Animenewsnetwork – Series/volume Review

The 100 Girlfriends Who Really, Really, Really, Really, Really Love You GN 1

Animenewsnetwork - Series/volume Review

Now I know what you’re probably thinking, just from looking at that title. 100? Really? That’s obviously some hyperbolic number meant to pull you in, right? There’s no way any series could actually introduce a hundred different girls and still function! And I get it. You’re a savvy consumer. You know big numbers like that are only ever there for a marketing pitch. It’s not like Yamada from B-Gata H-Kei ever slept with 100 guys in high school. If you’re my age you’re probably still haunted by the broken promise of 100 Good Deeds for Eddie McDowd. We all know how this works.

The thing is, you’re thinking about this premise with logic, and logic has no home in this manga. The 100 Girlfriends Who Really, Really, Really, Really, Really Love You runs off of pure, lovestruck insanity. I firmly believe the authors have read every single harem manga ever written, and in the process allowed a fungus to spawn inside their brains, eventually devouring their gray matter entirely and leaving a large, heart-shaped mushroom that can recite every line of To-Love-Ru by heart. On the surface, its premise might sound similar to other self-aware harem series like The World God Only Knows, but those stories still had their sanity. In this world, sanity left to buy cigarettes 10 years ago and never came home. So while Rentaro may “only” be up to three official girlfriends by the end of this first volume, I wholeheartedly believe this series intends to hit its titular goal some day, without caveat.

All that is to say that this series is goofy as all hell. It’s not trying to tell anything resembling a serious love story, and it wants to make that apparent immediately. The reason Rentaro is destined to have a hundred girlfriends is because the God of Love got distracted watching Laputa: Castle in the Sky, and accidentally put a couple extra zeroes in his Divine Spreadsheet. Shizuka, aka Girlfriend Numero Tres, is so shy she can’t speak, but instead of writing out her thoughts she has fully memorized her favorite fantasy novel, and flips through pages to point at different lines in order to communicate. When Rentaro realizes he only has a single “first kiss” to split between two girlfriends, he devises a Danganronpa-level double-blind scenario with sensory deprivation and random numbers to create Schrodinger’s First Kiss. This is a farce, it knows it, and if you can get on that wavelength it becomes a ton of fun.

This is very much a comedy of escalation, taking any given harem manga trope – the bashful girl with big boobs, the standoffish tsundere, the hapless lead who nonetheless attracts women like a fly catcher – and cranking up their inherent absurdity until they shoot the moon and becoming endearing through sheer intensity. Rentaro isn’t just a nice guy; he’s the nicest guy ever, willing to pull a week of all-nighters just to transcribe Shizuka’s book into a text file so she can use it with her phone’s text-to-speech function. In a bonus chapter, it’s revealed he’s been making doomed confessions since he learned to talk, and getting dumped from the literal crib. It’s not strictly a parody of harem conventions, but it’s deeply familiar with them and very happy to drive full force to their (il)logical extremes. It’s funny enough in its own right, but gets extra hilarious if you’re familiar with harem comedies and recognize just how off the ranch the series takes these familiar ideas.

The characters, while broad and simple, also do great in managing all that energy. While basically everyone with a speaking role is some kind of dumbass, they’re all their own distinct flavor of stupid, bringing strange ideas and perspectives to each chapter while still being able to play straightman to any other character’s brand of idiocy. That’s an important factor with a constantly expanding cast that promises to climb into the triple digits by the time it ends, and gives hope for 100 Girlfriends to have some longevity beyond this first volume. It also helps that they’re all written to genuinely love each other. In a story about 100-timing, Rentaro could easily come off as a crass jerk collecting girls like trading cards, but he’s such an over-the-top sap that you firmly believe he loves all his soulmates equally and without exception. The girls themselves take a while to warm up to the idea of polyamory, but by the end of the volume they’ve all come to like and accept one another. This isn’t what I’d call a wholesome series, but in its absurdity it has little patience to spare for meanspirited cynicism.

Yukiko Nozawa’s art also helps a lot in that department. Each of our (so far) four main characters has a distinct look and visual personality, which is critical in juggling so many characters with identical motivations. More importantly, the characters are wildly expressive, able to contort their faces into both cute and grotesque visages depending on what the joke calls for, and it sells the comedy perfectly. Their background in porn is also readily apparent, as this is still a Ghost Ship release. While it’s not as blatantly raunchy as fellow Jump+ title 2.5 Dimensional Seduction, all three of Rentaro’s girlfriends are hot for his harem protag bod, and are down to clown in the very near future. There’s a LOT of heart-shaped pupils in this book, if you know what I mean. But that all ultimately gels with the humor and energy of the rest of the jokes, and since everyone here is very obviously enjoying themselves, I can’t complain. Just maybe don’t read this in polite company.

100 Girlfriends is a premise that, by any metric, should not work. But through a sharp sense of humor, writing that 1000% commits to the bit, and excellent art, it doesn’t just work: it excels. If you’re a fan of more typical romcoms, you’re likely to get a kick out of it, but even if you hate harem series, it may just manage worm its way into your heart through confidence alone.

Gotta Protectors: Cart of Darkness

Animenewsnetwork - Series/volume Review

There’s no shortage of modern creations that evoke the look and sound of late 1980s games. Not so much as those games actually were, but as players fondly remember them—with bigger characters, better animation, and smoother play than any 8-bit system could manage. Are they neo-retro? Noveau 8-bit? Nostalgia traps? Whatever the movement might be called, Gotta Protectors was there at the start, with Protect Me Knight in 2010 and Gotta Protectors in 2016. And now Gotta Protectors: Cart of Darkness arrives on the Switch so thick with retro attachment that the initial screen mimics a fuzzy TV signal, while the game itself wastes few screens before its princess protagonist squeals that her castle is moving “faster than a hedgehog on blast processing.” If that sparks a grin of recognition, Gotta Protectors is for you.

But what about the players who don’t have fond memories or excessive fixations surrounding that particular era of video games? What does Gotta Protectors: Cart of Darkness offer them? As it turns out, plenty.

The realm of Magicadia is one of those unfortunate kingdoms rarely not under siege by evil forces, as Princess Lola and her lineup of eight loyal guardians learn at the opening of Gotta Protectors: Cart of Darkness. As with previous games, the princess must be defended from onslaughts of hostile foes, yet their new quest brings an offensive push. Instead of just sitting in her castle, Lola rides it along railroad tracks to reach the enemy stronghold. And then she gleefully slams her fortress into the enemy castle until her target explodes in a mushroom cloud. Princess Lola is clearly a go-getter.

To defend the princess on her castle-train journey, the player picks three of the Gotta Protectors and fends off a furious horde of creatures. Switching out with a simple command, the heroes span familiar archetypes with humorous touches; the short-range fighter, spell-hurling mage, and long-range archer play it relatively straight, but the ninja speeds around in merely a mask and a loincloth, the unflatteringly named Oldguy lumbers forth with a toy horse bolted around his waist, and the shaman-like oracle wears a candle headband and a constant expression of guilty, wild-eyed terror.

