RIGHT TURN ONLY!! We Come to The End
by Rebecca Silverman,
They say all things must come to an end, and sadly that is the case for this column – this will be the last Right Turn Only. I've enjoyed both reading RTO under Carlo's stewardship and writing it myself, so I'm very sad to see it go. But it's been a good run. Thanks for reading – it's been a real pleasure to write, and I hope you'll keep reading (or start reading?) the full-length manga reviews, which I'll still be writing.
SWORD ART ONLINE: FAIRY DANCE
(by Reki Kawahara and Tsubasa Haduki, Yen Press, $13.00)
FROM THE BACK COVER:
Kirito jumps into a new VRMMORPG called ALfheim Online (ALO) in search of Asuna, who still hasn't regained consciousness. On his quest to find the World Tree and reach Asuna, he meets a sylph girl named Leafa. A veteran player experienced with the sword, Leafa recognizes that Kirito is motivated by serious circumstances and decides to help him. But...Leafa's identity in the real world is Suguha Kirigaya--Kirito's sister. And it's the glimmer of her beloved brother she sees in Kirito that prompts her to lend him a hand. Now, despite the conflicting interests guiding them on, the pair set off on a journey to the World Tree!!
How much you like Asuna may determine how happy you are with this second volume in the manga adaptation of the ALO portion of Sword Art Online: she only shows up at the very end and almost immediately gets latched onto by slimy slug monsters. On the one hand, it's great to see her working towards her own rescue, making her much more the Asuna from Aincrad. On the other hand, tentacles.
That aside, this volume is much more concerned with the politics of ALO than in getting Kirito to the World Tree, and while it is interesting, it also feels like we've lost the plot a bit. If Kirito is so concerned with finding Asuna, why does he let himself get roped into the squabbles between the Sylphs and the Salamanders? Yes, it does go to show what a swell guy he is and how he will do anything for a friend, but given the apparent urgency of Asuna's situation, it feels like this may be the wrong time to display his kindness. We could argue that it's also all part of Leafa/Suguha's crush on him and goes to the development thereof, but when you come right down to it, Kirito doesn't seem to have a great understanding of what the word “urgent” means. Of course, to be my own devil's advocate, he may also be suffering from not fully understanding that ALO really is just a game, and reacting as he would have to in SAO...but then we get back to the whole “urgent” thing again...Anyway, despite its flaws, this volume reads very quickly and is generally enjoyable. There are some artistic issues with Leafa, which it feels a little silly to hold against the book, given that she's a game avatar. Nevertheless, her butt and breasts seem to have minds of their own, floating around like a helium balloon that's nearly out of air. Later another character's large breasts look more like knees when she holds them against Kirito; I had to look at the picture for a good three minutes before I figured out precisely what was going on. These are distractions at best and confusions at worst, and in either case they do impede easy reading, which is a problem. It's a good thing Kawahara gives us some information that we didn't get in the anime and a fun relationship between Leafa and Yui, both of which lessen the impact of the sometimes suspicious anatomy.
RECOMMENDATION: Borrow it from a library or a friend. This is a good read with new information and details, but it has some art flaws that bring it down, along with some font that is too small for the speech bubbles, making the book look a bit unprofessional.
(by Kumiko Suekane, Viz, $12.99)
FROM THE BACK COVER:
St. Kleio Academy is a very exclusive school: all of the students are clones of famous historical figures such as Beethoven, Queen Elizabeth I, Napoleon, Mozart, and Freud. All of them, that is, except for Shiro Kamiya. As Shiro struggles to adapt to this unusual campus, St. Kleio's first graduate, a clone of John F. Kennedy, is killed. Are the clones doomed to repeat the fate of their genetic progenitors, or can they create their own destinies?
