Radiation House

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There are quite a few medical manga out there, covering everything from surgeries to disaster relief (Dr. Dmat). Radiation House (ラジエーションハウス), written by Tomohiro Yokomaku (横幕智裕) and drawn by Taishi Mori (モリタイシ), centers specifically around radiology, which involves the use of X-rays in diagnosing diseases such as cancer and osteoporosis.

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Set in Amakasu General Hospital, Radiation House stars Iori Igarashi, a fresh medical radiology technician. For those as unfamiliar with the advanced medical terminology as I was, the manga provides some pretty detailed explanations. As a radiologist, Iori’s job is to diagnose patients’ sickness, and report them to the head doctor. Unfortunately, Iori is a bit clumsy, and has trouble reading people’s emotions, perhaps making him better suited for work in front of a computer screen, as opposed to interacting with patients.

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Iori’s social ineptitude leads to awkward situations, such as his barging in on changing patients. He is the opposite of An Amakasu, a young but serious radiologist who develops into Iori’s love interest.  As we soon learn, Iori’s decision to become a radiologist resulted from a childhood promise with An, who herself had desired to become a doctor. In a flashback sequence, she thanks Iori for his help in treating her first “patient,” an injured dog. The two children were separated following An’s parents’ divorce, but Iori eventually discovers her name on the hospital website, while job hunting.

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While the story’s primary focus remains with Iori and An, the first chapter introduces a number of other radiologists. Hirono Hirose is a shy new technician at the hospital, Tamaki Kurohane is presented as a seductress, Gorou Nokishita is a short, perverted little guy, and Toshio Onodera, 51, is the cocky, chain-smoking veteran among the bunch. A recent arc centers around Hirono and her lack of confidence, which stems her time on a high school volleyball team. She must overcome her shyness to connect with an equally shy patient, a musician, whose music Hirono is familiar with. The remaining batch of radiologists introduced will likely provide for many more future arcs.

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Following character introductions, the first few chapters center around problems diagnosing a senior patient. Advised by Iori to visit the hospital after chronic headaches, the patient is a photographer of stars and night skies. In a heartwarming conversation with Iori, of all doctors, the photographer describes how some important things can’t be seen by eye, so to speak. This concept of unseeable truths is essentially the premise of Iori’s specialty.

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The difficulty in diagnosis stems from a distorted image of the patient’s brain, a problem that is explained in depth.. The radiologists suggest solutions, but each is unsuccessful, or poses greater risk to the patient, such as triggering an allergic reaction. While his colleagues remain frustrated, Iori discovers through a blood test that the view of the patient’s brain is being distorted by a parasite. From his own conversation with the patient about his photography, Iori surmises that the patient contracted the parasite while eating crab during a trip to a foreign country. After killing the parasite with medicine, they are able to take a clearer image of the patient’s brain.

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Iori later receives a thank-you from his patient following successful treatment. In contrast to Iori’s childhood memories of An, and her gratefulness for his help in treating the dog, presently An seems more angry at Iori than anything, as he was able to diagnose where she had failed to. Iori and An’s relationship gradually evolves, especially while spending time together outside of work after coincidentally meeting while out and about. A whole set of chapters detail their awkward interactions during the outing, and is the story’s first departure from strictly medical-related drama. As is typical of many medical drama, Radiation House does well in balancing drama among the recurring doctors, with interesting and provoking backstories with non-recurrent patients.

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Radiation House is full of medical jargon, accompanied by long descriptions that may have well been pasted from a Wikipedia page, but are interesting nonetheless. The manga is very much rooted in the real world, with actual locations, doctors and industry happenings frequently cited. For instance, Iori attended medical school at the Washington University School of Medicine, in the US. The second arc focuses on a patient with dense breasts, a condition that increases their likelihood for breast cancer. Although the issue remains understudied in Japan, new research is coming out of the US, which the manga describes in great length, with charts, photographs, and even information on Nancy Cappello, a doctor advocating for dense breast awareness, after her own battle with cancer. The series explores other complex issues, including differences between US and Japanese approaches to treatment.

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The series doesn’t shy away from difficult subject matter. Some results are happier than others, as is an early story of a couple, where a husband goes from devastated to overjoyed after learning that his wife’s cancer diagnosis was actually just a misdiagnosis. This was followed by a detailed backstory detailing how the oddly matched couple met, and their shared interest in video games. A grimmer case involves a busy career woman, who can not be bothered to have herself or her son regularly tested for cancer, despite the disease running in her family. Iori manages to convey to the bothered patient the importance of testing, after determining that she has dense breasts.

