My Hero Academia / Boku no Hero Academia (Vol. 1) by Kōhei Horikoshi

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When my son saw that I was reading this, he asked me how I liked it. When I told him I was enjoying it so far, he gave me a funny, vaguely skeptical look.  “Really?” he said, “Because I know how you are with things that are popular.”

Ouch.  But, I can’t really argue there.

I do, however, often have a weakness for superhero stories.

Plus, I learned my lesson from One-Punch Man.  This looked like it might have a lot of humor and parody, so I watched two episodes of the anime of My Hero Academia before delving into this tankōbon.

SPOILERS

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The story takes place in a world, like Tiger & Bunny, where superpowers are commonplace.  It’s so common to have a “quirk,” in fact, that the fact that our hero  Izuku “Deku” Midoriya  was born without one makes him stand out.

This being shounen, not having any power whatsoever and being a total weakling doesn’t stop Midoriya from wanting to be a hero, though.  In fact, he’s kind of a hero fanboy, a hero otaku, he’s so desperate to be one.  He’s been keeping notes on all the heroes and their powers since forever. Despite knowing there should be no way in, Midoriya strives to get into the elite hero school, U.A.

This devotion to what seems to be a lost cause annoys his arrogant friend, Katsuki Bakugo.  Bakugo got his quirk at the usual time. He also lucked out and actually pulled a cool one (as opposed to randomly sprouting a tail) where he can make energy blasts from the sweat on his palms.  He’s sort of a natural brawler, so this suits his temperament, which is… well, temperamental.  Bakugo is kind of a classic red oni, heavy on the oni.

It’s Bakugo that gives Midoriya his nickname “Deku,” which comes from a reading of the characters of Midoriya’s name which can mean a ‘scrub,’ as in someone who isn’t skilled.

The relationship between these two middle school friends/rivals is the core of the first volume of My Hero Academia /Boku no Hero Academia (and the first couple of episodes of the anime), because Midoriya manages to pass the entrance exam to U.A., despite being “quirkless.”

I have to admit that when I first heard about this set-up, i.e. someone with no superpowers in a superhero school, I was hoping that what this meant was that Midoriya had no powers whatsoever.  I figured the whole gimmick would be that he was basically Batman, a really smart guy who could hold his own against Superman because he’s just that brilliant/devious/clever.

That’s not actually what’s happening in My Hero Academia.

It sort of is, but as it turns out, there’s an aging superhero known as All-Might who is in need of a ‘vessel.’ He has an extremely rare quirk called “All For One” that can be passed down from generation to generation.  He’s never found anyone worthy, even though a crippling injury from a fight against a super-villain has necessitated that he speed up the process of finding an apprentice.

After seeing Midoriya run towards danger when Bakugo is being attacked, All-Might figures he’s found his vessel.  The only problem is that Midoriya isn’t transformed by this gift. He’s still a ninety-eight pound weakling, and any time he uses the “All For One” power it nearly kills him.

But, it is enough for him to gain entry into the elite academy and his journey towards becoming a hero begins.

I should note that the story structure varies wildly between the manga and the anime.

The anime starts* with Midoriya already in the Academy, squaring off in a training session with his frenemy Bakugo.  Some of the other main characters are introduced in situ: Ochako Ururaka (float girl) is Midoriya’s partner in the exercise and the serious, bespectacled Tenya Ida (speedy) is Bakugo’s.  All-Might is already an instructor and is, in fact, sort of presented as the headmaster (not as the brand-new teacher starting the same year a Midoriya, as he is in the manga). The backstory comes as flashbacks in between all the action.

The manga is a much slower build.

In the manga, the reader is introduced to the world of the quirks, like, literally from their beginning in “Keikei City, China.” Then the story jumps to when Midoriya and Bakugo are still in middle school, and they stay in middle school throughout most of the chapters collected in the first tankōbon (1-7).  We also get the adoption/apprenticeship/training of Midoriya by All-Might (the discovery of his secret, etc.) in “real time,” as well.

In fact, the volume ends on orientation day at U.A. We meet Eraserhead and have a few tests that Midoriya naturally fails miserably. Then, All-Might introduces the idea that there will be battle in the next class (and we see the characters finally dressed as we first see them in the first episode of the anime.)  In the manga, there is also the hint that a mysterious group of villains in on the move, targeting All-Might.

I’m not sure how I would have reacted to this with just the manga, honestly.

The first two episodes of My Hero Academia are very compelling. Bakugo is presented in his full raging a$$holery bada$$ness, but we immediately see how torn up he is by his defeat at Midoriya’s hands in the training exercise in a way that makes him much more immediately sympathetic than his middle school bully persona.  Getting his arrogance in small doses via the flashbacks made me think of him as tortured and broken, rather than just a completely horrible human being.

The manga also breaks the fourth wall regularly in order to point out how “differently All-Might is drawn” from the rest of the cast.  (He is, in fact, always more heavily-shaded.)

