Manga Challenge – May Update

I was disappointed with last month’s effort. It was mostly easy pickings and hentai, which wasn’t very engaging and made me feel like I was slacking off. So I resolved to do much better throughout May. This started out with devising a new approach for finding manga in the first place.

Originally, I used AniList to find series that I wanted to read and then had to track those down myself. A process that led to unending annoyance as many manga turned out to not be available in any format. Now, I work backwards. I check what’s available and complete, and then add it to my backlog on AniList. It is so much faster and saves me a lot of frustration.

PHOTO: Nadejda and Vasenka meet a horde of zombies.

Before anything else though, I wanted to talk about Kutsuzure Sensen. When I went on my tirade last month about nobody wanting to translate manga with atypical settings, this is the one I originally thought of. It was abandoned midway through translation several years ago. Imagine my surprise when I double-checked and somebody had actually picked it up again!

Kutsuzuru Sensen is a story set during the second world war. With fascists marching into Russia, the communist regime becomes desperate for any kind of help. Jewish NKVD officer Nadejda is, for that purpose, dispatched to enlist the aid of the witch Baba Yaga. When she refuses, Nadejda teams up with the witch’s pupil Vasenka instead.

As the two navigate the trials of the Eastern front, they have run-ins with all manner creatures from Slavic myth. Some of whom take sides in the war, while others are passive onlookers or even victims of it. These are tales that rarely get much love in any media, which are here brilliantly explored by using the war as a framework. It was also incredibly nice to read a manga featuring a Jewish protagonist.

It’s a fantastic manga with plenty of action, comedy, and even some yuri romance. Not to mention plenty of educational value. It was already well on its way to becoming a favorite of mine back when translation stopped. I am so unbelievably glad that I now finally got to complete it.

PHOTO: Acaria and her friends face down a horde of demons.

I was also VERY excited about Acaria. It is a fantasy action manga by Nanaki Nanao that predates his better-known series Helck. The titular Acaria is a headstrong girl who suffers from amnesia, who grew up in the care of an old woman. When they hear of a treasure in a distant land that is said to restore memories, Acaria sets out on a perilous adventure to find it.

Like Helck, it’s an action-comedy series about making friends and hunting monsters. This time with an even bigger influence from RPGs, as much of the plot ends up revolving around delving into dungeons. Still, the story has an emotional side to it and even some intrigue that spices up the otherwise-traditional fantasy setting.

Nanao’s art does still feel quite rough at this point. It certainly improves as the series reaches its conclusion, but a lot of the early story is marred by dull panels that give you little to actually look at.

Photo: Tomo whines after Sakura confronts him about his snooping.

The first big loser of this month’s batch was Anego. Nozomu Tamaki hit it big with Dance in the Vampire Bund, but is, in my opinion, a largely shit storyteller who has to constantly fall back on erotica to prop up his abysmal storylines.

Anego is about a despondent college drop-out called Tomo who returns to his childhood village to find work. Having disappointed his parents and thrown away his future, the only thing he looks forward to is reuniting with his childhood crush. Sakura is a lively tomboy and the center of attention throughout the village. She too is excited that Tomo is back. So excited that she immediately has sex with him in chapter 1 and dedicates her very being to him from then on.

What makes Anego unbearable to read is just how much of a manbaby Tomo is. He’s a whiny brat who needs to be constantly taken care off, reassured, and rewarded. In fact, he throws tantrums whenever he isn’t made to feel special. He gets instantly envious whenever Sakura isn’t paying special attention to him or interacts with any other man. Half the story is about him becoming deeply obsessed with finding out if she’s ever had any other boyfriend; the thought of which brings him actual anguish. He insults her and violates her privacy, all of which he is effortlessly forgiven for. All while contributing nothing to the relationship aside from his genitals.

It is a pathetic story. It left me wondering—even worrying—what kind of audience was meant to read this and walk away feeling that Tomo was an endearing protagonist.

PHOTO: The Elf discusses nutrition with Naoe.

Another manga that I was very curious about was Plus-Sized Elf. I’d seen volumes of it in bookstores before, but I erred on the side of caution for a while. With a sequel now being worked on, curiosity finally got the better of me.

Its story follows a dietitian called Naoe, whose latest customer turns out to be an elf straight from a fantasy world. She came to Earth through a magic portal and promptly became addicted to our food—mainly fries. She can’t return home looking as chubby as she does, but is also entirely unwilling to forego her favorite fried snacks. As he tries to help her, Naoe soon discovers a whole society of fantasy creatures hiding out in modern day Japan. Many of whom have problems identical to his new Elven friend.

Plus-Sized Elf is very obviously the product of a hentai artist turning his niche into a mainstream story. Something that sounds disparaging, but is actually, genuinely refreshing. The manga has a varied cast of characters with a range of body types, who are all treated as being cute and sexy. They all get into funny ecchi shenanigans together with plenty of great fanservice. All wrapped in a story full of diet and exercise tips; not unlike How Heavy Are The Dumbbells You Lift?