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Writer Tomohiro Yokomaku’s attention to detail and authenticity in writing a career-based story is evident. His previous work, a detective manga called Smoking Gun, also ran in Grand Jump, and was eventually adapted into a largely unsuccessful drama. Stylistically, however, the two works appeared very differently, as both had different artists. While Smoking Gun’s art, by Syuji Takeya, has a dark and uniquely gritty vibe to it, Taishi Mori’s art in Radiation House is bright and upbeat, with larger-eyed, round and more simplistic anime-esque character designs. Though the art can be cute, and may give the series a more mainstream appeal, it is oftentimes over simplistic, with backgrounds that are minimalistic or, at times, just too blank- especially during periods of long medical talk. Luckily, the art shines best in color pages and on volume covers.

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Another similarity between Radiation House and Yokomaku’s previous work is in the main protagonist’s noticeable quirkiness. A scene rendering Iori literally immersing his face into the inside of a screen while donning an orgasmic expression, metaphorically and brilliantly conveys his intense analyzation of overlooked diagnostic information, a trait that sets him apart from his colleagues. The manga serves up some other vividly emotional metaphorical imagery here and there, the most striking being from a nightmare of the dense breast patient, who watches horrifically as her breast deteriorates before her very eyes while her husband turns away to leave her.

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Unfortunately, Radiation House’s greatest weakness is its tendency to drag. With all of the character introductions and medical talk, chapter 1 is a bit of a slog, but at least manages to end on a bit of a cliffhanger. The story’s slow pace becomes even more noticeable during the arc with radiologist Hirono and her musician patient, which continued to drag on even after the diagnostic problem, involving an unclear shoulder x-ray, was solved. Therefore, this series may best be read by the volume in bulk, as opposed to following the bimonthly chapter releases.

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Overall the good outweighs the bad in Radiation House, and I can genuinely say that I have learned some new and interesting things from reading. Given the number of medical drama adapted from manga, and the adaption of Yokomaku’s Smoking Gun, I could see Radiation House also receiving a drama adaptation in the future.

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Radiation House began serialization in Grand Jump Magazine in late 2015. The series is ongoing, with three volumes are available so far.

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Keppeki Danshi! Aoyama-kun (Cleanliness Boy! Aoyama-kun)

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Recently, Shueisha announced a surprise anime adaption for Young Jump manga Keppeki Danshi! Aoyama-kun (潔癖男子!青山くん), which translates as Cleanliness Boy! Aoyama-kun. Given that the manga has yet to receive a western release or scanlation, this review is for those curious about the upcoming anime.

Written by Taku Sakamoto, the series opens with Aoyama scoring a goal, and then dodging a horde of players. Rather than dribbling past the opposing team, he is deliberately avoiding his own teammates, who only wish to congratulate him hugs and high fives.

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Aoyama politely asks that they quit trying to hug him, lest they dirty him. Soccer proves to be a near-perfect game for Aoyama, who avoids dirtying his hands during gameplay, and also happens to be the ace of Fujimi High’s team. He makes sure to keep his distance from other players, refuses to perform head balls, and even uses gloves when throwing in an out-of-bounds ball. When not on the field, he’s often cleaning the clubroom, or even the team’s dirty shoes. Despite his quirks, he is popular among girls, who have formed their own fan club to cheer him on during games. Even a cocky member of a rival school’s team is trying to recruit him.

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Despite his often brash words and borderline anti-social avoidnace of all that is unclean, Aoyama remains calm, unfazed, and even expressionless at all times. His personality and physical design vaguely resembles Sakamoto from Sakamoto Desu ga? an arrogant student who seem to radiate perfection. Aoyama’s avoidance of human contact particularly resembles from Saiki Kusuo no Sainan’s Saiki, who uses his psychic abilities to avoid annoying classmates and family. Given how many times throughout Aoyama must ask everybody to refrain from touching him, his own friends must be pretty deft as well. Aoyama’s teammates sometimes look for holes in his stiff persona, such as in an early chapter where they unsuccessfully try to make him laugh, through funny faces and silly poses.

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Kaoru Zaizen

While Fujimi soccer may as well be a one man team, given how useless some of the players prove to be on the field, one player named Kaoru Zaizen may possess the skill and seriousness necessarily to partner with Aoyama. Kaoru passes a water bottle over to Aoyama, who politely refused it, stating that he’d rather die than share his teammates germs. Despite their differences, pair combines their specialties in the opening chapter, with Kaoru headbutting the ball over to Aoyama, who launches by foot it into the goal, resulting in a big win. Willing to hand over his number 10 jersey, the ace team number, to Aoyama, he pulls the sweaty jersey right off his back, in an attempt to pass it off to his germaphobe teammates.

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An athletic student from a wealthy family, Kaoru also serves as the straight man to his teammates silly antics. Kaoru’s father hopes for his son to quit the team to pursue bigger goals, and his family often intervenes into Kaoru’s life, even hiring a personal sports doctor to visit the school. Later, other family members are introduced as the character’s development expands.