There aren’t exactly overt panty-shot type fan-service moments, but the costume of Mt. Lady hugs her butt pretty darned closely, and she’s almost ALWAYS seen in a provocative, slightly bent over, butt-centered pose.

Mason may have had a point.  I could see myself having bounced out of this manga pretty easily if I had not first had the backbone of the story introduced to me via the anime.

Thus, my recommendation to anyone new to My Hero Academia (if such a thing still exists?) would be to follow my lead. Either just watch the whole anime, or start with a few episodes before picking up the manga. Midoriya is a very compelling character if you like the shounen trope of the guy who fights his way to the top by sheer force of will… and I do.  A LOT.

So, I’m definitely going to stick with this.

I just finished watching the 25 episode season of Pandora’s Heart’s anime, and so I think I will put the two seasons of My Hero Academia into rotation.  When I go into work today, I’m going to see if I can pick up the next several volumes of the manga.

I mean, what the heck. I can like something popular now-and-again, can’t I?

 


Edited to add:  * I am apparently a moron and started watching episode one, season TWO. So, my bad. Too bad that’s not how the anime starts, though, because it totally hooked me!

 

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Ao no Exorcist (chapters 90-93) by Katou Kazue

After a fairly long hiatus, new chapters of Ao no Exorcist / Blue Exorcist are now out. In the way of Katou-sensei, there is a bunch of fun fluff and a serious continuation of the plot.

SPOILERS

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First, the fluff. Ryuji ‘Bon’ Suguro and company return home for a New Year’s wedding.

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Mom’s first reaction??  My baby has stopped dying his hair!  (She’s so happy).

We find out that grey-haired Miwa has a girlfriend back home (sort of, it’s more she has a crush on him, and has done since forever,) who is pink-hair traitor Shima‘s youngest sister. Shima has, in point of fact, a gigantic family. So many that I can’t entirely keep track of everyone–not that it entirely matters.

There is mochi shaping and Yukio is his usual grim, too-serious self, which puts Rin to mind of their last big fight, which was over Yukio’s desire to know why they were born. Meanwhile, while everyone is eating and drinking, Bon sneaks off to check-in with Lewin Light.

Immediately after getting off the phone with Bon, Light jumps up and heads out to do some mischief.

Yukio confronts Bon about what he’s doing, and Bon puts him off. Sitting outside in the cold is pink-haired Shima who is thinking back to having been ‘marked with slyph bell.’ He’s upset because he ‘can’t go back like that’ (presumably to the Illuminati? I can’t actually remember who marked him or why).  Shima asks the demon in his staff, Yamantaka, if he can help.

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That’d be a big, ol’ nope.

Yamantaka, having been released, is spoiling for a fight. Being his usual, lazy self, Shima is not up for it.  Miwa comes out of the toilet and is surprised to see Yamantaka in release since he hadn’t been aware that Shima could control his staff’s demon yet.  They have a heart-to-heart about which one of them is luckier.  The doofus brother of Shima, Kinzo, breaks up this love fest to announce that the bachelor party is going to be a drunken staff battle.  Yamantaka is happy about this, pink-hair is not.

On New Year’s eve everyone heads, like you do, to the shrine to hear the bells toll.  Doofus Brother Kinzo is apparently in charge of the party and can’t seem to remember anyone’s name. I only bring this up because I kind of adore Kinzo’s nickname for plant-girl Shiemi, “Shiroomie” (which, of course, sounds like ‘shroom), and Rin, “Satan-boy,” which is nicely straight-forward IMHO.

The two separated ones, Rin and Shiemi, end up also having a heart-to-heart.  Rin starts out just reflecting on the year and ends up on what’s been plaguing him: WTF is up with Yukio:

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Nothing comes of this confession because they’re found by Kinzo, and then we flash to New Year’s Day and the big wedding, which takes up most of the next chapter.

The next chapter starts with Bon helping his dad get ready to officiate the wedding. There is some nice father-son bonding in which Bon’s dad tells him how proud he is that Bon has apprenticed himself to a big shot like Light.  Bon’s a little leery about accepting that praise and starts to ask his dad about Rin and Yukio’s foster dad, Father Shiro Fujimoto.

ONCE AGAIN, someone interrupts this conversation just as it’s getting interesting.  Gozo (another one of Shima’s onii-chan) takes over for Bon and they discuss some ongoing investigation into summoning a demon that has possessed someone else, which has been a bust. Dad suggests that they could exorcise the demon Karura from someone named Todo (which the wiki reminds me is the guy who had run off with the left eye of the Impure King) and then re-summon it, but that’s a no-go because if a demon and their host become too closely bonded, the demon could be injured.

Then it’s off to the marriage, where Bon and Yukio are seated next to each other. Yukio asks directly if Bon is sniffing for info on Father Fujimoto. Yukio knows about the visit to his home and the death of the monk that happened there.

