn’t funny.

My Week in Manga: March 24-March 30, 2014

My News and Reviews

Posts last week at Experiments in Manga included a new manga giveaway as well as two new in-depth manga reviews! There’s still time to enter the giveaway, too. Head over to the Battle Angel Alita Giveaway to enter for a chance to win the first omnibus in Yukito Kishiro’s manga series Battle Angel Alita: Last Order. As for the reviews: I took a look at the most recent Moyoco Anno manga to be released in English, Insufficient Direction. It’s an autobiographical manga about her married life with Hideaki Anno and is quite funny. I adore Anno’s work, so was happy to learn a little more about her. I also wrapped up my Manga March Madness project. I was rather pleased that I managed to pull it off. Every weekend in March I reviewed a volume of Takehiko Inoue’s basketball manga Real. Since there were five weekends in March and I started with the first volume in the series, my last review for the project was for Real, Volume 5. I hope I was able to at least begin to express why Real is such a fantastic manga in my reviews, because it really is a phenomenal series.

Speaking of Takehiko Inoue, David Brothers, writing for Comics Alliance back in 2010, had a great article that was recently brought to my attention again—From Samurai to Shooting Hoops: Takehiko Inoue, Art Chameleon. As for other things found online: Nahoko Uehashi (the author of Moribito) won the 2014 Hans Christian Andersen Author Award, which is a pretty big deal. As usual, Organization Anti-Social Geniuses had some great manga content last week. I particularly enjoyed What Manga Publishers Can Actually License in The US and Advice on Manga Editing, From Manga Editors. Tokyopop’s Stu Levy participated in a recent “Ask Me Anything” on Reddit. The daughter of Osamu Tezuka opened a drawer of her father’s desk that had been locked since 1985 and found some pretty cool stuff. And finally, I was pointed towards a brief biography of Takashi Nagasaki, who works closely with Naoki Urasawa.

Quick Takes

Berserk, Volume 37Berserk, Volume 37 by Kentaro Miura. I love the early story arcs of Berserk and continue to enjoy the series, so I’m always excited when another volume of the manga is finally released. After reading the thirty-seventh volume, I’m particularly anxious to get my hands on the next installment, whenever that may be. The battle between Guts and the rest of the crew against the sea god and its minions reaches its climax in this volume. They are aided by the merrow, Berserk‘s mermaids. Even though Miura’s version of mermaids is fairly traditional, though perhaps slightly more fish-like, I did like them. The thirty-seventh volume also contains a long flashback to Guts’ past as a young mercenary, which I particularly enjoyed reading. It’s set during a time when magic and the supernatural were more hidden and uncommon in the world, though hints of it could still be seen. The end of the volume also turns towards the current activities of Griffith’s army, which recently hasn’t had much prominence in the manga. After so much action and fighting, which I do enjoy, I’m very glad to see more story and plot development.

Black Sun, Volume 2Black Sun, Volume 2 by Uki Ogasawara. It’s been quite a while since I read the first volume of Ogasawara’s boys’ love manga Black Sun. I had a few issues with the story itself, mostly that the lead characters’ relationship moved a little too quickly from lust to possible love, but overall I thought the manga had good potential. I particularly liked the setting of Black Sun, a medieval fantasy inspired in part by the Crusades. Ogasawara’s artwork was also excellent, with particular attention given to the beautiful details of clothing and weaponry as well as attractive, muscular men. When I read the first volume of Black Sun I didn’t actually realize that it was a first volume. I appreciated it’s somewhat ambiguous ending, but was ultimately glad to discover that there was more to the series. The ending of the second and final volume is much less ambiguous, and much happier than I expected that it would be. Black Sun is part of Digital Manga’s 801 Media imprint, so unsurprisingly there is a fair amount of sex to go along with the plot. And Black Sun actually does have a plot. The relationship between Jamal and Leonard plays out against a backdrop of war and political intrigue.