There’s an undeniable charm to the mixture of simple appearances and complex details in Gotta Protectors. It’s there in the stages themselves, which start off with basic tasks as the heroes ferry the princess onward and beat back enemies. But then the opposition expands from pushover goblins to include swooping bats, bomb-throwing bears, warping succubi, buzzing grim reapers, clustering zombies, and the occasional giant crab or equally oversized creature.

The stages grow in similar fashion, gradually introducing switches to change the castle’s path, gates that must be unlocked, pits that only a hero can bridge, and other gimmicks that transform each level into an fast-paced puzzle. It’s fitting, then, that the heroes have more than their attacks. If you want to play defensively, you can erect barriers to slow down enemies, who’ll busy themselves pouncing on the roadblocks while you plan your next move or simply strike at your foes. And if the barricades are damaged, you can fix them by attacking them—just like in real life.

Gotta Protectors is similarly calculated in its appearances. The characters and enemies are small and simple in design, but it’s all so the game can cram as many characters as possible into the playfield without a hint of slowdown. It’s easy to lose sight of a hero in the chaos of goblin throngs, glowing minotaurs, flying arrows, bursting spells, and the constant power-up cheers of the princess and her locomotive castle. Yet even if you’re confused, the game offers quick solutions. When in doubt, button-mashing will usually get you through. Perhaps a little too often.

Slamming attacks into hundreds of enemies per stage is repetitive at first, but again Gotta Protectors builds things up. With three characters on your team, it’s best to go for the variety of standard attackers, long-range projectile experts, and one of the less easily pigeonholed characters like the Oracle or Prince. Each mission brings in cash that can be used to upgrade your defense, attack power, barricade sturdiness, or the power of the princess herself. Unfortunately, those stat boosts disappear after each four-part mission, dismantling any level-ups you’ve purchased.

Long-term satisfaction lies elsewhere. Save your money, and you can upgrade characters’ actual abilities in a fairy-run shop. Each Gotta Protectors hero has several stock playstyles that carry over once purchased, and you’re free to make a custom profile with your favorite acquired moves. It brings great variety to the gameplay, even if you’re only allowed three characters in battle.

Gotta Protectors is rarely lacking in cute style, whether it’s the pleasantly detailed graphics assembled by programmers with decades of experience, the punchy soundtrack from industry legend Yuzo Koshiro, or just the characters quibbling. Princess Lola and her companions touch on everything from sequel pitfalls to self-censorship jokes, and during gameplay they’ll uncover little game cartridges with suspiciously familiar titles like “Balloon Fright” and “Jujitsu X.”

Even the interstitials are strewn with callbacks: pausing the game brings mock-ups of magazines, and title cards show fictional and often absurd fan art (including a piece apparently from singer and The Wizard star Jenny Lewis). It’s a constant flow of in-jokes, but it’s never an empty reference parade like Ready Player One or Hi Score Girl. Instead, Gotta Protectors is reminiscent of Game Center CX and its DS titles, paying constant and humorous tribute to an era while still standing on its own.

The game openly invites multiplayer at all times, with three spare slots at the screen’s top even when you’re playing solo. It’s only more hectic with other characters on the playfield, and that’s entirely the point. Having other heroes along to help and annoy each other patches up the occasional monotonous attacking, and the online play seemed smooth at this writing.

Gotta Protectors: Cart of Darkness carefully and forcefully looks back to the days of the NES and Famicom, and that’s hardly a rare aim these days. Yet there’s much more to the game than the overloaded trappings of an 8-bit game too technically impressive to have actually existed back then. It’s refreshingly complicated and relentlessly charming despite some repetition, and that earns it a wide-reaching recommendation, even for those players who won’t get the joke in an NES-like cartridge called “Hoagie’s Aisle.”

Muteking The Dancing Hero

Animenewsnetwork - Series/volume Review

If you haven’t seen a single episode of Muteking the Dancing Hero, you may think I’m making it up, or that I’m imposing Western values onto the show when I say that it’s about how technocrats have gentrified San Francisco. You may think there’s no way a remake of a cheesy 1980s tokusatsu anime is specifically about an issue occurring in a specific American city, or that there’s some kind of allegory I’m missing, or that they’re just telling a story they think is fun with no message. However, watch an episode or two and it becomes abundantly transparent that there is no subtlety to the clear and direct parallels between the show’s story and what is happening in real life.

It’s not unprecedented either; Muteking is one of a long line of Tatsunoko reimaginings that tackles matters of social injustice, the most famous example being Gatchaman Crowds and its sequel Insight. It telegraphs its intent clearly from the very start, when Muteki arrives in Neo San Francisco. He tries to stop for food at a fast food joint painted and decorated all in black, a sharp contrast to the colorful cityscape around him. On his way to his grandmother’s, he catches a public broadcast by Seo, the Steve Jobs-esque CEO of the tech company OctInq – an obvious analog to Apple – announcing their new portable music device and encouraging everyone to throw away their Walkmans and boomboxes. Throughout the show, Seo introduces a number of tech-driven schemes spoofing on trends like wellness retreats and gimmicky restaurants, all designed to melt the people of Neo-San Francisco into a literal blob of complacency, furthering OctInq’s nefarious ends. Muteki transforms into Muteking via his boombox-wielding friend DJ’s DJing, roller skates around while singing, and in the end defeats the blob and returns the people back to normal.

The first four episodes follow a fairly simple structure, with Muteki transforming toward the end of the last half of each episode, doing his song and dance as Muteking, and defeating the villain without much effort. This adherence to formula in the latter half of the episodes – and the ease with which Muteking wins – leave Muteki free to explore the vibrancy of Neo San Francisco, meet new people, and grow as a person. He develops a crush on Aida, the waitress at a local diner, and befriends a group of siblings who hang out at a run-down arcade, and its proprietress Vivi.

The setting seems to have been designed by someone with a great love of and nostalgia for San Francisco before the tech companies moved in. The areas where OctInq have yet to take hold are awash in bright colors, populated by artists and folks in alternative dress, many of whom are visibly and unabashedly queer and gender non-conforming. The dismal black-and-gray color scheme of OctInq is a direct criticism of the “sleek minimalism” aesthetic pushed by tech companies, and may even be inspired by “gentrifier gray,” a cool gray tone popular with property owners in San Francisco for painting over units in once-colorful neighborhoods. Much like in reality, once-thriving neighborhoods like the one where Vivi’s arcade resides have become empty and depressing. It is, perhaps, an over-romanticization of San Francisco’s past, when the city has always been rife with issues, but it is earnest and endearing to see nonetheless.

As one would expect from a series with the word “dancing” in the title, music plays a huge role in the series. The opening and ending are both certifiable bops with great visuals to go along with them; the former in particular tends to get stuck in my head for days, but to be honest I rarely ever mind; it’s just that good. The diegetic music is strong as well, with a variety of genres ranging from the old-school tokusatsu charm of Muteking’s theme song to the electronica of the EDM singer Aurora. At least I think it’s EDM; I know nothing about electronic music outside of synthpop and keytars… It does sometimes feel judgmental about what the story considers good, creative music versus engineered, corporate music, but that’s a relatively minor quibble.

