The Science of Attack on Titan

The Science of Attack on TitanAuthor: Rikao Yanagita
Illustrator: Maru Fujishima

Translator: Ko Ransom
U.S. publisher: Kodansha
ISBN: 9781632361851
Released: June 2015
Original release: 2014

Hajime Isayama’s ongoing manga series Attack on Titan has become a worldwide phenomenon, spawning multiple spinoff manga series, anime, live-action films, games, and other media and merchandise. The franchise has been such a resounding success that Kodansha Comics, the manga’s English-language publisher, has even broken its rule of not releasing anything that isn’t manga. The first exception was the Attack on Titan Guidebook: Inside & Outside. More recently, in 2015, Kodansha published Rikao Yanagita’s The Science of Attack on Titan as translated by Ko Ransom (who also happens to the translator for the guidebook and the Attack on Titan: Before the Fall novels, among other things.) Since I’m fascinated by Attack on Titan and its immense popularity, I was particularly glad to have the chance to read a review copy of The Science of Attack on Titan. The volume was originally published in Japan in 2014 and is the first work by Yanagita to have been released in English. Credited as the Senior Researcher of the Sci-F/Fantasy Science Research Institute, Yanagita is a fairly prolific writer who has authored other “The Science of” books as well.

The Science of Attack on Titan is divided into four main sections. The first and longest, “Surprising Titan Fundamentals,” focuses on the Titans, specifically investigating their strengths and weaknesses. Once Titans have been established as the fearsome creatures that they are, in the next section Yanagita asks and answers the question “What Should I Do If Titans Attack?!” Appropriately, this is followed by “Anti-Titan Measures: How Effective Are They Really?,” a section exploring in-series technologies such as the vertical maneuvering equipment. (Also included: an entire chapter devoted to the awesomeness of Levi.) The final section, “Simple Questions about Attack on Titan,” is a sort of catchall for remaining topics that didn’t really fit into the previously established categories. There are also shorter one-page investigations called “Lingering Fantasy Science Questions” scattered throughout the volume. Accompanying the text are relevant panels and pages taken from the Attack on Titan manga as well as additional illustrations by Maru Fujishima that can be quite humorous.

The Science of Attack on Titan, page 17Although the readers who will probably be the most interested in or at least the most likely to pick up The Science of Attack on Titan are those who are already familiar with Attack on Titan as a whole, it is only fair to give the warning that the volume does include spoilers for the franchise. Most are fairly minor, but there are a few major twists that are discussed as well. The Science of Attack on Titan is based on the original Attack on Titan series up through the thirteenth volume in addition to the first volume of the Attack on Titan: No Regrets spinoff manga, the Before the Fall prequel novels, and the Attack on Titan Guidebook. Unless readers are trying to avoid spoilers at all costs, they shouldn’t be too daunted by Yanagita’s thoroughness; only a basic knowledge of Attack on Titan, and its characters and setting is required to enjoy and understand The Science of Attack on Titan. There is no need to be well-versed in all aspects of the franchise in order to follow the book. The Science of Attack on Titan is approachable and friendly for novices in science, too.

The Science of Attack on Titan may be inspired by Attack on Titan, but for the most part Yanagita spends more time discussing real-world physics, chemistry, biology, history, technology, and such than he does Attack on Titan itself. The franchise simply provides an excuse or jumping off point to explore interesting scientific concepts and how they might or might not apply to the series. Unsurprisingly, Yanagita’s analysis shows that many aspects of Attack on Titan could be nothing but fantasy, but it’s very exciting when it appears that something from the series could actually work. The Science of Attack on Titan is written to be both entertaining and engaging, though how funny it is will depend on an individual’s personal sense of  humor. While Yanagita address serious science, he recognizes that Attack on Titan is a fictional work and that subjecting it to such critical scrutiny can be inherently funny. As a result, his approach in The Science of Attack on Titan is informal and comedic, but also informative. Ultimately, the volume’s greatest value is probably in encouraging those who are interested in Attack on Titan to discover just how cool real science can be. Even I learned a few things that I didn’t previously know.

Thank you to Kodansha for providing a copy of The Science of Attack on Titan for review.

Maria the Virgin Witch, Volume 3

Maria the Virgin Witch, Volume 3Creator: Masayuki Ishikawa
U.S. publisher: Kodansha
ISBN: 9781632360823
Released: June 2015
Original release: 2013

Maria the Virgin Witch is a three-volume manga series (four volumes if counting the sequel Exhibition) created by Masayuki Ishikawa. It was actually because the series was by Ishikawa, who is also the creator of Moyasimon (which I enjoy), that it first came to my attention. The first volume of Maria the Virgin Witch intrigued me, and the second ends with the heroine in a rather dire-looking situation, so I was very curious to see how the story would continue to play out in the third. Happily, Kodansha Comics was kind enough to send a review copy along to me. Maria the Virgin Witch, Volume 3 was originally published in Japan in 2013. Kodansha’s English-language edition of the volume was released in 2015. Despite being a short series, the narrative of Maria the Virgin Witch has the tendency to be a little unfocused, but I still find the manga to be consistently engaging. I especially appreciate the quirkiness of the series in general as well as the quirkiness of its characters specifically.