From the New World, Volume 2From the New World, Volumes 2-3 written by Yusuke Kishi and illustrated by Toru Oikawa. I was very torn over the first volume of the From the New World manga. I absolutely loved its dark tone, but found the blatant, pandering fanservice to be a bit off-putting and out-of-place. Thankfully, the fanservice in the second volume is greatly toned down. The outfits worn by the young women are still fairly ridiculous and revealing, though, especially when compared to the male characters who tend to be covered from head to toe in oversized clothing. The lesbian sex returns in the third volume, but it makes much more sense within the context of the series than it did in the first volume. Part of this is because the worldbuilding has progressed significantly. From the New World suffers a little from large info dumps, but at least all of the information is new to the characters, too, so it’s not as egregious a problem as it could be. I’m still loving the actual story of From the New World. The series atmosphere is creepy and ominous, contrasting magnificently with what is supposed to be a perfect and pristine society. What humanity is willing to give up and the terrible steps that have been taken to maintain that system are now being revealed.

Swan, Volume 13Swan, Volumes 13-15 by Kyoko Ariyoshi. In Japan, Swan lasted for twenty-one volumes, only fifteen of which were released in English. It’s too bad that CMX folded before the series could be completely released. Swan is fantastic, and I’m very glad for the fifteen volumes that were translated. These last three volumes of the English edition follow Masumi as she travels to New York with Leonhardt to continue her study of ballet following the aftermath of the Tokyo World Ballet Competition. It’s the beginning of an important new story arc. Masumi has grown tremendously as a ballerina as well as a person, but her time in the United States presents new challenges. Her foundation is in classical ballet but now she is faced with modern ballet which is completely outside of her experience. She has trouble understanding modern ballet and so struggles greatly with its performance. Also introduced in these volumes are new characters and even a potential new love interest, which offers another set of problems for Masumi to deal with. Swan is a beautiful and surprisingly intense series; I was very impressed by it.

Arakawa2Arakawa Under the Bridge x Bridge, Season 2 directed by Akiyuki Shinbo. I enjoyed the first season of Arakawa Under the Bridge a great deal. I very much enjoyed the second season, too, but for some reason wasn’t quite as taken with it. I’m not really sure why that is though since not much really changed between the two. Arakawa Under the Bridge is still funny and absurd. I still like the humor and the characters. While the first season focused on Rec as he gets to know everyone living along the banks of the Arakawa River, everyone’s personalities and quirks have been well established by the start of the second. Maybe it’s that sense of newness and discovery that the second series lacks. But then again maybe not: the second season introduces new cast members as well as a storyline that provides an ongoing framework for some of the gags. (Ultimately it doesn’t really end up going anywhere, though.) One of the things that particularly amused me about the second season of Arakawa Under the Bridge is that Rec has more or less become a shoujo heroine, complete with flowers and sparkles. Nods to Riyoko Ikeda’s series are right at home alongside references to Fist of the North Star and other “manly” anime.

My Week in Manga: November 25-December 1, 2013

My News and Reviews

To start things off, I would like to thank everyone who voted in the poll to pick my next monthly review project. I am very pleased to announce that over the next year I will have a series of reviews that focuses on yuri and lesbian comics and manga. A Year of Yuri took an early lead in the poll and earned just under half of the votes. I’m now in the process of determining exactly which comics I’ll be reviewing for this project. Nothing has been finalized yet, but ideally there will be a good variety of both old and new titles. I’d also like to thank those of you who took time to comment on the poll as well. I was sincerely interested in reviewing all of the choices; taking into consideration all of your input and suggestions, I’m currently working on other ways to review some of the manga outside of a monthly review project. I had fun with the poll, so thank you again for indulging me!

There was a mix of different posts at Experiments in Manga last week. Of particular note, the monthly manga giveaway—a Fairy Tail Feast—is currently in progress. I completely underestimated the popularity of Fairy Tail; I’ve never had so many people turn out for a giveaway before. Not even for Tezuka. There’s still time to enter for a chance to win volumes thirty, thirty-one, and thirty-two of Hiro Mashima’s Fairy Tail manga. And as a bonus the winner of the giveaway will also receive a copy of the anime movie Fairy Tail: Phoenix Priestess! November’s Bookshelf Overload was also posted last week as was my review for Ichiya Sazanami’s manga Black Bard. It’s a bit of a mess, but I still had a lot of fun reading it; I couldn’t resist the combination of music and magic.

