Crunchyroll Manga Sampler: Course Seven

It's been a while since we enjoyed our last sampler.  Since then, the number of manga on Crunchyroll just keeps growing, so the Crunchyroll Manga Sampler menu only grows bigger.  Today's trio is a rather dark and grim set of works.  In a way, it feels weirdly appropriate for the atmosphere of the world today.

Course Seven: Coppelion, Investor Z, & Ajin


In the not-too-distant future, three girls wandered the abandoned wasteland that was once the Tokyo metropolitan area.  20 years ago, the combination of an earthquake and nuclear meltdown laid waste to the population, and survivors are far and few between.  The only people who can enter the city safely are three girls, each having been genetically altered to resist radiation and enhance their senses.  Now they work for a secretive military force performing search and rescue missions.  The girls try their best to act casual even while on-mission, but it seems that the city is hiding all sorts of dangers and secrets that could threaten even their lives.

I think I can see why Coppelion is a digital-only title.   It would be hell to try and market this to your standard teenage manga market.  It’s got the ‘girls being friends in the face of unimaginable terror’ angle that other series like School-Live have used.  It’s also a pretty blatant anti-nuclear screed, one that’s made no less awkward by the fact that the combination of a strong earthquake and a nuclear plant meltdown bears an uncomfortable resemblance to the Touhoku disaster and the Fukishima meltdown.  It’s also a post-apocalyptic action series, albeit one that’s more Fallout than Road Warrior.  Nonetheless, it all comes together into a surprisingly compelling work.

It helps that at least 2/3rds of our leading trio are competent folks.  This is most obvious with team leader Ibara.  She’s the one who can best think on her feet and keep her team focused.  That’s not to say that she’s a perfect soldier – she administers a vital vaccine to someone in defiance of orders – but she’s the only one who seems to truly get the seriousness of their situation.  The other two girls behave…well, like teen girls.  They are more easily distracted and fretful, as well as the ones who try to keep up a steady stream of chat to distract from their obvious fear.  Still, at least Taeko seem to be the empathetic one, a quality which not only helps them negotiate with survivors but even make an ally out of a feral wolf.  Then there’s Aoi, who is the load of the group.  Maybe she’ll be shown to have some super-special power later on, but right now all she does is whine and cry and she gets annoying FAST. 

Still, I can overlook that to some degree because the larger story is fairly compelling, even if it’s not so subtle about the backstory.  The first couple of chapters are kind of rough, as the first tries its damnedest to evade specifics and the second does a lot of info-dumping in the form of an expository TV broadcast.  Inoue gets better about it as the story moves along, but they’re clearly proud of all the research they did on nuclear disasters and radioactive isotopes and whatnot and want to show that off badly, if rather inelegantly.  Still, they do a good job of weaving in a number of plot threads ranging from the family of fugitives the girls find to the military organization the girls work for to just how people are able to survive in a city that should make Chernobyl look like a paradise.  They also do a great job with the art, the backgrounds in particular.  Inoue really loves to draw vistas of crumbling infrastructure, and the image of the coffined nuclear plant looks like something that could have come out of Blame!.  It’s the perfect complement to the story, and it even helps to distract from the fact that they tend to draw some really wonky heads.  Coppelion was a pleasant surprise, despite the fact that the premise is anything BUT pleasant.  It’s got some rough spots, but the story and the background art lay the foundation for what could become a really great manga. RATING: 8/10


Investor Z is an ugly manga.  I’m not just talking about the artwork, although it is a very literally ugly work.  No, Investor Z is morally ugly in the sense that it has no aspirations beyond the celebration of capitalism.  It is very literally about accumulating wealth solely for the sake of wealth and trying to turn that into something that is noble, manly, and even patriotic.  It’s basically a bunch of mental circle-jerking for conservative salarymen dressed up in the guise of standard shonen formula. 

This is made obvious right away when we see our protagonist, Takeshi Zaizen, at home.  His younger sister whines that her brother won’t let her win at a board game.  He counters that he simply doesn’t like to lose.  So already we’ve established that our protagonist is competitive as hell and not terribly empathetic, even to family.  Sadly, that’s about as much as we ever learn about him, as in short order he’s shanghaied into his private school’s secret investment club and falls into lockstep with the rest of them.   This volume does lay out the beginnings of a potential conflict with his money-adverse father and even some sort of supernatural element, but otherwise he’s just another shonen hero striving to be the very best like no one ever was.

