Within You and Without You – Inside Mari

mariThe most recent work by Shuzo Oshimi, the mangaka behind The Flowers of Evil, is another psychologically delving title that takes us deep into the thoughts of its main character – Mari.

Manga Title: Inside Mari (Boku wa Mari no Naka)
Mangaka: Shuzo Oshimi
Genres: Psychological, drama, gender bender, mystery
Demographic: Seinen

The Storyboard:
Isao Komori, a college student who’s become a reclusive hikikomori, spends day after day playing away his time with games, erotic manga and visiting a local convenience store every night to get a glimpse of his ‘angel’.

Inside Mari

Isao Komori

His angel is none other than Mari Yoshizaki, a teenage high school girl – someone who looks for all intents and purposes like a model, moral student.

Usually Isao follows her every night for a short while before returning home, however one night she inexplicably turns around, staring him right in the eyes. The next morning Isao wakes up to find that he’s inside Mari – he’s taken over her body.

Inside Mari

Mari Yoshizaki

Spending an embarrassing day at school as Mari, he finds it difficult to keep up the pretense that he is a girl, whilst also trying not to do anything perverse to his angel despite being in her body. After searching for and finding his male self, he discovers that he is completely unaware of any change, going about life as usual.

Left with no other option, Isao temporarily has to be Mari, beginning a life whose social, physical and mental situations are completely unknown to him.

Inside Mari

A day in the life

Pencil Sketch:
Two main characters take up most of the stage, Mari (with Isao inside her) and Mari’s close but undisclosed friend Yori Kakiguchi. Isao is straightforwardly perverted, thus he’s immediately challenged to keep his hands to himself being inside Mari. Aside from that, not being a particularly social person in the first place, he’s constantly embarrassed and at a loss for what to do being surrounded by Mari’s peer group.

After being at school it becomes apparent that Mari truly is a hardworking student who is regarded highly by her peers. Trying to maintain the façade of being her increases in difficultly when going to the restroom, getting close to and even holding hands with other girls – Isao literally has a permanent blush on his face.

Just when he thought it couldn’t get worse, Mari’s clandestine friend Yori enters. It appears they’d maintained a secret friendship as Yori isn’t in with Mari’s current group and she doesn’t want to spoil her social life.

Inside Mari

Yori Kakiguchi

Yori usually observes Mari quite closely, so she notices something is amiss, and confronts her about it. Backed into a corner, Isao reveals that he’s inside Mari – a situation that Yori is both creeped out by and concerned about. She’s desperate to make sure that until they recover the original Mari, Isao not even look at Mari’s (his) body while changing, let alone do anything to disrupt the flow of her daily life.

It’s revealed that Yori’s relationship with Mari, though secret, is extremely close and she is quite fixated with her.

Being the shut-in that he is, Isao blunderingly tries to maintain face, navigating his way through the complex storm that is a high school girl in Japan’s community life. He winds up discovering that the life of a girl is not quite the dream-life he may once have imagined.

Inking:
What I expected from Inside Mari was perhaps another gender bender drawing on the amusing and awkward idea of someone being put into a person of the opposite sex’s body. Inside Mari is that, but so much more. Without singing Shuzo Oshimi’s praises too much, I have to say that he’s done it again; I haven’t read through a manga as fast as this in a while. Shuzo’s skill at portraying the clumsy awkwardness of youth and relationships between the sexes, the mental turmoil of puberty, the purity as well as the darkness of the mind as it grows into maturity – is amazingly done.

Like in The Flowers of Evil, he’s captured a tension and a need-to-know that hooked me right from the start. He’s also very honest in his portrayal, Inside Mari doesn’t gloss over the brooding, angst and pain that goes with coming of age and in peer groups, but displays it honestly. Once again he also shows the inner battle, confusion and occasional elation of his main character with ease.

Inside Mari is a journey into the psyche of sexuality, growing, and coming to terms with oneself and others. Family issues, interrelationship politics, and periods are just some of the difficulties that Isao has to face on his chaffing journey – inside Mari.

 

Battle Angel Alita

Battle Angel AlitaGunnm, or as its better known, Battle Angel Alita, is a gritty cyberpunk classic, exploring themes well-known to the genre while taking some to new heights.

