[ I’ve also done a 2017 Anime Year in Review! ]

I’ve started reading manga more seriously this year, as I’ve jumped into making a real effort to learn Japanese (reading, at least) and am at the point where I can get through the kind of material I’m most interested in pretty well. I won’t be doing rankings or lists of favorite characters or any of that, and comments will generally be shorter than what I write for anime (with the exception of Shoshuryo). But as a whole it got long enough that I didn’t want to overload the anime post.

[ Standard disclaimer: Spoilers! Lots of spoilers! ]

All manga listed in no particular order.

Comments
Shoujo Shuumatsu Ryokou (vol. 5, ongoing)
Futakaku Kankei (vol. 2, complete)
Demi Life! (vol. 2, complete)
Heart of the Girl (vol. 2, complete)

Other
A quick rundown of other stuff I’m reading but am not ready to write anything detailed about yet:
• Ato de Shimai Masu.
• Centaur no Nayami
• Flying Witch
• Harukana Receive
• Sakura Trick
• Shinmai Shimai no Futari Gohan

2017 Manga


Shoujo Shuumatsu Ryokou
(Shinchousha/Bunch Comics | 5 volumes | Ongoing | Bookwalker Listing)
(click to hide)

[Regarding spoilers: The anime covers to the end of volume four (the submarine). My comments cover through the latest collected volume, the fifth. I’ll indicate where I explicitly start discussing volume five with a collapse tag, but I cant leave it out entirely because it’s the most fascinating volume yet.]

“Dark. Dark. Dark. Daaaaaaark!” “Shut up.” “Sorry.” “…It’s alright.” The sparse, casual banter in Shoshuryo’s first pages immediately establishes Chito and Yuuri’s character dynamic. Yuu does something annoying, Chi gets annoyed, they spar momentarily, make up like it’s no big deal, and then soldier on. It’s not just that they’re close friends who understand and accept each other’s quirks, though they are certainly that. It’s also that they have little choice but to cooperate. Chito drives and keeps records. Yuu defends and provides the muscle. Along with their old Kettenkrad, that’s all they have in the world – each other.

暗い (dark), 燃料 (fuel), 食料 (food), 武器 (weapon), 層 (layer). There are certain words that stuck out to me over and over while reading. Through the dark, constantly seeking fuel, food, and weapons, they press onward and upward through the layers of a massive, ruined city. These are words from the bottom rungs of the hierarchy of needs, but that’s the nature of their world. They may fantasize from time to time about settling down, but they know the Kettenkrad is their only home. They’re nomads, navigating a shaky tightrope of subsistence living.

Their wanderings follow two guiding principles, one life-threateningly immediate, one nebulous and uncertain: “toward food, and vaguely upward”. Any diversions they make along the way can only be temporary. They’re not so jaded as to lack awe or fascination at the breathtaking sights they encounter, but awe and fascination don’t fill your stomach (or gas tank). This is a thoughtful story, but they can only afford to be so sentimental. They always have to keep moving. That inevitably have to leave behind everything and everyone they’ve met.

But what marvels there are to behold for those of us with the luxury to read through their adventures in peace and comfort! Tsukumizu’s art is stunning, with an eye for depth and scale that uses only as much, or as little, detail as is needed to convey a mood, be that lurking menace, awe, or a brief moment of relaxation.

The deliberately sketchy artwork reinforces a visual style I can only describe as “architectural uncanny valley”. I am deeply fascinated by the world they inhabit. It is our world, as we find out early on (presumably Japan, given their names and the Japanese writing everywhere), albeit in the year 3230. And it’s apparently been nothing if not a traumatic 1200 years, because while so much is essentially familiar, it’s eerily off-putting in so many ways.

While societal ruin and Tsukumizu’s abstract style leave the most obvious marks on the cityscape, the pieces that remain intact strike me as relics of a civilization gone mad. Within the suffocatingly dense ruins, it’s war and religion that provide context clues into a history that, as far as we know, nobody still alive remembers. One of the only clues we receive is the fact that a temple they visit – to a god they’ve never known – was built 400 years prior.

No amount of imagination I muster can fully reverse engineer architecture like this into something entirely comfortable. Everything about the world either feels slightly askew, or oppressively sterile. I don’t know what a millennium has done to our descendants, but Shoshuryo’s world screams of industry divorced from logic, in a society in which technology self-replicates like an untamed forest.