At this point we switch to somewhere in Romania, where Light is getting up to his funny business. He approaches this ridiculous-looking guy…

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…with the equally ridiculous name of Drac Dragulesc. Light, then, proceeds to wish him a Happy New Year, and punch him in the face. Light calls up his little ‘and so on’ demon fairy and accuses Dragulesc of being associated with the Illuminati. Dragulesc tells Light he’s insane (likely) and that there’s no way he could be in the Illuminati because he took the contract of Morinath.  Light, being Light, is all, ‘yeah, how is that even possible? That’s the mystery I need to solve.’  Light then explains that he’s already made up his mind and what he needs is proof, so he’s going to torture Dragulesc until he gets the confession he wants. Turns out, Light is also known in the Order as ‘The Torturer.’

Not what I would call a surprise reveal there.

And if we needed reminding, we flash back to Yukio who gives Bon a hard look and says, “You wouldn’t get involved in something like THAT, would you?”  Of course, this pains Bon deeply, but he’s sworn to secrecy so he says he can’t say anything about an on-going investigation. Yukio backs off fast, almost creepily so, and then they’re saved from further awkwardness by the arrival of everyone else and the start of the wedding.

During the reception, Bon gets a call from Light asking him to hurry up and translate some documents. Overhearing this, Yukio puts a gun to Bon’s head and demands answers to how he and Rin were born.

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Bon says, “Are you really going to shoot me?” and that causes whatever is possessing Yukio to fade away and he’s all like, “Oops, ha. ha. my bad. Forget this happened, k?” Bon is having none of this and grabs him by the shoulder demanding to know what’s happened, why he’s acting like this. Yukio goes all cold again and tells him to let him go, as an order, from his superior.  Bon is such a good guy, he follows orders, and lets him go.

In the hallway, Shima confronts Yukio by saying, “Watch yourself. I told you to get ADVICE, not threaten.”

Yukio gets all existential about this and is like: how does advice help when we’re all such different people? Then he gets a call from Sword-Boob lady Shura to “turn on the TV.” Apparently, demons don’t take New Year’s holidays and they’re popping up all over various cities, and more and more people are able to see them. Everyone rushes off… well, everyone with a ‘key’–which is Yukio and Shima. (The hilarious stuff is that when Shima leaves, he says, ‘hey, us spies have keys too! Bye!’ and Bon is all, ‘and we have to let him go…’)  On the train back, Bon is working on the translation that Light sent him and decides to tell Rin that they need to talk.

Boob-Lady is fighting a cyclops-demon and gets her butt handed to her because she doesn’t have her magical sword any more, not really. Light shows up and infuses her sword with ice-powers and they are able to defeat the monster. But, it’s broken some seal or other that has let loose even more demon-y things.

Light then has this fun interaction with Yukio:

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Not cool, dude.

Yukio is surprised Bon has tattled on him so quickly, to which Light is like, “Well, he wanted permission to tell you about our investigation, but, of course, I told him no.”  Light asks, ‘So what is it you want to know so badly?’ Yukio won’t say, so he counters with, “If you won’t say, neither will I.”  They trade some insults after that and Yukio storms off. Light watches him go, saying, “Ryuji [Bon] is a good boy. But you can only help someone who wants help” and it’s clear Yukio doesn’t want help.

This does seem to be pretty true. Honestly, if Yukio had answered Light, he might have told him something. Although, Light is slippery af, so who knows what he might have actually done?

Then we find out–are reminded?–that it was Light that put the bell spell on Shima (who was watching from behind a tree) and Shima begs him to remove it.  He says he will,  but only for a price.

Suddenly, this bada$$ arrives:

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And arrests Light.  He resists them long enough to lean in and whisper a password to Yukio (I Love Sushi 1047Aaa). Bon shows up in time to see his master hauled off, and gets the “hey, so, I might not be around for awhile, but finish the report, k?”

Later, Yukio finds a flash drive and realizes that Light slipped it to him.  The chapter ends with Yukio opening up some files.

The next chapter starts with a flashback to Yukio asking Father Fujimoto why Sir Pheles lets them live, Fujimoto says he can’t tell him right now but he will, when the time comes. Yukio is thinking the time is now when he opens up the Section 13 files.  Yukio is called out to rejoin the fight and thinks about what he’s learned. He tells us he hasn’t learned much about his mother or Satan, but what he has figure out is that the Knights of the True Cross are as bad as the Illuminati.

Yukio is so upset he starts to fight recklessly and is sent home. Only, he doesn’t want to go home.  He ends up at Plant Girl Shiemi’s shop. Standing there, he has a memory of confronting his foster dad about why Boob-Sword Lady is overseeing them. Yukio has heard that she’s forging Rin into a weapon.  On that night he ended up running away to the garden shop, and now he’s found himself at the same door craving Plant Girl’s company again.  He’s headed to the door when he spies Shiemi coming in at the same time.  She offers tea and company.