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Another regular face within the series is Moka Gotou, the team’s shy manager who has a massive crush on Aoyama. Often seen wearing an Aoyama fan shirt, she regularly resorts to stalking Aoyama, which only confirms that she fits in well with the rest of the manga’s crazy cast. Moka performs a wide variety of chores, from picking up trash around campus to cleaning bathrooms, all for the sake of keeping the pathway clean for Aoyama. In one case, she even attacks a group of seniors who dare to dirty the school. She carries out her duties faithfully and humbly, though often is only able to watch her love nervously from afar. Given that 12 girls have already confessed to Aoyama and failed, Moka has a tough time getting through to her object of desire, and must compete against some other romantic prospects introduced over time.

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Aoyama’s perceived charm often disrupts other characters’ relationships. The team’s captain, Takechi, develops a relationship with a girl who ends up falling for Aoyama, after the titular character diverts away a ball headed for her face. Takechi is shocked to see her join the Aoyama cheer squad, while donning the signature “No Aoyama No Life” T-shirt. In the end, Takechi and his love interest settle on cheering on Aoyama together.

Despite Aoyama’s legions of fans, his talents and personality annoy some, namely Shion Narita, a stuck-up boy at the school. So envious of Aoyama, Shion goes so far as to imitate his perceived rival in an attempt to channel his popularity. The one place where Kadomatsu can shine is an an online game reminiscent of Monster Hunter, where he leads other users in raids against virtual monsters. However, even online he feels outdone by Aoyama, who happens to join in and excel at the game, as is the case with everything else that the star player attempts. Given players’ anonymity online, Kadomatsu attempts to catch Aoyama in the act of playing the online game, but is unable to do so.

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Shion’s design bears an unfortunate resemblance to another character, Kadomatsu, an equally silly character who hangs around with fellow soccer teammates Yoshioka and Sakai. Known for their goofy signature rear-end soccer pass, the trio spends more time striking silly poses on the field than doing anything to help the team advance.

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Tsukamoto Kadomatsu and friends watching Aoyama

Another self-absorbed character is Miwa Takei, a the team’s young director, whose serious approach on the field contrasts to her disorganized lifestyle at home. Additionally, she is a big fan of shojo manga, and has decorated her bathroom from ceiling to floor with art of her favorite romance manga’s male love interest. After discovering yaoi manga in one chapter, Miwa begins to fantasize over the teammates, reimagining bodily exercises and team camaraderie between Aoyama and Kaoru as having sexual overtones. In another chapter, Aoyama comes over to clean her apartment, and the two share tea together afterwards. During this sentimental character building interaction, Miwa admits that she has no chance of love, and that she has filled the romantic void in her life with shojo manga.

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Aoyama and Miwa

One of the sillier subplots involves Ozaki, a quiet student working secretly as a mangaka under a penname. His work is published in a popular shonen magazine, and he is constantly watching to see how other classmates will react to his manga. Scenes from Ozaki’s work have been weaved into Aoyama-kun chapters, sometimes comprising a significant portion of the chapter.

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Ozaki walks by, as Kadomatsu reads his manga

In his mainstay action series, Ozaki introduces a wizard villain whose design and behavior is modeled after Aoyama. Ozaki even studies Aoyama’s real life interactions as inspiration for the character. The wizard is super powerful, popular among girls, and only wants to make the world more beautiful. Constantly sparring with his editor, Ozaki is frustrated when the wizard steals first place in the manga’s popularity poll, ahead of its actual protagonist. Although Ozaki is nervous to see how Aoyama will react to being parodied in a manga, Aoyama unknowingly insults the artist by explaining that he skips over the series in the magazine each week, due to its bad art. Later, Ozaki’s subplot is expanded by way of a romantic interest, a whiny girl at the school who ends up serving him at a maid cafe while in costume.

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Ozaki’s depiction of Aoyama as an evil wizard

Aoyama-kun’s cast includes many other tropey characters, such an athletic girl named Mio who arm wrestles Aoyama, and apparently creates enough of an impression with him to warrant a high-five later from the germaphobe. There is also Tsubasa, a tall, stoic judoist who has his sights set on Moka. In addition to Takechi, the rival introduced from a different high school in the first chapter, other players show up to challenge Aoyama, including Ibuki, a player who recently returned to Japan from abroad. These brief introductions of the main characters hopefully convey the basic feeling, tone and progression of the series.

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The manga’s art is simplistically linear, and colored pages convey a bright, digital aesthetic. During sillier moments, the artist may present characters in a miniaturized chibi style. Neither the designs themselves nor their presentation are very creative. As a series, Aoyama-kun brings little new to the table, instead just dropping existing tropes into new situations and scenarios, namely soccer and germaphobia. Luckily, the manga is easily approachable, and still enjoyable enough to quench a thirst for light entertainment.

