Crunchyroll Manga Sampler: Course Four
It's a new year and that means it's the perfect time to resolve to read more manga online! I hope you all saved some room after your holiday feasts and your New Year's Even drinks as we've got another Crunchyroll Manga Sampler of three very different series.
Course No. 4: Space Brothers, Kings Game: Origin, & Scum's Wish
Mutta and Hibito are as close as brothers can be. As children, they decide together that someday they're going to become astronauts and go to the moon. Years pass, all the way to 2025, and half of their dream has come true. Hibito, the younger brother, was the one who became an astronaut and even selected for a crew set to test the possibility of a colony on the moon. Mutta, on the other hand, just lost his job as a car designer, is stuck living with his parents, and has no idea of what to do with his life now. He finds his way thanks to his loving brother and a recording from their past. After all, Mutta is the older brother, so he has to go first. If Hibito is going to the moon, then Mutta is going to go to Mars, no matter how long or arduous the training may be!
You guys, why did no one tell me? Why didn't someone tell me how good this manga was? Oh sure, I heard nothing but good things about its animated version, but if anyone mentioned that the source material was just as great, I must have missed it or forgotten it. Well, let me make it clear now: Space Brothers is one of the best manga on Crunchyroll. It's right up there with Soredemo, albeit for different reasons.
Actually, that's not entirely true. They do share one quality: a sort of warm and fuzzy feeling that's hard to pin down in words but emanates from every page. It's a quality that I normally associate with the better examples of slice-of-life manga, works like Yotsuba and Barakamon. What distinguishes Space Brothers, though, is that the warm fuzzies aren't inspired by the charms of simple childhood joys or village life, but instead from getting a second chance to pursue a dream and discover new talents. This manga is all about Mutta getting over the complexes and insecurities that he developed as an adult and rediscovering the passions and talents that he always possessed deep inside. As an adult, I find that far more inspirational than any dumb shonen hero striving to be the best [insert occupation here] that ever was. It's the kind of goal that anyone can achieve, even if we're not striving to be chosen to become an astronaut. The story also emphasizes just how hard it is to even qualify in the first place. Mutta has to be put though a litany of exams, written tests, and interviews and we get to see it all. The writing mines gentle humor from it all, but it never loses sight of the seriousness of these trials either.
Those good feelings also come from the fact that Mutta's got an unusually strong and friendly support network in the form of his family. It's not just his brother, especially since outside of flashbacks they are literally halfway across the globe from one another. It's that Mutta's parents and his astronomer aunt also gently encourage to remember his past, as well as the friends he makes amongst the other candidates. Initially he's concerned for his chances because of his age and unconventional background, but soon enough he finds a few people to bond with and start forming a support group of his own. This is becoming increasingly crucial as it's clear that Mutta's biggest obstacle is the fact that he has to overcome his brother's reputation. He's long been known as Hibito's brother, and it's only now that he's starting to find the confidence to distinguish himself as just Mutta.
Even the art manages to capture some of those good feelings. While it's very much in a grounded seinen sort of vein, there's a gentle roundness to the character designs that makes them very appealing and even a sort of softness to what is otherwise a very mundane setting. It's a good look that matches the tone of the story well, and when you put all of these qualities together, you get a great and suprisingly inspirational manga that gets to the heart of overcoming adult insecurities without getting too serious. It's a charming manga from beginning to end and it's a work that everyone with a Crunchyroll subscription should be reading. RATING: 10/10
KING'S GAME: ORIGIN:
Yonaki is a remote town in the mountains that avoids contact with the outside world whenever possible and sticks to old traditions. That's a problem for Kazunari and Natsuko, a pair of teenaged cousins who are desperately in love with one another. That's hardly the end of their problems, though. One day the entire village gets the same mysterious letter. The letter proclaims that the entire village is now subject to the 'king's game', where every child is given an order which must be obeyed or else the offenders will be subject to deadly punishments. The kids don't take it seriously at first, but then villagers start dying off one by one. Now the kids have to figure just who the king might be before this game takes all of their lives.
Creating a great horror manga is something akin to capturing lighting in a bottle. It takes a good premise, good writing with a tight control of pace and tone, and artwork that masterfully captures whatever mood the story needs. For every notable horror manga out there, are easily a dozen others that miss the mark in so many ways. They might become too melodramatic, too gory, too convoluted, too predictable, or simply just bad. Unfortunately, King's Game: Origin is not one of the memorable ones, but instead one of those middling dozens. I suspect that the writer is aiming for Higurashi-style tension, but it's far too melodramatic for its own good and that fact keeps me from connecting with the characters or the central mystery.
