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Coppelion, the science fiction manga about genetically engineered clones tasked with finding any remaining survivors in a radioactive Tokyo, finally wrapped up last month on February 20, 2016.

Running since 2008 for over 20 volumes, Coppelion has had a rather turbulent history. Its story about an earthquake that triggers a nuclear meltdown in Japan and changes the course of many lives went from “what if” to “what now” with the Fukushima Triple Disaster on March 11, 2016. Its animated adaptation was canceled, then revived with heavy censorship and a strange modification to its aestheticsCoppelion has seen multiple tonal shifts over the course of the series that had people wondering if it was a manga about radiation or an excuse to see high school girls fighting.

For all its ups and downs, I believe tha its author Inoue Tomonori had the best intentions in mind throughout Coppelion‘s run. Elements that one might assume were there merely to cater to manga readers actually carried with them a great deal of subtlety, and the subject of nuclear power never truly disappeared from the manga. In fact, I suspect that the decision to conclude Coppelion at this point is very deliberate and designed to make a statement.

Not only was the final chapter of Coppelion published in Monthly Young Magazine right before today, the fifth anniversary of 3.11, but the initial disaster that sets the story of Coppelion is supposed to take place this year, in 2016. What better place could there be to bring this narrative to a close?

Though I have no evidence as such, I think it is very likely that this final chapter was planned to land in this time frame, as a symbolic reminder of the potential dangers of nuclear radiation, as well as the problems created when both people and the governing bodies responsible for its regulation become negligent towards nuclear safety.

You can read the Coppelion manga online at Crunchyroll.

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saki-reign

Saki is special to me. While I certainly was no stranger to anime and manga when it first aired, Saki (along with Akagi) formed the foundation of my interest in Japanese mahjong. As I learned and improved at the game, my experience with Saki also changed, going from not understanding the nonsense going on to realizing how much Saki mahjong is nonsense (fun, but nonsense nonetheless). I’ve had a lot of fun throwing panels about mahjong and analyzing the amazing powers that crop up in Saki. I also know I’m not alone in this respect: Saki is known for changing the genre of mahjong manga from the exclusive domain of yakuza narratives and hard-boiled intensity to girlish yuri and high school competition. They even made a tongue-in-cheek parody manga about the author!

With that in mind, I recently picked up the first two volumes of the English digital release of Saki by Yen Press. Had I realized the first volume was already out for two months I probably would’ve nabbed it sooner.

Saki is the story of a young girl named Miyanaga Saki who, similar to Takumi’s role in Initial D, has an immense talent for mahjong but is not a fan of the game. She gets roped into her school’s mahjong club, where the class president notices her absurd strength at the game despite Saki’s best efforts to hide it. She eventually joins the mahjong club and starts their path towards the high school championships.

Going over these early chapters (which I had really only seen in anime format), quite a few things strike me as noteworthy, all of which can be summed up by the fact that, at this starting point, Saki is still trying to find its way.

saki-yuri To say that the series did not have any basis in the yuri genre this early would be a baldfaced lie. In fact, the first thing that happens in Saki is Saki remarking on the beauty of her eventual teammate and best friend, buxom digital mahjong warrior Haramura Nodoka. One thing that does fade into the distant background, however, is the sole male club member Kyoushirou, who seems to start the series as a kind of male audience stand-in but eventually becomes all but fused with the background. I think at this point the series was trying to decide whether it would be more of a harem or more of a girls-only world, and it’s come to lean clearly in the direction of the latter.

saki-haremAnother aspect that’s changed significantly would be the artwork. As creator Kobayashi Ritz’ style has developed, the girls have gotten softer, their features more simplified yet pronounced, and I don’t even mean that only about Dragon Ball Z-esque chest size power creep that has occurred over the years. Some of the girls look very different here than they do in the current chapters of the manga, and both look quite different from the official anime character designs. I personally don’t have a preferred style for the characters.

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I also noticed that the manga actually sets up one of the major opponents for Saki and the rest of Kiyosumi very early on. As seen in the page above, one of the players is clearly Tsujigaito Satoha from Rinkai, which is a really strong school from later in the manga. There are no details about how Satoha basically dismantles opponents with pure skill as opposed to mahjong magic, but she’s there nevertheless.