I did feel that it got very annoying how the author keeps introducing new characters though. No matter where Elf and Naoe decide to go, they are going to meet someone new that will become the focus of that storyline. Afterwards that person is gonna stick around in the mainstay cast for more jokes and banter. Some of these characters are definitely fun, but it’s a very wasteful approach to writing that quickly leads to a bloated cast. Nobody gets the development they really deserve and a lot of designs and backstories begin to overlap. Very much a missed opportunity to do more with less.

PHOTO: Kiryuin fighting a giant maid while all of Akihabara riots.

Another new favorite of mine was Oni-Deka! by author Keita Yatera. His works have come up in this challenge before and, so far, I am quite fond of all of them. Useless Ponko even got a feature review. Yatera has a phenomenal sense for both storytelling and art. His manga explore unique concepts really well, while also benefiting from a level of detail that you don’t see in manga often. It’s criminal how underrated his works are.

In terms of premise, Oni-Deka! is an evolution of Yatera’s earlier manga Daikonojo. It’s a superhero story in which a cute high school girl is magically transformed into a giant. Due to alien shenanigans beyond her comprehension, Kiryuin is now empowered by love. The more her heart throbs, the bigger and stronger she becomes. As it turns out, however, she is not the only girl who has been granted such powers. Other giants roam the world, spreading chaos and rallying followers behind them. Thus Kiryuin resolves to become a hero who protects the world from these rival giants. Together with her crush Takezou, she sets out on a globetrotting journey to defeat them all.

Where Daikonojo was mostly a comedy, Oni-Deka! is a much more rounded story. It has a strong mystery surrounding the giants and their purpose, it has fascinating character arcs that come with ample drama, and it has some very good action scenes. I was hooked.

Throughout the story, I was constantly wondering where it could possibly go. The story is so unique, so well-written, that I could never predict what it was building towards. It’s a very clever plot with some serious gut-punching moments sprinkled throughout. A strong emotional core and likeable characters; even some meta discussions about the tropes common in our media today. There is a lot of it as well. 35 chapters with a page count that regularly goes over 50.

If you’re tired of the same old usual or want to check out something that is experimental yet still thoroughly entertaining; this is it. Like its author, Oni-Deka! is a beautiful anomaly within this medium.

PHOTO: Manaka making her opponent upset by just looking bored.

Finally, a glowing recommendation goes towards Wizard’s Soul. Its namesake is an in-universe collectible card game so popular that it is just part of everyone’s daily life. We, however, view this card-obsessed world through the lens of someone that fucking hates it.

Manaka is a regular high school girl who only ever plays the game to amuse kids at her part-time job. But when her jobless father is scammed by crooks, her family is left with more debt than they could ever hope to repay. Her only option before the eviction comes is to win a massive Wizard’s Soul tournament. Even if she hates it, Manaka is fiercely determined to succeed.

Wizard’s Soul has all the usual appeals of a card battle manga. It has the cool cards and strategies around them, with some well-characterized opponents for Manaka to take on. The unique factor here being that Manaka is miserable about having to be there at all and she is sure to let others know. Every duel has her looking dead-eyed as she trounces her opponents with the most annoying & unfair tactics imaginable. She is the most toxic player you could imagine. She pulls stunts like locking her opponents out of being able to play anything and then attacking them with just the weakest monster in the game for 20 consecutive turns. Nobody is having a good time while going up against her, least of all Manaka herself.

I thought it was hilarious and they fit some really nice character development in it as well. Go look it up if that premise sounds at all interesting.

  1. Kutsuzure Sensen: Majo Vasenka no Sensou
  2. Mythical Beast Investigator
  3. ShindoL no Bunka Jinruigaku
  4. Necossas: Six
  5. Cutie Honey Vs. Devilman Lady
  6. Shigatsu wa Kimi no Uso: Coda
  7. The Apocalypse of Devilman: Strange Days
  8. Ghostly Things
  9. Mushi no Kanojo to
  10. Acaria
  11. Binetsu Hime
  12. Piwi
  13. Anego!!
  14. Innocent Porno
  15. Plus-Sized Elf
  16. 4-koma C³
  17. Muchi♥Lover
  18. Yagyuu Hijouken Samon
  19. Night Shift NTR
  20. One day
  21. Take Me Away My Dear Knight
  22. Oni-Deka!
  23. Love You ♥
  24. Let’s Meet at The Witches’ Gathering
  25. Totsuide kita Yome Aisouwarai Bakari Shiteru
  26. Wizard’s Soul
  27. Tamanyan
  28. Jingai no Yome
  29. Dragon’s Heaven
  30. Madoromi-chan ga Iku.
  32. Eniale & Dewiela
  33. Otherworldly Maidens: Monster Girls from Another World
  34. Akumu Koushounin

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