Manga Title: Gunnm (Battle Angel Alita)
Mangaka: Yukito Kishiro
Genres: Cyberpunk, science-fiction, action
Demographic: Seinen
Status: Completed (9 volumes in the first series and 19 in the second)

The Storyboard:
The story takes place in a post-apocalyptic setting. Ido Daisuke is an inhabitant on the surface of Earth, living in a city called the Scrapyard – an area used to dump waste products by the dwellers of the mysterious Tiphares, a floating city that towers above.

battle angel alita

Tiphares

People living on the surface have to scrape a living together somehow, and most of them have cybernetically altered bodies to cope with the harsh life. Ido is a cyberphysician, but also hunts cyborg criminals for their bounties to make a living. One day he comes across the dismembered head and midriff of a young cyborg girl who’s been discarded in the scrapyard for unknown reasons.

battle angel alita

Alita’s head

Ido takes her home and begins the process of rebuilding her, using parts that he purchases with money from his bounties. Naming her Alita, Ido gradually assembles her robotic body – her brain still being intact – and she has regains full consciousness, except that she has no recollection of her former life. She decides she wants to aid Ido in his bounty hunting work.

battle angel alita

Alita’s 2nd body

The work is extremely dangerous, with Ido encountering powerful cyborgs such as Makaku, a deadly being with the bizarre habit of eating brains that acts as a kind of painkiller for him.

battle angel alita

Makaku

Despite Ido’s admonishments, Alita joins him, encountering other bizarre denizens of the city along the way. During her interactions with them we find that while her body is almost completely robot, her heart and feelings are still very much those of a young girl.

The city of Tiphares looms overhead constantly, a source of great desire and dreams, as well as persistent mystery. Especially in Alita’s case, she was found in junkyard of materials from Tiphares, hinting at an unknown history she may have and a link to the enigmatic place.

Pencil Sketch:
Ido acts as Alita’s guardian, essentially a father figure for her, and considers her to be his main source of happiness. He dotes on her a lot and initially tries to keep her from the bounty hunting business, wanting her to stay the ‘angel’ that he envisions her to be.

Ido Daisuke

Ido Daisuke

Alita however has her own opinions about what she wants to do. Although grateful and protective of Ido, she also is very opinionated and forges her own path, meeting other individuals and forming friendships along the way.

For Alita, she has no memory of her former life, and is essentially bodiless, making her constantly question who she is. Ironically she’s able to get flashes of memory when she’s engaged in combat, making her want to train herself even harder to discover her identity. Her growth is well developed, starting from her initial naivety about the world, to a much greater understanding of its harshness and grim truths. Despite this she remains cheerful, showing us her youthful, feminine side whilst being a badass cyborg killer. The name ‘Battle Angel’ couldn’t be more apt to describe her.

She reveals herself to be compassionate, considerate and even falls in love with another boy character, Hugo, who appears in the second volume. One thing she seems unable to shake though, is the cruel life thrust upon her and all the dwellers on the surface, who continually live in the shadow of the city Tiphares.

In the first two volumes, minor side characters appear, notably Hugo. He grew up on the surface and had painful family experiences. He eventually resorts to a life of crime in order to obtain money and earn his way into Tiphares. He becomes a romantic interest for Alita, who loves his dreamy visions of escaping the junk-filled life they have and starting a new one on the city above.

battle angel alita

Alita and Hugo

Inking:
Among the more prominent titles of cyberpunk I’ve comes across in manga (like Ghost in the Shell and Blame!) Gunnm’s characters stand out as having more color and emotion. Even the cyborgs encountered by Alita in her battles are mean characters, with foul attitudes to boot.

The style of Gunnm is pretty much hard sci-fi in many ways; most of the gadgets presented in the manga get specific footnotes explaining their operation. Despite not being as dark as the above mentioned titles Gunnm is brutal and has its share of gore. Even though it was first published in 1990, there is such attention to detail that Gunnm looks cool even by today’s standards.

battle angel alita

Alita in action

I’d easily call Gunnm a cyberpunk epic, with mind-blowing art, innovative ideas for the time it was created, a varied cast of cyborg and human characters and not to mention the intriguing question of Alita’s origins and how she’ll trace her way to finding her true self.

Doodles:
Battle Angel Alita is one of the first real anime titles I saw. Back when the distributor Manga Entertainment was still producing titles a friend bought copies of Alita, Akira and Vampire Hunter D, which I loved on first watch. It’s great to return to this series that was one of the first that started me down the road into anime/manga land!