The last thing I want to say is, as someone who’s approaching Saki with a firm grasp of mahjong now, I can’t quite say how reliable the translation is for those who don’t have a clue. What’s notable is that it mixes official English terms from mahjong in general with a few Japanese-only terms, and I wonder if that helps or hurts, say, people who are only familiar with Chinese or even American-style mahjong. Does that matter at all? I certainly enjoyed the series in its anime incarnation despite a lack of knowledge, but do the still image flourishes of manga have the same impact as seeing the titles fall? Does the electricity of a riichi call work in panels as it does on screen? That’s something for a new generation of Saki readers to decide.

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shidarehotaru-fakedrunk

I wrote a post about the eccentric heroine of Dagashi Kashi over at Apartment 507. You can find out why Hotaru might be my character of the year, and why her role as a sheltered dagashi heiress is so interesting to me.

Name: Serinuma, Kae (芹沼花依)
Alias: Ekka (えっか)
Relationship Status: Single
Origin: Kiss Him, Not Me!

Information:
Serinuma Kae is a high school student whose dramatic weight loss as a result of the trauma of her favorite anime character dying gives her an inadvertent makeover.  Afterwards, she attracts the attention of a number of boys (and even a girl) at her school. At first unrecognizable to even those close to her, Kae’s devotion to her favorite pairings and series at first overwhelms her potential suitors (especially her extensive merchandise collection), but they all come to accept it sooner or later, especially given the genuine passion she exudes for her yaoi pairings.

Kae’s favorite series are Mirage Saga, which is home to her dearly departed favorite character Shion, and later Katchu Love, an anime about a samurai armor that can transform into a handsome man. She shares her fujoshi hobbies with her best friend Nakano Amane, as well as one of her suitors, Nishina Shima.

Fujoshi Level:
Kae’s fondness for Katchu Love and the pairing of hero Sametora Hyakka and his armor Akane may or may not have caused the angry spirit of the real Sametora to achieve peace and pass on to the afterlife.

The trip to Nikkou winds down with a final stay at Yajima’s family home. Yoshitake presses Madarame to make a decision about who to date, but as each potential partner makes their case (or has their case made for them), Madarame is still hesitant to pick. However, when Kuchiki suggests that it be done by lottery if Madarame doesn’t care one way or another, Madarame chooses not to leave it in fate’s hands and declares that he will make his decision…next chapter.

Is it at long last the end of the Madarame harem arc? Will he end up with anyone or perhaps no one at all? Will Genshiken actually have Madarame choose, or will it be a Naruto-esque string of chapter titles each more final than the last?

Personally speaking, the harem aspect itself, the fact that four individuals are attracted to Madarame to varying degrees, is less interesting in terms of who ends up with who, and more in terms of its opportunities for characterization. This includes characters both inside and outside of the harem.

One of Yoshitake’s recurring traits is that she always has the group dynamic in mind. Much of the reason she wants Madarame to just choose already is because she’s worried about the relationships, the friendships, that exist among the members of Genshiken. The longer Madarame takes, the more these threads get frayed, but at the same time she wants the decision to be a real one, not a spur of the moment fancy. That’s why she arranged the whole Nikkou kujibiki dating scheme in the first place.

Angela is an impossibly attractive blonde American who encourages polygamy, having the least to lose due to the distance between the US and Japan. She has an interest in Madarame, but is more about having a good time. Sue, as Ogiue puts it, is Madarame’s ideal character: a blonde loli who’s also fluent in both “Japanese” and “otaku.” However, even after her confession it’s clear she still isn’t entirely sure what she wants their relationship to be. Hato is a “girl-boy” straight out of a visual novel,  but interestingly enough is still espousing the potential pitfalls of a homosexual relationship to ground Madarame in reality. They all carry some element of wish fulfillment that borders the realm of perverted imagination with some counter-balance in the fact that they’re all actually human.