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Fans of romantic comedy will be pleasantly surprised by Aoyama-kun, while sports manga enthusiasts may be left disappointed by series’ lack of serious progression on the field. The first chapter’s match is about as deep into the sport as the manga gets, with soccer acting as little more than a backdrop for a wide array of character plotlines and goofy behaviors. At present, the subplots have expanded far enough out that some- including Ozaki’s- have little to nothing to do with soccer at all. The series has no singular focus, and most substories last for just one or two chapters, with many interactions revisited and expanded as the series progresses. In other words, Aoyama-kun is more of a slice-of-life comedy than a true sports manga at all. Including the chapters showcasing battles from Ozaki’s manga, Aoyama-kun even has some battle scenes. However, those open to the multiple genres will enjoy the versatility that this sort of setup creates.

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Keppeki Danshi! Aoyama-kun debuted in 2014 in Jump X (pronounced Jump Kai), until the monthly magazine folded later that year. A couple of months later, Aoyama-kun transferred into Young Jump, where it currently resides. Six volumes are available, with the seventh launching on February 17th.

Garçon

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Writer Joh Araki(城アラキ)has had a busy year. Just a year ago, the current iteration of his Bartender series moved from Grand Jump Magazine, published twice per month, to Grand Jump Premium, published just once every two months. However, the move was likely to make way for his two new manga- Garçon for Grand Jump, and Cocktail for the magazine’s website. Altogether, that makes three simultaneously published manga.

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Garçon(ギャルソン)opens with a dialogue about destruction and recovery. Following the French Revolution, the court chefs were left with two choices. Some moved abroad with nobles, while others stayed in Paris. Initially a soup shop, the early French eatery became known as a restaurant, which in French, means “recovery meal.” As the menu increased, and the chefs developed their craft,  the restaurant tended to not only to patrons’ physical hunger, but also to their hearts and souls. That special factor in the equation is customer service, which Garçon is truly centered around.

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The manga quickly introduces its protagonist, Shou Sawatari, a 26 year old man who seemingly has some connection to the French dining world. Now in Tokyo, he visits a upscale French restaurant, named La Cene, designed in traditional french style and nestled into the busy city behind a big front gate.

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A grouchy old bartender directs Shou to the dining area, which is completely empty. While Shou waits, unimpressed, a waitress, a manager and a sommelier complain nearby. The sommelier, pompous 35 year-old Akira Kagawa, fusses that their customer ordered water over wine, and how only Americans and “frogs” do so.

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Shou takes just one sniff of his omelet, calls for the chief, declares that at $35.00 the omelet is overpriced, and then asks to see the chef and manager. With the head chef out, it is the sous-chef, the kitchen’s second-in-command, Mari Itami, who was responsible for the subpar dish. As Shou seems to suspect, Mari is overworked, causing embarrassment to both her and the manager, who had ordered her to fill in.

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At this point, Shou reveals his true intentions- he was sent to La Cene to work as a garcon by the owner, who is currently in poor health. Shou’s purpose is to restore the restaurant’s all-important customer service, which has gone by the wayside in the owner’s absence. Despite his warm smile and humble persona, Shou’s words to the staff are harsh. In its current state, he tells the lazy, self-centered staff, La Cene can’t even be called a restaraunt.

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All of a sudden, Shou hears the faint sound of approaching customers from outside. He is able to estimate their proximity to the entrance, all the way down to the number of seconds until they reach the door, while the others standby confused and unprepared.

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In a display of dramaticism, Shou yanks a tablecloth off of a properly set table, so fast that the plates, silverware, glasses and even candle somehow remain set in place. He quickly displays his leadership, stepping out and beyond his role by even ordering around the chef. Menu in hand, Shou ties the cloth around his waist as an apron as the customers enter.

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This scene, along with much of the base premise and even some character designs, appear borrowed from Ousama no Restaurant, a popular 1995 drama about a garcon who helps to revive a sinking French restaurant following the owner’s death. More on that later.

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The restaurant’s customers- apparently it’s only for the evening- are a fancily dressed older couple celebrating their anniversary. They chose La Cene because for their honeymoon, over 40 years ago, they had gone to France. Through the use of interesting and sympathetic customers, usually only one-time characters, Araki brings into Garcon the sentimental storytelling found in many of his other works, most notably Bartender.

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Shou recommends to the couple an omelet, a speciality of Mon Saint-Michel, a French monastery visited by pilgrims during medieval times. Araki’s works are filled with descriptions of unique dishes, and references to the stories and cultural significances behind them. The amount of research that must go into each chapter is impressive, and perhaps Araki, as a writer, has more time to conduct and integrate said research than a mangaka working on both story and art would. On the occasions that I found a chapter’s topic particularly interesting, and decided to do further research, I was surprised to find how accurately the manga had depicted these sources.

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Much like the couple themselves, the omelet is of rustic simplicity, rather than the types of luxurious cuisine associated with a fancy restaurant. So much so, in fact, that the kitchen is shocked by the small order, and Mari becomes nervous when the couple ask to meet her after receiving their meal. While Mari humbles herself enough to begin an apology, she is surprised to see that the couple is delighted by their dinner, and the depth and personal thought that went into the recommendation. The dish succeeds in reigniting fond memories of their first honeymoon. They are so satisfied that they go ahead and make a reservation for their next anniversary.

