Crunchyroll Manga Sampler: Course Five

We may be currently caught up in the dark, cold, bitter depths of winter, so what better way is there to pass the time than to stay in and read some digital manga?  After all, Crunchyroll added a few more series before the end of last year, so maybe we’ll get a chance to look at some of them! 

Course Five: Donyatsu, Sun-Ken Rock, & ReCollection


There is quirky, and then there is Donyatsu.  It’s a comedy manga about animal-dessert hybrids wandering around the empty ruins of Tokyo three years after an unspecified apocalypse.  This is a premise that will either intrigue you immediately or leave you scratching your head the whole time.  In all fairness, the mangaka wants to be a little confused, if not a little intrigued.  You wouldn’t expect it, but there’s a weirdly dark edge to this silly little comedy manga.

On the surface, this is a very basic, dumb sort of comedy.  Most of the jokes stem from Donyatsu being dumb.  There are multiple jokes based around body functions.  All of the characters names are puns forged from smushing together animal names with desserts (Donyatsu, Baumcougar, Kumacaron, etc.).  This is a manga filled with nothing but dad jokes.   The closest it comes to good comedy are the bits with the “Marchmallows,” an army of militarized mice on the hunt for our confectionary cast.  Despite that, there’s also this surprisingly somber plot thread always running just under the surface.  When they’re not screwing around or searching for food, the critters are usually searching for the answer to the mysteries around them.  Why was the city abandoned?  Why did they come into being?  Why do they have knowledge and bits of memories that are older than three years old?  There are hints all over the place as to the possible cause – crashed tanks and jet fighters, headlines about gravitons, the occasional body that’s been reduced to a skeleton – but no obvious answers.  This dark, post-apocalyptic twist helps counter the goofy comedy and gives the story and the characters some purpose and a reason to keep moving forward.  No one will ever mistake Donyatsu for a comedy classic, but that dark edge is just enough to keep it from being completely disposable.  RATING: 5/10


Well, this is a first.  We’ve covered plenty of manga, but this will be the first time we’ll be looking at a manhwa, a Korean manga.  More than a few publishers tried to make manhwa a thing here in the States during the manga boom years, but aside from series like Goong and Bride of the Water God most manga readers simply didn’t care for them.  They were viewed as derivative knock-offs of the real deal, and having read this one I can see where they’re coming from.  Sun-Ken Rock is not a very original work; if anything, it would have fit in just perfectly in the seinen scene of 20 years ago.  That doesn’t mean that it isn’t enjoyable, though.

I cannot overstate just how predictable this manga is.  Ken, our lead, is precisely the sort of guy who tends to lead these sorts of stories.  He’s a dumb thug with a lot of bravado and a secret heart of gold, and like many of his ilk his primary motivation is that he wants to impress a girl.  More specifically, he wants to impress Yumin, his high school crush who moved to Korea to become a policewoman.  He can’t help but spew a bunch of half-assed lies in the hopes of impressing her, and much of the story is about him trying to use his newfound gang to make those lies a reality.  He alternates between being a loveable loser and a noble yet implacable badass, a switch reinforced by the frequent shifts between Boichi’s usual gritty, heavily hatched artstyle and the goofier super-deformed moments.  He’s likeable enough as a protagonist, but I can’t help but feel that like this character type better when his name was Eikichi Onizuka.  Still, he makes more of an impression than the rest of the cast.  Tae-Soon, the second-in-command, makes something of an impression early on with his philosophical ramblings, but soon enough he fades into the background to make room for new mooks and more Ken.  Everyone else is merely filling space, and that includes Yumin.  I shouldn’t be surprised by that – the love interests in these sorts of stories are always there more to serve as a prize for the lead than as a character in their own right – but it’s disappointing nonetheless.  I also feel like Boichi could better emphasize the exotic flavor of Seoul.  You don’t see a lot of manga set in Korea, and while he does incorporate some landmarks into the scenery, you could easily mistake this for yet another gangster series set in Tokyo. 

The one place where Sun-Ken Rock excels is with its art.  Boichi’s art is very stereotypical for seinen, but I really like his use of heavy, Western-style hatching.  It gives the art a serious, gritty look that fits well with the story he wants to tell. He also is very good at giving the fight scenes some real impact and power.  His speed lines feel less like a shortcut and more like the rush of raw power in every kick and punch.  He also plays with the angles, using lots of low dynamic shots to highlight those same beat-downs.  The creator was so committed to capturing the fights well that he actually went out to some of the actual locations in Seoul with a stuntman to work out their moves in the real world for reference.  Again, it’s something that’s going to feel familiar to those who remember and love older seinen works, but in a world of manga where cute, squishy forms have taken over this style – no, this whole manga – feels fresh.   It’s not original, but Sun-Ken Rock is a well-executed take on old formulas that works as an antidote to the manga of today.  RATING: 6/10


Kanade wakes up one morning with amnesia.  He finds himself led around by a weird bespectacled guy who literally refers to himself as God, who feeds him all the information he needs to get through the day.  As he learns more and more, Kanade starts to wonder about what kind of person he was before the memory loss. Why is this Tomo girl so determined to love him?  Why was he even a teacher in the first place?  And just is this God guy bossing him around, telling him what to do and who to see?  From the creator of Orange comes this, her latest series.  While I do think that Crunchyroll is hyping her up a bit too much too early (“the genius of the shoujo world” – really?), I do think that the premise here is really intriguing.  It’s hard to say too much just because there’s only three chapters up as of the time of this article, but she takes some very gimmicky ideas and makes them work as part of Kanade’s journey to self-realization.

The most interesting part, even more so than the whole amnesia angle or the fact that Kanade is haunted by a rather mundane-looking divine being, are all the hints we’re getting that Kanade isn’t a terribly good person to begin with.   He’s apparently tangled up in a quasi-relationship with one of his students, he’s easily distracted by cute girls, and he tends to simply back away from challenges instead of facing them.  As harsh as “God” can be with him, you can’t help but feel that he’s got something of a point.  He’s trying to teach Kanade to think for himself, even as he lectures him on who to avoid and what to do, and it’s clear that he was in need of this even before the memory loss.  Not even God can apparently help him with Tomo, though.  Tomo has declared herself Kanade’s girlfriend despite their massive age gap.  Apparently Kanade used to be Tomo’s tutor, and we get glimpse of flashbacks showing that he’s known her since she was a child.  It’s hard to get much more of a read on their relationship at this point, but it’s clear that there is more than the obvious going on…which is good because otherwise this would be skeevy as hell.  That’s not even scratching the surface of the more supernatural questions, such as the nature of Kanade’s amnesia or why “God” has shown up to help this shmuck.

I also like Takana’s down-to-earth art.  It’s not cute and stylized in the way that so many shoujo series are.  Instead it’s very realistic in its style, from the characters to the backgrounds to the lack of gaudy screentones.  I like this approach as it helps to ground this otherwise gimmicky premise in something resembling reality.  I wish I could say more for it, but again there’s only three chapters to see thus far.  Still, I’m hooked on it even from this early point, and that’s no mean feat for any mangaka. ReCollection is a series with a lot of promise and I hope that Crunchyroll will upload more chapters soon.  RATING: 8/10.

Once again, the selection was kind of weird as far as genres go, but the quality of the books was a bit more even than many of the previous Manga Samplers.  Will this trend continue?  Who knows.  We’ll have to see what’s up for sampling next time.


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