The Ancient Magus’ Bride, Vols. 1-8

By Kore Yamazaki | Published by Seven Seas

I’d heard good things about The Ancient Magus’ Bride from my Manga Bookshelf compatriots, but I had also heard about a sad fate befalling some cats, so I steered clear. After reading and really enjoying Kore Yamazaki’s Frau Faust, however, I decided to give AMB a try. I’m glad I did, because it turns out the cat stuff wasn’t a deal breaker (it all happened long ago and present-day kitties emerge unscathed) and the series is excellent.

In the opening chapter, fifteen-year-old Japanese teenager Chise Hatori is on sale at a British auction house. She is apparently “the most wondrous tool an alchemist can hope for—a sleigh beggy,” though she knows not what a sleigh beggy is. She only knows that she’s been attracting weird creatures all her life, that her father left with her younger brother, that her mother committed suicide, that her other relatives wouldn’t take her, and that she just wants a place to call home. She doesn’t care whether she lives or dies, but thought that if she could be useful to someone, that would be okay.

She’s purchased by a mage named Elias Ainsworth, who takes her as his apprentice. Elias is not entirely human and not entirely fae, either. Most of the time he assumes the form of a tall human with a head somewhat like a cow’s skull, but his real form is something far stranger. Despite his scary looks, he’s kind to Chise, insisting that she be neither passive nor servile, and she’s soon comfortable in his home in the countryside west of London. Eventually, he tells her that because of her ability to absorb and generate mass quantities of magic, her lifespan is destined to be brief. Part of the reason he bought her was to try to help overcome this while also learning more about humans. And to be his bride, of course.

Here’s a particularly revealing passage from volume two:

”I bought you because you met my requirements. With nothing of your own, you’d have little reason to leave me. I gave you food and shelter, and said things I expected you wished to hear. I thought that raising you myself might enable me to better understand your kind. I’d planned to tell you these things after I was confident you’d never leave.”

For Chise, someone not wanting her to leave is a novel experience, so she stays. Most of the time, anything romantic happening between them is downplayed. Instead, they take on a variety of tasks like investigating the black dog haunting a churchyard (who ultimately becomes Chise’s very, very lovable familiar), or helping a muse-like fae communicate with the man she’s loved for decades, or helping a girl find the brother her parents have inexplicably forgotten. Meanwhile, Chise learns more about magic (and how it differs from alchemy) and becomes passionate about helping others, often to her detriment. While she’s become more attached to the idea of living, she’s also reckless, culminating in an incident at the end of volume seven where, in an attempt to calm a rampaging dragon, she ends up absorbing so much of its magic that she curses herself. A despairing and desperate Elias attempts something awful to cure her, driving her away in the process (and potentially into an alliance with evil alchemist Josef, though I fail to see how Chise could rationalize doing such a thing).

What I’m getting at here is that this is a series rich in story. The plot is interesting, but the real story is Chise and Elias, what they mean to each other and how they might be incompatible despite all that binds them together. Besides the fact that her life was already going to be brief, now Chise has this dragon’s curse to contend with, and it’s really not looking good for her. Sometimes, too, Chise gets warned about Elias’ interest in her, like when his master Lindel says, “It looks as if he’s trying to tame you… and you are allowing him to do it. But you mustn’t.” Even if she were to return to him after what he did, would that be the healthy choice? I’m not sure this is going to have a happy ending, but it’s certain to have a fascinating one. I can’t wait for volume nine!

The Ancient Magus’ Bride is ongoing in Japan, where the ninth volume has just been released. It’ll come out in English in September.

Again!!, Vol. 1

By Mitsurou Kubo | Published by Kodansha Comics

Having greatly enjoyed Yuri!!! on Ice, written by Mitsurou Kubo, I’ve been eagerly anticipating the release of some of Kubo’s manga in English. (In addition to Again!! from Kodansha, Vertical Comics has just published the first omnibus of Moteki, which I shall be reviewing within the next week or so.) Happily, Again!! did not disappoint.

This shounen series begins on March 14, 2014, when long-haired, scary-looking outcast Kinichiro Imamura is about to graduate from high school. He’s friendless, and despite going to a good school, he has no college or employment plans. The graduation ceremony reminds him of his entrance ceremony three years ago, during which the lone remaining member of the ouendan club (a girl, at that) tried to recruit new members. This spurs him to go check out the now-deserted ouendan club room and, when chasing after a female classmate who gets the wrong idea, he ends up falling down the stairs and three years into the past.

