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Off the Shelf: Hungry?

MICHELLE: Mmm… Leftover pad thai.

MELINDA: Um. Macaroni & cheese from a box? I’m not sure I can *quite* say “yum.”

MICHELLE: We put diced tomatoes in ours. It’s definitely yum. :)

So, what have you been reading this week?

MELINDA: Well, first I checked out the first two volumes of Eri Takenashi’s Kannagi. The second volume isn’t due out from Bandai Entertainment until October, but the first has been out for a while, and I’m just now catching up with it.

Kannagi tells the story of Jin, a spiritually gifted high school student who pays tribute to his town’s recently cut-down sacred tree by carving a statue of its spirit from the leftover wood. Having met the spirit of the tree as a child, his likeness is close enough to the real thing to actually bring the tree’s guardian deity to life in the form of a human girl. With her tree now gone, the deity, Nagi, has lost some of her power, and must rely on Jin to help her cleanse “impurities” that lurk around looking like insects and snakes. Meanwhile, newly-human Nagi wreaks havoc on Jin’s life, both at home and school.

As a premise, this all works pretty well. Foisting a pretty, domineering, otherworldly girl into the life of a young everyman may not be the most original shounen plot ever, but in-between boob jokes, Takenashi throws in some genuinely quirky stuff. For instance, after watching a magical girl anime on television, Nagi soberly builds her own magical staff out of plastic toys and paper, believing it will help her stamp out the impurities. The book’s early chapters are filled with small bits of humor like this, and even when the first volume beings to drift into harem territory, it retains most of its charm.

Unfortunately, things slide quickly downhill in volume two, when much of the series’ original premise is abandoned in favor of an increasingly obvious harem setup, complete with maid cafes, random swimsuits, and an endless supply of breast/otaku jokes (rotating on a regular schedule). By the end of the volume, in fact, pretty much everything I found charming about the series initially was gone, and it’s hard to say whether I’ll be sticking around to see if it ever returns.

MICHELLE: Oh, that’s too bad. For a while there it seemed like a shounen romantic comedy that any audience could enjoy. I guess it was too good to last.

MELINDA: Well, maybe I’ve given up too soon. But I’ll admit to being pretty disappointed, after such a promising start.

So what have you got for us this week?

MICHELLE: Like you, I read the first two volumes of a series whose second volume came out recently and its first some time ago (2009, in this case). I’m talking about Angelic Runes, a josei supernatural/fantasy series from Makoto Tateno, better known here for her BL work.

Sowil is a young man possessed of a unique brand of magic who is looking for his father and some answers. Shortly into his quest he comes upon a village where the people are preparing to bury two children alive, believing them to be the source of a curse. Sowil intervenes and ends up taking the kids—a girl named Allueh and a boy named Erudite—with him on his journey. Very quickly he realizes that they’re oracles; Allu can hear the divine voices of demons and Eru the voices of angels. These celestial beings provide Sowil advice on his travels and generally steer him in the direction of people needing his help.

As the trio travels, Sowil ends up helping an ocean-dwelling spirit return home and identifies the being responsible for a series of killings. Both have a connection to the father he is seeking, and gradually Sowil begins to break through the seal that has been placed over his memories and those of the people where he grew up. The angels and demons observing through Eru and Allu are concerned, as well, and through them we see even more investigation of Sowil’s past. Tateno mixes quite a lot of mythologies here, but it’s all in good fun.

What this results in is a kind of low-key story with some genuinely likeable characters, which is definitely my cup of tea. Sowil is really nice—his propensity to help random townspeople reminds me of Rakan from Silver Diamond—but his unique runic magic also makes him somewhat of a badass, so that’s an interesting juxtaposition. I’m also really interested in Allu and Eru, who seemingly have no personalities of their own and simply function as vessels for higher powers. That’s either mysterious or incredibly sad. Perhaps both.

Anyway, there is at least one more volume of this. I hope it won’t be another two years before we see it.

MELINDA: That does sound like a tasty cup of tea. Why have I been ignoring this series?

MICHELLE: Well, when the first volume comes out and then nothing happens for two years, I think one is justified in thinking, “Hm, perhaps this series has been discontinued.” I like Tateno in general, though, and remembered that Connie (of Slightly Biased Manga) liked the first volume back when we were all part of Manga Recon, so I never forgot about it. It probably doesn’t sell too well, alas, but I hope DMP makes enough through their BL catalog to finance a third volume someday.

What’s your second manga du jour?

MELINDA: My second read this week was volume one of Bloody Monday, one of Kodansha Comics’ many recent debut series over the past month or so. It’s a thriller about a teen hacker named Fujimaru aka “Falcon.” Though Fujimaru’s skills are often sought out by his special agent dad, he also uses them to do things like liberate his private school from the influence of a harassing faculty member.