Mecha, Aliens and Space Opera – Knights of Sidonia

Knights of Sidonia From his raw beginnings with the cyberpunk classic Blame! we can see how much Tsutomu Nihei’s work has changed and grown in his more recent title – Knights of Sidonia.

Manga Title: Knights of Sidonia (Sidonia no Kishi)
Mangaka: Tsutomu Nihei
Genres: Science-fiction, space opera, mecha, romance
Demographic: Seinen

Storyboard:
Taking place in the distant future, the space colony called Sidonia sails through space. Centuries prior to the start of the manga, humanity encountered an alien race known as the Gauna. Sometime after, a war between the huge aliens and humanity broke out, forcing people to flee earth aboard ‘seed ships’. Sidonia is one such ship, a wondrous, self-sustaining community that has made many advances not only in technology but also in genetic engineering.

Knights of Sidonia

Sidonia

Here we meet Nagate Tanikaze, a young man who dwells in the vast underground of Sidonia with his grandfather. Shortly after his grandfather passes away, Nagate embarks on a journey to the upper levels in search of food, finding himself in an unfamiliar world in the process.

Knights of Sidonia

Above the surface

The dwellers on the surface of Sidonia have discovered how to ‘photosynthesize’ thus reducing their need to digest real food to about once a week. Nagate is immediately seen as strange for not being able to photosynthesize and having a ravenous appetite. After being apprehended for stealing rice, he’s taken to the authorities who then inexplicably escort him to meet Sidonia’s captain – the mysterious Kobayashi.

Knights of Sidonia

Nagate and Captain Kobayashi

Kobayashi asks him to become a trainee guardian pilot – pilots who fly mechs (or frames) known as guardians to defend Sidonia against the Gauna. Nagate accepts and begins his training, meeting many other members of Sidonia’s guardian force.

The Gauna are a bizarre race, being able to traverse space and having grotesque, squid-like forms. Their bodies are constructed of something called ‘placenta’ – a substance the Gauna secrete to cover their true body, known as the ‘core’. The core is impervious to all weaponry, except for specially crafted lances called ‘Kabizashi’. Only by directly piercing the core of a Gauna with a Kabizashi is one able to destroy it.

Knights of Sidonia

Nagate faces a Gauna

Nagate is given the privilege of piloting the legendary guardian named Tsugumori, a frame which was used previously by a hero in mankind’s wars against the Gauna. This gains Nagate the disdain of one of his fellow pilots, Norio Kunato, who comes from an influential family and hopes for fame and glory. After his first sortie in which Nagate encounters a Gauna and helps repel it in the Tsugumori, he gains some status for being able to actually fight back against the powerful enemies.

Our hero, once called ‘the mole man’ for living underground, becomes an object of fascination for many. Nagate is befriended by the amiable Izana, one of a new sex who are capable of procreating with males or females thereby making them asexual. Izana Shinatose takes a liking to the clumsy and rather incapable Nagate, becoming somewhat of a partner for him. Another pilot he befriends is Shizuka Hoshijiro, a young woman who attempts to rescue Nagate when they encounter the Gauna on a mining mission. To the jealousy of Izana, Nagate becomes fond of Hoshijiro and the two quickly form a close bond.

Knights of Sidonia

Hoshijiro and Izana

Before the end of volume one it’s announced that the Gauna repelled earlier has returned, and a task force consisting of four well-known warriors will be going out to engage it. Whether or not they will be able to defeat the seemingly invincible Gauna or not remains to be seen…

Pencil Sketch:
Aside from overall story structure, pacing and plot differences, another major distinction between Sidonia no Kishi and Blame! is the amount of character development. All of the main characters have a significant amount of interaction and details about their backgrounds are introduced.

Making an unlikely protagonist with his clumsy and naïve mannerisms, Nagate is nonetheless a literal powerhouse once he gets into the cockpit. Being unaware of the history as well as the politics on Sidonia, Nagate innocently follows the commands of Captain Kobayashi to battle the Gauna. While Izana and Hoshijiro are protecting him mostly when on Sidonia, in space he’s capable of protecting them and becomes a clearheaded, resourceful pilot. At times his obliviousness can get a bit much, but it’s made up for with his earnest attitude and caring towards the inhabitants of Sidonia and his friends.