They chat a bit and, when Shiemi asks him what’s wrong, he confesses that he feels all alone:

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Which is his usual bullish*t, actually, and Shiemi tries to tell him he’s not, that he has her… and Rin. Saying that last bit sets Yukio off and he lashes out at her.

Having pushed her freaks him out (as it should) and he decides that all his inner turmoil is just hurting everyone around him, so he might as well end it all.

And he shoots himself in the head.

His glasses fly off and we hear a demonic voice calling him weak, while his eyes light up with blue fire. Yukio identifies the demonic voice as Satan.  Shima shows up and says, “You’re finally getting the right look in your eye.”

Which… makes me uncomfortable, because I’m thinking, maybe Rin failed as a weapon, and you’re take 2, Yukio.

Then we get a random break in the action to where Mephisto is on TV as Johann Faust (which is of course a reference to the legend of Faust who famously sells his soul to Mephistopheles) and is coming out to the world as a Knight of the True Cross and explaining the Order’s mission.

Bon, meanwhile, has decoded the file Light sent him.  As he’s figuring out how to get the document to the Vatican, he runs into Rin. He tells him he wasn’t sure he should, but he’s going to tell him something critical about Yukio.  That’s when Shiemi bursts in, in tears, saying that something has happened to Yukio.

I have a very bad feeling we’re getting to the end of something BIG.  I’m concerned that Satan has found his vessel and it’s not going to be Rin, after all, but Yukio, and Rin’s desire to “kill” Satan may involve murdering his own brother.

I do not see how this is going to go well.

But, I have a lot of trust in Katou-sensei’s storytelling ability, and this manga has been so shounen up to this point that I don’t *think* it’s going to end as a complete tragedy.  (Hopefully, I’m right about that.)

Anyone else reading this? Care to comment?

Pandora’s Heart (vols. 1 – 24) by Jun Mochizuki

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I’ve been absent from reviews for a while because I was reading… I read all 24 volumes of Pandora Hearts.  What is Pandora Hearts…?  Well, I described it thusly, when I was only a couple of volumes into it: “Pandora Hearts by Jun Mochizuki is about… huh, how do I describe this thing? There’s a rich/tragic little lordling named Oz, who gets caught up in a supernatural adventure, probably because he’s the key to some mystery involving “the Abyss,” and ends up in a contract with a devil.”

I’d say that’s fair. At least as an introduction…

SPOILERS

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…now, for the rest of it.

I kind of liked the beginning of this series.  The set-up is neat. After being tossed into the Abyss for the crime of “being born,” Oz ends up making an ‘illegal’ contract with Alice, a “chain.” Chains are basically Abyss demons with superpowers. Alice uses the power of B. Rabbit (a giant, scary, scythe welding black rabbit) to spit them back into the Human World… only the Abyss is a little like fairyland. For you, you might think you spent ten minutes in the Abyss, but years might pass in the Human World.  So, Oz is actually reunited with his valet, only to discover that Gil has gone from being a wimpy little kid to  a grown-up, gun-totting hottie.

Gil has also joined a secret demon hunting society called Pandora.  Oz and Alice get roped into helping hunt down various paranormal criminals–mostly other people with illegal contracts.  Why exactly anyone needs to hunt very hard is a little iffy, since they all have this giant tattoo on their chests, counting down the time left on the contract, until they and their Chain are dragged down to the deepest pits of the Abyss.  Problem kind of solves itself, no? Well, I mean, I guess the point of stopping them early is because most Chains seem hellbent on destruction, murder, and mayhem.

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Ostensibly the trio is also searching for Alice’s memories, which got shredded at some point.

But, not one of them remembers anything, really.

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What am I forgetting?  Oh, right…. LITERALLY EVERYTHING!

In fact, they’ve–all three of them–forgotten major sh*t. REALLY, INCREDIBLY MAJOR SH*T.

And the characters who have been around for a couple of hundred years, who later seem to have been damn well aware of a good portion of this major sh*t, conveniently chose not to say anything more than a few coy, existential hints.  “Where are you, Oz?” (Where is he? That’s what you’re gonna ask, Xerxes Break??  HOW ABOUT WHAT THE F*CK EVEN ARE YOU, OZ??)

A lot of the mysteries are cloaked in a veneer of tragedy.  Why does Oz’s father despise him so much, when clearly little Oz just needs a cuddle?  Is Gil’s brother, Vincent, a rape-y sociopath or just in desperate need of a hug? Why does Alice understand loneliness so well (would bite-y kisses help)? What is the mystery of the eternally reincarnating Jack and Glen, could all this immortal animosity just be hugged out???!!?  HOW ABOUT A TEA PARTY? I HEAR TEA PARTIES HELP!

Look, I’m an a$$hole, okay? I just never really warmed to any of the characters, despite my extremely determined efforts. This came highly recommended; it’s extremely well-received on Goodreads. Clearly, I am a heartless anomaly with zero taste in manga.