When his dad stumbles onto something that gets him framed for murder and puts his family in jeopardy, Fujimaru takes matters into his own hands and, with the help of his high school newspaper crew, continues his dad’s investigation regardless of the danger. Though the series’ super-smart-teen shares some of the more over-the-top qualities of Death Note‘s Light Yagami, he’s at least not a sociopath, which certainly helps in terms of likability, if not in believability. Opening boob and panty shots would suggest that this series shares some other attitudes in common with Death Note-style boys’ comics as well, but at least it seems to feature at least a couple of potentially competent female team members. I suppose time will tell.

Comparisons to Death Note might suggest that I found little to like in Bloody Monday, but actually I enjoyed it more than I expected. Though it’s obviously intended to appeal to fans of the former, I have to admit that its kinder tone goes a long way with me. Despite its highly derivative premise, I expect I’ll continue on with it.

On the petty side, I did notice something early on, Michelle, that made me think of you. There’s a panel in the first chapter that is so poorly laid out in terms of speech bubble placement, that one bit of dialogue looks like it’s being spoken by a character’s hand, or maybe the canister she’s holding. Once I figured out what was really supposed to be going on, I thought, “Michelle would have a field day with this!”

MICHELLE: Probably I would! I kind of relish skewering things like that. I am glad you enjoyed this, though, because it’s written by the same guy behind GetBackers, which is a series I liked a good bit. If GetBackers is any indication, Bloody Monday may well be able to balance the fanservice and competent female characters to your liking.

Now this makes me sigh ‘cos I wish Kodansha would pick up GetBackers, but it’s really been so long…

MELINDA: I’m definitely interested to see where this goes! I feel a little weird about enjoying something that’s so obviously derivative of a series I was fairly wishy-washy on, but I’m going to just go with it.

So what’s your second offering for the evening?

MICHELLE: I seem to be mirroring you this week, since I also checked out another Kodansha debut. Gon may not be new to American audiences, but it was new to me. I’d seen it praised quite a bit, but never before been compelled to check it out. Now that I have… well… I’m not entirely sure whether I’ll keep reading it.

The premise and execution are certainly unique. Gon is the last remaining dinosaur, and is only a year old. This doesn’t stop him from challenging animals many times his size, however, as this volume finds him facing off against a bear whom he later uses for a bed, convincing a lion to serve as his steed and later eating alongside him as equals, and protecting a nest of eagles from a prowling bobcat. The art is incredibly detailed and entirely nonverbal. So, in that respect, I must say that Gon is really something special.

The thing is… I just don’t like Gon. While I commend mangaka Masashi Tanaka for not making him cute and endearing—he’s fierce and intimidating, even if diminutive—how can I like a critter who basically floods out an entire forest habitat making a dam that makes it easier for him to catch fish? So, on the one hand I’m like “Heh, what a little bastard”—and it is kind of cool how one can so easily invent dialog for all the displaced animals along the lines of “I hate that guy”—but on the other hand I’m like, “Man, what a little bastard!” Can I enjoy bastardly doings for six more volumes? I’m not sure.

One last thing puzzles me. This volume is quite slim. The material has previously been released in the US. And, being without words as it is, is a very quick read, even for a notorious slowpoke like me. These three factors seem to suggest this would be an ideal candidate for omnibus treatment—something Kodansha has shown a willingness to undertake for series like Love Hina and Tokyo Mew Mew—so why not Gon?

MELINDA: Well, huh. I’m intrigued for sure, though I suspect I may have a similar reaction overall. I find it really difficult to enjoy a series whose protagonist I dislike, especially if there isn’t some other character for me to really latch on to. Your omnibus question is interesting as well. I wonder if it has to do with licensing?

MICHELLE: Probably it does. Or else they’re keeping the volumes small so they’re not intimidating for kids.

MELINDA: Ah yes, could be.

MICHELLE: So. Um. Good night, then. :)

MELINDA: And to you, my friend!

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  1. I’ve never read Getbackers, but this is the same guy who also writes Kindaichi Shounen, which is pretty much my favorite series ever, and Psychometrer Eiji, which was also a favorite, so I might try out Bloody Monday eventually (though I have so much else on my list…).

  2. Gon doesn’t get any more likable in future volumes. He can be a bully and even does things like beating up a dingo who’s just trying to provide food for her pups. :( I really love the series though – the naturalistic storytelling and often stunning art really work for me, though I can see how this series isn’t for everyone.

    • That’s disappointing. And inconsistent. Why would he protect an eagle and its young but beat up a dingo trying to provide for hers? I guess he just does whatever serves him best, whatever the situation. You’re right about the art and naturalistic storytelling, though. I will at least read one more volume to see whether I can put up with Gon enough to enjoy the good things about the series.


  1. […] Michelle Smith and Melinda Beasi discuss some new releases in their latest Off the Shelf column at Manga […]

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