Now it’s April 6, 2011 and Kinichiro has a chance to do it all over again. Will he manage to navigate school this time without scaring people? He decides to actually talk to the ouendan girl this time, and learns her name is Yoshiki Usami. In a neat twist, the girl he was chasing also fell down the stairs and ends up back in the past with him. Her name is Akira Fujieda, and while Kinichiro begins to make small improvements on his high school experience—dispelling notions that he’s in a gang or that his blond hair signifies anything other than a hair stylist’s whim—Akira’s knowledge of the future alienates her classmates and would’ve-been future boyfriend.

Mostly, though, the focus is on the ouendan club and Kinichiro’s attempts to help Usami out. She’s stubborn, however, and resists efforts to draw male membership by featuring her image on recruitment posters. This makes more sense later on, when it’s revealed that she originally got a lot of media attention that led to fallout within the group—stoked by an online smear campaign—leading everyone but her to quit. Complicating matters is the captain of the cheerleading club, Tamaki Abe, who is resentful of having to cooperate with the ouendan, and determined to sabotage them. Happily, the girl she picks to seduce Kinichiro has scruples (and Kinichiro is also not an idiot), so this first volume ends with our heroes savvy to her scheme.

Again!! is a lot of fun. If you’re looking for time travel with a reasonable scientific explanation, then you should probably look elsewhere, but if you just accept the premise and go with it, then it’s kind of like a sports manga and a coming-of-age story rolled into one. I do worry what’s going to happen after Kinichiro reaches his graduation year again. Will these changes stick, and will he be able to go forward in life with more ambition and fewer regrets? I’m confident, though, that these questions will be answered eventually.

Again!! is complete in twelve volumes. The second volume is due out in English next week.

Review copy provided by the publisher.

The Promised Neverland, Vol. 1

Story by Kaiu Shirai, Art by Posuka Demizu | Published by VIZ Media

First off: The Promised Neverland is amazing and you should go buy it. I’d heard good things about it, but hadn’t expected this degree of exhilarating awesomeness. Secondly: I will do my best to avoid major spoilers, but a few are unavoidably required to describe (and compliment) the plot. Take heed!

Emma is an eleven-year-old with a sunny disposition and boundless energy. She lives at Grace Field House, an orphanage, and is one of the oldest of 38 kids. She loves them all. Everything seems normal to them, including the numbers tattooed on their necks as well as the daily test, which is dramatically revealed in a two-page spread. Emma and her fellow eleven-year-olds Norman and Ray always get perfect scores on the test, and I particularly enjoyed that the ensuing story actually shows their intelligence instead of merely telling readers that they’re smart.

Every now and then one of the kids finds a home, but oddly, none of the children who’ve left have ever sent any letters. The place is comfortable, with plenty of food and a forest to play in, but they’re forbidden from going near the main gate or a fence in the forest. One day, when one of the younger girls who wasn’t doing well on the tests is headed off for her new home, she leaves behind a beloved stuffed rabbit. Emma and Norman decide to break the rules and head toward the gate to return it to her, whereupon they learn something shocking (via another very effective two-page spread) and realize they must escape.

It’s riveting watching the kids try to figure out what’s going on, how much their caretaker (whom they call “Mom,” though we learn she’s named Isabella) knows about what they know, how to defeat the trackers Mom makes sure they know exist, etc. Basically, laying out the rules of their confinement that they’re going to have to overcome. Too, although analytical Ray points out that their chances in the outside world would be far better with just the three of them—and also that it’s 2045 and they don’t have any books published after 2015, so who knows what the outside world is like now—idealistic Emma is insistent that they’re not going to leave any of the kids behind, even including the dozen or so who are three and under.

It’s clear that this story has been carefully thought through, and I love how little things are foreshadowed that later prove significant. For example, in the early scenes, the kids are playing outside and Emma is thinking about how they know the forest around Grace Field House inside and out, including which tree has a hole in its trunk. Later, there’s a nonverbal moment where she and Norman choose that as a hiding place for some table cloths they hope to use to get over the wall surrounding the property. It’s subtle, but ultimately reassuring.

