Thursday, January 29, 2015

2014 in Manga

Now that I've done the anime and album list, it's time for this blog's actual oldest tradition!

Yup, the year-end manga roundup! Here's 20132012, and 2011. Originally I envisioned expanding on this a bit, and having pictures and such, but... nah. Too much work. I'm gonna mark down the range of chapters I'm talking about, though, to add a bit of context, and to help with next year, 'cause most of the time I spend writing these things is figuring out what chapters actually came out in 2013 >D<

These aren't all the series I'm following. I'm too lazy to track down and remember all the ones that don't update regularly, and I don't include ones that are already finished and just being scanlated now, or whatever. You can see my live reactions to manga on my youtube channel and my dailymotion channel

Assassination Classroom (chapters 71-112)
AssClass had another great year in 2014, still maintaining the perfect balance between wacky hijinks, great battles, and relevant moral lessons - all centered around the still lovably unpredictable Koro-sensei. Like many series, there's been a transition from more standalone stories to longer, more elaborate, arcs. A pattern seems to be forming - major hitman-focused arc, then a breather of some one-shot stories or short arcs, then a major school-focused arc, then another breather, then back to a hitman arc. It isn't an exact guarantee, but it reminds me of how in One Piece, arcs are usually divided into World Government threats or battles with other pirates. Each type has their own flavor, their own tropes, and expectations. AssClass isn't a typical shonen in lots of ways, but it still knows the expectations readers have of school scenes or battle scenes and won't let us down. Maybe the God of Death arc was pushing it in terms of how much the series should deviate from it's premises... I had flashbacks of watching Yu Yu Hakusho's folding into generic action... but there was still lots of great moments in it. The art is always good and the humour always funny, and there's wonderful, practical, moral lessons for the target audience as well. We're getting steady and meaningful advancement on some overarching plotlines, like Nagisa's abilities, but there was almost no further development on the central mystery of the series - what the heck is up with Koro-sensei?? With the series's strict timeline, they have to address it sooner or later... S+

Berserk (chapters 334-337)
Miura had a stunningly productive year, giving us 3 whole chapters of Berserk. Wow! Granted, he also did Gigantomakhia this year, which I ought to read soon. And hey, those Berserk chapters - they weren't just screwing around on a boat! We're getting plot! Action! Monsters! Griffith! I dunno what more I could ask for. Wait, yes I do... lots of stuff... Ugh. I dunno, sometimes I wonder about the future of this series, about what I should think of a man almost 50 with a severe Idolmaster addiction, claiming the story will span 100 volumes... which would take something close to 200 years, at this rate...  I dunno, I dunno. As always, the art is brilliant, and the possibility of things happening intriguing, but the pacing seems way too glacial to fit with these ambitions, and most of the new story elements introduced seem more just distracting than anything. When are we getting to Elf Island?? B-

Bleach (chapters 564-611)
Like last year, Bleach focused entirely on this major war between the Wandenreich and Soul Society, the much-hyped "final arc" that might still go on for god knows how many years. There wasn't much varying from a pretty simple pattern - we get a captain or some other established character squaring off against one of the major Quincies, for five or six chapters they go back and forth, tweest after tweest, lots of powers that end up not being their true power... I dunno, man, like, it's okay? Some of the characters I like more than others... My feelings about this are basically the same as they were last year, except now it's been two years of this same war and I'm getting sorta sick of it. Kubo apparently feels this too, as he suddenly had Ywach kill almost all of his lieutenants, shifting the focus entirely to the Soul King's palace, where there was another battle exactly like the ones above with squad zero. Now Ywach has stabbed the Soul King and it seems like something, anything, has to happen at this point, but we'll see. C+