And while we learn more and more as the chapters go by, we’re given as many questions as answers. Who were the sides in the war? Or wars? How long ago was the war? Which came first, the long statues adorned with faces, or the mysterious creatures, encountered in volume four, who clearly resemble them (or vice versa)? Did the AIs precede humanity’s collapse, or were they developed to assist a declining population, before such technology was lost forever?

I may ask, but I’m in no rush to find out the answers. I want Tsukumizu to reveal as little or as much as they choose, in due time, because one of the most wonderful things about this manga is its pacing. Many chapters follow something of a formula: arrive in a strange new place, encounter something interesting, get treated to a breathtaking two-page spread, reflect for a moment, then continue the journey. But the last three chapters of each volume tell an extended story, often with higher stakes and bigger payoffs. In volume one, we meet the first other human we see, a wandering cartographer. In volume two we’re introduced to an eccentric engineer who is seeking to be the first (and perhaps last) human to achieve flight in this shattered world. Volume three’s encounter with the AIs leads to a dramatic battle. The fourth volume introduces the strange creature Nuko, then takes us aboard the nuclear submarine where we meet others of its species, who are some sort of alien hazmat squad. The fifth volume, well, I’ll get to that.

The recurring theme in each case is loss, with a glimmer of hope. The cartographer loses his life’s work, but realizes that, perhaps, the pursuit of it was the fun part. Similarly the engineer’s maiden flight and life’s work is a failure, but she doesn’t seem to have completely lost the will to go on. The encounter with the rogue AI necessitates its destruction, but in the process one of the last non-human living things (a fish!) is preserved. And the encounter with the bizarre ICBM-eating creatures leaves Chi and Yuu with the information that their world is ending… but in their characteristic way, they brush it off. Their tightly clasped hands may belie masked concern, but it’s also a sign that they know they can get through everything. At least as long as they have each other.

Shoshuryo may be slice of life in many ways, but the journey is definitely going somewhere. “Toward food, and vaguely upward”. It’s in the fifth volume that this vagueness is brought into sharper relief. It also emphasizes the importance of an emotion that’s central to Chi and Yuu’s interactions with the beings they encounter: 共感 (sympathy, empathy).

Volume 5 Spoilers (click here)

Volume four may have the most shocking reveal (hey, we’re strange mushroom creatures who eat nukes, also your world is dying), but there’s something deeply haunting about the Tower in volume five. No other volume got to me quite as much as this one did.

The volume begins with a restock of their water supplies, before they settle on a next direction. The strange creatures on the submarine reinforced the idea that they should go up, up to the highest layer of the city. And so they do.

Their first pit stop leaves finds them wandering into an old art museum, where they contribute, in their own small way, to the continuation of humanity’s artistic history. In a particularly nice touch, Yuu hangs her picture side by side with a replica of the cave paintings of Altamira, known as one of the earliest examples of human art. It’s hard not to get emotional at the juxtaposition of some of the first human art with, perhaps, the last.
Off-topic tangent about a potential hint as to where in Japan they are (click here)

There actually is a replica of the Altamira cave paintings in Japan, in the Xavier Castle Museum of the Shima Spain Village theme park. It’s located in Mie prefecture, Shima city [map]. 1200 years is a very long time during which an art installation could have been relocated so this certainly isn’t proof of where they are. But Tsukumizu is from Aichi prefecture, which is just across the Ise Bay from Shima. It’s totally possible they’ve loosely modeled this world after an area they’re familiar with. (It’s also possible this has already been proven or disproven and is old news! I just stumbled into it through a Wikipedia rabbit hole and found it rather interesting.)

After a few more diversions (clothes washing, a bit of impromptu tailoring, getting stoned, hallucinating ghosts of the past, and engaging in a bit of vandalis– er, demolition work) they finally arrive at enormous, menacing tower.

And they’re greeted by this.

It’s an affable AI, very pleased to see them and quite eager to guide them to the elevator they seek. It doesn’t get visitors often, you see. On account of the end of the world and all. Why, it’s so bored it’s taken to composing poetry in binary. Difficult for humans to understand of course, but it lets the machines read it. (Whether they enjoy it is left unsaid.) After a bit more friendly conversation, Chi and Yuu arrive safely at the elevator. The AI gives them a code to punch in and submit. Yuu obliges.

The AI informs them that they just activated its self-erasure mechanism, and it thanks them. They’ve just helped an AI commit suicide.

“I was a failed reproduction of a god. Farewell.”

