Crunchyroll Manga Sampler: Course Three
Once again, we've got another strange trio of titles to choose from with this course, ranging from shonen romance to seinen slice-of-life to a bit of corporate synergy. Let's serve up yet another course of the Crunchyroll Manga Sampler!
Course Three: Aizawa Multiplies, Persona Q: Shadow of the Labryinth, & Soredemo Machi wa Mawatteiru
Souta Mizutani couldn't be more shocked when Shino Aizawa confesses her love for him. He's just some ordinary guy – he can't possibly be worthy of this pretty, quiet, mysterious girl! His shock only grows when not one, but two other Shino Aizawas emerge and also confess their love for him! It seems that Aizawa had a very strange sort of accident that morning and was suddenly able to manifest clones of herself out of thin air, each of them corresponding to a particular emotion. Yet every single one agrees on one point: they all want to go out with Souta. How can Souta have a normal relationship with Shino when at any moment three or four versions of her could pop up and cause all sorts of hijinxs?
So Aizawa Multiplies is what happens when someone crosses a shonen romance with Seven of Seven. I have to admit that as a concept, it's not entirely terrible. Plenty of teenage boys have suffered the agony of trying to figure out precisely what girls are thinking. Here the story plays that for laughs by having her thoughts and emotions made manifest and interfering with what would otherwise be your standard, awkward teenage romance. It isn't going to be bothered explaining whether this is real or magic or something else entirely, because the joke is the whole point. It would certainly explain why the characters aren't much to speak of. Souta is as blank as they come, and the original Shino is less a character in her own right as she is the straight man to her many doppelgangers.
Unfortunately, that's where any cleverness in the humor ends. The set-ups tend to be the same, where Shino will invite Souta to do something that looks lurid at first glance but ends up being innocuous and sweet. Things only change up towards the end of the volume when the pair go off to find the hole that started all the trouble, only to spawn yet another Shino and attract the attention of Souta's friend Ozeki. It certainly promises a lot of wackiness to come, but overall this manga is simply OK. The jokes are mild and well-worn, the artwork is generic and rather limited, and Souta and the original Shino are already becoming more and more peripheral to the story at large. In short, this manga is OK, but only just OK. RATING: 5/10
PERSONA Q: SHADOW OF THE LABYRINTH P3
Ok, time for a confession: I've never played through any of the Persona games in full. While I'm generally familiar with them and have played a little bit of the first and third game on the PSP, I've never played Persona 4 or its increasingly large number of spin-offs, including the Nintendo 3DS dungeon crawler that this particular manga is based on. That's a pretty big handicap to overcome, but that just means that I can determine if this manga would hold any appeal to those who aren't familiar with the game and if it would entice them to do so. Much to my surprise, this is perfectly readable even if you've never played the game, although I suspect fans of the games would get a lot more out of it.
In all fairness, the manga goes its best to get readers up to speed, which does mean that the first chapter or two have to do a fair share of info-dumping about the characters and premise of Persona 3. Also, thankfully Persona 3 already had a fairly flexible way to introduce alternate dimensions in the form of the dark hour and the Velvet Room, and making a school festival in the world of Persona 4 the dungeon itself is a somewhat clever twist. The problem is that this sounds like something that far more interesting as a video game then it is as a comic. As is, it feels more like an illustrated strategy guide, there to get the player up to speed instead of exploring the story or character in-depth. That's a problem in a franchise like Persona, where the biggest draw is in its characters and exploring their relationships and nuances. At most, the comic relief characters get to go through their shtick while the others explain everything for the audience. I'm also not sure if I'm completely on board with the flat chibi style used for all the characters. Yes, I know that's taken straight from the game, but it's a little too flat and weird to be truly cute. Maybe I'm just old-fashioned when it comes to chibis. In the end, it is a perfectly readable, even occasionally enjoyable manga, even to a Persona rookie like me. It's just that much of its charm comes from the franchise and not from the adaptation itself. RATING: 5/10
SOREDEMO MACHI WA MAWATTEIRU
Soremachi is one of those rare manga that defies genre. It's got a little bit of slice-of-life, a little bit of comedy, a little bit of mystery, and a hearty helping of maids, and it all comes from the same magazine that spawned Excel Saga and Hellsing. That may sound totally random, but when all mixed together it somehow becomes something that's both unique and appealing, as well as one of the very few series to be rescued from the late, lamented JManga site.
The story, such as it exist, centers on Hotori Arashiyama. She's a ditzy young girl with a love of mysteries and a part-time job at an odd little maid cafe with her eldery manager and Toshiko Tatsuno, her clever classmate. Most of the stories center around them and the cafe regulars, but beyond that it tends to be a touch random and very episodic. One day they might be trying to convince their homeroom teacher to let them keep their jobs. The next chapter might find them getting caught up in an inheritance mystery, and another might be yet another casual installment of the love triangle developing between Hotori, Tatsuno, and their objet d'amour Sanada. The shift always feels natural, though, so it never comes across as existing solely for the sake of randomness. It helps that the story is driven so much by the characters and that none of them fall into the usual anime personality types. It also helps that the jokes here are actually good. It's sad that I have to point that out, but so many comedy manga rely solely on the same old jokes about the same old tropey characters or rehashing the same old mankai routines. Finding a comedy manga that knows how to get the most out of a seemingly mundane situation is like finding a shaved ice stand in the desert.
This series owes a lot to Hideyuki Azuma. While the subject matter couldn't be different, it's tonally similar to Yotsuba&!, and even the character designs resemble his work to a degree. The biggest difference in in how they deliver their jokes. Azuma tends to hold on a reaction and let the pause sink in, while Masakazu Ishuguro focuses more on physical humor and let situations snowball into something bigger and more riduculous. Thankfully it's not so much of a rip-off that it merits a call to the lawyers, and honestly if you're going to rip off any mangaka, you could do a lot worse than to rip off the guy who gave the world Azumanga Daioh. Soredemo is the sort of manga that's impossible to describe briefly but is so charming and funny that you want to recommend it to everyone. It's one of the best series being offered on Crunchyroll, and you owe it to yourself to give this one a look. RATING: 10/10
Well, these last few courses have been fun, even if there's been a lot more shonen romance that I could have anticipated. Still, I think it's time to cleanse our palates a little and take a look at one of the other many sites that offer digital manga. Next time we'll be looking at some digital manga selections that could only be described as simply sublime.