By now, you may be wondering if there’s anything to be gotten out of the show if you don’t care about gentrification, the looming technocracy, or San Francisco. My answer is, of course, “Yes, but also you should care.” The storytelling and character development are snappy and fast-paced, always ready to surprise you the moment you suspect it’s falling into formula. Transforming into Muteking is a, well, transformative experience for Muteki as he comes to embrace his role as the dancing hero, and watching his relationships with the people around him is always fun. His romance subplot with Aida is less compelling and, to be honest, comes across as half-hearted compared to his bonds with DJ, Vivi, and the four siblings.

The story divides up neatly into three acts, and the final act is where it gets into trouble. The problem with telling a story that’s an allegory for an ongoing social problem is eventually you have to resolve the conflict and create a satisfying conclusion. Gentrification by the technocracy and the homogenization of culture do not have tidy answers, or at least not ones that are fun to depict onscreen. Instead, the story descends into pure spectacle, embracing tokusatsu tropes left and right without regard for coherence or thematic consistency. This wouldn’t be so bad, but a lot of the twists at that point feel random, contrived, or cliché as the story builds to its climax. By the end, the threat may be eliminated, but a lot of emotional loose ends never get fully tied up.

In light of that mess of an ending, it’s hard to say whether or not I’d fully recommend Muteking the Dancing Hero. It’s certainly a fun show, but what’s more, its themes may hit hard depending on your life experiences. While I’m not from San Francisco, I live in a city that has undergone a lot of gentrification due to tech companies over the last decade. I’ve watched the gay clubs and watering holes in the historic LGBT neighborhood be replaced with wine bars and upscale apartment buildings as the area becomes less safe for people to be who they are. Almost every house on my block is being knocked down and replaced with identical glossy, expensive townhouses. Muteking recognizes the damage that does to a city, but just doesn’t know what to do with it.

Sakamoto Days GN 1

Animenewsnetwork - Series/volume Review

Taro Sakamoto was once the most feared assassin in Japan…until he fell in love. Now he’s an overweight convenience store owner, married with a young daughter, and he’s very happy to keep it that way. Sadly, the crime world isn’t all that keen on letting him retire in peace, so it’s a good thing that Sakamoto kept all his old skills in working order, even if his wife has threatened to divorce him if he ever kills anyone again.

If SPY x FAMILY was told exclusively through Yor’s point of view, it might be a bit like this. Sakamoto Days is of the same ilk of goofy crime parody, albeit with more of a The Way of the Househusband flair due to Sakamoto being officially retired. For the most part, he’s actually very happy with his new domestic life, so much so that he’s happy to bring in other former assassins to work at the convenience store, like psychic assassin Shin and former Chinese syndicate member Xiaotan. But just because his wife Aoi has made him promise not to kill anymore doesn’t mean that he can truly put the past behind him, and that’s largely where the humor of the premise comes in. Naturally Sakamoto still has all of his old skills in perfect working order, to say nothing of a secret arsenal hidden behind the façade of his otherwise unremarkable convenience store, which comes in handier than anyone ever imagined.

Not that he actually needs guns, knives, or any other form of traditional weaponry. The first member of his old profession to find him (in the book, at any rate) is Shin, Sakamoto’s former partner in the underworld, who has a very special gift: clairvoyance and telepathy. Shin can read any mind within a certain distance, and through his powers we see that although Sakamoto is retired, he still has his share of thoughts about the way things used to be – and most of those involve taking someone out with a pen or a quick twist of the neck. He doesn’t seem to have any real longing to return to his violent ways; it’s presented as more of a habit, much in the same way we might say something like, “I’m gonna kill him” about someone who annoys us without any intention to actually commit murder. Not that that makes Shin feel any better about catching a glimpse of Sakamoto stabbing him in the neck with a pen, but the disconnect between the blank-faced expression (or non-expression) Sakamoto typically wears and his violent visions makes for some pretty good comedy, especially when you throw in Shin’s reaction to it.

Once Sakamoto takes Shin in, convincing him of the joys of domesticity with Shin basically becoming Sakamoto’s brother in the way he fits into the larger family, Shin becomes just as cozy as his old partner in his new life, and by the end of the volume, his devotion to keeping this new life has become his new way of living. Most of the time he’s just doing the convenience store clerk thing, but every so often he and Sakamoto (and Xiaotan, the Chinese girl Sakamoto takes in later in the volume) have to whip out the old skills in order to keep things comfy and peaceful. Luckily both of them have kept their instincts honed, enabling them to save Sakamoto’s wife when her bus is hijacked and defend against a variety of killers, among other feats. The bus incident is one of the highlights of the volume, with Sakamoto donning an anime mask to keep his identity hidden and accidentally catching the eye of zealous young beat cop Nakase (who is convinced he must be bad despite the evidence to the contrary) and Aoi just sort of hanging out on the bus during the attack, positive that her husband will rescue her before anything bad happens. Later, a trip to take Hana, the Sakamotos’ young daughter, to a theme park necessitates that Shin and Xiaotan defend the family against janitor assassins and pizza guy assassins, which is every bit as funny as it sounds.

The only real fly in the ointment here is that Sakamoto’s weight is used for a few less-than-excellent jokes. Not that the book is under any obligation to be in good taste at all points (and the reverse may be true, given the premise), but it doesn’t actually need gags about Sakamoto’s doughy body to be funny, making it an unappealingly low blow in an otherwise entertaining volume. There’s the obligatory joke about him rapidly losing weight and then quickly gaining it all back that just isn’t as clever or amusing as the rest of the book, and all in all the fact that Sakamoto appears out of shape while still clearly being a top-tier assassin is more than enough commentary on his appearance. It may not help that the art is pretty middle of the road, good enough to give us a sense of movement and the ridiculous nature of Shin and Sakamoto’s feats (like the very good rollercoaster fight) but nothing remarkable otherwise.

Sakamoto Days’ first volume is, for the most part, a lot of fun, and even the unnecessary weight jokes can’t really bring it down. It establishes a good cast of characters (I very much doubt we’ve seen the last of Nakase the enthusiastic policewoman), has an entertaining premise, and it’s executed well. If you’re in the mood for a domestic assassin comedy, this is worth picking up.

Ragna Crimson GN 4

Animenewsnetwork - Series/volume Review

Ragna Crimson continues to find new ways to impress me. My reception to the series has only grown more positive as each volume expands its world, broadens its cast, and enriches its conceptual landscape. This volume was my favorite by far, and honestly I can’t wait to see what’s next.

For starters, the resolution of the Ragna versus Lady Ultimatia fight delivers. The core conceit of Ragna’s escape is precisely the sort of ridiculous technicality that I like to see in my action comics. “You put in an exception to your time freeze that would allow other dragons of your blood to be immune to it, but because I still have lingering blood from the failed transformation that technically includes me as well!” It’s superheroic legalese in the best sense, and the payoff is yet more bombastic fight sequences with monsters, dragons, and acidic slimes.

It has to be said that Crimson steals the show once again. As a character, Crimson is much more expressive (in every regard) than Ragna, which allows for a broader emotional range as well as a greater variety of story beats and dialogue. Ragna is direct, perhaps too direct; he is a man consumed by his mission, making him rather one-note. Which is fine, because Crimson is there to pick up the slack and deliver on all the other great moments. Crimson’s comedic timing pairs well with their sadistic streak, making them one of those characters who is entertaining to follow in success or failure, because their commentary is so engaging.