Fairy Tail (Chapters 366-413)
This year was focused on the multi-arc Tartaros saga, an all out war between Fairy Tail and the titular demon guild. It really felt like Mashima was going for something unprecedentedly "epic", an arc that took Fairy Tail to another level. Well... yes and no. His overall structuring was pretty solid, with the various incidents slowly bringing about the all-out assault, making it feel very satisfying when they were finally raiding Tartaros HQ. He did a good job making the enemies seem like an even higher tier of threat, and made me excited for the inevitable fights. The fights are... well, they look cool, and cool stuff happens, but in the end, it's always the same "for my friiiiiiends!!!" that ends up being the deciding factor. Lots of situations seemed really contrived, like, the whole "destroy Face before the countdown finishes" was especially embarrassing and pretty anti-climatic. Things like Grey's father gave it some emotional punch, but overall it seemed like Mashima raising the stakes made both the good and bad of Fairy Tail even more noticeable. Also lmao last year I wrote "it's good to see an arc with major endgame-type implications right off the bat, too, instead of just throwing in "oh and dragons" or "oh and Zeref" near the end" but hahaha that's exactly what happened. At least it was like... more significant than usual. B+

Fairy Tail Zero (chapters 1-6)
This was one of two Fairy Tail spinoffs that started this year... I'm not reading the other one (Ice Trail), but I dunno, I probably should... seems like Gray's backstory might become even more relevant in the main story. This was the one I was really excited for, though - the story of Fairy Tail's origin! Mavis! Mavis is so cute! I dunno, I hope this keeps going for awhile, it's very charming and well contained. I think sometimes in the main series, Mashima can't really keep his world coherent, like, there's too much stuff he's introduced and then doesn't have any excuse not to be relevant, and then still somehow gets overlooked. But here we're back to basics - a party on an adventure! Puzzles and fights and mysteries and yuri (???)! What more could I want? S

It's Not My Fault That I'm Not Popular (chapters 53-70)
WataMote I think basically operates on two levels: there's the level of Tomoko making terrible choices that accumulate in a major disaster, and we laugh at her, like we'd laugh at Larry David on Curb; and there's the level where Tomoko's life is pretty terrible, and although she's a pretty terrible person, seeing her bleak and unbearable existence elicits some empathy. This year, we hit the two extremes pretty hard: the summer vacation arc with her little cousin was the height of her absurdity and complete social failure, but on the school trip preparation arc, poor Tomoko's anxiety becomes its strongest and most understandable yet. Kotomi's continually increasing role almost seems like some sort of hope for Tomoko, and I have some expectation that this series will actually end happy, with some real development and maturity from Tomoko. So yeah, I'm very happy with it... it feels realer and realer, and more significant, while still maintaining a ton of humour and perverse charm. *

Naruto (chapters 661-700 [end])
Wow, last year I was pretty harsh on Naruto. Now that it's over, I feel a little more... I dunno, sympathetic? Understanding? Okay but... I'm of two pretty distinct minds here. There's how I feel about the ending proper, that is, the last two chapters. And there's how I feel about the 30-some chapters before it. In the latter, I'm still... pretty annoyed, honestly. Everything was taking place in this vague, ruinous, indistinct area. The art seemed sloppy, the developments lazy... Like, there was this major focus on returning to the original team, with their original dynamic, or whatever, but I felt like it just highlighted how far the series had gone (downhill). Kaguya had a neat design but man I just don't like how the fights work in this series anymore... even the long-awaited ultimate Naruto-Sasuke fight fell flat for me. Ugh. On the other hand, there's the final chapters. The end is pretty by-the-book, but there were lots of really satisfying and cute developments. Like, after having thought about it a lot, I honestly don't see how it could have been done better. It sucks that the final arc had such a disconnect from the main themes of the story (or at least the main themes of the early story - Naruto wanting acknowledgement etc)... it could have been even more satisfying. But given the final antagonists and twists and such, there really wasn't much they could have done to integrate the final conflict with the final resolutions. So I think this sort of disconnected "let's see how everybody's doing now!" is fine. And for someone who's been reading the series for around a decade, very nostalgic and pretty moving. It made me think of another hypothetical Naruto, that didn't blunder so badly with lame energy attacks and tedious fights and nonsensical developments, a Naruto that played to the strengths and kept up the energy and vivid world of the first few arcs, and one that could still have this ending... I dunno, I think I'm in a pretty good mood about it now, as a whole. B-