So Afterschool Charisma doesn't actually have volume summaries, but the basic plot of this tenth book is that Shiro, in his newly realized identity as the clone of the clones' creator, X, has decided to fight Hitler by playing his game: politics. If Hitler is going to call the clones lab animals, Shiro will have Napoleon say that they are people, with the ultimate goal of allowing the clones to choose their own lives. But they've never had that opportunity, so how will they be able to live if they don't have a genetic heritage to live up to? Ikkyu goes out on the town and learns firsthand that it isn't easy to survive when not everyone knows you and has no expectations of you, and even Marie Curie opted to stay where it was safe and learn music. And by campaigning for the clones, isn't Shiro just following in his original's footsteps? Sure he isn't making new clones, but he's still on their “side,” arguing for their continued survival. Maybe that isn't as radical as he seems to think it is. Certainly Kuroe seems to have reservations about his plan, and after being primped and photographed, Napoleon is a little uncomfortable too. Sadly we readers may be as well after seeing the terrible gay stereotype of a fashion consultant Suekane brings in, presumably as comic relief. He's nothing new in anime or manga, but that doesn't make him any more palatable. Luckily the story is going full-bore with schemes from both Shiro's and Hitler's factions, as well as the creeping fear that Hitler may be much more like his original than anyone would like to think. I've always had a difficult time with him as a character simply because of what the real Hitler did, but now it is becoming clear why Suekane decided to use him: no one has more impact for a majority of readers. As we watch him warp under the pressures of his existence, the knowledge of what was done to his predecessors, and the words of the anti-Kleio groups, we can see his slide into infamy before he's even aware of it. That may be the scariest, most impressive part of this admittedly addictive series.
RECOMMENDATION: Buy it. It takes forever for new volumes to come out, but the story is as bizarre and compelling as ever, with the stakes rising every time. It can be hard to tell who everyone is supposed to be with Suekane's basically generic art style, but that doesn't take away from the fact that this series is heating up, with this volume making us question everyone even more.
(by Takashi Ikeda, One Peace Books, $16.95)
FROM THE BACK COVER:
Sumika and Ushio are best friends. Athletic Sumika has a secret that she cannot confess - she's in love with Ushio, who only loves girly girls. Ushio and Sumika continue their lovesick woes in the second installment and many Whispered Words remain unspoken.
If you're looking for a high school romance that won't drive you crazy with frustration, you really ought to give Whispered Words a try. This second omnibus volume of Sumika and Ushio's budding relationship skirts around the usual pitfalls of the genre while still remaining true to the problems of it: both girls are suffering from a lack of communication and it does take a toll on their friendship and this could absolutely be avoided if they just talked to each other. But Ikeda never lets it get to the point where you want to smack the characters for their foolishness – it feels very natural and true to the age group. It also helps that there are other stories going on around them, like the new girls in the karate club, Lotte's issues with her mother, and Akemiya's stint as a “female” model, which comes to an ignominious end. All of these keep the main story from feeling isolated and melodramatic, so when Ushio finally breaks, it doesn't feel forced. Ikeda also does a nice job of showing us the casual cruelty those who aren't heterosexual face from people who don't understand (or care to) without overdoing it, in this case best shown in a three chapter flashback about the girls in middle school. I also have to mention Ushio's older brother, who is wonderfully supportive of his sister and her problems, never judging her or trivializing things. He comes close to crossing the line to “enabler,” but regardless his is a character many stories are sadly lacking. One Peace Books' translation and editing is vastly better with this volume than the previous, but there are still some spelling errors and a couple of synonym issues. More annoying is the fact that handwritten Japanese text is left untouched with a smaller English translation beside it. This can make some of the pages very cluttered and difficult to follow, which is a shame because the translation for the most part reads clearly. Ikeda's art can make a couple of the pale haired girls with fluffy hairstyles difficult to tell apart, but for the most part it is simple and pleasant, and the fact that Lotte's dad is so huge that we never see him above the waist (or all of him below it, for that matter) is pretty funny. A clearly earlier short story is included at the very end of the omnibus, which shows how Ikeda's art has evolved; the story is also remarkable for its bittersweet love story...something that the the main story gives us hope will not happen for Ushio and Sumika, who should have only sweetness very soon.
RECOMMENDATION: Buy it. Even if yuri isn't your thing, this is a very well-done story about high school love that avoids a lot of the problems of the genre. The production is also leaps and bounds ahead of where the first book was, so don't let the quality of volume one deter you from reading volume two.
FROM THE NEW WORLD
(by Yusuke Kishi and Toru Oikawa, Vertical, $10.95)
FROM THE BACK COVER:
Underground Tokyo, creepier than ever, may be the conduit to humanity's last best hope: a unique WMD.