Chi and Yuu don’t understand, but how could they? Their every waking moment is a struggle to obtain the food and fuel they need to survive. They’re limited by convoluted and treacherous terrain. The AI can move freely through matter, and its power sources have run uninterrupted for centuries. It can’t leave its tower, but it does have the home Chi and Yuu lack.

But a home you can’t leave may as well be a prison. Chi and Yuu’s life is fraught, but they are free in a way the AI can never be.

A recurring topic of conversation between Chi and Yuu has been the nature of what it means to be alive. Is it movement? Sound? Speech? …The ability to die? They ponder fish, industrial machinery, and various degrees of sophisticated robots. Just as they’re deciding that being able to say “Hello” may define life, they run right into an AI that does just that, in volume three. At the end of those particular adventures, where they risk their lives to save a fish they’d prefer to eat if given half the chance, they seem to agree with the AI that above all, to be alive is to be capable of sympathy.

And so as they watch the AI fade out, watch it “die” as they all stand in the huge elevator, Chi and Yuu feel something. They feel sympathy.

Then with a jolt, the elevator stirs. It’s time to move on.

…And so they keep journeying. Toward food… and upward. Ever upward.

“Hey, Yuu.”
“Yea?”
“If we keep climbing higher and higher, then someday… …let’s go to the moon.”
“That’d be nice…”

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Futakaku Kankei
(Houbunsha/Manga Time Kirara | 2 volumes | Completed | Bookwalker Listing)
(click to hide)

[Regarding spoilers: Full spoilers. It’s complete, and very unlikely to get an anime.

What if Namori’s “Truth”… but Tachi? Oh my does this go in directions I wasn’t expecting. Since I didn’t want to post spoilers on my Twitter feed, the night I finished volume two consisted of vaguely yelling “TACHI WTF”. I’ve been dying to say something about it since, but don’t know anyone else who has read it.

It starts out innocently enough. Twin sisters Himari and Airi have entered high school and are starting to drift apart. They’re not fighting, but they no longer wear the same hairstyle and hang out in the same circles. But they’re still friendly, and one day a injured Himari asks Airi to stand in for her at work. Simple enough – twins pretending to be each other is a common comedic trope. But that night, one of Himari’s older coworkers, Asagiri Chisaki, confesses to Airi, thinking she’s Himari. Again, comedic trope. Airi will wait too long to reveal the truth, misunderstandings will ensue, and there will be a happy ending where Chisaki finds out but has already come to love Airi for Airi, not just for being Himari.

Except…

Airi keeps lying. She adopts Himari’s clothes, hairstyle, and mannerisms while everything careens well beyond the point where she could admit her deception without badly hurting anyone. Along the way she grows farther apart from Himari, tangles with and overcomes Chisaki’s yandere stalker, and builds an increasingly elaborate web of lies before her luck finally runs out and Himari discovers what has been going on.

All the way up to this point I thought it might still end happily. A tearful apology, some hard truths, and wrap it all up. I mean, Tachi wrote Sakura Trick, a sweet, fluffy romance.

Instead, Himari takes a gamble. She (as Airi) goes to meet Chisaki with Airi (as Himari) and another friend (Ichika), to give Chisaki one last chance to see through the ruse (and Airi one last chance to confess). But things don’t go her way, and the meeting ends with Chisaki rushing off to work with Airi in tow. Ichika calls out to Himari to see if she’s okay, but through tears Himari simply responds “From now on, I’m Airi.”

Airi admits nothing. The deception cannot be walked back. She repeats the same apology she offered when she first kissed Chisaki, and leaves a devastated Himari behind. And in the closing pages, the transformation is complete. Himari is now Airi, Airi is now Himari. Himari has completely stolen her beloved sister’s identity.

See, Himari had never actually wanted to grow apart from Airi. Even more strongly than Airi, she felt they were one soul in two bodies. She cared so much about Airi, and wanted to be with her forever. Well, now she’s going to be her… forever.

For a while I wondered if Tachi needed to end this earlier than planned, hence the shocker of an ending. But it’s pretty clear that the build-up is way too deliberate for that. I think this was exactly the manga she intended it to be. Whew.

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Demi Life!
(Ichijinsha/Comic Yuri Hime | 2 volumes | Completed | Bookwalker Listing)
(click to hide)

[Regarding spoilers: Full spoilers. It’s complete, and very unlikely to get an anime.

Demi Life! is good monster girl yuri, and I so wish had been longer than two volumes. The premise is cookie cutter enough: Azuma Manaka, a normal human, entres a school where a good chunk of the students are “Demis” (various non-human humanoids), somehow without realizing it ahead of time. Her new dorm mates are a flamboyant vampire, a motherly yuki onna prone to melting when flustered, a playful wolf, a foul-mouthed mermaid, and hard-drinking nine-tailed kitsune dorm mom.