Maria had been warned by the Archangel Michael: If the young witch continued to interfere with the natural order of the world she would be struck down. However, so devoted to ending the long-lasting war between France and England, Maria continued to flaunt her powers, even while in the presence of Michael’s messenger Ezekiel. Now the time has come for her to face the consequences of her actions. She was, however, somehow able to survive what was intended to be a fatal blow from Michael’s spear. But she’s still vulnerable and must rely on the protection of her two owl familiars and the kindness of her fellow witches who don’t necessarily approve of her efforts to force a peace. Maria was at one point alone in the world—the Heavens, other witches, and even some of the humans she was trying to save all standing against her—but over time her earnestness and innocence has earned her some friends, a few of whom could have at one time been counted among her enemies. But even with their support Maria is beginning to lose her naiveté, realizing that bringing happiness to humanity may be more complicated than she initially considered.

Maria the Virgin Witch, Volume 3, page 154Maria the Virgin Witch has always been a peculiar mix of quirky humor and more serious philosophical and theological reflection. There are a lot of ideas that Ishikawa was able to work into such a short series, although at the same time it’s difficult to thoroughly explore all of them in only three volumes. (It actually makes me wonder if Maria the Virgin Witch was originally intended to be a longer story.) The third volume brings up questions about Maria’s family and backstory without really answering them. Also, apparently many if not all witches are loners, something that wasn’t clearly established until now. Maria’s close friendship with the English witch Viv develops suddenly, and their discussions about the true meaning of happiness and love come across as a little forced. It was as if Ishikawa needed to rush in order to make sure that the heart of the series was addressed and made absolutely clear, paring down the seemingly extraneous elements introduced earlier in the manga.

Although overall the narrative of Maria the Virgin With is somewhat uneven, in the end I did largely enjoy the series and I would like to read Exhibition as well. Since the very beginning of the manga, I’ve been particularly fond of Maria herself. While she and the other witches feel more contemporary in thought and appearance than the rest of the series’ setting, I do appreciated her struggle to come to terms with not only her own position in the world, but also the role of the higher powers of Heaven. It’s a debate that humankind has been wrestling with for ages and is one more link between the manga’s historical backdrop and the present day. Ishikawa explores the answer to this timeless question through Maria’s growth as a character. She begins as a young, determined woman seeking to right the wrongs of the world, becoming wiser and more mature as she is confronted with the often brutal realities of life. But importantly, Maria never loses her ideals or succumbs to despair, which is why so many people come to love her so dearly.

Thank you to Kodansha for providing a copy of Maria the Virgin Witch, Volume 3 for review.

Your Lie in April, Volume 2

Your Lie in April, Volume 2Creator: Naoshi Arakawa
U.S. publisher: Kodansha
ISBN: 9781632361721
Released: June 2015
Original release: 2012
Awards: Kodansha Manga Award

Your Lie in April is an eleven-volume manga series created by Naoshi Arakawa that began serialization in Japan in 2011. The manga is one of Arakawa’s earliest professional works. Even so, Your Lie in April would go on to win a Kodansha Manga Award in 2013 and in 2014 the series’ anime adaptation debuted. Although I haven’t actually seen it yet, it was the anime that first brought Your Lie in April to my attention. As a lover of both manga and music (in addition to being a musician myself), the basic premise of Your Lie in April appealed to me a great deal. I was glad that Kodansha Comics licensed the series since I’m always excited to see more music manga released in English. I largely enjoyed the first volume of Your Lie in April and so was happy to receive a review copy of the second as well. Your Lie in April, Volume 2 was originally published in Japan in 2012 while the English translation was released in 2015.

Kosei hasn’t played the piano publicly for years, having tried to give it up after the death of his mother and a disastrous performance in competition. He has become so psychologically distraught that he literally can no longer his own music; the sound seems to disappear when he begins to seriously play. Very few people actually know why Kosei no longer performs or competes, and his closest friends continue to encourage him to play despite his reluctance. Somehow Kaori manages to bully him into serving as her accompanist in the second round of her violin competition at the last minute. She’s a passionate and headstrong musician who other pianists find difficult work with, sometimes even refusing to accompany her. But Kaori wants to be remembered by her audiences and she is convinced that Kosei, who was once well-known as a child prodigy, can help her do that. Except that he’s never been an accompanist before, they’ve never practiced together, and he hasn’t even had the change to study the score.