Nisekoi (chapters 106-153)
Okay, what actually happened in Nisekoi this year? Did Onodera win da raku bowl? Either one is fine! Did we find out who the promise girl is? Did the lie at the heart of Chitoge and Raku's relationship get exposed? How about... did the pendant come back from the repair shop? It's been a whole year, so... probably one of those must have happened, right? Umm, nope. Instead, we got Yui-nee, another charming girl with a hopeless crush on Raku, upping the harem count and further entrenching Nisekoi into basic harem patterns. That is: we have a little arc about one girl. Then we get about a chapter each for the other girls. Then we have a little arc about another girl. Then maybe we get a big arc where each girl has a chapter (like the current school trip arc). It'll just keep going like this, endlessly, the pendant will never come back, no one will ever confess, we'll never learn who the promised girl is, five hundred chapters, five thousand chapters... But the art will still be pretty, the girls still cute, the humour still funny, so... who cares. A-

One Piece (chapters 733-772)
Last year I said that Oda had a big 2014 ahead of him... at the time, Dressrosa was 34 chapters in, and it seemed like we were moving into the climax. Oda had brought in so many elements, throwing in new characters and situations and implications... It was SO exciting, almost overwhelming, nearly impossible to keep track of everything going on. And what did he do this year? Made it even more complex! Even crazier! I dunno... I've talked before about how Oda does volume-based pacing now, correctly realizing that the tankobons will be his legacy, but now he seems to be on a whole another level - multi-volume or perhaps logbook pacing. Like, I question a lot of his choices this year. Take the big Sabo reveal - that was awesome, right? What a godly moment! And then Sabo gets the flame-flame fruit, that's hype too. Amazing scenes. But what's Sabo done since then? There will be some super hype fight that gets started, and then we'll just leave it alone for months at a time. Only now, in the last month or so of the year, have we actually started seeing characters being taken out of action. Before that, it seemed like we'd just have an endless fight between seemingly endless (and admittedly super hype) characters. And it seems like Oda actually wants us to see even more, like, there's so many backstories he briefly hints to or developments that occur within a brief flashback panel, and you know that Oda had probably originally planned on a whole chapter of development. There's just so many characters, and it feels like any of them could become relevant at any time in any situation. It's a bit messy, and, worse, it diminishes the significance of events. Like, there's been so many occurrences that in a "sensible" arc would be the major climax, the turning point, the information or development that directly leads to the arc's conclusion. And these scenes have all been presented with super hype and such, but when they lead to just... more of the same chaotic fighting, it's like... was that really even such a big deal? Oh, on the other hand, do you guys remember some guy named Sanji? Idk like... completely neglecting the insane situation of Big Mom and the Sunny and such, and yet giving many chapters to gladiator champions... I dunno, I'm not mad, really, but there seems to be a major disconnect between Oda's priorities and what people reasonably expect to see. Oda's always been about pushing his own limits, but I think in Dressrosa, he might have finally overwhelmed himself. The real highlight of the year, though, was Law's flashback. Although it might seem like starting a many-chapter flashback that reveals new relevant information and also worldbuilds in a currently irrelevant way might seem symptomatic of what I've been talking about, it more just showed how Oda's ability to tell a tight, emotional, story is still in top form. If 2015 delivers with a true Dressrosa climax and aftermath that one-ups all the other amazing "ruined" climaxes we've had, it could all still work out perfectly. But I have a vision of myself sitting here a year from now saying "I wonder if Dressrosa will wrap up in 2016?" **

Onepunch-Man (remake) (chapters 34-42)
Solid year from Murata's remake this year. 8 chapters doesn't seem like much, but given how many revisions each chapter gets, how much bonus content we see... plus the fact that each page takes a good 10 minutes to process, including the time necessary to collect your jaw. Here the remake moves into the arcs where I think the series goes from great to fantastic. We start off with the insane finish to the Boros fight, a new high water mark of explosions and energy blasts. Then we slow down a bit and do some worldbuilding - the hilarious introduction to King, the politics of S-class, and the first hints of the legendary Garou arc. I can't wait to see it! **