Being an asexual, Izana has boyish features that might be described as ‘bishounen’, his/her mannerisms though, from way of walking to caring for Nagate are quite feminine. Izana is a composed person, and this togetherness acts as a good foil for Nagate. There are some comic and awkward moments between the two of them that make me wonder where their relationship might be headed in future.

Hoshijiro is a similarly sturdy and mature person. She’s equally considerate towards Nagate, whether on Sidonia or the battlefield. While neither of them have expressed any feelings for each other in volume one, there’s an obvious chemistry between them right from the start.

Another character worthy of mentioning is Kunato. His first appearance in the manga is when he knocks Nagate unconscious for stealing rice. Kunato is galled at Nagate’s being chosen to pilot Tsugumori as well as at his popularity thereafter. Coming from the wealthy family behind Kunato industries, who develop the guardians for Sidonia, he’s arrogant and two-faced.

Knights of Sidonia

Kunato’s hatred

Inking:
Knights of Sidonia combines what are elements I already enjoyed in Nihei’s previous work, with additional depth in storytelling and fleshed-out characterization. Despite being a lot more up-beat, it still retains a brooding atmosphere, with the threat of the Gauna being ever present and the persisting secrets about their origins nagging.

Its hard science-fiction themes are well thought out and explained, while at the same time using a more show and less tell approach that leaves out just enough details to keep you guessing. In this regard it has everything the sci-fi lover could ask for: mecha, aliens, space opera and big spaceships.

Nihei’s art is as usual – stunning. The backgrounds, architecture and mecha in Knights of Sidonia are detailed and eye-catching, mixing elements of modern Japan with a dystopian, futuristic feel. Despite the comparatively simple character designs, they have a style and charm that could only be delivered by Nihei.

This is the first series for me in a long time that’s felt like a more serious sci-fi manga. My first impressions of it left me with a ‘Ghost in the Shell’ kind of feel, not because of the topics dealt with but simply the lesser amount of usual manga tropes and its more serious nature. That’s not to say the series is completely without tropes, it’s more the way they’re dealt with.

What little fanservice there is, is placed seriously too, and almost achieves the opposite effect of what it normally would. The characters are likeable and at the same time no-nonsense. That’s also not to say they don’t do silly things, there’s plenty of that, but it’s done earnestly and the meanings behind everyone’s actions all play their part in broadening the story.

Knights of Sidonia

KOS style humor

Doodles:
Once again, I started reading this series directly after the anime finished airing. As of the date I’m writing this article, Knights of Sidonia has a second season which is green-lit for November. I’m confident in saying that this show can be enjoyed just as much after reading the manga or vice-versa. The fact that Nihei’s work has been given an anime adaption completely in CG seems fitting for this modern master of cyberpunk and sci-fi.

The Denizens of Dystopia – Blame!

blame!I’ve never seen a manga quite like Blame! I say ‘seen’ as very little dialogue appears in the first volume and the story is told by following the gritty, industrial-style artwork panel by panel.

Manga Title: Blame!
Mangaka:
Tsutomu Nihei
Genres:
Cyberpunk, horror, action
Demographic:
Seinen

Storyboard:
The tale begins in the setting of ‘The City’; little is known about it at first except for that it is a vast construction with innumerable levels going upwards and downwards for thousands of floors. Our protagonist, going simply by ‘Killy’, travels through this massive place searching for Net Terminal Genes, which are not explained in this part of the manga except that they seem to be present in certain people and allow access to what Killy’s refers to as the ‘Net’.

blame!

The City

His quest takes him deep into the twisted, nightmarish passages and caverns of The City, where he encounters its various denizens upon the way.

blame!

Denizens of The City

Of particular note is the weapon that Killy uses in his quest, a handgun which is called a ‘Gravitational Beam Emitter’. This handgun has incredible destructive power, being able to kill almost all the creatures Killy encounters while at the same time devastating buildings in its range of fire. How he came across the gun or its limitations aren’t revealed yet, but a quick glance at volume two showed me they would be in future.

blame!

Shooting a cyborg

Pencil Sketch:
The main character Killy is the only one to receive much attention, but information about him is scarce except for his purpose and the extraordinary weapon he has. His personality comes across as somewhat psychotic at times; in one part he deliberately incites the cyborgs he meets and acts with what appears to be a disregard for his own life.