In contrast, Keiko’s points out that she’s the most similar to Saki out of all of them, and this hits Madarame like a ton of bricks. While that makes Keiko in a way the most “realistic choice,” her words also carry an element of fantasy to them. She is the closest to fulfilling Madarame’s unrequited love for Saki, the most profoundly grounded woman he has ever met. The fact that Madarame reacts so intensely to Keiko’s words shows that he still holds a torch for Saki, and perhaps even suggests that his indecisiveness towards both accepting and rejecting others is a product of a desire to be wanted but also to want someone like Saki.

It’s surprising that Keiko of all people objects to Angela’s “harem ending” suggestion, stating that she’d rather not be involved at all if that’s how it’s going to end up. She wants to try a monogamous relationship, and she’d rather be single than deal with some fantasy otaku arrangement. Given that Keiko is not above seeing more than one guy at a time, I think it might say something about how Keiko sees Madarame as an opportunity for some stability, and further puts into relief the differences between her and the rest. At the same time, being an approximation of Saki isn’t actually being Saki, so in a sense Keiko becomes the most “ideal” choice of all. Of course, she certainly doesn’t see it that way, and I wonder if she in fact sees herself as what Madarame ultimately needs.

Madarame, as much as he acts like anyone would do because he’s just a dorky, desperate otaku, is suddenly against the idea when it’s suggested that he pick randomly when Kuchiki brings it up. Madarame is neither totally noble nor utterly selfish, and the realization that he cannot just keep the harem in stasis as is common in long anime and manga series ultimately forces him to try and choose on his terms rather than leave it up to luck. I think somewhere in his decision is the belief that having the choice made for him is utterly irresponsible and would lead to more harm than good, while also clarifying that he clearly does not see all of them the exact same way. In the end, actions have consequences, and I look forward to seeing how this plays out.

To end off, this month’s Ogiue moment is more of an Ogiue focus than anything in a long while. As briefly alluded to above, Ogiue gets really invested in presenting Sue as the best possible choice for Madarame, even going so far as to say that this is Madarame’s once in a lifetime chance to be with this girl of his dreams. What’s really notable about her behavior in this instance is that Ogiue has never really come across as being particularly invested in the Madarame/Sue combination even if she does believe it’s the right choice. It feels like there’s something more at stake here. Is it being able to finally get Sue to abandon the “Ogiue is my wife” joke (probably wouldn’t happen)? Does she truly believe that Madarame and Sue are best for each other? Does she want to give Sue some happiness? Whatever the case may be, I quite enjoyed seeing Ogiue’s fire.

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hoshinosamidare-biscuithammer Hoshi no Samidare by Mizukami Satoshi, known in English bizarrely as Lucifer and the Biscuit Hammer (and sometimes The Lucifer and Biscuit Hammer) is an odd manga. Ostensibly a story about a boy who gets mystic powers in order to fight an evil golem-creating wizard, The Lucifer and Biscuit Hammer sports an eccentric cast of characters, an even stranger goal for its main characters, and a convoluted sense of narrative progression that somehow only adds to its appeal.

Amamiya Yuuhi, who has all the appearance of a typical high school kid, wakes up one day to find a talking lizard. The lizard, Neu, informs Yuuhi hat he is a knight who must protect their princess from an evil wizard and save the world from the dreaded Earth-shattering “Biscuit Hammer,” a huge mallet hanging over the planet visible only to those with profound despair. However, the princess, Asahina Samidare, is fiercely powerful, possessing beyond superhuman strength, and has her own agenda. Calling herself a demon lord (the titular “Lucifer”), Samidare seeks to stop the Biscuit Hammer because she in fact wishes to destroy the planet herself, and Yuuhi becomes her loyal servant in her cause. Overall, the series can be viewed as a kind of sekai-kei (world-style) manga, stories where the fate of the world rests on a “you and me” relationship.

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When I say that this manga’s sense of progression can be confusing, what I mean is that often times it seems as if the stakes of their battle seem both all-important and frivolous at the same time. Most of the characters have unusual personalities that position them somewhere between delusional and disillusioned, trapped by their own immaturity, but many of them grow over the course of the series. Their fight to foil the wizard and his Biscuit Hammer involves taking on progressively stronger and stronger golems as if they were video game bosses, but then sometimes a friend or ally will die in battle. The emotional weight of the deaths are expressed as quite significant and serious, and yet the question of whether they’ve made any real progress (or how progress can be defined) is ambiguous. It might sound frustrating, but it gives Lucifer and the Biscuit Hammer an odd charm. If anything, it feels akin to a more optimistic and lighthearted Bokurano. While that series is about as fun and happy as a mass suicide, there’s a similar sense of characters grasping at the darkness.