Happily, volume two comes out in five days. After that, I’ll be studiously avoiding spoilers, even though I’m sure the wait for new volumes will be agonizing.

The Promised Neverland is ongoing in Japan, where it is up to seven volumes. The second will be released in English on Tuesday.

Flying Witch, Vol. 1

By Chihiro Ishizuka | Published by Vertical Comics

Makoto Kowata is a novice witch who, in the tradition of witches, has left home at the age of fifteen to become independent. Her parents are concerned about her safety, though, so she’s staying with relatives in Aomori, located in the Tohoko region where it’s easier to perform magic thanks to abundant wilderness and natural resources. Accompanying her is her familiar, a black cat named Chito who is indisputably my favorite character.

Flying Witch is a calm, slice-of-life tale depicting Makoto’s attempts to fit in to her new surroundings. Makoto’s young cousin, Chinatsu, is scared of her at first, but changes her opinion to “so cool!” after a ride on a broomstick. Makoto starts high school and forgets that she’s not supposed to be talking about witchy matters with people who aren’t family. She tries to give a mandrake to an ordinary girl as a present. She starts a vegetable garden. She receives a visit from “the harbinger of spring” and another from her world-traveling sister.

It’s all very peaceful, but there are some amusing moments scattered throughout. I love that Chinatsu’s dad has a heavy regional accent (rendered as Southern in the translation) and that, after everyone else has tried and failed to capture a pheasant, he gives it a shot himself, comically muttering, “Dang it!” But what I really love is anything to do with Chito. Ishizuka-sensei does a terrific job at conveying Chito’s facial expressions, including an adorable panel of the kitty sticking out her tongue and going “pbbt.” The best, though, occur during the chapter in which Chito leads direction-challenged Makoto for a walk in the neighborhood. She assures her they’re going to a good spot, but it ends up being a location where Chito can taunt a dog on a tether, remaining disdainfully out of reach as he goes berserk.

Even though the premise is very different from Yotsuba&!, that gentle, slice-of-life feeling summons a similar response. I ended up enjoying this a lot more than I expected to, and now eagerly await volume two, albeit mostly for more Chito.

Flying Witch is ongoing in Japan, where five volumes have been released so far. Vertical will release the second volume in English later this month.

Review copy provided by the publisher.

DAYS, Vols. 1-2

By Tsuyoshi Yasuda | Published digitally by Kodansha Comics

Fifteen-year-old Tsukushi Tsukamoto doesn’t have any friends. He’s always rushed home after school to be there for his disabled mother, who is raising him on her own after his father passed away. After an eccentric fellow named Jin Kazama saves Tsukushi from bullies, Tsukushi is more than willing to grant Kazama the favor of playing a game of futsal with him. In fact, he runs six miles through the rain in order to fulfill his promise, and though he’s spectacularly awful at the game, he’s also a gutsy idiot and something about his enthusiasm rubs off on his teammates.

As it happens, Tsukushi and Kazama are attending the same high school, Seiseki, which is renowned for its soccer club. They both join, but whereas Kazama is the best of the incoming first years, Tsukushi is the worst, frequently causing the rest of his yearmates to run extra laps due to his ineptitude. The other guys get frustrated, but Tsukushi just works harder than ever. This is the first time he’s ever been part of a group moving in the same direction toward a shared dream, and he’s never had so much fun. The stoic, pro-bound captain, Mizuki, admires this dedication and predicts, “Two years down the road, he’s going to be our captain.” We eventually learn that Mizuki himself started off just as awful.

Little by little, Tsukushi manages to not completely suck, albeit only for brief moments at a time. Because of his ability to rekindle the joy of soccer in others, he is surprisingly chosen for the Interhigh team. Though he makes an error that costs them a penalty kick, he also makes a valiant save that rallies everyone’s spirits. I’m a sucker for those moments when the underdog first hears the crowd cheering for them so, predictably, this moment made me verklempt.

I did, however, have a few doubts about DAYS in the beginning. There are some gags with the bullies that are extremely unfunny, and a recurring bit where Kazama keeps handing Tsukushi panties with which to dry his tears. Too, there was one instance of girls’ boobs appearing (with requisite “boing” sound effect) a panel before we see their faces. I realize that this is a shounen sports manga, but most are, and they’re usually not as juvenile as DAYS is in its opening chapter. Thankfully, it gets better. I especially appreciate Yasuda-sensei’s skill with the poignant two-page spread and the organic way the supporting characters are beginning to be fleshed out. DAYS definitely won me over in the end.

