I finished last month’s Harta!
the cover’s a bit crotch-forward this time huh
There’s one 新連載 this time: 殺し屋の推し by 大島琳太郎.
It’s pretty fun! The premise is essential what if a John Wick type (with the suitably hitmanっぽい name エンドウ オワル) was a huge idol fan, with gap comedy from that similar to Way of the House Husband (and with a fairly similar artstyle). It seems like it’s going to probably be more plot-oriented than that series is though (which is a plus in my book).
Among the one-offs, I particularly liked the ショートショート, 朝焼けの色 by 岩宗治生 (who also does the series ウスズミの果て) about taking a walk after waking up a little earlier than expected in the morning.
Among the usual favorites, 希釈王 was unusual as usual and the protagonist (?) is seemingly (?) dead (?).
And I enjoyed vicariously visiting The Alhambra via あかねさす柘榴の都
other manga report
- シュトヘル （2-14）
I finished this series! I never quite fell in love with it, but it’s definitely cool and interesting! It’s a historic drama centered around ~1100s central China with an exaggerated but otherwise seriously presented story involving the preservation of the Western Xia language amid Mongol invasion and suppression (which is interesting to read about Japanese because you have the benefit of preserving the kanji for the names of the various peoples involved). There’s a modern-day frame story involving cross-gender reincarnation, but interestingly it doesn’t come up directly very often, mostly only informing the events happening in the past in interesting ways (e.g. emphasizing the importance of lasting into posterity), without any isekai-ish focus on the strangeness of the situation or exploiting it or anything like that.
It reminds me of Harta series like Vlad Dracula (for the detailed depictions of the political scene of a particular historical region) or 峠鬼 (for using the modern day knowledge to inform the magic in the historic setting). Or I suppose it’s somewhere between Vinland Saga and A Bride’s Story on the “how action-packed is this historical fiction” scale.
- エコエコアザラク （１）
I read a chapter from this every so often starting in October and kinda loved it!
It’s pretty much just a series of stories about jerk kids doing something terrible, and then a satanic witchcraft-practicing transfer student using her black magic to give them some kind of horrific comeuppance in an antiheroish sort of way. But sometimes I guess that’s what you want! So if you ever find yourself thinking “boy I could really go for a shlocky black magic horror story, but I only have time to read 20 pages! Whatever will I do?” エコエコアザラク will certainly deliver specifically that.
- 映像研には手を出すな！ （６）
I’m a bit behind on the “keeping up with manga I already caught up with once before more volumes came out” front. Coming back to Eizouken is interesting, because it really isn’t quite like anything else. Like even though “over the top 部活” isn’t uncommon in manga, the precise blend of mundanity and causal ridiculousness seems particular to Eizouken, at least in my experience, and I went back and forth a bit on how charmed I was by it here (like an arc here involves cajoling a voice actor into working with them, and her experience getting involved with the group emphasizes their absurdity maybe a little too much), and the artstyle blends wonder and charm while also just being outright crude sometimes (Asakusa has a tendency to devolve into a handful of circles and lines), maybe moreso than past volumes. It’s a strange mix! But full of likeable and charming moments as ever, and I imagine I’d have been more fully positive if I didn’t read the first few chapters like, months ago.
- 青のフラッグ （6-8）
I finished this series too! I loved it! Why is certainly a continuation of what I liked about the previous volumes (plus I totally knew the big foreshadowed thing in these volumes). The author mentioned in the thoughts at the back that 3 goals they had with the series were roughly (from memory), 1. to depict humans, not characters, 2. to have an organic structure and avoid like, “this is the X episode” 3. to show the characters actually talking to each other about what they’re feeling (as opposed to e.g. romantic comedies where the plot could be resolved if they talked through a misunderstanding ever). I think they knocked those goals out of the park! The biggest mechanism and strength the book has is very much endearing and complex characters talking to each other about their feelings in ways that come across realistically and enjoyably. There’s lot of great “small joke peppered into a serious conversation” moments keeping things fun even as they get emotional, and the author is still top-notch at varying how realistic or exaggerated the characters are drawn for effect.
I think it’s an easy recommend if you think you’d be interested in a high school / 青春 story about friends figuring each other and themselves out and talking a lot about it. A little like maybe a much talkier Wandering Son, or Our Dreams at Dusk. Or my biggest connection is still my favorite new series, Iyahaya, Atami-kun, which is similarly very very human conversation-focused, but in more of a small moments sort of way.
Also, I finished a book:
It’s a non-fiction book introducing the BL genre to newcomers that I saw at Kinokuniya a while back and picked up, since BL is a genre I’m at least curious to know more about, but not very knowledgeable about, so hey, I’m the target audience.
I think it’s a nice introduction! It’s formatted as a conversation between a BL fan 先生 and a BL newcomer 弟子 (both I think work for Animate Times) , and it gives everything a very easy to read, light tone, that’s casually informative and encouragingly enthusiastic about helping you find books you’ll love.
Among the information provided, I found the brief history of BL more interesting than the many classifications provided of typical 攻め/受け character types (although the recommendations being very extensive for the configuration that’s the sensei’s particular favorite was a good bit). It doesn’t shy away from mentioning/recommending sexually explicit works, but emphasizes always that determining your level of interest or tolerance for that is entirely up to you. One rabbit hole it mentioned, “omegaverse,” sounded particularly like one I would personally avoid.