It's hard to get terribly invested in a literal game of life and death when the characters are so undersketched. I couldn't anything about Kazunari other than he's got the hots for his cousin and that's mostly because he's only got a few to choose from in the entire village. The rest of them are as generic as generic can be. Really, everyone in the village is pretty vague. The adults mostly act like tyrants towards the kids, and the kids act like every other gang of junior high/high school kids you can find in manga and anime. It's also hard to get into a premise that's honestly so stupid. For those not in the know, the king's game is a Japanese kids' game. It's like a cross of Simon Says and Truth or Dare, and you can make a decent manga about it. Hell, Natsumi Ando did just that not too long ago with Arisa. So why wasn't I sold on it here? Well, it feels like people accept it and its ridiculous conditions too quickly. Oh sure, everyone starts taking it seriously once people actually start dying, but the kids buy into it without a question at first glance. I might have bought it more if they had just taken it for a lark, as a game to help relieve what would otherwise be another dull summer day in the countryside. I would have been a reaction that a real person might have instead of blindly accepting conditions set by a villain whose identity is frankly rather blatantly telegraphed. Even the artwork is rather bland, at least when it's not ogling some of the women randomly. It's just a wet squib of a manga that never distinguishes itself, much less becomes frightening. RATING: 2/10
Awaya and Hanabi are for all appearances the perfect couple. All their classmates envy their good looks, gentle manners, and how lovey-dovey they seem. They would never suspect the truth about them. The two of them may be a couple, but both of them are in love with other people. Hanabi is obsessed with her older brother, who also happens to be their homeroom teacher. Awaya is in love with Akane-sensei, another teacher who is also sweet on Hanabi's brother. Together they speak freely of their feelings and vent their sexual urges with one another, but to each other they are simply companions, the only people in the world who could understand their feelings. What they don't know is that they are just merely the center of a web of frustrated romance, one that threatens to creep across their entire class.
Manga is really good at portraying innocent romances, the ones that are full of first-time lovey-dovey feelings, where it seems the whole world could explode in flowers just because your crush walked by. Unfortunately, you don't see quite as many exploring the flip side of that, the romances that are dark, frustrated, and messed-up. Well, at least not that many outside of hentai and doujins. Make no mistake, though – this is a manga about two very weird, frustrated kids pooling their mutual drama and burgeoning hormones together and it's not meant to be a pleasant read.
I've made no secret in the past of my distaste for incest as a fetish in anime and manga. Quite frankly, I 've long been waiting for the day that the imouto fetish becomes a thing of the past. Yet I feel perfectly OK with Hanabi and her weird brother fetish. Why is that? Maybe it's because Scum's Wish isn't portraying this as fetish material for lonely guys, but instead the actions of a very lonely and kind of messed-up girl in desperate need of a father figure. Hanabi and her brother grew up in a divorced family, and Hanabi's brother was always more of a father to her than her actual one. It's little wonder that she would put such a guy up on a pedestal, and it's also little wonder that hormones would muddle up her hero-worship into a jealous little crush. It's a premise that's more Koi Kaze than Oreimo, one that is honest about the fact that Hanabi's feelings are messed-up and not healthy. Awaya, in comparison, is simply making a mountain out of a molehill with his crush on their music teacher (who used to be his personal tutor). Of course, being teenagers the two of them don't have enough perspective to realize how much the two have idealized their crushes and how ephemeral their feelings truly are. Instead they are content to stew in those feelings and occasionally make out to vent the hardest of their urges. The solution to their mutual dilemma is obvious, but the two are too caught up in themselves to see it, and it's clear this is going to drag out that solution as long as possible.
Still, even with all the dramatic potential in those two, that's a premise that couldn't sustain a series for very long. Thus, it pads things out by exploring how others around Awaya and Hanabi respond to their so-called relationship. They're not the only ones feeling frustrated, like Hanabi's best friend Ebato or the obnoxious former childhood friend Noriko. To Ebato, their relationship is a roadblock to her own crush on Hanabi. For Noriko, Awaya is her perfect prince and anyone who disrupts her fantasy of him is her enemy. These characters not only help to keep things from getting too claustrophobic, but their presence helps to shake things up a little between Hanabi and Awaya, pushing them ever so gradually towards the obvious through their own petty jealousies. It keeps things just interesting enough to keep moving and keep my own interest. This wouldn't be the sort of thing I would normally seek out, but it is complex enough to pique my interest and help me overlook the less savory elements. RATING: 6/10
That was quite a diverse offering, but sometimes you get the most interesting results from combining different sorts of flavors and tones. Of course, there is still more than enough manga on Crunchyroll to keep me busy well through 2016, so expect plenty of more courses to come.