The Spring 2021 Manga Guide
What's It About?Touka Mimori and his classmates are abruptly catapulted into a fantasy world, summoned by the resident goddess to serve as heroes. The good news is most of the students display amazing skills upon arrival. The bad news is Mimori is the worst of the lot, bottoming out at a measly E-rank. Incensed, the goddess tosses him into a dungeon to die–but it turns out that Mimori's skills aren't so much worthless as they are abnormal.
Failure Frame is based on the light novel by Kaoru Shinozaki and KWKM, the digital and print versions of which were released by Seven Seas Entertainment in March. The manga is drawn by Keyaki Uchi-Uchi and Shō Uyoshi and Seven Seas Entertainment released both the digital and print versions of the first volume for $9.99 and $12.99 respectively
Is It Worth Reading?
This is a case where I'd suggest reading the source light novel. Not that the manga is bad, per se. It still captures the basics of the plot and the characters, but so much detail is left out that we lose what makes this story, for lack of a better word, special. As-is, it's just another boilerplate isekai story about some poor schlub summoned to another world and discarded, forced to plow through hardship with vengeance being the only thing keeping him alive. That can be fun and cathartic, but it's not exactly different.
There are still vestigial elements of the story in the source material. Mimori Touka has had what might be kindly called a hard-knock life – the child of bitterly abusive parents, he learned early on that the best way to make it through when someone has it in for you is by being as sweet and unassuming as possible. As far as we know, the only real interaction he had with anyone in his class is when he helped a girl take an injured cat to the vet when she was too shy to go by herself. This one moment tells us a fair amount about Touka: it demonstrates that he's willing to go out of his way to make sure that others don't feel the pain he has (whether girl or kitten), but he also understands that to show everyone his kindness is to potentially put him in danger. We see that again, or can at least interpret his actions that way, when, after killing the monster that wiped out every single person dumped in the dungeon before him, he does genuinely feel happy that he's freed the souls of the dead. He has trauma, but he's also not a bad guy.
Most of this is left pretty vague, though, and I'm honestly not sure if I was only able to get this interpretation because I read the novel. The manga is speeding through it, by the way, covering almost the entire book in this one volume, which necessitates that things are left out. We get the basics: Vicius is bad (as if her name didn't give it away) and probably evil, Touka's classmates suck and are easily swayed by her, and a few girls aren't keen on the way things are going. Also Touka's smart enough to figure out how to survive and pleased to finally have some control over something in his life, although he comes off as much more vengeful here. Then there's the elf girl, who, it must be said, is much better drawn than in the novel's illustrations, even if she has a negligible role in the volume.
This isn't a bad book. It just really pales in comparison to what it's based on. If you just want a basic vengeance tale, this is probably fine, but if you prefer that your characters have nuance, I'd leave this on the shelf and go pick up the first novel instead.
So here's the thing about Fatal Frame: it's building on the blocks of some of my least favorite tropes: nihilism and "game world" fantasy. The nihilism has existed in many shades across light novel properties, especially 'born in another world' types. The darkest incarnation in recent memory (at least in what is available to Westerners) is probably the Redo of Healer anime which is founded on the idea of depraved, cruel revenge after the protagonist was himself also dehumanized and victimized at every turn. For plots like these to work, you have to accept the very worst is not only possible, but that it would be sanctioned by the larger group, either due to apathy or because the one committing the horrible acts is in a position of power.
Which, I mean, has certainly happened in ways both big and small throughout human history. It's just that, in the cases of these stories, the victim usually isn't a member of the groups these sort of things do routinely happen to. Instead, they're most often a typical guy with no remarkable skills. Your most inoffensive bro with a decent personality that, for no particular reason, is just shit on for his whole life until he can't take it anymore. It's for that reason that I'm less inclined to join these captains of the U.S.S. Fuck You because their rage doesn't feel like a response to any kind of realistic discrimination. I've certainly run into my share of angry internet dudes who are personally verklempt about a perceived slight against their character, usually some criticism about a fictional property that they have developed a strong, uncritical emotional attachment to, and now have a very large bone to pick with anyone who doesn't fall in line with their beliefs. My empathy for that, as misguided as it is, ran out about 10 years ago.
So that's typically why these particular revenge tales do very little for me. But I gave Failure Frame a 3 for a reason. Primarily, the art by Keyaki Uchi-Uchi and Shō Uyoshi is extremely nice. The labyrinth that Touka finds himself in is expertly detailed and the elf lady is really pretty. Pirotess and Deedlit stole my heart a long time ago and I can still be persuaded by pretty elves from time to time. There are also numerous double-page spreads in this volume that look great and I enjoyed the monster designs quite a bit (even the vaguely vagina-looking slime things) with a special shoutout to the minotaur at the beginning. He's a beefy boy.
Also I'm not cynical enough to ignore a child abuse backstory which did get me to somewhat root for Touka. Its inclusion is probably manipulative, but with the exception of one page where he devolves into dorky evil laughter, Touka hasn't become evil or even really an antihero by the volume's end. The manga seems to be setting itself up for a band-of-misfits style storyline where hopefully the nice, cowardly girl gets to team up with him and also get stupid powerful. Unless this just goes the damsel-in-distress route in which case retroactively remove one point from this score after the release of volume two.
Listen, I get social situations are hard. I was not a popular person in high school. Some people are assholes because they think it makes them funny or interesting and everyone tolerates it. Those people also continue to be shitty adults. There are little to no real-life consequences to being a crappy person if you're good-looking enough, have enough money, or are otherwise skilled at something society values. It blows. Maybe these kinds of stories are escapism for that where it feels like comeuppance actually happens. Just check in with yourself because holding on to all of that resentment will make you into the worst kind of person.
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