DAYS is ongoing in Japan, where volume 22 has just been released.

Review copies provided by the publisher.

A Silent Voice, Vols. 1-7

By Yoshitoki Oima | Published by Kodansha Comics

asv1In elementary school, Shoya Ishida often engaged in foolhardy stunts to stave off boredom. When hearing impaired transfer student Shoko Nishimiya joins his class and causes disruption within the class, she becomes Shoya’s target. Initially, the other kids laugh at Shoya’s antics but when he goes too far and destroys several hearing aids to the tune of $14,000, they swiftly condemn him. Now he’s the one who’s ostracized and this status continues into high school, long after Shoko transferred out again. Full of self-loathing, he’s preparing to commit suicide, but a chance reunion with Shoko inspires him to try to change.

One of the first things Shoya does is accept the friendship of a tubby, pushy classmate called Tomohiro Nagatsuka. Tomohiro doesn’t have much depth or subtlety as a character, but he proves to be a reasonably faithful friend and helps Shoya become more sociable. Soon, he meets Yuzuru, Shoko’s tomboyish sister, and reunites with more girls from his elementary school class. Many of the middle volumes involve frictions between this group of people, particularly between a volatile girl named Naoka and Shoko. Shoya tries to help patch their relationship, but things do not go well at all. There is a lot of punching and hair-pulling, in fact.

asv4Back and forth things go, with this group continuing to try to establish themselves as friends without seeming to genuinely like each other much. Eventually, they decide to film a movie together. For one scene, they need to acquire permission to film at their old elementary school. Shoya is the unwilling emissary, and an encounter with his odious former teacher leaves him feeling so awful about himself that he ends up lashing out at all his friends, seemingly trying to drive them away as he feels he deserves. This has the unintended side effect of causing Shoko to feel like she’s the cause of his unhappiness, prompting a desperate act.

Throughout, I enjoyed Shoya’s arc. I like that gaining some people to hang out with is not enough to immediately banish self-hatred or prevent negative feelings. Only at the end of the series does Shoya gain the courage to face people honestly, accepting criticism for his faults and misdeeds while also being open to the possibility that not everyone is hostile towards him. I do wish we got more emphasis on Shoko’s inner life, however, even though I liked the direction she’s headed at the end of the series.

asv7Less clear is what Oima was aiming for with their group of friends. Even though Naoka was far more outwardly nasty to Shoko, at least she was open about it and expressed a great deal of self-loathing because of her behavior. With the help of another friend, Miyoko, she is encouraged to have a bit more optimism, and will probably end up doing okay. Even though she could’ve been fleshed out further, I do like Naoka as a character. But man oh man, do I hate Miki. She makes everything about herself—at one point revising the bullying narrative so that she and Shoko were co-victims—and doesn’t seem to grow at all. Everything she does seems fake, because most of it is, and I was baffled when the boy she fancies declared her to be “kind” after some weepy episode. Miki should get hit by a bus.

Lastly, there were some thoughtful depictions of how characters perceive the spoken word. In later volume there’s a chapter from Shoko’s point of view where all of the dialogue in the speech bubbles is only about sixty percent legible. It’s a neat effect. Too, on several occasions Shoya seems to overhear his classmates making derogatory comments about him. The scenes are depicted in such a way that the reader has doubt—is he just imagining what they’re saying, or are they really saying it? This struggle to interpret conversation is something he and Shoko have in common.

Despite a couple of complaints, I’d say A Silent Voice is well worth reading!

A Silent Voice is complete in seven volumes, all of which are now available in English.

Several from Seven Seas

In the past couple of months, Seven Seas has published several new releases of interest to me!

Bloom Into You, Vol. 1 by Nakatani Nio
Koito Yuu has just begun her first year of high school. Pressured by her friends to participate in club activities, she ends up assisting the student council, where she meets elegant second-year student Nanami Touko. Yuu has been trying to figure out how to reply to the male friend who confessed his love for her at their middle school graduation, and when she overhears Touko rejecting a confession with the words “I don’t intend to go out with anyone, no matter who asks me,” she thinks she’s found someone who’ll understand how she feels.