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After the couple leaves happy and fulfilled, Shou explains that he could determine that couple were actually underprivileged by the smell of insecticide on the husband’s cashmere jacket. In contrast to the rest of La Cene’s staff, who are too preoccupied with their own needs and frustrations, Shou is attentive to his customers’ every need, even to small details that require inference. The truly most import task of a restaurant, he tells Mari, is to imagine its customers’ joy and sadness, and hope and despair. In doing so, the restaurant can fulfil its true purpose, which is to restore tired bodies and hurt hearts.

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In turn, Mari’s heart begins a process of recovery too, from the kind praise she receives from her grateful customers. Shou’s words seem to inspire the fussy chef, until she realizes that he also personally reduced the cost of the couple’s omelets from 3500 to 500円. Shou’s standards of customer service are often extreme and self-sacrificing. The staff discover that Shou had previously worked at a 3-star restaurant in france, and had won an international service award.

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Writer Joh Araki’s catalogue includes works about bartenders, sommeliers, chefs and a even a lawyer. While Araki’s stories do include recurring protagonists, and provide some sort of overarching plot development for them, narrative is often centered around customers and clients, who come to the central eatery with to contemplate or escape a problem in their lives. Squabbling siblings who make amends over cocktails, somebody mourning the loss of a loved one, or ethically challenged business partners are all among the types of faces and stories that Araki’s protagonists serve from behind the counter.  This method of storytelling allows for a wide variety of interesting cases from many backgrounds, and with individual stories wrapping up in just one or two chapters, keeps the series fresh on top of it.

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Sometimes the conflicts of patron and staff become intertwined, such as in the second chapter, when cocky floor chief Hiroshi Katase must waiter on his former boss, who has come with a small group of colleagues. During his previous job at a hotel restaurant, Hiroshi’s boss had been boastful, and put down his subordinates in favor of his own career advancement. Hiroshi is initially cold and evasive towards the former acquaintance, who immediately recognizes him. Once again, it is Shou who reminds the staff that the well-being of the customer must come first, and that good service means having the courage to face any type of guest, despite personal bias or circumstance. Hiroshi’s attitude quickly changes when he learns that the group is holding a farewell dinner for the boss, who is unceremoniously being laid off from his work. This was one of many chapters that left quite an impression on me as a reader.

Araki really knows how to jerk at the heartstrings. During a more recent chapter, the staff decide to take customers’ credit card information during reservations following a series of frustrating “no shows,” which result in wasted tables and food. For most of the staff, the idea is a no-brainer. Shou, however, is bothered by the tactic, and solemnly contemplates its ramifications throughout much of the chapter. Once again, customers fail to show up for their reservation, this time a party of four. The staff are disillusioned, but surprised when three of the four show up later on to apologize for the inconvenience. The reservation had been for a small class reunion, but tragedy prevented struck when one of the four died in a car accident. Rather than chide the mourning seniors, Shou welcomes them with open arms. Garcon constantly explores the balance between practical business and heartfelt service.

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Compared to some of Araki’s other works, Garcon is more centered around its protagonists, maintaining a comfortable balance between internal employee conflict and individual customer recounts. While neither method of storytelling is better than the other, and Araki’s skill as a writer shines through regardless, a stronger ongoing narrative helps to build and maintain momentum. Additionally, with a whole restaurant’s worth of employees in the cast, the setup simply has more room for a wider range of ongoing character development than a series set primarily in a small bar. This approach doesn’t detract from the vast wealth of food knowledge that Araki includes into his works, but compliments it quite well.

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One overarching story involves the stuck-up daughter of La Cene’s owner, who wishes to sell the declining restaurant. Her greedy personality also creates difficulties in her romantic life. Araki later introduces the sickly owner, who tries to maintain a positive outlook in hopes of eventually being able to return to his beloved business.

Shou forms friendships and rivalries with other eateries, including a newly opened, snobby restaurant on the 30th floor of a luxury building. La Cene’s staff are invited to an opening party, but Shou ends up commandeering the kitchen when poor management leads to chaos. The restaraunts later compete to decide who will host a famous pianist. Another related plotline involves a knowledgeable food critic working for a magazine. Needless to say, the manga has quite a bit going on, making it a worthwhile read.

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Earlier in the review, I mentioned the similarities in character and plot between Garcon and the work that it was likely inspired by, Ousama no Restaurant. The 90’s drama’s garcon, played by Koshiro Matsumoto, is older than Garcon’s Shou, and despite the two sharing a similar contemplative calmness, Araki’s lead character’s gentler nature leaves enough differentiation from Matsumoto’s stern expressions and stoicism.

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Sous-chef Mari, however, is practically a clone of actress Tomoko Yamaguchi’s mid 90s role. Their appearances and pouty demeanors remain virtually the same.