In fact, I’ve been trying to figure out what is wrong with me. All day, since I finished this, I’ve been wondering why I had such a profound ‘meh’ reaction to so much of Pandora Hearts.

I mean, I was certainly engaged enough to keep reading volume after volume after volume.

So what happened?

I do know that I suffered a bit of attachment disorder. The lives of fated-for-great-things aristocrats does nothing for me. The only poor person in this entire series turns out to be the Big Bad–a really twisted Stalker-y Non-Love Masquerading as Love-Becomes-World-Ending-Obsession kind of Big Bad. Even the devoted servants turn out to be Lost Princes with a Special Destiny–both of them. That’s just a tough sell for me, personally.  Everyone looks lovely dripping in jewels, but, for reasons entirely my own, I’m just not there for them.

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Except this guy. If only he hadn’t been so, so STRAIGHT…. *sigh*

I ended up semi-attached to Gil (gun-toting hottie manservant, which is good because he’s kind of a surrogate main character), but, ultimately, I find servant/master devotion that goes beyond the grave to be… not something I can relate to?

This is where I started to wonder if I was just not enough of a Romantic (yes, I capitalized that intentionally,) for this series, because normally, as a hardcore shounen fan, I’m all about the Precious Friends Forever.

And, these guys have GREAT hair.

Seriously good hair.

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That braid goes past his butt, friends! 

I will say, too, in the plus column, that I feel that Mochizuki-sensei is a good writer, in that, for the most part, all the big reveals were well foreshadowed. I didn’t get the sense that she was scrambling for an ending or dropping outlandish plot twists just for the shock value or to make the sales numbers climb.

The plot was convoluted af (especially the stuff around the Intention of the Abyss), but it all felt earned, if that makes sense.

This did NOT suck. Nowhere near.  I just… didn’t love it.  Which, it maybe ironic, given how important love is to the plot.

I think, ultimately, it just wasn’t my cup of tea despite all the apparently delicious cups of tea contained therein.

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Would I recommend it to you?

Actually? I would.

I suspect my problem with rich characters is some kind of pathology, and that the majority of manga readers / human beings out there do not share it.  I just never had princess fantasies as a girl. Nor did I want to be the prince. The one I wanted to be was the rough-and-tumble rogue: Han Solo, all the way, baby!   This story lacks Han Solos. That’s not the mangaka’s fault, she wanted all the princes.  That’s not a matter of good vs. bad; that’s a matter of taste.  (And there’s no accounting for taste. I like rough-and-tumble so much that I watched that whole Girl vs. Boy anime and secretly enjoyed every minute of it.)

Thing is, I can acknowledge that this did not suit my tastes, but it was still a fine story.

Pandora Hearts has interesting characters and ends well (which is more than I can say for my once-beloved Bleach).

Haikyu!! (Vols. 1 & 2) by Haruichi Furudate

This is another anime that I love that I decided to read a manga.

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Sports is not a thing that usually gives me Feels.

In Real Life ™, I tend to find sports very boring. I would rather watch grass grow or paint dry than sit though football or soccer or baseball (live or on TV).  Plus, sports kind of traumatize me, generally. I was a nerd all through high school. Participation in gym was required and so I suffered through it. Gym was always the one class this A-student was perpetually on the verge of failing.  I always the worst at everything, always picked the very, very last because absolutely no one wanted me on their team.  When Calvin of “Calvin & Hobbes” described gym class as “state-sponsored terrorism,” I felt a deep kinship.

Thus, it shocks me how much I love this manga.

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I should definitely hate Hinata, Haikyu!!‘s main character.  Often described as freakishly athletic, he’s nothing like me–well, outside of being short, but his character profile puts him at 5’4″ which is two inches taller than I am. He’s the kind of jock for whom the sport is LIFE.

But, Hinata is SUCH a shounen hero, I can’t help but love him.

Hinata is spellbound after catching a glimpse of a high school player called “The Tiny Giant” in passing on a TV in the window of an electronics shop. After that point, he pursues his goal relentlessly. Very shounen.

Hinata is so shounen, he’s even prone to giving in-game speeches to rally his teammates like this: “Listen, the most important thing to remember about volleyball is that EVERYBODY on this side of the net is your ally. NO EXCEPTIONS!”  Which, because Hinata isn’t actually that smart, is literally something he’d been told by one of the upperclassman not five minutes ago. But, that’s the thing about Hinata: if you tell him a thing, he BECOMES it.

Like a good shounen hero, Hinata (or the entire team) will also get power-ups as needed during critical moments during a game.  When Mason and I were first watching this anime, Mason mocked the heck out of this trope.  He was actually almost a little turned off by how over-the-top some of this shounen stuff gets.  Me? I ate it up!

Plus, look at these action shots!

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Aitsu! (That guy!) Am I right?