The Silverware Princess is also a terrific addition to the cast. First of all, she is a great character in her own right. Her powers are really cool conceptually and look great on the page. A perfectionist who makes all her own armor and weapons, with an intense, piercing gaze and the ability to sense auras – it’s a great mix of character traits and abilities. She’s also a breath of fresh air compared to most of the other cast members outside of Ragna and Crimson, which fall into three broad camps: mustache-twirling dragons, incompetent humans, or servants of Crimson. The Silverware Princess and her Argentum corps have a much more complex relationship with Ragna and Crimson. She and her crew are not exactly enemies, being hunters who also are trying to protect humanity against the dragons. But they are not exactly allies either. For one thing, Princess Starlia is uncompromising in her pursuit of perfection and purity, whereas Crimson is “the ends justify the means” personified. They need each other’s help if they want to triumph against the shared enemy of the dragons, and that lends a wonderful tension to their scenes hanging over the already gripping tension of whether Crimson can convincingly lie.

There’s also some genuinely great comedy to be found in the princess and Ragna’s interactions. Now, I’m not usually a fan of the love-at-first-sight trope: I think the way it is usually handled is awkward at best, and often downright confusing – at worst, it can be actively detrimental to the lovestruck subject’s characterization. However, the trope actually works here because it is rooted in previously established character traits. In terms of his power set, we know that Ragna is fused with his silverine sword. Emotionally, we know Ragna is a man on a crusade with a single-minded ambition to defeat all dragons – essentially a living weapon against them. So to have the Silverware Princess see his clarity of purpose and find that compellingly attractive makes sense, especially as she too is just as driven in the pursuit of her own goals. She sees him as an equal in dedication, and there’s a spark there. Most importantly, it leads to one of the funniest visual gags in the entire run: Ragna as a sword with arms and legs. It also manages to be accurate in-text as it is the Silverware Princess’s perspective and does not break the fourth wall. Kobayashi’s little doodle in the final pages of them running together gave me a nice belly laugh.

The art has been consistently incredible from the word go and nothing has changed here. The level of detail and dynamism in every panel is truly impressive; Ragna Crimson’s art has set a high visual bar, especially in the action sequences, and shows no signs of stopping. Watching Ragna and Nebulim face off or the progenitor get carved to pieces is premium visceral entertainment. The varied backdrops of the capital and Crimson’s pocket dimension are lavishly detailed, whether in the midst of peace or destruction. God bless Kobayashi for the extraordinary craftsmanship on display in the art and pacing.

There are also no shortage of truly artful flourishes. I loved the sequence when Ragna broke through the time lock and all of the lettering left the word balloons and became these geometric, angular sentence structures, as if they have transcended the bounds of comic language and time itself. It was disorienting and difficult to read, sure, but creative liberties like that do a terrific job in underscoring the events on the page. Another memorable moment is the near-splash page where Crimson set off the bombs on the castle walls. The body language, the shadowed face with the shark’s teeth beneath the veil, the huge rolling explosions – it’s a gripping image in a work full of them.

I don’t have much to complain about in this volume, but here is the ongoing issue of Ragna’s friend Leonica. I understand her singular mission to protect someone in an abstract sense, but in practical terms she is just kind of a placeholder character to me. She shows up briefly in this volume, says some forgettable dialogue, and then we get back to the stuff I actually care about. I’m also broadly unsure of the actual power or capabilities of the characters in any given scene. Everyone is on such a high power level and we have not had a lot of prior conflict to set benchmark expectations. Given how quickly the tables can turn it can make for mild whiplash trying to figure out what is about to happen on a moment-to-moment basis. The sheer visual spectacle of it all largely makes up for this, but I’d be lying if I said that I had a feel for the tempo of these battles.

Ragna Crimson is getting better with each entry, and I think I can safely say I’m a fan of the series now.

Sensei's Pious Lie GN 1

Animenewsnetwork - Series/volume Review

“As it went on…I grew less and less sure. I knew it was wrong and I didn’t want to be doing it…but I thought maybe it was me who made it happen. Even though I was scared, even though I wanted to run…I stayed and I couldn’t figure out why.”

I’ve read a lot of difficult manga for Anime News Network, titles like Haru’s Curse and My Broken Mariko that deal frankly with trauma and abuse. Sensei’s Pious Lie is very much in the same vein and will likely be an uncomfortable read for most people with any experience with sexual abuse and abusive relationships. This is further exacerbated by how realistically its main characters are written, especially Misuzu.

Misuzu is what would commonly be characterized as an “imperfect victim”; in other words, what’s happening to her is very much sexual assault and coercion, but unlike stories that cast victims of these crimes as broken and pitiable, Misuzu is cynical and resentful. Readers probably won’t like her for the first portion of the book, and they might even outright hate her by the time she’s interacting with her male student Niizumi, a victim of a similar crime. We’re so used to the narrative that people who experience trauma gain a deeper sense of empathy for others that it’s easy to forget that anger, even when it’s misplaced, is just as likely. So when Misuzu is confronted with a teen boy who explained the context of his relationship with his employer’s wife and Misuzu rebukes his experience, it’s frustrating. As an adult, I was incredibly disappointed in her for not helping him when she could and disregarding him based on his gender. I understood her feelings based on her experiences, but I certainly didn’t like them.

Besides Misuzu’s gender bias, Sensei’s Pious Lie broaches a number of other hairy topics that we don’t often see in manga because it complicates the issues we want to be clean-cut, like consent. Misuzu was forcibly raped by her friend’s boyfriend (now fiancé) Hayafuji. She was otherwise inexperienced and the manga illustrates that Hayafuji specifically targets introverted virgins. What begins with a traumatizing encounter develops into an uncomfortable pseudo-relationship borne out of casual threats to reveal what happened. Misuzu hates Hayafuji and she hates how her body now responds to him leading to these blurry encounters where she’ll meet him on her lunch break and let him fool around with her in his car. Misuzu isn’t an active participant; we never see her touch him in a romantic or sexual way and she leaves each encounter angry with herself. Namely, Misuzu can’t pleasure herself and has grown fearful and distrustful of her own genitalia, which she sees as betraying her.

There are several instances throughout this first volume where, as the story expands its cast, it looks to interrogate the sexual politics of day-to-day interactions between students and adults. When is taking ownership of your sexuality empowering? One of Misuzu’s students, Midorikawa, is an active swimsuit model who has self-assurance beyond her years in what could be considered similar to the body positivity movement. Yet Misuzu thinks to herself that such confidence is a privilege; her student was gifted with a body that meets current beauty standards, after all, and she might feel differently if magazine staff and her peers weren’t telling her that she’s gorgeous. This same idea is mirrored by Mika, a girl who is on the chubby side but is willing to use her body if it’ll keep her boyfriend, or at least be considered as his “back-up.”

Visually, while Akane Torikai’s art has a great amount of fluid emotion in its lines, there are enough lingering and detailed depictions of assault that it can be difficult to tell if the story is trying to be honest or lurid. There are multiple instances of blank-staring and tear-filled eyes following depictions of bare breasts or other non-consensual sexual activity. Basically, if there’s a chapter with an extended focus on Hayafuji, he’s probably going to assault someone and the manga is going to show all of it.