An impressive amount is packed into these two volumes: Manaka bonding with all her dorm mates, the amicable resolution of a love triangle, a forgotten childhood backstory, and a renewed love. It all felt beautifully paced, avoiding so many of the pitfalls romance manga can fall into when they want to stretch out a confession. As volume two neared its end, I thought we were going to get a confession, and then continue their life together in volu– well, shit. It was only two volumes. Two volumes of bliss that ends on a beautiful high note, but it’s a damn shame we don’t get to see their life together.

So what worked so well with such a pedestrian premise? Besides every character being impossibly endearing, I appreciated that Yukie, the yuki onna, was the one paired up with Manaka. On her fist introduction I thought it was a given she had a thing with Shiori the vampire, and maybe Manaka would get together with the mermaid or wolf. But we soon learn that Yukie has wanted to see Manaka ever since they fell in love and parted as children. And while that trope is played out, Manaka does what so few protagonists do: she not only makes the obvious connection in her own head pretty quickly, but also vocalizes it to the other person. Immediately. And Yukie doesn’t deflect either, she reciprocates. Manaka even asks if Yukie remembers the kiss – and then they share a new one, right then and there.

They have some issues to deal with after that given the nature of being in love with a yuki onna, but by the second volume’s close, they’re a happy couple.

Demi Life! is a truly delightful, heart-warming story and I wish there were more yuri manga by this author. I was happy for days after I finished it, and would do anything for more.

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Heart of the Girl
(Houbunsha/Manga Time Kirara | 2 volumes | Completed | Bookwalker Listing)
(click to hide)

[Regarding spoilers: Full spoilers. It’s complete, and very unlikely to get an anime.

My biggest takeaway from Heart of the Girl is that, as always, execution matters. The premise has the potential to be more than a little problematic: aliens come to earth to play a mobile game in which they “capture” girls to score points. Girls are ranked like playing cards: normal, rare, etc. “Capturing” a girl means to get her body temperature up and heart racing, through romantic or sexual situations. Everything about this could go terribly wrong! It could treat the girls as objects, not characters with agency. It could even come off as dangerously non-consensual, which would bring everything crashing down. The very first point scored even came on a boob grope, and while it was an unintentional one, and on a girl who had a crush on the girl doing it anyway, there was still reason to wonder what kind of tone this series was going for. I had some confidence in Tamamusi (she has some doujins and one-shots that handle iffy topics with a degree of grace) but still, you never know.

My fears were allayed the first time we really got into how the game worked. The two aliens that our protagonist Nozomi spends much of her time with demonstrate “capturing” a girl by helping her confess her feelings to the girl she’s in love with. The game isn’t about making someone fall in love with you (though some of the players do indeed love and want to be with the girls they’re pursuing), it’s about making them feel loved – by whoever is going to get their heart well and truly racing.

It goes on to play with these ideas in cute, positive, sometimes heart-wrenching ways. At its climax four separate factions are vying for the heart of Joujima Kakoi, the most difficult clear. She’s an Ultra Miracle Rare, and she’s the girl they’ve all genuinely fallen for. Of course Nozomi comes out on top, because Kakoi has always loved her, and she’s always loved Kakoi. It just takes them a little while to realize they didn’t need a game, aliens, or galactic conspiracies to tell them that.

Heart of the Girl is a really delightful work, and I’m looking forward to checking out Tamamusi’s Akarui Kioku Soushitsu in the coming year, although it’s an ongoing manga (at least I’m pretty sure v2 isn’t the end) so I’m not in a rush.

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Other manga

A brief list of the ongoing manga

Ato de Shimai Masu.
(Ichijinsha/Comic Yuri Hime | 3 volumes | Ongoing | Bookwalker Listing)
A very cute slice of life story about two sisters, one in high school and the other in elementary school. It’s fairly yuri-light for a Comic Yuri Hime manga series, but a few options are opening up for the older sister. The younger sister mostly deals with being the responsible one at home while her sister lazes around and cosplays. And she’s maybe a little worried her sister isn’t spending so much time with her anymore. (Although I’ll add that there’s zero indication of it planning to take an incest route.)