But, what I love about Hinata is that, outside of these natural bursts of athleticism, he’s not actually very good at the game. He doesn’t really even understand all the rules, and certainly doesn’t have any sense of strategies.  Hinata has mostly been practicing on his own, because no one in middle school was as into volleyball as he was.

A classic rivalry is set up when Hinata manages to get enough of a team together to play in a middle school tournament.  It’s a disaster.  Especially since they’re up against the team who has a naturally gifted “setter,” Kageyama.  Kageyama has the nickname “King of the Court,” but for all the wrong reasons. It should mean that he’s the star, but his teammates all see him as a greedy tyrant who wants everything done his way. Even so, Kageyama’s team wipe the floor with Hinata’s.

Hinata vows to get better, because all he wants is to spend time in the game!

Of course, when high school rolls around, Hinata and Kageyama find themselves as teammates.  A good portion of the first volume is them figuring out how to be allies, instead of enemies.

Can I admit something?

I’m enough of a sap that when we learn Kageyama’s origin story (basically he became such a tyrant that no one was there when he set up the ball) and Hinata vows to ALWAYS BE THERE, I might have teared up a little bit.

What?

Look, I sign up for shounen because this is what I want. I want people fighting together, for each other, and giving it their all, and making vows to ALWAYS BE THERE, and Haikyu!! might be a little over-the-top melodramatic in its shounen-ness but that’s LITERALLY what I want from shounen.

Bring it!

Gekken Shoujo Nozaki-kun (Vols. 5-7) by Tsubaki Izumi

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A few weeks ago, a reader accused me of having crappy taste because I don’t like anything popular. Well, here’s an exception for you.  At least according to Wikipedia, Monthly Girls’ Nozaki-kun consistently places in the top 20 of Oricon’s weekly manga list (which appears to be analogous to our Billboard 100.)

My taste might still be crappy, but I share it with a lot of Japanese folks, because I think Gekken Shoujo Nozaki-kun is incredibly cute and charming.

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Volume 7, which is available in English (despite what it looks like in the image above,) brings the reader to chapter 71 (out of 85, at least on MangaReader).  Volume 8 will be officially available from Yen press on July 18, 2017.

As I said above, I’m still enjoying the heck out of this manga.  Normally, humor doesn’t work for me in text, but something about Nozaki-kun breaks through and I’m able to enjoy it. There are still puns that sail over my head, but I like the characters and the tone of this manga enough that not getting it doesn’t bother me as much as it usually does.  It’s very possible that I’m still able to enjoy the written humor because I was so very, very fond of the anime —which I can NOT recommend enough, keeping in mind my fondness for slice-of-life. If you prefer high-octane action, this is not for you.  But, say, if you liked Free!, I would think Nozaki-kun would be a good bet for you.

One of the things I’m charmed by in the manga is how, over time, you see the rest of the high school accept Nozaki-kun and Sakura as a couple, even as the two of them continue to be blissfully… well, not exactly unaware of the sexual tension, since Sakura is still in full-pursuit mode, but more like… blissfully unaware of how comfortable they’ve become with each other in the way of Real Life ™ lovers.

Maybe this is why Nozaki-kun is getting the designation of ‘shounen’ despite being a romantic comedy.  The relationship is, despite the humor and classic rom-com antics, really very realistically portrayed (even while all the shoujo tropes are being parodied by Tsubaki-sensei).

The other thing I love about it (and the anime) is its gentleness.  For all of the shoujo send-ups, there’s hardly a mean bone in any character’s body and you can easily root for all of them.

Of course, being me, I also appreciate all the insights into the editorial and production processes in manga publication.  There’s a scene in volume 5 or 6, where the two editor characters Ken Miyamae and Mitsuya Maeno are in a planning meeting for a themed issue of the magazine “Let’s Fall in Love” (Nozaki’s manga) is serialized in.  I found that, and their “all-nighter” in which they wait for a mangaka’s overdue pages to come in (not Nozaki, he would never do that), totally fascinating.

This is the kind of slice-of-life stuff I live for.

I would suspect much of it is fairly accurate since Tsubaki-sensei not only has a lot of experience as a mangaka herself (her other long running series is Oresama Teacher), but, apparently, she has a sister who is also a mangaka (though Wikipedia did not say who that was, exactly.)  She also started publishing while in high school, just like Nozaki-kun. So, that’s kind of a fun detail.

 

Gekken Shoujo Nozaki-Kun (vol. 1-4) by Izumi Tsubaki

I loved the anime for this on-going manga Gekken Shoujo Nozaki-Kun/Monthly Girls’ Nozaki-kun. When I saw that the Saint Paul Public Library had several volumes of it, I decided to check it out.

Volume_1

SPOILERS

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Apparently, the last time I reviewed this, it was on a podcast.  Rather than making you listen to Mason and I yammering on about Bleach and everything else, I will re-summarize everything for you here.