I don’t think I will be running out to read a bunch of BL, and if anything the emphasis on character type / genre made me a little less interested overall, but I think the book is really cool and inviting as an example of a “how do I get into X” type of introductory book, and it’s a good source of recommendations to checklist and then never get around to buying or reading.
I also finished a game!
This is one that’s definitely enhanced by playing it in Japanese, because the game itself is pretty good, but… not stunningly interesting in and of itself. It’s the Japanese cultural flavor around it, deepened by playing it in the native language, that makes me err on the side of “it’s just fine, but I like it!” rather than “it’s just fine, I wish it were better.”
By “Japanese cultural flavor” I don’t mean any like, intangible perspective or anything silly like that – I mean more like, it’s set in Shibuya and it’s got introductory flavor text for an exhaustive list of konbini snacks, yokai, and any number of other Edo-period/Shinto/呪術/日本っぽい doo dads and ephemera that you can pick up as collectibles. Which means, for a non-native language learner, that the collectibles are pretty much the best part of the game. They’re all basic enough that I felt vaguely smug in being able to recognize already like 90% of them just from the relatively limited breadth of yokai-ish/オカルト works I’ve already come across, but even when they weren’t new to me it was nice reinforcement to get a paragraph or two explaining the thing and their general deal.
My most memorable moment, for example, isn’t anything to do with the combat or story, it was just scouring a part of the map for a ツチノコ and finally finding the little weird snake in the grass to admire it in all its glory (i.e. as a 3d model to rotate around and some flavor text).
All of that seems like it would be pretty dry to an adult native speaker, or even to an English-only speaker, but hey. It’s a benefit of language learning that “kinda dry” can become “kinda exciting” like this.
Part of that though I think does speak to the weakness of the game’s… ambition?
The yokai in the game are the biggest example of this to me. On the one hand – yokai are fun!! Who doesn’t love yokai?? Getting to see a ろくろ首 or a kappa or what-have-you in a game is clearly better than not getting to do that.
… but to me Ghostwire:Tokyo primarily feels like a game where they knew exactly what scope they could aim for, and so they made the core gameplay generally fun, and then hooked as many things as possible up to that gameplay to fill out a basic open-world, and so EVERYTHING boils back down to very simple, quick tasks with the basic combat and traversal tools you already have.
And so… yes! There’s ろくろ首 in the game! … but as a repeatable open world activity that amounts to chasing around the ろくろ首 as her neck pops out of corners until you catch her and get a power up. Only mildly different from the 鎌鼬 activity, where you chase it around until you catch it and get a power up. Or the kappa activity where you wait behind a block until it lets its guard down to eat a cucumber and you can catch it and get a power up. To say nothing of the ones that are just combat encounters!
It’s similar to the joke people make about Taco Bell utilizing 5 ingredients to fill 100 menu items. Which is fine if you just want to mess around and play a bunch of video game – it’s pretty fun! And I was tempted to 100% the game since I was enjoying it and it’s easy to run around picking up collectible after collectible (the blobs of souls floating around are particularly addicting to hoover up) – but… it doesn’t really sell… mystery and otherworldliness, you know?
At the end of the day it feels like it’s using the fact that you like yokai to make a fine video game feel more endearing, rather than doing anything mechanically to sell you on why yokai are cool in the first place.
A similar drawback/missed opportunity to me is that the sidequests all feel very quick and perfunctory, again just relying on the handful of things you already do in the game. And since the setting of the game involves all other humans being turned into floating spirits, the questgiving NPCs are all completely unmemorable blobs.
The fix to me for both of these problems would be to have memorable yokai NPCs! Right?? Being tasked by a charismatic kappa to go get a cucumber or something sounds a lot more interesting than the “put the cucumber out and hide for a bit” minigame or “help out a turquoise blob” side quests… Oh well. The closest equivalent is maybe the “help the cute tanuki parent find their mischievious transforming tanuki kids across the map” side activity, which is pretty endearing…
As for the core gameplay, I think it’s pretty good. It definitely suffers a bit from “this upgrade should probably have been just how the mechanic works in the first place” syndrome (for example, a lategame upgrade that lets you put tengu – which are nothing but grapple points!!! – anywhere instead of laboriously hunting for them, makes the traversal feel much better), as well as “the starting weapon feels much better than most of the other options so I’m just going to use it and feel a bit grumpy when I have to switch” syndrome… and it’s essentially an FPS but caught a little in an identity crisis I think between wanting to be “lock on and pump it full of lead” gameplay vs. wanting to be “hit the targets precisely” gameplay, with a lot of bullet spongey enemies that stumble around making you press the trigger to refocus the autoaim a lot… but it makes good use of PS5’s adaptive triggers to make your brain feel like you’re doing something exciting when pulling out cores and stuff like that – there’s a lot of holding down the triggers to do things (which made my hands hurt a little…).
The story I think suffers again from the lack of actually present characters, but there’s some cool visuals along the way (trending disappointingly more towards Inception-y ‘look at the world changing around you!’ effects rather than outright horror) and I think the ending is effective, tying it all together into a story about loss.
All in all, I don’t know if that exactly came across as positive or negative, but I liked the game! And I bet if I did take the time to Collect All the Things, I would enjoy that time spent. If you’re interested in yokai and the like, you might well too.
But it is difficult not to pine at least a little for a version of the game that has all those fun elements but also is ambitious and strange in a way that lives up to them more.