Crunchyroll Manga Sampler: Course One

Sometimes the simple act of choosing what to read can be daunting. When you don’t have a clear idea in mind, a shelf of books can leave you feeling frustrated as you sort what looks good based on the cover art or your mood or whatever other sort of random criteria you want to choose. Digital distribution sites are no different, which is how I found myself staring at Crunchyroll’s manga library one night, trying to decide just where to start. That’s when a thought struck me: how many other people were out there having just the same problem as I was? How many other people were staring at their screens, trying to decide which bit of cover art or which blurb sounded the most appealing? Wouldn’t it be useful if someone could take a quick look at all of them and sort out which ones were worth anyone’s time? I knew then what I had to do.

I set a couple of rules for myself early on. First, I would look at the first volumes of three series at a time to keep the length and any potential spoilers to a minimum. Second, to make the title selection process fair, I assigned each series a number and used a random number generator to determine precisely which three manga out of the 69 currently available titles I would read.  Beyond that, though, there are no rules, just my honest first impressions.  Having got all that out of the way, let’s dig into the first course of the Crunchyroll Manga Sampler.


Doll the Hotel Detective is a rather obscure manga with a rather notable creator.  It comes from the mind of Takao Saito, the creator of everyone’s favorite stone-faced assassin, Golgo 13.  The problem is that he simply can’t seem to stop writing stories or characters like Golgo 13.  It’s just that this version has boobs and kills people not to save the world but instead to save the reputation of a hotel chain.

That’s not being entirely fair to Doll, who in all fairness is a bit more expressive and stylish than good ol’ Duke Togo (even if her style seems to be stuck in the late 70s).  Still, she’s not so much a proper detective as she is a glorified bodyguard, and she’s so stoic and tough that she comes off as little more than a gun-wielding cipher.  It doesn’t help that Saito can’t entirely resist the call of fanservice and it seems at least once per chapter Doll will briefly end up in some state of undress.  Still, her stark looks stand out in a sea of hatchet-faced old men and the occasional awkward racial caricature.

The hotel angle is little more than an excuse for a lot of globe-hopping, and the mysteries are just excuses for a few more action pieces.  Saito does take advantage of the exotic settings for a lot of lovingly traced vistas and vehicles.  For all his faults, let it never be said that he doesn’t know how to set a scene and make it look good.  The problem is that the plots tend to be rather mundane.  It seems bizarre to describe plots about attempted assassinations, amnesiac bombers, and dead hookers as boring, but the twists are too sudden to stun and the stories themselves seem to woodenly plod along towards their end.  Doll the Hotel Detective is simply too sedate for its own good in spite of all the action, and without the sort of outrageousness that distinguishes its more famous predecessor, it’ll never be more than a historical curiosity.  RATING:  4/10


Jun’s life would be like that of any ordinary high school kid if not for the fact that his mother works full time as a manga artist.  While she slaves away to meet her deadlines, Jun is left to manage the household, leaving him little time for friends or girls.  Then he stumbles upon a drunk, scantily clad woman on the riverbank and ends up dragging her home to sleep off her stupor.  It turns out the woman, Narumi, is a fan of Jun’s mom and signs on to be her new assistant.  Now Jun finds himself trying to whip Narumi into shape as an assistant, even as the two of them fight against their growing attraction to one another and Jun's friend Oonuki does her best to win him over.

If this sounds familiar to you, then congratulations!  You’ve read at least one shonen romance manga in your life!  The premise here is pretty standard for this sort of genre, and the only mildly creative angles here are the focus on manga creation and the older woman fetish.  Amazingly, it’s nowhere near as exploitative as a lot of these series tend to get.  Don’t get me wrong – this manga LOVES to look at Narumi.  It frequently puts the reader in Jun’s place while Narumi poses in some slyly seductive manner or looking out at him in an alluring way.  That’s to say nothing of when it actually breaks out the fanservice, thanks to Narumi’s tendency to strip and cuddle when she’s drunk.  It’s also not above having her tumble onto Jun in compromising ways that rank only just above the old ‘boy falls into boobs' gag.  It’s just that when it comes to sex, it’s surprisingly restrained and that restraint goes a long way towards making the story and Jun and Narumi’s burgeoning relationship tolerable and tasteful.   It also helps that Tsutomi Mutsuki is a pretty solid artist, although it’s clear most of his effort goes into drawing Narumi instead of…well, everything else.  It’s all fairly pleasant to look it, but no other character gets the kind of love and care that he puts into Narumi’s every move.