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The art in Lucifer and the Biscuit Hammer has an unrefined quality to it, where characters appear a bit flat and the world feels frayed and uneasy. However, I believe that this also helps to give the manga that shaky sense of progression that makes it such an interesting story. The manga also does a good job of playing with and presenting its characters’ powers, especially given the versatility of their core ability. Each character is capable of using a “holding field,” a mass of dense energy that can be used in a variety of ways, including creating stepping stones in the air, being thrown as a spear, and more. It can be a difficult thing to make look interesting, yet the action scenes have weight and impact.

Overall, I find that Lucifer and the Biscuit Hammer is not so much an addictive series that has you hungering for the next chapter, but is rather one that invites you to slowly observe its seemingly by-the-numbers premise of fighting and power ups. From there, it draws you in by portraying each character’s struggle and a unique sense of stasis that seems to permeate its world and its story, making its introspective qualities feel that much more as if they’re coming from a place that ignores time and space.

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Name: Sennokimi
Alias: N/A
Relationship Status: N/A
Origin: Moehime

Information:
Hailing from the Heian Period, Sennokimi is a part of the inner circle of Chuuguu, the Empress of Japan. Together, she and the others read literature from throughout the land about male-male relationships.

Fujoshi Level:
Nothing is known about the extent of Sennokimi’s fujoshi inclinations, though being a member of Chuuguu’s inner circle means she is at least considered very appreciative of it.

This month’s chapter of Genshiken Nidaime is about anal sex. No, I’m not kidding. Yes, my title for this post is awful.

Last chapter, after an emotional discussion between Hato and Madarame, Hato runs away. At the advice of Ogiue (who knows a thing or two about a situation like this), Madarame goes after him. As the two talk once more, Madarame explains that he does feel something for Hato (especially after that incident at the hotel), but as he goes into detail about the idea of being with a fudanshi, Hato brings up an important question. Is Madarame truly ready for what “Hato x Mada” really means? After discovering that the rest of the club was eavesdropping (a Genshiken tradition!), Madarame decides that he’ll have to “think about it,” and their date continues.

You can see my immediate reaction to this chapter in the tweet above. While Genshiken has gone many places, I never quite expected it to arrive at this point. Suffice it to say, I’m both surprised and impressed in a multitude of ways. I have to compliment Kio for being willing to take the story this far, and to do so in a way that makes sense for the characters of Genshiken. What also stands out to me about Chapter 120 is the way in which clarifies the conversation between Madarame and Hato in Chapter 119, whereby Madarame finally and much more clearly understands Hato’s concerns. In Hato’s own words, being with Hato consists of having to encounter a series of “landmines.”

Last chapter, Hato expressed the idea that Madarame doesn’t seem to understand what it means to be in a homosexual relationship. This chapter, Hato lays it out. First, Madarame mentions how he’d have to get used to the idea of being seen as a “sou-uke,” a total bottom, as is the trend among Genshiken’s BL fans. Second, Hato reminds Madarame that Hato is not like Ogiue: he’s not a fujoshi but a fudanshi, a guy. Third, he brings up the idea of Mada x Hato, and how he’s prepared for the possibility, which fazes Madarame a bit. Then, finally, he brings up “Hato x Mada.” As realization slowly dawns upon Madarame, the impact of that epiphany on Madarame is, in my opinion, a prime example of what I love about Kio’s storytelling through manga.

Madarame confesses that he hadn’t even thought about “Hato x Mada.” Right there, it becomes clear that Madarame hasn’t actually contemplated the prospect of being with Hato all the way through. Not only that, but it makes perfect sense given just how Madarame has approached the idea. In Chapter 72, Madarame mentions having played games with “girl-boy” characters, and that, because of the censorship and the effeminate appearances of the characters in those games, it’s not that different from heterosexual fare. In other words, Madarame has always seen himself in the “man’s role” so to speak, and the sticky, naked realities of having a mutually satisfying relationship with Hato was just completely outside his realm of imagination until now.