Since last week was Thanksgiving here in the United States (my favorite holiday!) I was doing quite a bit of traveling. So, I probably missed out on a lot of the week’s manga news. But there are still a couple of links that I’d like to mention here: The most recent Speakeasy Podcast focused on Crunchyroll’s new manga project. And over at Manga Bookshelf proper, Melinda Beasi posted a Status Update & Station Identification which includes a shout-out to Experiments in Manga which joined the Manga Bookshelf family a few months ago. (She also described my mind as “deeply eloquent” which absolutely made my day. Hopefully I can continue to live up to her expectations!)

Quick Takes

Attack on Titan, Volume 9Attack on Titan, Volume 9 by Hajime Isayama. The mysteries keep piling up in Attack on Titan. It makes me wonder how long Isayama will be able to keep the series going without it collapsing under its own weight. The more ideas and plot twists he adds to the story, which can admittedly be very exciting, the less focused Attack on Titan becomes. I have no idea how much Isayama has thought through to the end or how much he is making up as he goes. It’s very possible that he could he write himself into some sort of absurd corner. That being said, I am hooked on the series and I really want to know what’s going on. This particular volume reveals more about some of the secondary characters, especially Sasha, Connie, Krista, and Ymir. It also provides the setup for what will be some very big plot reveals. The artwork in Attack on Titan continues to be incredibly uneven, which is unfortunate. There are a few brilliant panels and the titans are appropriately disconcerting, but the artwork remains one of the manga’s weakest points.

From the New World, Volume 1From the New World, Volume 1 written by Yusuke Kishi and illustrated by Toru Oikawa. Honestly, I am more interested in reading Kishi’s original From the New World novel (and I’m still hoping that it will one day be licensed), but it’s the anime and manga adaptations that are currently available in English. After reading the first volume of the manga, I want to read the original novel more than ever. From the New World has a fantastically dark ambiance. I also have an established fondness for dystopias and tales of survival. Unfortunately, the level and intensity of fanservice in the manga feels out of place distracts from what could be an extremely intriguing premise. Saki’s clothing choices in particular are ridiculous and could hardly be described as functional. (Bizarrely enough, some of the outfits aren’t really all that attractive, either.) I’m not even going to try to explain Maria’s underwear. Still, all of the moments in between the nonsensical bath and sex scenes are legitimately engrossing. I do plan on continuing on with From the New World for at least a little longer.

Gold Pollen and Other StoriesGold Pollen and Other Stories by Seiichi Hayashi. The first volume in PictureBox’s Masters of Alternative Manga, Gold Pollen and Other Stories collects four of Hayashi’s short manga from the late sixties and early seventies—”Dwelling in Flowers,” “Red Dragonfly,” “Yamanba Lullaby,” and the three chapters from the unfinished “Gold Pollen”—in addition to an autobiographical essay by Hayashi and an essay by the series’ editor Ryan Holmberg. I am particularly grateful for the inclusion of these essays for they reveal some of the semi-autobiographical aspects of Hayashi’s manga that I would have otherwise missed. It is clear that his mother and the concept of what a mother should be influenced him greatly. Each of the manga included in the volume deals with motherhood at least tangentially if not directly. While the manga share some similar characteristics and themes, each is distinctive in both storytelling and art style. Hayashi’s use of color is also rather striking. Gold Pollen and Other Stories is an excellent start to the series; I’m looking forward to future volumes a great deal.

Mr. Flower BrideMr. Flower Bride / Mr. Flower Groom by Lily Hoshino. The powerful Souda family has an unusual marriage custom—in order to prevent disputes over inheritance, the younger sons in the family are partnered with male brides. The basic premise of the two Mr. Flower volumes could have easily been the basis for a comedy manga. But instead, Hoshino plays it straight, honestly addressing the personal challenges and issues that the characters have to deal with in regards to arranged marriage with the additional twist that they both happen to be the same sex. Mr. Flower Bride and Mr. Flower Groom follows two related couples with similar plots—both brides are already in love with their reluctant husbands and both pairs have to navigate jealousy and come to terms with their developing relationships. However, the stories do play out differently. The two Mr. Flower manga end up being rather sweet and even a little lovey-dovey in places, which is not to say that the newlyweds do not have their problems. I enjoyed both volumes, but Mr. Flower Groom has the more interesting gender dynamics of the two.