He reacts amiably towards humans when he does encounter them, and even gets angered when he sees how some of the beings in The City are being mistreated.

Blame! is populated with potential side characters that do not come to the foreground in volume one. Killy seldom remains with characters long enough for any development to take place, though I’m sure that’ll change as the series continues. A character he meets in the second chapter, with only an upper torso for a body (the rest being cybernetic parts) and a pet dog, may have a recurring role.

In one scene Killy passes the dead body of a boy to this unknown character and she/he in turn passes on information to Killy about unknown life forms that have been detected thousands of floors above.

blame!

Killy and mystery character

Inking:
Blame! is definitely not intended to be read in the way one might be used to with manga. Reading it is a jarring, dizzy experience like an epileptic roller-coaster ride. The pictures tell the story, and the art is technological and gloomy – giving the impression of being after a catastrophic event. That being said, the art itself is something I am in awe of. The architecture of The City is immense in its scope, and drawn in detail by Nihei with wires, pipes, cables and organic life forms festering from the walls and stretching out into the distance above. It’s easy to see how much Nihei labored over his creation.

blame!

Intense detail

The action is nail-biting and graphic. Gory battles smear across the pages in between the mechanized, apocalyptic backgrounds. Human, half human and inhuman inhabitants of the city emerge from nooks and crannies, all making this a manga that’s not for the fainthearted. In all I was glued to the pages for the first volume; my eyes were burnt into the macabre scenery and I couldn’t help but follow Killy’s bloody path as he makes his way toward an almost impossible goal.

Doodles:
Blame is one of Nihei’s most popular works, especially in Germany where he’s said to have a large fanbase. I looked up this title due to my fascination with Sidonia no Kishi (Knights of Sidonia) – a currently airing adaption of Nihei’s manga – and am thoroughly enjoying adventuring into the roots of where this talented and unique artist came from.

What a Wonderful 3D World – Tonari no Kashiwagi-san

tonari no kashiwagi-sanManga Title: Tonari no Kashiwagi-san
Mangaka: Kinusa Shimotsuki
Genres: Comedy, romance, slice-of-life
Demographic: Seinen

The Storyboard:
High school student Sakuraba Yuto is a lover of anime and manga with a particular taste for moe art.

tonari no kashiwagi-san

Sakuraba Yuto

Although Yuto’s a real otaku he’s quite open about it, believing that if you like something you should just say it. In his spare time when not gaming, watching anime or reading manga, he browses an art sharing website. He takes a liking to one particular artist’s moe style, who goes only by the name Sayane.

tonari no kashiwagi-san

Sayane’s illustrations

At the start of the story we find that he’s landed his dream job – to become an attendant at a store that sells anime and manga merchandise. On his first day there he bumps into a student who sits next to him in class – Kashiwagi Kotone- a girl he thought hated everything otaku.

tonari no kashiwagi-san

Kashiwagi Kotone

On recognizing Yuto, Kotone runs away, embarrassed and extremely concerned that he will reveal to their classmates that she’s a closet otaku herself. The next day she confronts him about it, explaining that she does love anime and manga, and begs Yuto not to tell anyone. We later discover her reasons behind this are that she saw some classmates insult another student for liking anime and manga, and she fears being ostracized.

Yuto agrees to keep her secret and after the suggestion of Kotone’s best friend Fukuda Sayaka, they decide to secretly meet and talk about their interests.

tonari no kashiwagi-san

Fellow otaku

A budding friendship blooms between the two very similar main characters, spending their breaks discussing their mutual love of all things otaku.

One day Yuto brings up the artist Sayane, telling Kotone about her enthusiastically. Initially Kotone is nervous about revealing the fact that she is Sayane, merely keeping quiet and agreeing while Yuto praises her art.

tonari no kashiwagi-san

Budding friendship

As the story progresses Yuto’s feelings for Kotone blossom, as do those of two of their close friends. Still, even though Yuto sits right next to Kashiwagi-san, it seems that her heart couldn’t be further from his reach…or maybe not?

Pencil Sketch:
Being a completely character-driven story, Kinusa Shimotsuki has made maximum usage of the characters’ facial expressions, body language, and often-inserted ‘chibi’ versions of them to bring out the comedy in their ongoing life stories.