Or, rather, doesn’t feel. Yuu wants to experience a soaring, sparkly love like she reads about in manga. She tried, but she couldn’t, and with Touko’s support, she’s finally able to let the guy down. What she isn’t prepared for is for Touko to reveal that they’re not alike after all because “I think I might be falling in love with you.”

At first, I was annoyed by Touko’s declaration. It was too soon; it felt unearned. However, the more we get to know her, as Yuu spends more time with her while working as her campaign manager for student elections, it becomes clear that Touko has devoted a lot of time and effort into projecting an image that isn’t really her. She wanted to be special, and now she must maintain that perfect facade. Around everyone, that is, except Yuu, who is seemingly incapable of finding anyone special. For you see, Yuu doesn’t feel anything when Touko confesses either, nor when the other girl steals her first kiss. She’s not excited, and she’s not upset. She feels nothing. I actually began to wonder… has she suffered some kind of deep, psychological trauma?

I like both Yuu and Touko, I like the Maria-sama ga Miteru sort of atmosphere, I like Yuu’s continued detachment, and I have high hopes for how this story might unfold going forward.

Bloom Into You is ongoing in Japan, where three volumes have been released so far. Volume two comes out in English on May 16th.

The Girl from the Other Side: Siúil, a Rún, Vol. 1 by Nagabe
It doesn’t happen all that often that I read something and conclude, “This is a five-star manga that everyone should read.” So, please keep that in mind when I say… This is a five-star manga that everyone should read.

The back cover blurb sets up the tone of the series marvelously, so I’m going to quote it. “In a land far away, there were two kingdoms: the Outside, where twisted beasts roamed that could curse with a touch, and the Inside, where humans lived in safety and peace. The girl and the beast should never have met, but when they do, a quiet fairytale begins.”

I knew I’d adore this series the moment a black-as-pitch creature approaches a little girl who’s snoozing unaware and instead of menacing her, he scolds her for wandering off. Indeed, the creature—whom Shiva, the little girl, refers to as “Teacher”—is gentle, gentlemanly, and valiant, protecting Shiva both physically (when paranoid human soldiers think she must be cursed and try to kill her) and mentally (by shielding her from the truth that she has been abandoned). He also possesses medical knowledge but forgot that he told Shiva he’d been a doctor. Was he once human himself? His concern for Shiva radiates from him—I was particularly struck by a panel depicting his fists clenched in worry—and I love him deeply.

While humans and their fear are one threat, we’re introduced to another at the end of the volume, making for a chilling cliffhanger. I can’t wait for volume two of this lovely and captivating series!

The Girl from the Other Side is ongoing in Japan, where three volumes have been released so far. Volume two comes out in English on May 16th.

Kase-san and Morning Glories by Hiromi Takashima
Kase-san and… is a series that is technically comprised of a succession of one-shot stories. This first volume, entitled Kase-san and Morning Glories, includes the title story as well as interludes like “Kase-san and the Bicycle,” “Kase-san and Sneakers,” and “Kase-san and the Spring Breeze.”

Yamada doesn’t fit in with her classmates well. Though she has noticed popular Kase-san, the boyish star of the track team, she never thought she was on the other girl’s radar. But it turns out that Kase-san admired Yamada’s dedication to the thankless task of weeding the school grounds. The girls eventually start hanging out together and it isn’t long before Yamada is having Feelings with a capital “F.” There ensues the typical angst about “but she’s a girl.”

There are a couple of other moments that I’ve seen elsewhere, too—an indirect kiss via a shared thermos, the first real kiss in the nurse’s office—and it’s certainly fluffy and insubstantial, but it’s still really cute. The art style is pleasant, and I wonder whether Yamada’s friend—who warns her about Kase dating girls—might provide some drama down the road. In any case, I’m on board for the next volume.

Kase-san and… is ongoing in Japan, where three volumes have been released so far. The second, Kase-san and Bento, comes out in English on May 23rd.

Kindred Spirits on the Roof: The Complete Collection by Hachi Ito, Aya Fumio, Toitentsu, and Liar-Soft
I was initially under the mistaken impression that the manga version of Kindred Spirits on the Roof was a retelling of the storyline from the yuri visual novel. Instead, it focuses on new girls attending Kokono-Tsuboshi Girls’ Academy of Commerce with some of the original couples returning as side characters or cameos.