Maybe Saki should stop having gratuitous sex scenes – it never seems to end well for anyone. Plus this one is clearly much younger than her, so that makes her seduction of Haruka a little creepy...but anyway, yes, the needless sexual content is still here, and in this case it feels like it actively detracts from the story, which is a shame, because this volume of From The New World is really getting down to brass tacks. Now that Saki, Satoru, and the others have made it to the vast wasteland that was Tokyo to find the secret weapon Saki's mother told her about, Kiromaru's loyalty really becomes an issue. Is he honestly going to aid them in finding the weapon, or is he about to betray them to Squealer and the Fiend? How did Squealer get ahold of her to begin with, anyway? Did he deliberately kill Maria and Mamoru? It seems like a distinct possibility...and that would put him on the same level as the humans he so despises. We've learned the truth of the morph rat's origins and how they were essentially designed to be inferior creatures to serve humanity (hello, Brave New World!), so if Squealer creates Fiends to use the same way, isn't he essentially doing the same thing? If nothing else, the past in this story would certainly seem to indicate that messing around with the powers that be is a simple recipe for disaster and bloodshed. We see that as Haruka's condition deteriorates as well, which forces Saki to finally deal with the loss of Shun and Reiko all those years ago. It's sad and beautifully handled, with a nice parallel created between Shun, Reiko, and Haruka as well as between Saki and Sho, showing us the importance of moving on but not forgetting. Saki needs to save the village, yes, but she also needs to remember why it is so important that she also change it...and to change herself into someone who looks forward instead of back. With only one more book to go, this volume is packed with both action and information, and it is going to feel like a long time until January when the final book comes out.
RECOMMENDATION: Buy it. While the art is still sexualized to the point of ridiculousness in both Saki's outfits (does she not know what size she wears?) and the lesbian scenes, the story is fascinating and well told, and things are really coming to a head.
(by Miko Mitsuki, Viz, $9.99)
FROM THE BACK COVER:
When Hinata Sorazono meets her new neighbor, Junya Tokinaga, the author of an incredibly popular vampire romance novel series, she's inexplicably drawn to him. Dressed in a kimono with an old-world air about him, Junya has a taste of Hinata's blood and tells her it's sweet... In Junya's novels, a kiss with a vampire means that only the human's blood can be taken as nourishment. If that person dies, so will the vampire. Could it be that Junya is actually a vampire—and about to enter a life-changing contract with Hinata?
It's kind of a bad sign when the author's sidebars about how much she dislikes her editor (and how it's apparently mutual) are more interesting than the main story. Poor, canceled (in Japan) Honey Blood's second volume really fits into that sad category. This volume mostly features Hinata and Junya lolling about in yukata while he sucks her blood and his editor gets jealous, and then the real culprit behind the vampire murders shows up...and oh my gosh, he and Junya knew each other 130 years ago! And they liked the same girl! Who looked like Hinata! But she married a human! And...! Yeah, you can guess the next major plot point from here, I'd wager. It isn't actually bad as in “badly written/drawn,” it just isn't particularly exciting and fairly rote. There's also not a firm conclusion, although perhaps that will be solved when Viz releases volume 0 in February. We do get the reassurance that Junya truly loves Hinata for herself and not just because she looks like someone he once knew, and there are hints that their bond may not be as fully established as one could hope (presumably they have to pull a Black Bird and have sex), so we can see that it will be firmed up as soon as possible. Basically the romance plot is more-or-less satisfactory while the murder plot and Junya's past are not. Simply put, Honey Blood clearly cuts off before it wanted to and the story, while serviceable, doesn't do anything new with the vampire romance. This is more a case of wasted potential than anything, and while I'm not sorry I read it...I kind of am, because wow, did it go nowhere.
RECOMMENDATION: Skip it. Not because it's bad, but because it is ultimately unsatisfying. If you love vampire romances, you may want to read it, but I wouldn't put it at the top of your list.