As a first volume, I think Sensei’s Pious Lie does a lot of interesting, if uncomfortable, things that make it worth a read. The length of the manga does give me pause – I’m not sure I’d be up for eight whole volumes (and this first one’s page count is on the higher end at over 300 pages) of Hayafuji destroying women’s lives. If you want to see a nuanced look at sexual relations that doesn’t shy away from the healthy and unhealthy approaches people experience, then there’s value to be found here, but it nonetheless remains a hard sell.

Waccha PriMagi! Episodes 13-26

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If there’s one thing Waccha PriMagi! isn’t afraid to do, it’s to have a variety of characters who don’t just embody a single trope or stereotype. Matsuri, our main heroine, may actually be the least interesting and nuanced of the bunch with her perky attitude and overwhelming enthusiasm for all things PriMagi, and this second set of episodes does a very nice job of using her as a sort of blank slate to offset the other girls. But even Matsuri has her moments, such as when she cries after losing to Hina, making this show impressive in the range of emotions and motivations that it allows its characters.

In the previous set of episodes, we got a better handle on Myamu, and why she is the abrasive person she is based on her upbringing. This time we see the same courtesy granted to Amane and Miruki, although the term “abrasive” only counts for the latter. Miruki is the epitome of the stereotypical social media star: her entire personality seems to be crafted solely for the purpose of raking in the views and accolades, and in many cases she deems them enough to establish who she is as a character. Fortunately for us, that’s not true of this series; like Myamu, Miruki’s present persona is one that she’s developed in reaction to things that happened in her earlier life. Ignored by her classmates and hurt by that, Miruki set out to create a personality that no one could overlook, dying her black hair pink, putting in blue-colored contacts, and completely reinventing herself as the super sweet and cute model of female perfection. If this sounds like a cynical move on her part, it absolutely is framed that way, but with the added information about her hurt at being a social nonentity, we can see why being noticed is such a big deal for her. The disconnect between Miruki’s public persona and her inner thoughts is indicative of her own dissatisfaction with herself, and her desire to use the PriMagi to overcome her past is the equivalent of Lemon dissociating when overwhelmed – a coping mechanism. Miruki is constantly looking for perfection because she thinks that’s the only way to win approbation, and if that makes her come off as grating and self-centered, it’s also understandable.

Amane, on the other hand, is an interesting character because the whole PriMagi thing seems less important to her than it is to the hyper-competitive Hina, the enthusiastic Matsuri, and the trying-to-cope Lemon and Miruki. Introduced to the event by another girl, Amane’s entire reason for continuing seems to have been Midoriko. There is at least some indication that Amane may have had romantic feelings for the other girl: Midoriko’s departure to study abroad prompted Amane to nearly retire from Primagi, but the entire “secret flower garden” metaphor that pervades their storyline, as well as the Takarazuka elements to Amane’s costuming and prince persona, also seem to support that possibility. Amane does ultimately decide to continue to perform, but again this feels more like a tribute to an important person than anything else, and assuming that she is intentionally coded as a lesbian, that’s a nice bit of representation for the show’s intended audience.

The primary narrative thrust of this cour is the preparation for a major PriMagi competition, initially just between the five girls we follow for most of it. That Auru Omega is an episode twenty-five addition to the competitors feels significant of the darker story that may be lurking just beneath the perky magical idol girl performances – Auru is the daughter of the bearded man we’ve seen running the show from the start, and she herself has been lurking in the background mostly covered up. Her late entry into the contest practically screams nepotism (she hasn’t even officially debuted when she announces that she’s competing) and it should make us wonder what Omega’s real goal is in sponsoring the PriMagi. It’s certainly worth remembering that the point of the Treasured/Earthly team-ups is to collect power, which, if you think about it, isn’t exactly a good guy kind of goal, especially when the energy farming seems to be mostly targeting young girls. (This could be a very interesting post-Puella Magi Madoka Magica use of the classic magical girl and bears keeping an eye on from an academic perspective.) When Auru states that her entire act is based on analyzing data from popular PriMagi performances and incorporating the most successful elements, we get a major hint even before her father flat-out says that he’d like to eliminate the Treasureds from the entire operation, although why that’s a goal remains to be seen.

This entire brewing debacle goes a long way to giving Hughie more of a purpose for being in the story. Hughie (who goes between teen boy and blue wolf forms) is in charge of the training camp where most of these episodes take place, and that seems to be a deliberate attempt to remove the girls from Omega’s control. Hughie makes a good show of following Omega’s directives, but he’s also plainly doing his own thing, which may have been in service of stopping Omega’s plans. (His bonding with/crush on Touma is just an added bonus.) In episodes twenty-five and twenty-six, we see Hughie much more toned down from his previous appearances both in looks and attitude, and he seems very concerned about what’s going to happen now that he can no longer run as much interference – and possibly because Auru and her calculated performance have messed with his plans. Add in that the entire PriMagi scene hasn’t done superstar Jennifer any favors and the massive amounts of tension simmering just beneath the surface, and it looks like we’re gearing up for something major to happen before too much longer.

Waccha PriMagi! in its second cour continues to be more than the sum of its parts. Despite Touma still feeling like dead weight, the plot is getting more ominous under its candy coating, and the characters are all impressively well-drawn – Auru could even be read as ASD representation should you be so inclined. The songs are a bit repetitive and the CG dancing remains awkward at times (although it’s easy to see and hear the bits and pieces Auru is taking from everyone else), but this is a solid magical idol girl story that’s building its story and characters impressively well. It’s going to be a long haul, but if you like the genre, this is worth giving a chance.


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Let’s get something out of the way first. Those who jumped on this movie on its staff pedigree alone are going to be disappointed. This is a Gen Urobuchi project in the same way as Gargantia on the Verdurous Planet or Aldnoah.Zero. While there’s no doubt that Urobuchi had a hand in the film’s creation – at the very least he offered opinions and feedback on the sci-fi elements – he’s not the sole screenwriter on the project like much of the promotional coverage might lead you to believe.

There are three screenwriters on Bubble, most notably Gravity Rush’s Naoko Satō, and this movie feels like it has more in common with her work than anything Urobuchi has created. You aren’t going to find anything dark, emotionally or artistically, much less thematically provocative in Bubble. It’s a film with a myriad of fantasy and sci-fi concepts but fails to rise above them to create truly compelling character relationships, a death knell for what is at its core supposed to be a romance.

The central couple is Hibiki, the detached parkour ace for the Blue Blazes team, and Uta, a “mermaid.” She’s not truly the fantastical creature, but Bubble draws heavily from Hans Christian Andersen’s original story and its more tragic conclusion. Familiarity with the original fairy tale serves as a stand-in for Uta’s characterization and the groundwork for her romance with Hibiki, but the pair never truly “click” in a meaningful way. Uta is shown as practically feral, only gaining human speech after spending many evenings reading books on board the Blaze Blue’s boat. Her character can be simmered down to an infectious sense of wonder and an adeptness for parkour, but Uta lacks any real sense of self needed to make her a compelling character.