The story behind Gekken Shoujo Nozaki-kun is a cute one.  Our heroine, Chiyo Sakura is super-attracted to Umetarou Nozaki and works up the courage to make her love confession.  She blurts out, “I’m your number one fan!”  Much to her confusion, he takes this utterly in stride and said, “Oh, okay, here’s my autograph.”  She’s very, “???”  Then, he asks what’s she’s doing because the “others” have cancelled (“eep!” she thinks, “he has a harem!?”) so does she want to come back his place right now?  Poor Sakura is completely confused and a little horrified by all this forwardness, until she gets back to his place…

….and is asked to ink a manga sheet.

Turns out Nozaki is actually “Sakiko Yumeno,” a super-popular shoujo mangaka known for “her” sensitive storylines and gorgeous art style.  When I explain this concept to people less familiar with manga, I say, “It’s like finding out the hot high school football player writes Harlequin romances.”

As you know, gentle reader, humor is often a hard sell for me.  But, since I already fell for this particular story in its anime format, I found a lot to enjoy in this manga.  The one thing that’s very different about this manga than most others that I’ve read is that the story is cut up into short, self-contained single-page, four panel stories. It reads more like a comic strip than a comic book.  But, after a while, you get used to it, and like “Judge Parker” or other soap opera comic strips like that, the stories occasionally follow one after the other.

Like in the anime, a lot is made of gender stereotypes and Tsubaki-sensei loves to flip gender roles.  For instance, Nozaki has modeled his heroine after his best buddy, Mikoshiba (aka “Mikorin”). As I suggested in my earlier rant, the ‘oh, it’s so gay!’ is played up often and always for laughs.

I still love this one.

I almost never laugh out loud reading humor manga, but these first three volumes had a couple of moments where I did.  I especially loved the scene when Sakura tries to use Masayuki Hori (the background artist/theatre manager), whois pulling an all-nighter with Nozaki to finish up the chapter for deadline, to find out what kind of pajamas Nozaki wears.  Hori, of course, gets Sakura’s text and just ask.  Nozaki basically sleeps in sweatpants and a tee-shirt, but once apparently an adoring fan of his female pseudonym sent him a frilly pink camisole.  So, Hori texts back: frilly pink.  Sakura is suitably confused/horrified.

What? It tickled me. What can I say?

The one thing that’s very different from the anime, outside of the fact that its still on-going and the anime only had one season, is that Nozaki has a younger brother, Mayu, who shows up from time to time, who is deeply in love with the mangaka who lives in the same apartment building as Nozaki, Yukari Miyako.  He also doesn’t like to talk…. or do anything strenuous.

Here’s Mayu talking to Mikorin….

gekkan-shoujo-nozaki-kun-4380725-1

The joke here is that Mayu is so profoundly lazy that he will do whatever is easiest, even if it means doing something he hates.

Ha ha?

But, you can also see how these four panel one-shots work.  They all have sidebar titles, too, which help prepare you for the punchline.

I think the thing I like about Gekken Shoujo Nozaki-kun is how utterly clueless and dorky Nozaki is.  Also, as I’m sure I’ve confessed before, I love stories that give glimpses into the life of mangaka (and of course I love slice-of-life as a genre a LOT).  I liked this about Bakuman, too, despite all it’s faults.  At least with Gekken Shoujo Nozaki-kun, the women characters are as weird and wonderful as the male ones, and there is a whole cast of side characters if you don’t end up bonding with the main ones.

The anime is equally charming and is only one season, so it’s a quick watch.  You can catch it on Crunchyroll, if you like.

The Trials and Tribulations of Queer Otaku

I’m going to go off-script for a moment and make some general commentary prompted by an essay over on Yaoi Playground.  Apparently, there’s some shipping crisis over in the Tokyo Ghoul fandom.  I’m not going to pretend I know anything about what’s happening there. Knowing ship wars from Bleach, I’m sure it’s ugly af. But, Yaoi Playground’s essay implied that gay/queer ship fans are particularly angry.  As soon as I heard that, I have to admit, that my sympathy shifted 180 degrees.

Queer fans get the shaft a lot.  And not in a good way.

There’s a couple of things going on here that I’d like to address specifically from a queer point of view.

I feel like queer fans of shounen have been blind-sighted by sudden canon pairings a LOT.  Naruto and Bleach being the most obvious and most egregious examples of this. Both Bleach and Naruto are shounen manga. What most queer fans read shounen for is the same thing I imagine all shounen fans sign up for: Explosions! Action! BIG-SWORDS! Cool fights! Honor and Justice! Big, obvious, evil bads!  Random, unbelievable, but totally awesome power-ups!

Am I right, fam?

Romance, if it’s present at all, tends to be very much of a subplot.  Both Naruto and Ichigo had straight love interests, but that was not what the story was meant to be ABOUT, at least it didn’t seem that way when the stories started.

Then, all of a sudden, at the end, there were marriages and babies and WTF.