It’s only when we start to spend more time with the club that the manga truly shows itself to be its true self.  On the surface, it doesn’t seem that harmless.  This super-secret club mostly spends its time trading stocks online and playing mah-jong like a bunch of old men.  It’s only once Takeshi starts going through the club founder’s notes that Investor Z shows its true colors.  First of all, the story outright derails itself for multiple chapters at a time while the club members explain the history of money to Takeshi.  It’s not uncommon for mangaka with intensely geeky hobbies to do this.  After all, I’ve read side chapters in Gunsmith Cats that were literally nothing but Kenichi Sonoda rambling about a particular kind of gun or Kosuke Fujishima taking time out of Keiichi and Belldandy’s endless romance in Oh My Goddess to talk shop about motorcycles.  Still, they had the courtesy to save it as filler between story arcs or at the beginning of one.  They certainly don’t lecture their audience for pages at a time, interrupting only briefly to set up other vague plot threads. 

Then there’s the matter of what those notes say.  It’s not so much a set of rules as it is a collection of catchphrase all about money.  To this mysterious founder, money is everything.  Money is people, money is communication, and money is the magic than ensnares the entire world.  It all but declares money to be their god, and the boys of the club confirm and elaborate on these platitudes as if they were holy gospel.  They see their investments as the most noble of pursuits, a cause that serves them but also their school and even the nation of Japan itself.  Like Takeshi, they compete only to win, and winning in their world means making more money than everyone else.  These boys may see this as glory, but all I can see from my perspective are a bunch of teenage boys surrendering their lives to the almighty yen for the sake of their own delusions of grandeur.  It’s morally hollow and ugly, and the fact that we’re meant to accept this just as Takeshi does is downright offensive and out-of-touch.

Speaking of ugliness, let’s talk about that artwork!  It’s positively amateurish, like something straight out of those bargain bin ‘how to draw manga’ books.  I haven’t seen faces this awful since the time I reviewed Initial D!  Their heads have no contours, their eyes seem to drift inconstantly across their faces, and their expressions and bodies are as stiff as mannequins.  It’s hard to pay attention to anything else on the page because every character is just hideous.   Then again, it’s the perfect pairing for a work that has nothing beautiful or honorable to share beyond ‘greed is good.’  RATING: 1/10


In a world not too far removed from our own, humanity lives in fear of the demi-humans.  They resemble humans on the surface, but are unable to die and possess strange psychic powers.  They can even summon spectral beings called ajin to fight others.  Kei Nagai didn’t think demi-humans mattered to him, but then he was run over by a truck and was able to stand back up and mend his broken body.  Now Kei is a fugitive, running not only from civilians and shady government forces that want to capture him, but also fellow demi-humans who want to exploit his powers for their own good.

This is actually the first time I’ll be reviewing a manga that I have reviewed previously at my other site.  As such, I won’t be getting into too much detail because doing so would just feel redundant.  Despite being over two years old, my thoughts remain much the same on this first volume.

I do think that Ajin is kind of clumsy when it comes to its exposition.  There are a lot of classroom scenes and government briefings where the cast can dump all the info we need to know about demi-humans on our heads.  It’s necessary to a degree, but it could have been done a little more elegant and seamlessly than how it turned out.  It also does operate on some degree of plot convenience.  It is a bit too tidy that our protagonist Kei just happens to have that former childhood friend who is still around and happens to come his way.  Still, the concept of the demi-humans is fantastical and cool and the writing does nicely capture how quickly the world turns on Kei.  They really nail the feelings of dread and persecution, along with little details like how quickly everyone (even his friends and family) stop using Kei’s name or even humanizing pronouns when talking about him.

That being said, there are elements that work really well.  The most obvious one is the artwork.  Gamon Sakurai’s work is remarkable, and nowhere is this more obvious than in the various fights.  Regardless of whether it’s a battle to the death between two ajin or just Kei’s mad scramble to escape and survive, every punch and kick is drawn in a way that feels fluid, dynamic, and visceral.  The same goes for the gore.  It’s not excessive, but neither does Sakurai shy away from just how much damage a demi-human can take or what kind of damage they can do.  It also handles Kei’s larger story arc fairly well as Kei not only comes to grips with his powers and situation, but starts to make sense of his own past.  In a weird way, this reminds me a lot of Tokyo Ghoul.  The details are decidedly different, but there’s enough overlap in genre and tone that would make Ajin an easy recommendation for fans of that series.  Even if you’re not a Tokyo Ghoul fan, Ajin is still creepy and compelling enough to make it worthy of a look.  RATING: 7/10 

Hopefully next time, our selection will be a little more cheerful.  In the mean time, though, if you've been enjoying The Crunchyroll Manga Sampler and my other writings here at Infinite Rainy Day, I highly encourage you to check out my Patreon page and to pledge your support.  For as little as $1 a month, you can keep up and support all of my future writings, including future installments of the Crunchyroll Manga Sampler.


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