Kaiji: Against All RulesKaiji: Against All Rules directed by Yūzō Satō. If I had to choose, I think I enjoyed the first Kaiji anime series slightly more, though I liked the second one, as well. The stakes in the first series were incredibly high—the gamblers were literally risking their lives. To some extent this is still true in the second series, but for the most part the large amounts of money involved have become more prominent than life and limb. The ways of cheating, counter-cheating, and general manipulation of the games in the second series also tend to be much more outlandish, convoluted, and unbelievable than in the first. However, it is impressive for how long, and for how many episodes, a single pachinko game can be stretched. By the end of the series I was starting to anticipate some of the major plot twists and developments before they actually happened which unfortunately made the big reveals much less effective. Even so, there were still a few surprises in store and Kaiji remains an incredibly intense and dramatic anime.

The Crimson Labyrinth

The Crimson LabyrinthAuthor: Yusuke Kishi
Translator: Masami Isetani and Camellia Nieh
U.S. publisher: Vertical
ISBN: 9781932234114
Released: October 2006
Original release: 1999

The Crimson Labyrinth, written by Yusuke Kishi, was first published in Japan in 1999. Prior to the novel’s release, Kishi had won two Japan Horror Association Awards. He continues to be a bestseller and award winner in Japan both for his horror and for his speculative fiction. The Crimson Labyrinth was released in English in 2006 by Vertical with a translation by Masami Isetani and Camellia Nieh. The novel was Kishi’s English debut and so far remains the only work of his that has been translated, although Vertical is scheduled to release Tōru Oikawa’s manga adaptation of Kishi’s novel From the New World in 2013. The Crimson Labyrinth was my introduction to Kishi and his work. I was particularly interested in reading The Crimson Labyrinth after seeing it compared to Koushun Takami’s Battle Royale, a personal favorite of mine. Also, I tend to enjoy just about everything that Vertical publishes.

Forty years old and unemployed, Yoshihiko Fujiki never expected that answering a job advertisement would end up with him being drugged and abandoned in the wild. He wakes up alone with only a small amount of food and water and a Pocket Game Kids handheld game console to keep him company. Soon he encounters Ai Otomo who is also wandering alone and who has been given similar provisions. Following the instructions provided by the game console, together they navigate the labyrinthine corridors and valleys of the bizarre landscape in which they find themselves. When they reach the first checkpoint indicated by the console they discover another group of people waiting there. All together there are nine Japanese men and women and no one seems to be certain of what is going on, where they are, who has stranded them or for what purpose. What they do know is that have become unwilling participants in a perverse game of survival. If they want to stay alive they may very well have to turn on each other.

The Crimson Labyrinth is heavily influenced by extreme reality television as well as classic, text-based role-playing games. And just like those RPGs, the decisions made by the characters early on in The Crimson Labyrinth are the most crucial and will determine how the rest of the game will play out. At first the group of nine works together, but their cooperation quickly disintegrates. The group fragments into four smaller teams, each following a different path outlined by the game: survival, self-defense, food, or information. Game theory might suggest how the competition will progress and what will lead to the ideal outcome for all involved, but as Fujiki points out, game theory is nearly useless in their situation. It depends on people making logical and rational decisions after considering all the information available to them. Humans are most certainly not rational creatures, especially when faced with the unknown, consumed by fear, and fighting for their lives.

Most of The Crimson Labyrinth takes place over the course of a few weeks. As events and the game unfold, the novel is seen exclusively from Fujiki’s perspective. For a large part of The Crimson Labyrinth he doesn’t interact much with anyone except Ai. This is a little unfortunate since the utter hell the other teams are going through can only be inferred. But as the novel and the game progress, Ai and Fujiki come across shocking evidence that the other players are having a very hard time of it and that it didn’t take long at all for violence to erupt. The wilderness is filled with its own dangers, but it’s really their fellow humans that they need to be wary of. Terrible things happen in The Crimson Labyrinth. What makes it even worse is the fact that so many of them could have been avoided if only people were able to bring themselves to trust each other and work together. In the end, no one is entirely innocent of the deaths that occur. A quick read, The Crimson Labyrinth is an absorbing novel of horror and survival.