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Another obvious inspiration from Ousama no Restaurant is manager Makoto Muraki, whose stiff yet misguided approach resembles the character played by Takehiko Ono.

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Other similarities include the two series’ sommeliers. Even La Cene’s building, from interior to exterior, resemble Ousama no Restaurant’s La Belle Equipe.

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Copying an older work down to such detail was likely meant as a nostalgia trip for older readers, the group that Grand Jump magazine is aimed at, rather than as a cheap shot at success through plagiarism. While Garcon’s premise is nearly the same, its execution quickly differentiates itself from its inspiration. While Ousama no Restaurant deals almost exclusively with the quarrels and relationships of the staff, from the onset Garcon strikes more of a balance between protagonist development and patrons’ problems.

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Additionally, Garcon expands much farther beyond its initial premise than possible in an eleven episode drama. As an ongoing manga, it holds even further potential for greatness, and that may be one of the series most exciting aspects of all. In this sense, Araki has successfully reworked and surpassed the content from which he drew inspiration from.

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Garcon began serialization in Grand Jump in December of 2015. Three volumes are currently available.

Kunoichi no Ichi

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With so much new manga releasing each week, I often need to read while on the go in order to keep up. While reading an issue of Young Jump magazine in public a few weeks ago, I stumbled across a new serialization that with some rather risque art. Though the basic illustration on the magazine cover of a green haired ninja seemed innocent enough, the opening color pages and all throughout were packed with ecchi scenes. Therefore, I skipped over the new series and continued the remainder of Young Jump, and continued to skip the new series over the next few weeks as well, as each new chapter looked to have as much ecchi as the previous. After about a month, it finally hit me that I had a backlog of five chapters waiting to be read, and so (while at home) I knocked them all out back to back. Since the content was so fresh in my mind, I chose to review this new series, called “Kunoichi no Ichi!,” (クノイチノイチ) by Shinousuke Kanazawa, and based on a oneshot of the same name that was run earlier in the year. Due to the nature of work in question, I won’t be able to post some of the manga’s most enticing scenes.

After some ecchi-heavy opening color pages, the manga introduces Kuno Ichi, a feminine looking male student who is on a bus trip with his classmates. “Kunoichi” is the term for a female ninja, making the protagonist’s name a pun. In addition to girlish, Ichi is shy, bashful, apologetic, and ridiculed by his more masculine classmates. He’s even frightened by his friend’s erotic magazine, which provides another opportunity for a forced ecchi panel.

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Ichi

The bus arrives at their destination, a ninja village, where the students can try on traditional clothing, practice climbing, throw shuriken, and for some, get into trouble. After losing a game of rock-paper-scissors, Ichi changes into kunoichi clothing, which suit him well, according to his insensitive friends. While his friends wander off, Ichi trips on a loose floorboard in a traditional style building. Falling through a hidden rotating door, he stumbles into a room where a woman is changing. Ichi apologetically runs down the hallway looking for the exit, but upon reaching the door, finds to his surprise that the surrounding ninja village has reverted from the modern tourist attraction back to its traditional setting, with everyday people wandering about busily in old-style clothing. The changing woman, Kowappa, reemerges, directing her sword at Ichi from behind as she accuses him of intrusion. She tells the confused Ichi that they are in Koka Ninja Village, Given the traditional setting, Ichi (immediately) figures out that he must have time slipped into the past.

An elder shows up and claims to have heard of the concept of time slipping. Although a ninjutsu that could return Ichi to the modern period exists, the Koka Ninja Scrolls, which would have contained such information, were stolen long ago. The elder may be able to help, if Ichi can first retrieve the stolen scrolls by infiltrating their hiding place- Kurenai Gakuen, an all girls kunoichi school. I’m sure seasoned readers can already see where this is going.

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Following a ridiculously poor map while walking down the road, Ichi hears a woman’s cry, and finds a busty young lady salaciously tied and hanging from a tree. Her assailant turns out to be a yet another girl, albeit a far less well-endowed one, who tied up her fellow kunoichi in jealousy over her large breasts. After this silly conflict is quickly resolved. The busty, bubbly kunoichi thanks Ichi (despite having done virtually nothing) and introduces herself as Ayame. So far, Ichi is still presumed by all to be a girl. Interestingly, it is Ayame who is featured primarily in colored and promotional art, although so far Ichi remains the single most important protagonist.

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Ayame

Ichi and his new friend soon arrive at Kurenai Gakuen, which is filled with hordes of beautiful girls. Ichi realizes how out of place he really is, given that he is a boy, and that he lacks any sort of ninja skill.  As is with the ecchi scenes, the manga wastes little time in bombarding the reader with as many genre tropes as possible. Ichi is introduced to his the student dorms, where he learns that he will be rooming with Ayame and the flat chested, anger prone girl Nagisa. The next logical progression is, of course, the dorm hotsprings, where Ichi struggles to hide his gender while being thrust into a plethora of sexual situations with his new classmates.