I don’t read very much BL or gay manga, but I get the feeling that these sorts of nitty-gritty details aren’t so common in stories unless they’re particularly explicit or raunchy. Not only that, but given the purpose of those stories, I believe the end result is usually what is expected. In contrast, it’s not clear where Madarame will end up. Of course, correct me if I’m wrong.

The fact that Madarame doesn’t just completely shut down and break away from Hato might say just as much in favor of Hato’s chances, as does Madarame asking the question of whether Hato x Mada would involve Hato in women’s clothes. However, I suspect that the story might actually be heading in a direction where, although the two have a kind of emotional or spiritual connection, Madarame might ultimately not want a physical one. Keiko even brings this up at the end, saying that the body itself will ultimately be the deciding factor (which she believes is in her favor, even with Angela around). In a way, this might be even more ideal for the fujoshi of Genshiken, just because it could be interpreted as a love beyond the trappings of flesh.

I have two more things to say about this chapter. First, we finally learned just what happened when Hato’s other selves, the BL fangirl floating in the sky as well as the Kaminaga version, “merged” with Hato. Obviously he didn’t really have magic ghosts with him. Rather, it was symbolic of him accepting all of his passions, that he can be into both “Mada x Hato” and “Hato x Mada.”

Second, at the beginning of the chapter when Ogiue is talking to Madarame, she mentions how Sasahara accepted everything about her. Just that one gag panel where she ends her sentence in a heart as she blushes profusely is actually one of Ogiue’s most adorable moments ever. As an Ogiue fan, it is quite satisfying.

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Name: Tomoe (十萌)
Alias: N/A
Relationship Status: Single
Origin: Moehime

Information:
Tomoe is a voracious reader and highly imaginative writer living during the Heian Period. Having an interest in BL (before the term existed as such), she not only regularly creates works of guy on guy pairings, but befriends a group of youkai who are also mostly into yaoi. In addition to creating works of that specific genre, Tomoe also writes regular fiction, notably “Collection of Rice Water.” She loves stories of men in adverse circumstances.

Tomoe’s tastes in BL vary, but she is especially interested in pairings where the older or senior individual is on the bottom. This can be seen in her pairing of the younger scissor merchant x older paper merchant, as well as writing stories where the Emperor is an uke. However, at one point, in order to enter the inner circle of Chuuguu, the Emperor’s wife, and gain access to her group’s collection of BL fiction, she writes a story about the Emperor and a pirate boy.

Fujoshi Level:
At times, Tomoe becomes so devoted to her pairings of real people that she will arrange for them to meet by “coincidence,” such as ordering scissors and paper from their respective merchants and timing it so that they run into each other.

sweetnessandlightning

Over the years, I’ve talked about some interesting manga about food and drink, but a good number of them haven’t been available in English. Fortunately, if you have a hankering for seeing the joy of cooking (and eating!), then Sweetness and Lightning is there for you.

Sweetness and Lightning follows a high school teacher and single dad, Inuzuka Kouhei, who is too busy to cook meals for his daughter Tsumugi. This has transformed into a daily habit of buying bento for her as an easy way to provide delicious meals, but when Tsumugi starts to miss eating as a family, Kouhei looks for a way to make up for his lack of culinary skills. With the help of one of his students, Iida Kotori he begins to learn about preparing homemade meals and experience the wonder of watching his little girl’s eyes light up after tasting a delicious dish.

Thus far, the series follows the same formula, but a lot of care is put into the characters’ facial expressions as they both work through the trouble of cooking and the satisfaction of enjoying the fruits of their efforts. The series isn’t as over-the-top as Yakitate!! Japan in that Sweetness and Lightning lacks those extreme reaction shot moments, but the two food manga share a similar sense of all-encompassing excitement. It also comes with a recipe at the end of each chapter.

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My favorite character is probably Kotori. I think it mostly has to do with her intense eyes and her constant desire to eat, two of my favorite traits.

Sweetness and Lighting is available on Crunchyroll Manga with a premium subscription.

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