It’s also a fairly silly story, although how funny you find it will depend on your tolerance for love triangles.  Poor Ookuni is stuck being the butt of at least half the jokes, right down to her appearance.  While Narumi is tall, curvy, and alluring, Oonuki is tiny, flat, and child-like, and she’s there mostly to freak out over all the innuendo.  At least Jun shows himself to be more capable than a lot of similar protagonists, even if he still comes off as rather milquetoast.  He's had years of experience helping his mother with her manga and he more or less manages the household in her stead, which sometimes leaves him feeling a bit frustrated.  While he's still very much a kid, like most teenagers he wants to be treated like an adult, and with Narumi around he's forced into that role more and more often.  Still, Mutsuki is playing the burgeoning relationship between him and Narumi nice and slow, doing his best to keep things from getting awkward.  It helps that Narumi herself is rather immature for an adult, and the contrast between that and Jun’s more serious, motherly qualities make up the remaining half of the humor on display here.  Of course, it also helps that Jun is as dense as a brick and completely oblivious to any romantic feelings save for his own, guaranteeing that the gags can continue for countless chapters to come.  Is This Girl For Real?  is a perfectly middle-of-the-road sort of manga.  It’s competent and well-balanced and it avoids a lot of the seedy pitfalls of its genre, but it's going to need to do more than just ogle Narumi if it wants to truly stand out.  RATING:  6/10


Did you ever find yourself wishing for a version of Oh! My Goddess where Keiichi was even more boring and Belldandy was an annoying moe baby and instead of a harem of girls and goddesses there’s just an ordinary tsundere girl and a bunch of high school bullshit? No? Of course you didn’t!  Unfortunately, that’s more or less what you’re getting here, viewed through the filter of yet another shonen romance.  Unlike Is This Girl For Real?, though, this one has nothing to offer other than a lot of otaku checklist clichés.  Our bland, shrieking lead is called Yasuke, who lives at the family temple with his busty older sister.  He’s got a raging crush on Akari, who is there to check off both the Tsundere and Childhood Best Friend tickboxes on the Otaku Fetish checklist.  During one of his usual moments of nervous flailing, he breaks an ancient mirror and releases the busty goddess trapped inside.  Orihime (as she is later nicknamed) is a goddess of misfortune, and Yasuke will die if he doesn’t stay by her side (quite literally).  The only way for him to break the curse is to somehow make her happy.   Naturally, hijinks ensue, even if they’re all ones that you’ve seen before in countless other manga.

I honestly felt a little bad for Yusuke while reading this.  It wasn’t because he was an inherently sympathetic character.  If anything, he’s little more than a delivery system for pratfalls and yelling.  No, I felt bad for him because no one should have to find themselves stuck between a clingy crybaby like Orihime and a contrary tsundere like Akari.  That seems less like a love triangle and more like picking the lesser of two evils.  Both are simultaneously boring and irritating in two completely different ways, and because of that I really couldn’t be bothered much with any of the events going on around them.  It all ends up going through the same old high school routines, the same old suggestive gags, and the constant teasing of romantic resolutions that will never come to pass.  The art is passable and broadly comic, but when it comes to the girls it’s firmly stuck in moeblob mode, and even then it’s the most generic version of moe art possible.  Seriously, if Orihime were drawn any more roundly, she would look like a mochi sculpture.  I simply can’t imagine anyone sticking with Maga Tsuki for more than a few chapters, much less for multiple volumes.  Even fans of shonen-style romance would likely find this too derivate and uninspired to entertain, and everyone else will be too annoyed and bored to bother with it at all.  RATING: 3/10

Well, this first course was a little disappointing, although the pairing of Is This Girl For Real? and Maga Tsuki ended up serving as a good object lesson on what does and doesn't make a good shonen romance.   At least I can look forward to some new additions with the next course.  Starting next week, Kodansha will be adding some new titles to Crunchyroll, including the long-awaited debut of Princess Jellyfish.  Will I be lucky enough to get some quality josei in my next sampler course?  Only time will tell.


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