While focusing mainly on the slowly developing love story between Yuto and Kotone, Tonari no Kashiwagi-san also branches off to into the romantic lives of their best friends Sayaka and Kazuki Kusano.

Yuto is breaking into the 3D world after having spent a considerable amount of time focused on 2D. For the first time in his life he finds himself attracted to a real girl and it’s an experience he doesn’t know what to make of. The combination of his lack of experience, over-thinking and somewhat shy nature make for some comic moments as he tries to win Kotone’s heart.

Kotone is equally inexperienced and unaware about everything regarding love; she misses even the most absurdly direct hints that Yuto gives. Gradually she begins noticing Yuto’s advances, yet is still indecisive about how to deal with them.

In keeping with the atmosphere of the manga, not much is revealed about the pasts of each character, maintaining its focus on their current relationships. This may be considered a weak point of the series, however it’s never bothered me, after all that’s not what the story’s about.

tonari no kashiwagi-san

Chibi Yuto, Kotone and Sayaka

Inking:
Overall Tonari no Kashiwagi-san is a light hearted, cute, humorous and slow paced tale about two teenagers whose remarkable alikeness make them an unlikely match. Whilst observing the love of their friends grow around them they start to take baby steps out into the world of their own feelings. It’s no heartrending romance, but it’ll leave you feeling warm and fluffy after each chapter.

tonari no kashiwagi-san

Doodles:
In a way Tonari no Kashiwagi-san has been pretty educational for me with its notes on otaku issues and references to general aspects of the anime and manga culture. For new readers I’m sure there are some interesting tidbits of otaku information you’ll find and for the more experienced there are plenty of familiar tropes that are explored.

What’s your opinion of this manga? Can you recommend another manga in a similar genre that you enjoyed?

Play the Liar Game

liar game cover

Manga Title: Liar Game
Mangaka: Shinobu Kaitani
Genres: Psychological thriller, mystery, drama
Demographic: Seinen

I didn’t know what to expect when I started reading Liar Game; the title immediately made me think of survival games and their ilk, so I was pleasantly surprised that it wasn’t one. Still, the main protagonist Nao Kanzaki finds herself in a situation not very different from a survival game – one where she needs to win by deception.

Nao Kanzaki

Nao Kanzaki

Two elements got my attention after only reading a little of Liar game: the first was its great pacing, introducing one challenge after the next in the mysterious game, and the second was how perfectly opposite the two main characters are and their unlikely team up that’s fun to read.

Nao finds an invitation in a package that comes in the mail, telling her that by breaking the seal she’s already consented to join the ‘Liar Game’. It immediately makes a mess of her life as she’s not used to dealing with complex situations, not to mention scams. Her personality is what could best be described as honest to a fault, and her honesty (though praiseworthy) ends up getting her in all kinds of trouble.

A real dilemma

A real dilemma

There are some loopholes in the logic behind the rules of the Liar Game, so some suspension of disbelief is necessary. The company behind the Liar Game gives the players 100 million yen each, which is collected in a month. During this time they’re given an opponent, who has the exact same amount of money and who they can attempt to steal from. The money they have can be used for any purpose, but the exact sum needs to be given back – therefore if you haven’t taken your opponent’s money you end up with nothing, or in debt to the Liar Game’s personnel if you’ve had your money stolen.

Folks from the Liar Game office

Folks from the Liar Game office

Initially Nao decides to just sit on the money till the month is over and have nothing more to do with it. Problems arise when it turns out that her opponent doesn’t see things the same way and succeeds in swindling her out of her money cunningly. Eventually it dawns on her that this is what the Liar Game is all about: who can lie artfully enough to get the other player’s money.

Nao's opponent

Nao’s opponent

At her wits end, and after receiving a suspicious suggestion from another individual, she seeks help from a con man who was recently released from prison. His name is Shinichi Akiyama, a master of disguise, and literally the polar opposite of Nao – calm, calculating and brimming with confidence. He’s initially unwilling to help Nao, having just been released from prison, but decides to after being impressed by her sincerity (he asks her to not leave the spot as he makes his getaway and she stays right there for nearly a day).

Shinichi Akiyama

Shinichi Akiyama

The unlikely duo team up to try retrieve Nao’s money by doing something she is not so good at – lying and psychological manipulation.