YourLieApril2-68Though Your Lie in April can be somewhat melodramatic at times, I appreciate that Arakawa is leveraging the psychological states of the series’ characters in order to further the story. Kosei being thrust into the spotlight and once again experiencing the thrill of performance doesn’t simply make everything all right or solve his problems. If anything, it actually makes matters more complicated. He continues to be torn between wanting to play and never wanting to touch the piano again. Hovering over Kosei is the shadow of his dead mother, an abusive woman who demanded perfection from him and his playing. But she was also the person who first taught him to love music. By the end of her life she had become cruel, but Your Lie in April, Volume 2 reveals that before she became ill she was much kinder and gentler person. It doesn’t excuse how she eventually treated her son, though it does help to explain in part why Kosei remained and continues to be devoted to her throughout the pain and suffering that was inflicted upon him.

What little is known about Kosei’s mother so far in Your Lie in April provides an interesting counterpoint to what little is known about Kaori. They are both musicians, they both are partly responsible for drawing Kosei into the world of music and, as the second volume of the series shows, they both struggle with physical illness. However, whereas Kosei’s mother became cruel, Kaori’s illness has caused her to devote herself to her music, striving to leave a lasting impression on those around her. No matter what happens in the future, Kosei’s relationship with Kaori, like the one with his mother, will be a formative one. He, at least, will never be able to forget her. She is an inspiration dragging him out of his personal darkness. This is something that is visually reinforced in the manga as well. Kaori is almost always shown in the light, sometimes she even seems to be the source of light, while Kosei is frequently seen in shadow, especially when he is playing. But Kaori is challenging and changing him. The time may come when Kosei will be able to freely stand in the light, too.

Thank you to Kodansha for providing a copy of Your Lie in April, Volume 2 for review.

Maria the Virgin Witch, Volume 2

Maria the Virgin Witch, Volume 2Creator: Masayuki Ishikawa
U.S. publisher: Kodansha
ISBN: 9781632360816
Released: April 2015
Original release: 2011

I was somewhat wary when I picked up Masayuki Ishikawa’s manga series Maria the Virgin Witch to read. I wasn’t really sure what to expect from it, especially considering part of the story is explicitly focused on the heroine’s virginity and sexuality. No that that is necessarily a bad thing, it just has the potential to go very wrong, very quickly. But because the series is by Ishikawa, whose Moyasimon I enjoy immensely, in the end I decided to give Maria the Virgin Witch a try. (At some point, I’ll likely take the time to watch the manga’s recent anime adaptation as well.) Although there were a few things that bothered me about the series’ first volume, by and large I was intrigued and enjoyed the manga, certainly more so than I had initially anticipated that I would. I liked the basic premise of the manga, particularly the quirky characters, and so I wanted to see what Ishikawa would do with the rest of the series. Maria the Virgin Witch, Volume 2 was first released in Japan in 2011. The English-language edition of the volume was published by Kodansha Comics in 2015.

Having drawn too much attention to herself by dramatically interfering with the affairs and wars of humankind, the young, idealistic witch Maria has been given an ultimatum by the Archangel Michael. Maria as been forbidden to display her powerful magic in front of humans or else forfeit her life. Additionally, should she ever lose her virginity she will lose her powers as a witch, putting her in a position where she must either choose her own happiness or the happiness of others. Since Michael has better things to do than spend all his time watching over a rogue witch, he leaves his messenger Ezekiel behind to ensure that Maria follows the rules. Whether Ezekiel is actually successful is another matter entirely. Maria still feels very strongly about aiding those who ask for her help and bringing an end to the war between England and France. With some assistance from her familiars Artemis and Priapus, she is able to take advantage of a few loopholes in Ezekiel’s charge, but it’s likely only a matter of time before Michael puts a stop to that, too.

Maria the Virgin Witch, Volume 2, page 74Maria the Virgin Witch continues to be a strange combination of crude humor largely revolving around sex (or the lack thereof) and more serious philosophical and theological questioning. The introduction of Ezekiel allows Ishikawa to more fully explore Maria’s motivations and her view of the world and all that she believe is wrong with it. If God and his angels won’t step in to put an end to humanity’s wars and violence—even when people are praying for just that—Maria sees it as her responsibility to fulfill that role since it is within her power, albeit in a much more limited fashion. She acknowledges that she is no god; she is not omnipotent, neither is she omniscient. She can only do what she can. The second volume of Maria the Virgin Witch reveals that Maria is very much an outlier in her way of thinking. Other people and other witches who have the ability to influence the course of the war actually want to drag it out as long as possible. To do so is to their advantage. They believe the position held by Maria to be incomprehensible and incredibly naive. But some, including Ezekiel, find that their assumptions and beliefs are challenged by Maria’s idealism and earnestness and are forced to reexamine them.