I think straight fans should have been angered by those endings, too, and, from what I can tell, many of them were.  Ending an action story with some kind of unnecessary time skip where there are marriages and babies makes literally no sense, and in fact does great harm to your story. You can tell J.K. Rowling I said so, too.  I get the impulse to tie up all the loose threads, but unless you’re specifically writing romance, what a good writer should focus on is making sure that the PLOT is complete: the bad guy(s) are defeated and the world/characters have changed/learned something.

Queer fans are particularly hurt by this impulse because no one ever thinks of us.  (Exceptions being Yuri on Ice! and Legends of Korra.) But, 99.999999% of the time, no matter how hard you shipped their ‘precious friendship,’ the likelihood that the male hero is going to end up with their best male friend/rival is zilch.

The reason queer fans get angry about this isn’t because we expect everyone to be gay, it’s because there is LITERALLY NO REASON TO END AN ACTION MANGA THIS WAY.  The manga can end without a canon ship tacked on.

You don’t see queer fans being upset when the shoujo couple gets together, do you?  (I mean, there are crazy fans, so probably you do, but…) most people know going into shoujo that they’re going to get a girl falling for a boy! That’s the main point of the genre.  Romance novels, end with a romantic HEA.  That’s the deal.

Similarly, no one expects a yaoi hero to suddenly fall for a woman at the end (though I have seen that happen in yuri, so I guess there are exceptions to every expectation/rule.)

My point is, I think queer fans get particularly bent out of shape when a manga that is not otherwise marketed as romantic feels the need to slap on a straight romance.

Speaking of Harry Potter, this move also often feels punitive. I am pretty sure Rowling knew how hard a lot of her fandom shipped Harry and Draco.  I’m also pretty certain that Kubo-sensei knew that most of his fandom preferred one straight ship over the other (all you have to do is see how the Bleach: The Musical was written to confirm.  Similarly, if Kubo-sensei was ever in the audience when the fans screamed when Renji and Byakuya held hands briefly or when Kyouraku flirted with Ukitake, he also knew that he was purposefully breaking hearts when he broke those fan favorite gay couples apart.)  I felt that, too, when Isayama-sensei tacked in a wholly unnecessary “no homo” comment on Reiner and Bertholdt in some of the later chapters of Attack on Titan. Like, it came so out of the blue, that my only conclusion is that the mangaka was reacting to fandom.

And, that’s the second thing.  We have to put up with a lot of queer-baiting.  When I discussed this before in conjunction to Let’s Take the Train Together, Shall We…? a lot of straight fans got bent out of shape.  But, this is a real phenomenon. There are plenty of examples of queerness being used as a tease or as a joke, so that the straight/cis reader can be titillated and/or have a moment of “Oh, haha! People think they’re a couple! How uncomfortable for them, teehee!” when the author has no intention of ever getting the two same-sex characters together.

Often, this happens in shows/manga that I really enjoy.  An example I brought up on my comment over at Yaoi Playground, is Free! Iwatobi Swim Club/Eternal Summer. I loved that show for its queer subtext, but let’s be honest: no one gets together at the end. No one ever explicitly comes out as queer.  People will argue that’s not what that show was about (it’s about swimming!), but I will argue right back that the writers knew what they were doing and did so intentionally.  There’s a whole episode that’s entirely subtextual where Nagisa has to “come out” to his parents and is kicked out.  I mean, sure, you can read that entirely on its surface, but subtext only works if there’s a there there, if you know what I mean?

Girl’s Monthly Nozaki-kun has a lot of this, too.  I also adored that story, and because it’s a shoujo, I was not mad about the ending of the anime.  But, there are definitely moments where there’s a gay element that gets played up…. remember the dating sim episode?  I loved it, but it was a wink-and-a-nod, not full on ‘baiting,’ per se, but it was queerness played for laughs.

These queer-baiting moments aren’t meant to be hurtful, I don’t think.  I think they’re just as the Wikipedia article defines queer-baiting: what they are is trying to draw in queer-friendly audiences.  But, that being said, they are also done with NO INTENTION of ever making good on the queer ship tease.

Queer fans get double-slapped this way.  We get your straight pairing rammed down our throats, while we’re also expected to laugh along at hilariously awkward it is when straight people get mistaken as a gay couple.

I’m not even going to touch the odd fetishizing of our sex that happens.

My point is, if you run across a queer fan who is angry about a straight ship becoming canon?  Try to consider the source. Some fans are just crazy, we all know that. But, sometimes this hurt we’re feeling comes from all the other places where we were unexpectedly, or even intentionally, jerked around. We love our ships with the same passion you do.  We hate to see ours broken, but was also have this huge history of having to be broken.  It used to be that even gay writers wrote only tragic gay romances, where you could find love, but it had to be torn from you.  Ukitake had to die, that was the only way to have pure queer love.

And we’re sick of it.

Thank goodness for “Yuri on Ice!,” eh, fam?