Hibiki fares somewhat better. The staff balanced his status as a parkour prodigy with a surprisingly well-understood depiction of auditory processing disorder. The movie comes closest to emotional sincerity when Hibiki tells Uta about his childhood and growing up with his disorder and its inclusion is mirrored somewhat when Uta finds that she cannot touch other people. Their conditions offered opportunities for the film to explore how they have to navigate relationships and environments, but the story fails to utilize them to their full potential. We get some sense that Hibiki is comfortable living in this former city environment because he no longer has to block out trucks, traffic, and mobs of people, but it doesn’t inform his character enough to feel as meaningful as it could.

If Hibiki and Uta seem like slivers of characters, the supporting cast fares even worse, a possible consequence of editing and time constraints in what is already a two-hour movie. The team leader of Hibiki’s parkour group, KAI, appears to have suffered the most in this area. Throughout the entire film he harbors an inexplicable sense of jealousy revolving around Hibiki that is never really elaborated on. It doesn’t seem to be caused by his teammate’s parkour abilities; instead, he seems jealous when others dote any kind of attention on Hibiki. It feels vaguely romantic but there’s no rhyme or reason given to it. Similarly, we never get a sense why Shin and Makoto, the two adults monitoring these Lost Boys, are involved with them at all. Makoto appears to be a scientist monitoring the various phenomena going on in the area and Shin is a former parkour player, but why they’ve found themselves caring for these kids specifically, and why the kids even listen to them, is left to our imagination.

Visually, Bubble is a tough act to beat. Those who missed director Tetsuro Araki’s influence in Attack on Titan’s action scenes will find similar thrills throughout the movie in the form of “battlekour,” the parkour-meets-capture-the-flag sport played to win resources from opposing teams. The matches expertly utilize a smooth, 3D camera to put the viewer in the players’ shoes. Often the high-flying stunts will be shown from a first-person perspective, letting viewers leap and roll from the roofs of skyscrapers to gravity-defying debris. The result will leave you holding your breath and it’s easy to see how this specific concept made for an enticing film premise. I only wish Bubble had decided to go all-in as an action film and built its central concept around wayward parkour gangs. If The Undertakers team were elevated to actual antagonists, the film could have found its footing in presenting a compelling conflict.

Beyond its thinly-realized characters, Bubble lacks a genuine conflict for most of its runtime. Hopping between fleshing out its sci-fi concept, parkour, and Uta’s inevitable return to the sea, the movie is unable to settle on any of them long enough to build sufficient tension. The final act gives viewers some semblance of an explanation about what turned Tokyo upside down and reinforces its connection to The Little Mermaid but it’s too little, too late. There’s plenty of visually beautiful moments, both quiet and exciting, but Bubble’s failure to connect is rooted in trying to be too many things at once and never quite exceling at any of them.

The Case Files of Jeweler Richard GN 1 & 2

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Even if you were only mildly entertained by the anime adaptation of Nanako Tsujimura’s The case files of Jeweler Richard light novels, the manga is worth picking up. While the anime did a fine job of working with the story, the manga version shows that this is a work that may function better in writing, as it allows you to take things at whatever pace best enables you to absorb the nuances of the story. On the surface, this isn’t much more than an odd couple piece about an enthusiastic young man who rarely thinks before he speaks and a calm, collected jeweler, but if you look a little deeper, it’s more of a character study, as it explores both Seigi and Richard’s relationship and the way that Seigi understands the world around him.

The basic premise of the series is that Seigi rescues Richard from a group of drunks on the street. When he learns that Richard appraises jewelry and gemstones, he asks him to valuate a pink topaz ring he inherited from his grandmother. This leads to Richard offering Seigi a job at his shop (which only opens on weekends); from that point on the plot follows Seigi as he learns more about human nature through their attraction and attachment to jewelry under Richard’s occasionally reluctant tutelage. At one point Richard flat-out tells Seigi that the shop is not a social anthropology classroom, which nicely sums up his relationship with the other man – mostly willing to teach but not to the point where Seigi can’t figure things out for himself. Richard’s more interested in guiding Seigi’s learning rather than strictly imparting it whenever he has a question.

There’s a real sense that neither man quite knows how to define their relationship. Richard does at times strictly enforce the notion that they are solely employer and employee, but his tsundere tendencies often give the lie to that idea. Many of Richard’s strictures hide a desire to make sure that Seigi is all right – that he’s eating, taking care of his health, and other similar concerns. Seigi, for his part, seems to want to see Richard as a friend, something he feels the other man rebuffs, although he is at least marginally aware that his words can at times make Richard uncomfortable. Seigi’s biggest issue is that he suffers from foot-in-mouth disease, meaning that he rarely, if ever, thinks before he speaks and ends up saying things that can be misinterpreted. Mostly this pertains to his admiration of Richard’s good looks; he’s not shy about saying something and the same goes for when he admires something Richard has done. This causes Richard some embarrassment, although whether that’s because he wants Seigi to be hitting on him isn’t yet clear. Given Richard’s somewhat stiff and prickly personality it could just as easily be him feeling uncomfortable with a compliment; either way, Richard is far more aware of the censorious eyes of society than Seigi is.

Family and upbringing could very well factor into this, although we don’t know much about Richard’s background beyond him having a Sri Lankan grandmother. We know a lot more about Seigi’s family history with his larcenous grandmother and hard-working mother (no father figures in sight, which may factor in later on), and that does help to explain his general disinterest in social norms. After all, when the only way your grandmother could survive post-WWII was to pick pockets, it’s hard to put quite as much stock in what’s deemed “right” and “wrong.” While Seigi occasionally comes across as naïve, particularly where the potential of two men being in a romantic relationship is concerned, we do see him learning with each of the four stories across these two volumes, and that makes him feel much more natural as a character.

Per the artist’s notes, these two volumes of manga make up the complete storyline for the first of the original light novels. There are four “cases” across them – Seigi’s topaz ring, a ruby brooch, an amethyst, and a diamond engagement ring. Of them the ruby brooch story and the diamond engagement ring are the strongest, although all four do contribute equally to Seigi and Richard’s character growth. Interestingly enough, the way that they’re divided across the volumes means that each book opens with a sort of “background” case that looks into the bigger picture of why people buy jewelry and then a “lesson” case, where the background is applied to a specific human story. The main difference between the two types of case is in their focus – while both types involve Seigi learning something about both gems and their value, the latter type is more zeroed in on the subjective and emotional. In the first volume, Seigi’s grandmother stole the heirloom ring that turned out to have much more significance to the thief and her family than the original owner; this is supported by the young woman giving in to her internalized homophobia by thinking that the ruby brooch her male fiancé gave her determines both her worth as a purportedly straight woman and the value of a heteronormative relationship. The lesson here is that a jewel may have a monetary value assigned to it, but the emotional significance can make it utterly worthless – the woman’s relationship with her female partner turns out to be worth much more to her than the ruby, just as the victim of Seigi’s grandmother’s theft ends up richer in her personal life without the ring. In volume two, the interpretation of a gem’s symbolism becomes more valuable when it comes to someone’s own personal understanding of it versus the literal symbolism ascribed to the jewel, as we see when the bartender with the amethyst takes things too literally and the man with the diamond learns to make his own story with his gem.

