Anime and Manga — Reviews and Previews
Today marks the end of the second session of Camp NaNoWriMo, and I was much more successful this time (50,164 words!) than in June (9,072 words…). But that success came at the cost of a lot of hard work and spare time. So instead of bouncing around and trying out new mangas this month, I decided to stick with three series I knew I enjoyed and make it as far into them as time allowed. Let’s jump in!
Afterschool Charisma vols. 1-6 by Kumiko Suekane
“St. Kleio Academy is a very exclusive school. To enroll, a student must be the clone of a famous historical figure. Wolfgang Mozart, Queen Elizabeth, Sigmund Freud, Marie Curie, Adolf Hitler – with such a combustible student body, it’s only a matter of time before the campus explodes!” – blurb on the dust jacket of volume 1.
It’s always difficult to effectively summarize a series like this: one that’s completely dependent on a theme or idea (clones and human identity), rather than a chain of events. But perhaps that’s why I enjoyed the ride so much. It’s mature and weighty, and it forces you to think. Is a clone whose body is a mirror image of its original going to have the same personality and talent? Should a clone be held responsible for the sins of its predecessor? And what if two clones of the same person come into contact with one another? Is there a difference and, if so, how do they cope with the knowledge that they can easily be replaced? Is a clone tied to the fate of their original, even if that original died young or horribly?
Helping these ideas along is the fact that Kumiko Suekane manages to end every volume on a cliffhanger, not to mention give genuine personalities to all of the characters. The clone of Sigmund Freud is perhaps my favorite, especially as he is the one espousing most of the theories on the clones’ predicaments, but the entire cast work well together and seem to react to one another as friends and rivals in realistic ways. The art is fantastic with lavishly drawn backgrounds in more panels than not. Each character has a distinct look that coincides with their historical counterpart, made all the more apparent in later volumes. It should be noted that there are full-on bare breasts in some of the volumes – not the usual, creatively-disguised fanservice we usually see – but these instances are brief and not at all egregious. They’re not necessary to the story, per se, but they do allow a little character building, particularly with the aforementioned Freud. Finally, the book comes in a larger size than most manga, and with a built-in dust jacket that lends it a higher-quality feel.
If I have one complaint against this series, it’s that even after six volumes very little has actually happened. Though I praise the series for focusing on the themes and ideas, it would be nice to have a little action now and then. A big event in the middle of the run is certainly powerful and exciting, but the end result is more moping about, thinking, and talking. No one ever acts. The sixth volume does end with a few of the characters taking their agency into their own hands, so perhaps now we’re heading in the right direction, but we’ll have to wait until the seventh volume drops in January to find out.
My ultimate conclusion is this: read Afterschool Charisma. Read it and enjoy it and allow yourself to ruminate on the implications of the problems it points out. You won’t be disappointed.
Black Butler vols. 2-4 by Yana Toboso
“As high society’s social calendar opens up and the Season draws to a close, London is gripped by fear. Someone has taken to stalking women of the night and painting the town red… in their blood. But while the name on everyone’s lips is “Jack the Ripper,” the name on Queen Victoria’s lips is Phantomhive. Summoned to London to clean up the mess created by this madman, young earl Ciel Phantomhive arrives with his extraordinary butler Sebastian, at his side to pour him tea, polish his silver, and… investigate a serial killer!” – blurb on the back of volume 2.
It’s almost funny to go back and re-read the early volumes of manga that are still on-going. After all volume 4 of Black Butler is when we first get introduced to Prince Soma, and he’s made a return in the most recent chapters released in Japan. Ultimately, all I’m doing is reaffirming my love of this series, from its beautiful artwork to its beautiful characters.
These early to middle volumes are interesting because Yana Toboso is still playing around with the ideas of the Victorian setting. Does the manga want to stick religiously to its historical setting, or does it want to play around with anachronisms? Just how supernatural does the story go? It’s in these volumes that we’re introduced to the Grim Reapers but also to real-life crime stories. I absolutely love the mishmash! Your mileage may vary, of course, but if nothing else it’s fun to see a series that is so silly to the casual observer (“He’s a butler, and a demon!”), but which takes itself so seriously.
Sadly, we’re moving from one of my favorite arcs (Jack the Ripper) into one of my least favorites (the curry battle), but I know there’s bigger and better coming, so I’ll be sticking it out!
Blue Exorcist vols. 1-3 by Kazue Kato
“Raised by Father Fujimoto, a famous exorcist, Rin Okumura never knew his real father. One day a fateful argument with Father Fujimoto forces Rin to face a terrible truth – the blood of the demon lord Satan runs in Rin’s veins! Rin swears to defeat Satan, but doing that means entering the mysterious True Cross Academy and becoming an exorcist himself. Can Rin fight demons and keep his infernal bloodline a secret? It won’t be easy, especially when drawing his father’s sword releases the demonic power within him!” – blurb on the back of volume 1.
When I picked up the first volume of this series, I was initially unimpressed. It read like your typical shonen series and felt simultaneously too rushed and too slow in its pacing. I respect that the series both wanted to get to the point and give background to Rin, Father Fujimoto, and company, but the end result was a slow burn that just kind of exploded into end-of-the-world action as the volume reached its midway point. The second and third volumes, however, are vast improvements when it comes to pacing. Sure, they’ve entered the training phase that every shonen manga has to go through, but at least the characters are being introduced, given histories and personalities, and allowed to develop. The training montage is a trope for a reason, and Blue Exorcist shows how to put it to good use.
I wouldn’t rank Blue Exorcist at the top of my all-time favorite list of manga – it would need to become a little more unique from the rest of the crowd for that – but it’s a perfectly serviceable series that I can enjoy on a rainy afternoon. I would really like for the cast to move away from some of the stereotypes that have dominated the genre for a while now: the demure, female healer/support character; the glasses-wearing intellectual who shares a friendly rivalry (with a healthy dose of disdain) with the outspoken “act first, ask questions later” protagonist; the big bruiser with a heart of gold. Perhaps Blue Exorcists greatest strength might lay in the fact that it’s ultimate villain is Satan, which means things can probably get pretty serious pretty quickly. Once they get out of training, that is.
By now, you’ve probably already started Blue Exorcist or watched the anime on your own, but if you haven’t, give it a chance. It may be the shonen manga that catches your eye, or it may fall short of expectations. But it’s worth a look if nothing else.