Centaur no Nayami
(Tokuma Shoten/Ryu Comics | 16JP/13EN volumes | Ongoing | Bookwalker Listing [English])
A lot of the more theme-focused I wrote about the anime was largely informed by my reading of the manga, which has gone well past where the anime ended, and is simply a much better experience overall. Nothing can really prepare you for this manga, however. It’s a bizarre meditation on family, biology, sex, history, politics, queerness, discrimination, religion, extraterrestrial life, and whatever else Murayama Kei’s brilliantly eccentric mind conjures up. It all just happens to be explored within the framework of a slice of life monster girl story.
This is the one series I’m reading the English localization of, because the dialogue is far too weird and technical and philosophical for my level of Japanese.

Flying Witch
(Kodansha/Bessatsu Shounen Magazine | 6 volumes | Ongoing | Bookwalker Listing)
I wrote about the anime back when it aired, and I can say in the happiest way that not much has changed. It’s still the same terribly funny, super warm series it’s always been. The big change has been Makoto taking on official witch jobs, while Chinatsu (sort of) casts her first magic. Our two young witches are making definite progress! By the way, if you’re looking for an easy(ish) JP manga to read, this one has furigana, unlike everything else I’ve been reading.

Harukana Receive
(Houbunsha/Manga Time Kirara | 4 volumes | Ongoing | Bookwalker Listing)
This is actually getting an anime soon so I won’t say much, although there’s also not a ton to spoil. It’s about girls bonding over beach volleyball, and I’m really glad to see it getting adapted given how rare girls’ sports anime are. There’s just the right balance of bonding, competition, and drama to keep me interested. I don’t really consider sports stories to be slice of life and this is no exception. It’s actually fairly practice- and tournament-focused in most volumes. The anime will probably spend at least as much time on the court as off. Probably a similar ratio to Shakunetsu no Takkyuu Musume.

Sakura Trick
(Houbunsha/Manga Time Kirara | 8 volumes | Completed | Bookwalker Listing)
The series may be completed, but I’ve only just started reading it. I’m generally slower to get to 4koma because I find them a lot more tedious to read due to their text density. Still, now that it’s finally finished, I’ve added it to my reading list. I’m about 2/3rds through the second volume, so it’s all still anime material for now. Being a 4koma, it’s a case where I think the anime will have been the better medium overall, but it’s not like we’re getting a sequel so I am definitely going to finish the manga and see how the story goes.

Shinmai Shimai no Futari Gohan
(Kadokawa/Dengeki Comics Next | 4 volumes | Ongoing | Bookwalker Listing)
Sachi’s father remarries, and suddenly she finds herself with a new little sister, Ayari. Things start a little awkward but they quickly bond over cooking, and each chapter is a tasty meal they share together. So far there’s minimal overarching plot, though there’s some slight signs one of Sachi’s friends has a thing for her. Hasn’t had a chance to go anywhere though.
This one I’ve actually been reading via Yuri-ism’s scanslations, since I started doing so before I began reading manga in Japanese. I’ve considered switching over to reading it in JP instead, but the thought of working through a ton of food and cooking terminology is not terribly inviting.

Reading in Japanese obviously takes much longer than reading in English, but it’s been pretty rewarding. It does mean that I don’t get a ton read though, because I need to be in the mood for a whole lot of extra mental exertion. Still, in addition to those ongoing series (which I’ll only need to read when they release a new volume now, except for Sakura Trick which I have six and a third volumes left to go through), there are a few I’ve got on my radar:

1. Konohana Kitan – The anime was utterly gorgeous but it looks like I’ll need to go to the manga to get more substantial movement on the relationships. This is my top priority right now.
2. Akarui Kioku Soushitsu – Another manga by Tamamusi, who did Heart of the Girl. Only two volumes are out so it shouldn’t take long to catch up.
3. Mabataki Dekinai – A one-volume (complete?) manga about an MMO NPC who falls in love with a player (yuri, of course). I wouldn’t be that interested in the opposite premise, but seeing it from the NPC’s POV sounds pretty interesting so I picked it up to read.
4. Tachibanakan To Lie Angle – I was eventually going to give it a try, but now that it has an anime coming I might just start with a few chapters or one volume to see if it’s any good, and then wait for the adaptation.

I’ve got a few more things to check out in my Bookwalker queue, but no decisions yet.

2 Responses to “2017 Manga Year in Review”

  1. Papa Shango says:

    Since you are reading Shoujo Shuumatsu Ryokou,You might wanna give Made in Abyss a try.

    • something something says:

      I already know the big twists and stuff from people talking about the anime so I’m not super motivated. It’s all a little more brutal than I usually want from my manga as well.

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