Onepunch-Man (chapters 93-96)
Just a few chapters this year, but they were all pretty high quality. The end of the Garou arc, the most substantial and best arc of the series yet, was insanely satisfying. Usually I don't like the "hero makes a speech that ends the situation nonviolently", the infamous "talk-no-jutsu"... but here, it was perfect! Saitama beautifully dismantles Garou's flawed reasoning, we learn some insight into Saitama's own philosophy (wow! what a wondeful, active, morality this series has!)... the whole discussion about whether or not Garou should be killed is a strange mix of hilarious and poignant, as Saitama fails repeatedly to understand what's happening. The new arc has humble beginnings, as always... ONE could go in any direction he wants from here. He's built a fascinating world inhabited by a ton of characters you want to see more of. There's clearly some hierarchy of power, and the hero ranking and monster ranking systems allow for easy hype, but it really just adds to the mystery... how are they so strong? What are their abilities?? I'm so excited to see Metal Knight, Watchdog Man, the "God" that Homeless Emperor saw, Blast... I don't think there's any other series that makes me more excited when I see an update!! ***

Saki (chapters 121-135)
Saki continued at an even more leisurely pace, only getting through the lieutenant match and most of the vice-captain's match. I really enjoyed the lieutenant match - Hiroe and Hisa are some of my favorite characters, and they were both in rare forms. The matchup between Hisa's hell waits and Choe's wind manipulation was pretty cool... I'm currently in a silly reddit argument about whether or not there's any strategy in Saki, I think this round is a good indication that there is? OK but what was up with Yuan? Why was she so scrub? And then in the Usuzan flashback, it seems like the whole school is sorta just dicking around, playing mahjong on a whim... Even the much-hyped oppai midget was sort of a letdown... granted, the entire vice-captains match was pretty silly. The whole dueling thing, with the ridiculous cowboy outfits? Also in that argument, the person claimed that Saki has excessive fanservice... and I couldn't really debate that, lol. Craziest part? The American player was the flattest! Anyways, good times as always. A

Side Story of - Saki - Shinohayu the Dawn of Age (chapters 5-12)
And oh man, if you want to talk about a leisurely pace, Shinohayu man... at this rate, by the time we catch up to the pros as adults, it's gonna be like... chapter 200. That's OK though! Both Kanna and Hayari's stories were cute, touching, sad, funny... the art was always beautiful - the characters have such awesome fashion sense, wow!! Like, the plots are sorta hackneyed, whatever... that doesn't mean they can't have emotional resonance. Okay but: where's the mahjong??? A

The World God Only Knows (chapters 256-268 [end])
Ooooooohhhhh kaaaaaaay, this was... what is this. What happened here. We went from this crazy, drawn out, confusing time-travel arc, accumulating in a gigantic hell monster or something (which, in true TWGOK fashion, is dealt with entirely off-screen), a crazy amount of Tenri, like, Tenri becoming all-out maingirl, some really insane stuff entire in some bizarre timeless, formless dimension... I thought this was a silly series about a dating sim addict having to do conquests in real life??? And most egregious... a girl won! A human girl won the Keimabowl! I don't have strong feelings either way about who won (this is the best girl), but the fact that some did seems... strange. I dunno. It was a cute, happy ending, sure, but... it kinda feels like a much less drastic version of what happened to Naruto. All the original goals are out of whack, it isn't clear what's significant anymore, and it seems like all the characters care about stuff that you don't. It's just like... whatever... B-

Yotsubato! (chapter 88)
That's not a typo... there was only one new chapter of Yotsuba this year ;___; It was a barnburner of a chapter, though! Like 40 pages, YOTSUBA'S GRANDMA!!!, I love when their world expands, just by a bit. So do I give this a high rating because it was such a sweet chapter? Or a low rating so that Azuma, when he definitely reads this which he will definitely do, he feels ashamed and does more chapters in 2015? Ehh I dunno I'll split the difference. A+


That's it for 2014 posts too! Yay, we did it!! Well idk I kinda want to do a best songs list but we'll see.

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