As I mentioned, the unique character team up and fast pacing of Liar Game give it an attention grabbing edge. Also the challenges that face the pair and the innovative and surprising techniques that both of them come up with to deal with them are an enjoyable read.

 

The players

The players

The art’s straightforward, but delivers a good solid impression; particularly some of the characters’ facial expressions are pretty creepy. At each stage of the Liar Game the plot thickens as different ‘games’ emerge. I felt really involved in the process; trying to guess what would happen next and figure out the puzzles the team is faced with. Liar Game initially seems quite simple, but ends up having complex twists and turns – a decent thriller that will keep you on your toes!

What is your opinion of this manga? Can you recommend another manga in a similar genre that you enjoyed?

Demi-Human – Ajin

ajin cover (2)

Manga Title: Ajin
Author/ Artist:  Tsunina Miura/ Gamon Sakurai
Genres: Horror, supernatural, mystery, action
Demographic: Seinen
Rating: M (mature)

Ajin (demi-human) is a fitting name for this manga. A running theme in the story is human nature, and in the case of the characters that nature is often less than human. The manga follows Kei Nagai, a high school student who discovers one day after an accident that he is one of the feared ‘Ajin’ – a type of being that can’t die and regenerates wounds shortly after receiving them.

kei regenerate (2)

The dark nature of humanity soon shows itself to Kei as he is immediately hunted down for a large reward that has been placed on the head of any Ajin captured. Fortunately, he finds some compassion in his childhood friend Kai who immediately comes to his aid, and who doesn’t see him differently, despite his regenerative abilities.

kei and kai

Kai and Kei

Kei struggles to escape his would be captors, whilst coming to grips with his dilemma and figuring out what his new found powers are. He slowly begins to discover that Ajin aren’t only immortal, they also possess a unique vocal ability that paralyzes others, as well as a powerful kind of puppet called a ‘Black Ghost’ that they can manipulate mentally for attack and presumably other purposes (all that’s seen in volume one are its attack abilities though).

In volume 1 a few characters are introduced and it’s hard to distinguish between the good and bad guys. That’s to be expected though, the overall feel of the manga is pretty dark, and even Kei reveals some of his twisted intentions later on. Apart from having ordinary reward craving civilians on his tail, there’s the police and a mysterious duo from the Ministry of Health, Labor and Welfare (aka. Ajin hunters) who are also pursuing him.

Tosaki and Izumi

Tosaki and Izumi

They are Tozaki-san and Shimura Izumi. Tozaki is cold, methodical and has love for mints that he pushes on others. Izumi is his quiet sidekick who just screams that she’s holding a secret. They’re knowledgeable about the Ajin, especially their powers and weaknesses, the latter being very limited.

If things weren’t bad enough for Kei, another group is also searching for him – this time a group of fellow Ajin. Headed by a key figure among this secret sect, they seek to bring Kei to them for unknown purposes. Whatever it is though, their methods aren’t subtle.

Apart from the main plot involving Kei, there are flashbacks to another Ajin’s past – Tanaka – and his torture at the hands of his human detainers. In addition, later in the volume another female Ajin reveals herself in the most unexpected place.

boss and tanaka (2)

Tanaka in Captivity

The storytelling in Ajin is compelling to read; the time -skips that occur are well placed and give you enough tidbits of information to keep you hungry for more. This among other reasons made it a real page-turner for me.

Another enjoyable aspect is the overall brooding feel of the manga. This atmosphere grows with Kei’s gradual descent into accepting his predicament, physically and mentally. The dark past surrounding the Ajin is gradually revealed, including the persecutors who’ve tried to capture them and use them for experimentation and as weapons.

The art is fitting for the mood too, with dark and gory sketches and occasional escapes into wild abandonment by the artist.

abandonment (2)A particularly creepy feature in the artwork is the design of the Black Ghosts – ghoulish, mummy type creatures. They’re without a doubt the most sinister apparition I’ve seen appear in a manga recently.

Black Ghosts

Black Ghosts

Ajin is a title worth keeping an eye on (I’m thinking of anime adaptions in the near future) and is a tense, inwardly chafing journey into the realm of the demi-humans, and simultaneously into the dark recesses of the psyche.

What is your opinion of this manga? Can you recommend another manga in a similar genre that you enjoyed?