In side A, written and illustrated by Hachi Ito, we are introduced to shy Shiina Shiori, who is in the art club. She comes out of her shell a bit while helping to create scenery for the play her class is putting on for the school festival, and by the end of the volume—after much dithering and conversations about “what does it feel like to love someone?”—has decided to stop running away from the feelings of her childhood friend, Kanda Mako. The moment where they become a couple is the only time the original kindred spirits are glimpsed, buy they don’t do or say anything.

Side B, written by Toitensu and illustrated by Aya Fumio, has a little more meat on its bones, but only just. Hase Chiharu and Ichiyama Tokino are fans of “friendly girls,” and decide to join the quiz club so that they can squee over the relationship between their sempai, Tomoe Natsuki and Sasaki Rika. They endeavor to help cool Sasaki admit to her feelings, and there is, of course, the implication that they themselves will form a couple someday. There were very brief glimpses of the girls at their quiz tournaments, but it was very far from being the focus of the story.

Ultimately, I didn’t hate Kindred Spirits on the Roof. It’s sweet and not lecherous. But it’s also a very frothy concoction without much depth. I can’t see myself ever desiring to reread it.

Kindred Spirits on the Roof is complete in two volumes.

Review copies for Kase-san and Morning Glories and Kindred Spirits on the Roof provided by the publisher.

Ace of the Diamond, Vols. 1-2

By Yuji Terajima | Published digitally by Kodansha Comics

Eijun Sawamura really wanted to make some good baseball memories with his middle-school friends, but even though they practiced hard, they couldn’t win a single game. Although he shows talent as a pitcher, his unsportsmanlike behavior after a bitter defeat means most of the good baseball schools are no longer interested in him. And, because he is a hot-headed yet enthusiastic idiot, he totally forgot about the entrance exams required for other schools.

Luckily, Rei Takashima pays a visit and scouts him for Seido High, a big-name school in Tokyo that’s been to Koshien many times. He’s torn between testing his skills in this new world (the baseball club has over 100 members vying for nine positions on the roster, so competition is fierce) and loyalty to his old friends, but after they encourage him to seize the opportunity, he’s off to Tokyo. Of course, because he is such a hot-headed yet enthusiastic idiot, he clashes with the strict coach right away, flubs a chance to show off his pitching potential, and is barred from participating in practice.

After the Spring Tournament, in which Seido’s lack of a pitching ace becomes obvious, Eijun gets one more chance to show what he can do in a first-years versus upperclassmen game. The upperclassmen immediately dominate but Eijun isn’t intimidated or discouraged, and the second volume ends with the cliffhanger… will he and another first year succeed in scoring against overwhelming opponents?

So far, Ace of the Diamond is a lot of fun. I can’t claim that Eijun’s personality type is especially endearing, but he’s got his admirable qualities, too. More, though, I am having fun with the rapidly expanding cast. Beyond the upperclassmen, which include Eijun’s roommates at the dorm and a genius catcher with a troublemaking streak, we also meet Satoru Furuya, another first-year pitcher who’ll likely become Eijun’s fiercest rival; Haruno Yoshikawa, a clumsy first year manager and presumed love interest; and Haruichi Kominato, a diminutive wallflower with a talent for precision batting.

The pace is fast, the characters are fun, the protagonist has a lot of room to grow, the series is 47 volumes long with a sequel… All of that sounds spectacular for a sports manga geek like me. Thank you, Kodansha!

Side note: I keep wanting to call this series Aim for the Ace!, but that’s something completely different. (I still really want to read it, though.)

Ace of the Diamond is complete with 47 volumes. However, a sequel series—subtitled Act II—is still running. The seventh volume came out in Japan last week.

Review copies provided by the publisher.

One-Punch Man, Vols. 1-11

By ONE and Yusuke Murata | Published by VIZ Media

opm1My name is Saitama. I am a hero. My hobby is heroic exploits. I got too strong. And that makes me sad. I can defeat any enemy with one blow. I lost my hair. And I lost all feeling. I want to feel the rush of battle. I would like to meet an incredibly strong enemy. And I would like to defeat it with one blow. That’s because I am One-Punch Man.

One-Punch Man is much loved on Manga Bookshelf, and now I can finally be included in the group singing its praises!