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The three roommates

While in the bath with Ichi, Nagisa opens up about her hostility towards Ayame. She ponders whether she could become a better kunoichi if only she had larger breasts, and despite the flawed logic, we receive what may be the first hint of deeper character development through heart-to-heart dialogue. The scene is quickly interrupted when Nagisa overheats and passes out, and the ever-so-helpful Ichi carries her out the bath on his back. When she comes to, she sees Ichi’s male chest and mistakes it for flat-chestedness, which instantly raises her confidence. Problem solved, I guess?

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Nagisa and Ayame

School life continues, as the series introduces a sadistic teacher, crazy teleportation jiu-jitsu (Ayame’s clothes are left behind), a class rival, and many of the plot devices you have probably grown to expect.

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For the most part, Kunoichi no Ichi does little to distinguish itself from the droves of other borderline hentai manga out there. For such a sexually charged series, art quality is key in titillation, and while Kanazawa’s designs are pretty basic, he makes up for it in the sleek shading found in character’s hair, clothing, and, well, other parts. At times, his art almost resembles a less refined version of Funatsu Kazuki’s, whose manga Yokai Shojo- Monsuga also runs in Young Jump. But then if that is the case, does the magazine really need a lookalike? And on that point, when it comes to serious time-slip stories, Young Jump also has Gunjou Senki.

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Yokai Shojo- Monsuga

In addition to its art, Kunoichi no Ichi does have one thing for going it, and that is the scroll retrieval mission, the glue tying this silly mess together. The scrolls give purpose to the story and- though just barely- manages to justify the heavy load of ecchi scenes. This is in contrast to up-and-coming Shonen Jump rom-com Yuragi-sou no Yuuna-san, which, despite being more polished overall, is told far more loosely, and therefore lacks some of the dynamic and purpose that Kunoichi no Ichi manages to bring to the table. To its credit, Kunoichi no Ichi is pretty fast paced, and its fight scenes aren’t half bad. Amidst the fan service, Ichi hasn’t (yet) forgotten his purpose for infiltration. Based on the pacing thus far, even if the series falls flat and is short-lived, it seems that Kanazawa should be capable of giving readers a timely and satisfying conclusion, if needed.

Kunoichi no Ichi volume 1 is available now.

Free Seinen Manga Trials from Shueisha!

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Please note that as of now, the free trials from Shueisha have ended. Hopefully you were able to take advantage of these works within their window of availability.

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Though not a review, I would like to take this opportunity to share an exciting opportunity from Shueisha, publisher of the Jump line of magazines. According to an announcement on the official website for Grand Jump magazine, Shueisha is posting the first volume of over 100 manga titles to read for free digitally. All of the offerings are seinen works, from Grand Jump and its predecessors Business Jump and Super Jump. Given my earlier posting on Grand Jump, and the blog’s heavy focus on Shueisha titles in general, I felt it appropriate to share this news for curious readers to enjoy.

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The full list of works, authors and dates can be found at this link. Titles currently available to read for the month have links to their digital trial.

September’s manga trials are all from Super Jump, while October will be Business Jump, and then Grand Jump in November. While Grand Jump itself is still very recent, most of the titles from Super Jump and Business Jump are long out of print. Some of the more popular titles, such as Bartender, may have been reprinted in smaller bunkoban releases. Many of the titles have at least received Shueisha Remix printings, which are the thick, cheap formats sold at convenience stores. However, all of these formats are rarely found outside of Japan, and therefore Shueisha’s free trials are a blessing to overseas readers.

I have reviewed several of the available works, including:  

Dr. DMAT~ Hippocrates under the rubble~ (review)

(Dr.DMAT~瓦礫の下のヒポクラテス~)

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Ôsama no Shitateya – Sarto Finito (review)

(王様の仕立て屋~サルト・フィニート~)

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Kyoshiro 2030 (review)

(狂四郎2030)

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Bin- Sonshi Iden (review)

(ビン~孫子異伝~)

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Lock-Up (review)

ロックアップ

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The promotion has reminded me of a number of other works I would like to review in the future. Please feel free to comment on any crazy hidden gems, or outrageously pulpy trash, you happen to come across in your readings!

Gorillaman

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US manga fans may be familiar with ‘Beck: Mongolian Chop Squad,’ Harold Sakuishi’s long running series about a rock band. Prior to ‘Beck’s’ start in 1999, however, Sakuishi had already put out three separate series, their earlier styles almost unidentifiable to his more modern hit. In 1988, his debut work ‘Gorillaman’ began in Young Magazine, during a period when delinquent youth, or “yanki,” manga were a major subgenre within boys’ and mens’ anthologies.

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The series opens with a tough-looking, suit-clad man walking down the street, when suddenly a bucket of water falls from a construction site and hits the passerby flat on the head. As workmen rush to his side, we catch our first close look at the protagonist, whose facial features seem rather exaggerated. Was it a result of the accident, as I initially thought?