Although the series is set during the Hundred Years War and references actual events and people, the second volume of Maria the Virgin Witch makes it very clear that the manga is less historical fiction and more fantasy fiction. While interesting, the worldbuilding of the series is actually a little confused, or at least not thoroughly explained. Magic has always been a large part of Maria the Virgin Witch, as have demons, monsters, angels, and other divine beings (including Valkyries for some reason), but the second volume introduces a mythical and mortal non-human race to the mix. There’s nothing inherently wrong with this, but it seems to come out of nowhere and means that the manga loses some if its focus, which is something that is particularly important for a short series like Maria the Virgin Witch to maintain. With only one volume in the main series remaining, I’m afraid that Ishikawa may not be able to fully develop all of the elements and themes that he is trying to incorporate. Even so, I still find Maria the Virgin Witch to be an intriguing although somewhat uneven series; I’m very curious to see how it ends.

Your Lie in April, Volume 1

YourLieApril1Creator: Naoshi Arakawa
U.S. publisher: Kodansha
ISBN: 9781632361714
Released: April 2015
Original release: 2011
Awards: Kodansha Manga Award

Your Lie in April is the first and so far only manga series by Naoshi Arakawa to have been released in English. Arakawa is still fairly early on in his career—Your Lie in April was only his third major work—but the series earned him a Kodansha Manga Award in 2013 for Best Shōnen Manga. The first volume of the eleven-book series was originally published in Japan in 2011. In English, the manga was released by Kodansha Comics in 2015. The entirety of Your Lie in April was adapted into an anime series between 2014 and 2015, which is how I first learned about the manga. My interest in the series primarily stems from the prominent role that music has to play in the manga. Music is something that is incredibly important to me and continues to be a major part of my life. Probably unsurprisingly, I tend to enjoy music manga. And so, I was particularly happy to receive an early copy of Your Lie in April from Kodansha for review.

Kosei Arima was a child prodigy, admired for his skill and success as a pianist, winning competition after competition. But ever since his mother died and he had a breakdown in the middle of a performance on stage when he was eleven, he hasn’t been able to play the piano. Not for others and not even for himself. Piano was such an integral part of Kosei’s life that he seems to be somewhat lost without it and he hasn’t been able to completely let music go. Several years have passed since then, leaving Kosei a rather withdrawn and gloomy young man. But then he meets Kaori Miyazono, an extremely passionate violinist who attends the same middle school that he does. Kaori plays the way that she wants to play, disregarding traditional interpretations and technique to make the music her own. Though he is still reluctant and hesitant, watching Kaori’s enthusiastic, free-spirited performances has reignited something within Kosei and she and his friends are determined to see him play once again.

Your Lie in April, Volume 1, page 6A particular challenge faced by music manga like Your Lie in April is expressing sound in a visual medium. It takes more than simply throwing notes on the page to effectively convey the feeling of music in a comic. For the most part, Arakawa handles this aspect of the series quite well. The music itself isn’t heard, but the expressions and reactions of the listeners and musicians, the impact created by the music, can readily be seen. Perhaps the best example of this in Your Lie in April, Volume 1 is Kaori’s performance during a violin competition. The violinists before her are poised and fairly reserved in their playing, but Kaori uses her entire body to emote and express the music. This and the stunned faces of the audience members make it very clear that her invigorated style is drastically different and unexpected. But while music is obviously an important part of Your Lie in April, the real focus of both the artwork and the storytelling is on people’s experiences of that music.

Kosei’s relationship with music, and specifically with playing the piano, is a complicated one. He is struggling with intense psychological distress and it is revealed very early on in Your Lie in April that his mother physically, and very likely emotionally, abused him as well, trying to force her own dreams onto her son. Whether he is aware of it or not, Kosei’s feelings towards music and the piano are very much tied up with his feelings towards his mother. Underneath a relatively calm exterior is a turmoil of conflicting emotions that includes both love and hatred and even some fear. Deep down, Koesi does still seem to have the desire to continue playing the piano, though he denies it to himself and to others. It’s something that he will have to face head-on eventually, but Kaori’s influence threatens to make it something that he will have to deal with sooner rather than later, perhaps even before he’s really ready. I am very curious to see how Your Lie in April continues to develop and the steps Kosei may take to overcome his trauma.

Thank you to Kodansha for providing a copy of Your Lie in April, Volume 1 for review.