Mika Akatsuki’s art works very well to help showcase all of this, and it must be said that her blushing Richard is very sweet. Overall the books are well laid out and easy to read, and the use of chibi art occasionally helps to keep things on the light side when necessary, which, considering the heavy themes at play, is a plus. The woman Seigi has a crush on doesn’t add much to the story in these volumes, functioning more as an additional source of information than a character in her own right, but overall, these books do more right than wrong, and as long as you aren’t looking for the actual mystery implied by “case files,” it’s a good read.

Kirby and the Forgotten Land

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In my eyes, Kirby games have always been defined by their astounding visual and musical artistic direction that is somewhat held back simple yet serviceable side-scrolling platforming gameplay. Forgotten Land represented, more than anything else, an opportunity for HAL Laboratory to break out of this mold that the series seems to be stuck in. And don’t get me wrong: I’ve always loved Kirby games. I obsess over every scrap of hidden lore I can wrap my head around and replay Kirby’s Adventure on my DS nearly once a year. But my love for the series doesn’t mean I haven’t recognized how these games have been stagnating over the past several years. I don’t blame HAL for this either; trying to come up with new side-scrolling platforming adventures once every few years while your main character is held back by the same rather limited movement options is a very big ask. And yet despite the odds, it seems they’ve managed to find new ways to innovate in Kirby and the Forgotten Land.

There’s a lot to talk about with this game – and I’m happy to say that most of it is good. So I’ll lead with the few criticisms I have. Erring on the side of sounding nitpicky, some of the story beats (especially the mind-control-related ones) in Forgotten Land could have been made more clear. Also, games that emphasize finding secret areas and completing hidden objectives like this one would gain so much replay value by allowing players to travel back and forth between the sections of individual levels after completing them for the first time. I can’t tell you how many times I unknowingly went into a different area of a level while searching for a secret only to realize my access had been blocked off, with no choice but to exit and restart the level to get back to where I was so I could continue the search. Most importantly, I’d love to see the developers be less fearful of implementing a steeper difficulty curve in the future. What we have right now is a game that very slowly ramps up, flatlines in the middle, spikes at the end, and saves all of its real challenges for the post-game. It would have been great to have some of that post-game difficulty scattered along the latter half of the main plot, and then have the post-game just consistently bring the pain.

As I said before, Kirby games have always excelled when it comes to visual and musical quality. Forgotten Land is no exception – in fact, I’d say that HAL Labs outdid even themselves here. Previous entries in the series can come off a bit too saccharine and sickly sweet, like seeing a child’s wildest dreams thrown up onto a screen. I’ve never taken issue with this style, but I can immediately understand why it’s not for everyone. Forgotten Land is an excellent departure from this standard, contrasting the unhindered cuteness of Kirby’s characters and enemies against the very realistically rendered backdrop of a post-apocalyptic world. This was an absolutely brilliant decision that led to so many interesting settings and level designs. As for the music, I have always been a stout defender of the opinion that the chiptune era of Kirby music is far superior to everything that has come later. That being said, Forgotten Land has given us the best-orchestrated soundtrack the series has produced so far. This game seamlessly slips in and out of so many different styles and moods of music that I can say with certainty that there is definitely something here for everyone. Even that chiptune style that I love so much rears its head at the climactic peak of the game.

The crowning achievement of Forgotten Land, however, has to be how it interpreted and improved upon the gameplay of its predecessors. Abilities are no longer just a variety of means to the same button-spamming end – each now comes with a distinct style of play attached. There are abilities like tornado and needle where you’ll prioritize picking up objects and enemies and try to throw them at the biggest target you can see. I was particularly fond of the ranger ability, which allows you to snipe enemies from far away and time your dodges to access a rapid-fire option. Sword and hammer are pretty simple – get in, stay in, and don’t get hit. Alongside all of the new life that has been pumped into these abilities is the option to upgrade and alter them as the game goes on, which is another great addition that should become standard fare for future Kirby series. Even the platforming has been upgraded – the animations around Kirby’s jump and fall have never looked better, and his hover has been effectively nerfed, only allowing the pink puff to rise to a certain height over whatever surface he is above, encouraging players to jump through obstacles instead of hovering through entire levels. The boss-fights in this game have been designed tremendously well. Kirby’s new ability to dodge-roll and counter is key in these challenges, and each of them have fantastic presentation and style. The new mouthful modes serve to completely change up the gameplay, adding hang gliding, racing, and boating segments to the game, with the addition of some interesting puzzles by way of stair and water mode.

All in all, HAL Labs has finally breathed new life into the Kirby series. Forgotten Land sees Kirby at their best in years, and might just go down as one of the best Kirby games ever.

Tiger & Bunny 2 Episodes 1-13

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After the disaster that was Double Decker! Doug & Kirill, I was inordinately nervous about the second season of Tiger & Bunny. Really, could anyone blame me? Tiger & Bunny The Movie -The Rising- added little to the series’ narrative, the director was booted off the project, and Netflix offered little in the way of promotional material to assuage my anxieties. For several weeks, I was halfway convinced that the entire thing would be done in stiff 3DCG, since Netflix seems particularly invested in those. I worried there’d be a third iteration of Kotetsu retiring, but then coming back. I had fallen hard for the characters and themes of the original Tiger & Bunny, and while I didn’t think a sequel was necessary, I wanted something that would do right by them.

Well, now that the first half of Tiger & Bunny 2 has been released in full, I am happy to say that my fears were all for naught. And the boys? They are indeed back in town. Emphasis on back, because the new series has little interest in catching up new fans, or even old fans who skipped over watching the sequel movie Tiger & Bunny The Movie -The Rising-. Who’s that asshole in the gold armor? Well, that’s none other than Ryan “Golden Ryan” Goldsmith, who took over as Barnaby’s partner when Kotetsu was forced into retirement. He apparently decided to stick around instead of going to work overseas. The fan response to his presence has been, “Oh, he’s still here?”

The reason Tiger & Bunny 2 is so newbie-unfriendly is because it spends very little time re-establishing the sizable cast and their relationships beyond a quick roll-call at the beginning of the first episode. It’s probably for the best, since the main cast of Hero TV has swollen from eight to 12 with the addition of Ryan and three brand-new heroes: Mr. Black, He is Thomas, and Magic Cat. Lingering on already established character details to catch up new fans would have been a waste of precious time. In fact, the roll-call doesn’t even really function to reintroduce the cast. Rather, it echoes back to the first premiere to emphasize what has changed in the four in-universe years since the first episode.

It’s a wonderfully clever move that sets the pace for both the characters and the story structure, filling the episode with callbacks without getting bogged down in nostalgia. Equally clever is the way that the heroes have been paired up: each duo gets a focus episode where the two of them run into some kind of problem, and Kotetsu and Barnaby end up helping them solve it and/or getting embroiled in it themselves, developing the newer characters while drawing out new facets of returning cast members. To be honest, the one-off villains pale in comparison and are largely unmemorable compared to characters’ personal conflicts – yes, yes, there’s a pyromaniac on the loose, but learning Sky High sometimes eats pizza for breakfast, lunch, and dinner feels like a much bigger payoff! And if you’re part of the fujoshi contingent of fans – don’t worry, you’re among friends here – you might just walk away with a new ship or two.