(by Renda Hitori, Crunchyroll, Premium Subscription)
Kanata and his friend Tokiji are ordinary teenagers in modern Japan. Mysterious deaths have begun to occur in their city, where the victim's head will transform into an animal face and explode. There are rumors about these strange incidents, but one day it happens at Kanata's school. Kanata is caught up in the incident and gains the special ability to "remove his limiter". This allows him to greatly enhance a single ability of his, but after he uses it, another ability will go out
Either this story wasn't sure where it was going or Renda Hitori is a master of misdirection. Okitenemaru, which translates to roughly “awake asleep,” starts out being about a mysterious disease that causes high school students to grow animal heads and kill those around them. That happens twice before Kanata and his buddy Tokiji learn from a strange group of government agents that this is caused by a parasite. It is transmitted through bodily fluids, but everyone still gets in a panic. (Doesn't that sound familiar...?) But then we find out that Kanata has a special power that classifies him as an okitenemaru, the story's version of an esper. Things get really strange from there, but Hitori keeps the pace so frantic and the story so bizarre that even if you aren't entirely sure what's going on, it is easy to inhale these sixteen chapters in one sitting. Kanata is a relateable hero, the sort of everyguy that you'd expect to see at any school, and only his best friend knows about his power, which in his case mostly translates to superhuman sight. He just thinks its this weird thing he can do, so it doesn't drive his character at all; to him it's just the equivalent of having special glasses. This allows the story to involve him as a superhuman character without making him one in terms of his personality or outlook on life. He's in direct contrast to Shiki, the badass (and mean) government agent who is probably some kind of tsundere underneath her black leather. Shiki is someone who knows that she has power, and she is willing to do whatever she has to in order to best use it. If that means kicking a high schooler in the crotch, she'll do it as many times as necessary, as opposed to Kanata, who by the end of chapter fourteen would be happy if he never saw his power again.
This is one of Crunchyroll's smoother translations, and when you add it to Hitori's dynamic art, it really flies by. Some of the adult/scientist characters are too eccentric to really work with the story, so it's a shame that there are at least two in these chapters, possibly in an attempt to lighten the mood. But Okitenemaru isn't a story that needs its admittedly dark mood lightened – it's one that just needs to run with its action plot. Since it mostly does that, fans of urban-set sci fi should find something to enjoy.
RECOMMENDATION: Read it. It may not be worth getting a regular subscription to CR, but it is worth a guest pass or a free trial. The story is fast-paced and nicely drawn, making it the kind of series you can binge on.
KYUSO WA CHEESE NO YUME O MIRU
(by Setona Mizushiro, price and publisher vary by country)
FROM THE ENCYCLOPEDIA:
Kyoichi is an indecisive man, who on more than one occassion has been unfaithful. And now enters an old friend from college, Imagase, who is a private detective and was ordered by Kyoichi's wife to investigate if Kyoichi has committed adultery. Imagase, who has been in love with Kyoichi ever since they first met, promises to keep Kyoishi's unfaithfulness a secret but in return he wants his body. And so begins a romantic story between the two men.
Published in French as Le jeu du chat et de la souris, or “The Game of Cat and Mouse,” Setona Mizushiro's yaoi duology is an unsettling yet somehow mesmerizing romance. Kyoichi and Imagase knew each other from their club in college, but what Kyoichi did not know was that his kohai was – and still is – in love with him. When they meet again in their thirties, Imagase demands a kiss in exchange for not telling his wife that he has had an affair. Kyoichi, who has never mastered saying “no,” suddenly finds himself involved with the other man, and when his wife leaves him, Imagase moves in. The two embark on a turbulent romance as Kyoichi finds himself falling for Imagase. But is it really love, or is it just the easiest thing to do?
Unusually for yaoi, there is no set uke or seme, and between the two volumes (the second in Japanese is titled Sojou no Koi wa Nido Haneru) they each play both roles, both in and out of bed. While Imagase is the more outwardly emotional of the pair, both are distinctly masculine. There's also no question of bisexuality raised, although that would make more sense than the story's “he's straight but loves a man” line, since Kyoichi does in fact sleep with two women over the course of the series. Mizushiro's art looks basically like any other of her series that you may have seen, with the difference that these books are very explicit. There's a harshness to the way she draws the sex scenes that is somewhat at odds with what we usually see in the genre. It's consensual, but most of them have an anger to them that is interesting. While the series ends on an emotionally satisfying high note, the overall turbulent tone of it keeps things slightly uncomfortable. If you're a fan of BL, this is definitely a series I would recommend tracking down in a language you read or suggesting to an English-language publisher. It isn't only the characters who are playing a game of cat and mouse – Mizushiro is also playing it with her readers.
DON'T WORRY! READ IT IN: French, Italian, German, Chinese
And so we say goodbye to RTO. Thank you all for reading over this past year, and I'll see you around!
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