Three years ago, depressed after botching a job interview, Saitama encountered a crab monster. Defeating it was much more enjoyable than looking for a job, so he decided to become a hero for fun. Since then, he’s been vanquishing the monsters that plague his city but not getting any credit for it. (Who is receiving the credit is a later plot point.) Overwhelming strength has become boring, but when he meets Genos, a cyborg driven by revenge, he gains a disciple and also learns about the Hero Association, which employs heroes of various classes and dispatches them as needed to counter various monstrous threats, which have been on the rise.

opm6The balancing act ONE and Murata achieve here is impressive. On the one hand, One-Punch Man is gloriously silly. Heroes and foes alike are apt to be ludicrous, and some of the former have terrific names like Tank Top Vegetarian or Spring Mustachio (although I actually think he’s pretty cool). On the other hand, there is a lot of excellent shounen manga storytelling going on. The way Saitama lives his life without criticism for others makes me think he’d get along well with One Piece‘s Luffy, and the devotion his pupil Genos shows for him means they can always rely on each other. Too, after Saitama joins the Hero Association, we get regular updates on how his rank is improving, and this puts him in contact with even more heroes, some of whom are inept, some of whom are capable, and one of whom might actually be an enemy. He doesn’t seek glory, so many are unaware of his true strength, but I assume that eventually he will attain the rank he deserves (currently, due to poor performance on the written test, he’s far below Genos).

Although I don’t ordinarily comment much on art, Murata employs quite a few innovative tricks that make reading One-Punch Man different than the average manga. For one thing, Saitama is almost always drawn with a simple, bland expression, making the few times he looks determined or actually heroic a nice treat. Plus, I love how we get back-to-back two-page spreads from time to time. Some of these depict combatants exchanging blows, first with one landing a punch and then the other, but he also uses them to zoom in from, say, an attack that is heading Saitama’s way down to his fist that is about to get serious. It’s a fun way of depicting the action while continuing to incorporate humor. (Oh, incidentally, Saitama’s special attack, almost never required, is awesomely called “Consecutive Normal Punches.” We’ve only seen the finishing move—Serious Punch!!!—once so far.)

As of volume eleven, there are several plotlines in play. Monsters are appearing everywhere, and appear to be organizing. Is this tied in with the prediction of an extinction-level event within the next six months? What about that hint of a possible traitor that was dropped a few volumes back? While a rogue martial artist named Garo is hunting heroes, Saitama is off at a martial arts tournament to learn more how to defeat Garo (not knowing that he totally already did) and seems destined to face off against another strong fighter who is desperate for a challenge. I admire how this story has widened in scope in a natural way, without compromising the balance of narrative and humor. It could conceivably go on for a very long time, and I deeply hope it does.

One-Punch Man is ongoing in Japan, where it is up to twelve volumes. Currently, VIZ has released ten volumes in print and eleven digitally.

Review copies provided by the publisher.

Cells at Work!, Vol. 1

By Akane Shimizu | Published by Kodansha Comics

cells1

Cells at Work! has a quirky premise, one that’s fun to describe to people in one’s life whom one may wish to bewilder.

Essentially, the setting is the interior of the human body and the characters are anthropomorphized versions of blood cells, lymphocytes, and other types of cells that work together to keep things running smoothly. None of the characters has an actual name—the pair of protagonists refers to each other as Red Blood Cell and White Blood Cell—and there’s not much of a plot.

Instead, the first volume is composed of episodic chapters showing how the body defends itself against various threats, including bacteria, viruses, and allergens. Along the way, information is relayed to the reader and almost immediately one starts learning things. For example, before I read this I didn’t even know the terms neutrophil and macrophage, but now I could easily talk about their functions, and that’s because I’ve got a vivid visual reminder. Also, Shimizu comes up with some clever ways to depict bodily functions. I was particularly fond of the concept of a sneeze as a missile onto which pesky germs are loaded for expulsion.

Cells at Work! runs in a shounen magazine, and I imagine its intent is to amuse and educate young readers. That said, it did take me a bit of time to accept that there weren’t going to be any story or character developments. That might change, but for now it just doesn’t seem to be that sort of manga, and that’s okay, too. It’s fun enough that I’ll keep reading!

Cells at Work! is ongoing in Japan, where it is up to four volumes. Kodansha Comics will release the second volume in English next week.