This is deeply important because Tiger & Bunny’s strength has always lain in the character writing, especially in Kotetsu and Barnaby’s struggles and how they keep one another afloat despite squabbling like the married couple they are. The two have come a long way, and the personal demons that once haunted them have mostly quieted. Mr. Black and He is Thomas echo who they once were: an unwilling partnership between a brash, justice-obsessed hothead and a quiet, sullen young man driven by personal trauma. Neither one is particularly compelling on their own so far, but the way they reflect on Kotetsu and Barnaby’s former selves shines a light on who they are now, and what they have yet to figure out. Barnaby has served his revenge, so why does he still fight? How can he move forward from the anger that used to define him, and still storms within him? Kotetsu has adjusted to working within the confines and expectations of Hero TV; has he lost his sense of principle? Can he allow his daughter to follow the same dangerous path he did? Tiger & Bunny 2 asks these questions, but has yet to fully answer them.

There’s also a lot happening outside of character beats when it comes to the greater plot, with some of it paying off at the end of this arc, and other elements left for the upcoming second half. The season’s midbosses are Mugan and Hugan, a pair of albino twins who have been going around to small towns and defeating their local superhero teams before setting their sights on Sternbild. They’re fine as characters outside of playing into cruel stereotypes about albinism, but there’s little originality to their backstory or motivations, and they don’t do much to progress the narrative beyond playing into the motif of duality and partnerships. The climax to their arc was actually something of a letdown, hampered by an unimaginative use of their powers and some really stiff 3DCG.

The stiff 3DCG was especially disappointing considering how restrained the production was in its use up until that point. While I did notice an increased reliance on them during action scenes – especially with the female heroes – it was rarely obtrusive. The anime’s production was solid overall, and occasionally janky or off-model animation is one of Tiger & Bunny’s historic charms. My worries about a change in director were misplaced – if anything, veteran director Mitsuko Kase’s leadership strengthened the visual presentation overall, while also cutting down on the distracting fan service. My biggest complaint, other than the stiff animation in the climactic battle, is in its depiction of violence: the characters are injured badly enough to be hospitalized, but it is also bloodless to the point that there are no visible wounds. I don’t need guts and gore, but it sucked a lot of the tension out of some major moments when there’s no visual difference between a simple broken suit and a life-threatening injury.

If you’re still reading this review, you probably already have a preference for which voice cast you prefer, and I’m happy to say that you can stick with whichever one you like. The English version does have a few recasts, including Dragon Kid and Rock Bison, but Cassandra Morris is a more than suitable replacement for Laura Bailey, and Aaron LaPlante sounds decently like Travis Willingham. The new cast is strong as well, chock full of established names like Robbie Daymond and Johnny Yong Bosch. The new Japanese cast also has its share of superstars, including Mamoru Miyano and Kensho Ono.

It’s been over a decade since Tiger & Bunny first premiered, and while the landscape around reality TV and superhero media has shifted dramatically since then, it almost feels like no time has passed at all. I’m excited to see what the rest of the season holds, and how it will advance Kotetsu and Barnaby’s love story… I mean, the battle for the future of Sternbild against Oroborus.

A Man and His Cat GN 5

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Reading a volume of A Man and His Cat can be emotionally exhausting. That’s not necessarily a bad thing, because creator Umi Sakurai truly captures the ups and downs of having a pet. This volume, however, covers a more difficult topic than most in the series: what happens when an indoor cat gets out and can’t find their way back home.

Certainly we could have seen this coming from the end of volume four. Fukumaru, snug in his house, sees a long-haired black cat out in the yard, and realizes with horror that he knew him as the cat in the pet store. He was adopted (well, bought) by a family with a young son, and as far as Fukumaru knew, had been living a wonderful, happy life with them. So how did the cat end up battered on the street? Desperate to find out, Fukumaru takes advantage of an open door when Mr. Kanda comes home, and the next thing he knows, he’s out on the street himself, with no idea how to get home. Meanwhile, we see Moja collapse in the rain behind another house, clearly on the verge of death. If you’re a pet lover, this is easily one of the most upsetting volumes of the series thus far.

Before you decide that you’re dropping it merely from this description, however, allow me to reassure you that things do work out for everyone – this is no Where the Red Fern Grows or Stone Fox. But that Sakurai can evoke that anxiety in us is a testament to how well the story is told and the truth of the emotions that the characters express. While we can relate to Mr. Kanda’s fear and panic, it’s also not hard to fully believe the feelings of the cats as well – how many people who had a cat go on a walkabout didn’t believe that the cat was scared and sad? And if you’ve ever worked to slowly coax a stray to trust you, it’s easy to see the fear and worry in the animal’s body language. What Sakurai is doing is tapping into both of those sets of feelings, human and animal, and combining them to create a volume that is harrowing on several levels, making the moments when things work out even better.

In part this is so effective because of the way that the human characters all react to Fukumaru’s escape. Mr. Kanda is fully hysterical and trying very, very hard not to appear that way. From his initial guilt that he let the cat out to his panicked run out the door, he’s almost reliving the pain of his wife’s loss again, only now with an added dose of grief because it’s his fault (in his mind) that Fukumaru ran out the door. When he eventually pulls himself together enough to make a poster and ask the pet store to hang it up it looks very much like he’s just putting on a brave face, something that Miss Sato, the woman who sold him Fukumaru, sees through immediately. When she takes over the rescue effort, telling him that he needs more posters and that he should call in his friends, Mr. Kanda’s relief is palpable; not only is he not alone in this anymore, but someone is telling him what to do, which is plainly reassuring. That all of his friends actually show up to help is another relief, because a piece of him didn’t think that they actually would – because to other people, Fukumaru may be “just” a cat.

The art does a particularly good job of helping to show the toll the plot of this volume takes on Kanda and Fukumaru both. As Fukumaru gets skinnier and scruffier the longer he’s out, Mr. Kanda’s face grows increasingly haggard, the bags under his eyes increasing in depth and darkness as he wears himself to a frazzle. When he finds Moja while looking for Fukumaru and has to make a difficult decision, we can read his despair in his body language. No longer the perfectly groomed elderly gentleman, Mr. Kanda becomes something more human as he grows disheveled, reminding us that he really is just as human as anyone else, something that those around him don’t always see or remember.

Fortunately there are some lighter moments to balance out the emotionally heavy content of most of the book. Once the main storyline is resolved, we get one of the most perfect depictions of cat barfing I’ve ever seen, which is not nearly as gross as it sounds; it’s more about Mr. Kanda trying to delicately get the cat to throw up on something easier to clean than the floor/rug and utterly failing, because cats are going to be cats. There’s also a light treatment of the way owners tend to think that overfeeding a pet equals love; it doesn’t go into health issues or anything like that, simply acknowledging that it’s a thing that happens and that we maybe shouldn’t do it.

A Man and His Cat, though a bit heavier this time around, is still a remarkably consistent and heartwarming series. It may make me tear up at least once a volume, but it captures the way that a pet can enrich our lives beautifully, and to do that it does need to cover the darker moments as well as the fluffy ones. But it never loses its sweet and hopeful touch, and that combination of emotions is what makes it such a successful series about the ups and downs of sharing your life with a cat. There’s a reason why the French title of the series is “The Cat Who Makes the Man Happy.”

December 2022