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No, as it turns out, his face just happens to resemble that of a gorilla’s, hence the title. In fact, we quickly learn that he isn’t a salaryman or a gangster, but rather a student named Ikedo Sadaharu, who is transferring into Shiratake High School. Nicknamed “Golgo-Ikedo” for his vaguely similar appearance to the protagonist of decades-long running assassin series ‘Golgo 13.” This is one of many cultural references to various manga, celebrities, and former idols included throughout. These passing jokes, along with the delinquents’ constant slang and vulgar language, may make ‘Gorillaman’ and similar yanki series difficult for foreign readers to fully comprehend, although the visual gags and progressively improving fight scenes will keep the series enjoyable nonetheless.

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Ikedo starts things off on the wrong foot just by being his usual self. He is completely mute, which frustrates faculty while making him a target of bullying among some students. While walking to his seat, Ikedo is tripped by Fujimoto, a more traditional looking yanki student who becomes a sort of  secondary protagonist for the story. At the bottom of the page, we’re treated to a bit of bubbleless narration, commenting on the transfer’s name and appearance in almost a poetic fashion. These blurbs appear frequently, particularly early on, and often at the end of a chapter, where what little useless information we learned about Ikedo is repeated in a melodramatically asine format.

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The charismatic and sociable Fujimoto leads the “Fujimoto Corps,” a gang of various other fellow delinquents within the school. In many ways, Fujimoto fits the role of the goofy, good-spirited yanki protagonist, and his character initially does little to depart from this trope. His band of followers are also nearly indifferentiable from those of the genre, though this just further reinforces the idea of Ikedo as a sort of gag inserted into what would otherwise be a basic school action manga. Despite their tropish feel, the other delinquents do become well developed and individually characterized over time, particular “Beka-chan,” the biggest pervert of the group.

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While the Fujimoto Corps start off as bullies to Ikedo, they quickly warm up to him, with later teasing mostly done in jest. Early chapters in particular are made up of single-chapter plots, often about classroom antics, confrontations with teachers, sports, and anything inbetween. Teachers tend to be bullies too, and are usually out to harass Ikedo and friends, or are otherwise shown squabbling about their pensions or a statue of The Thinker that Ikedo breaks the head off of.

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A notoriously grouchy janitor cares for little else than his beloved koi pond.

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For a good chunk of the series, Fujimoto tends to play the role of protagonist to a degree, with conflicts and romances centered mostly around him, while Ikedo falls into the background as seemingly just another follower.

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However, this formula is not a case of sloppy writing, but rather a piece of the overall gag that is Gorillaman. It is as if Sakuishi wants us to ask, “why would an entire manga be focused on such a brutish character who, in any other series, would serve as more than side fare?” Like many other mysteries surrounding Ikedo, this seems to play on the idea of him playing the unlikely protagonist. In many storylines, he plays a sort of backseat role, only playing “clean-up” after the others have been defeated and the dust clears, sometimes even without their awareness.

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From the very start, it appears the series is set on defining the character that is Gorillaman, though readers are fed these details gradually, and much of the information is of little substance. Ikedo loves ‘CalorieMate,’ and regularly brings back drinks from vending machines in large quantities for his friends.

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His behaviors are occasionally contrasted to that of an actual gorilla, as in times where he hangs by one arm outside an upper level classroom like it’s nothing. He can be clumsy, often falling down, blowing a crucial pitch in baseball, or tripping in the middle of a fight.

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He has a notable fear of dogs, though the primary pooch he deals with is “Arnold,” an old and lazy dog who shows up in the schoolyard occasionally.

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Ikedo eventually becomes student council president, and even has an ongoing romance with a bubbly girl named Kaori.

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These loveable quirks are often contrasted, and quite ironically so, with images of Ikedo in dramatic scenes. His muteness creates tension, particularly when administered in longer portions, in the same way an Ozu film can evoke emotion through silence.

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For this reason, Ikedo comes off as a strong and silent type character, though not necessarily by choice. Without even accompanying thought bubbles, and little variation in facial expression, readers are left with little to work with when assessing the reasoning behind his motivations. When Ikedo gets up to do something, even his friends often struggle to understand the meaning of his actions.

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And so, even after 19 volumes of solid character building, I still felt as if there was so much to be learned about Ikedo, and I think that’s the punchline of this giant, series-long gag.

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Though the series does delve into Ikedo’s past, we receive this information gradually in pieces, usually from unreliable and contradicting sources. Various later transfer students recognize Ikedo as a strong and violent character, but many of these rumors turn out to be hearsay. He is framed as a liar during a flashback from middle school, as told by another student, and apparently involved a visit from Stephen Hawking. Ikedo’s martial arts abilities are introduced stealthily- his first true fight against wild rival Fujise doesn’t occur until volume 3, and even then the combat happens offscreen, though we do see the bloody aftermath.

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In the final quarter of the series, Ikedo’s family is introduced, though their appearance opens more questions than are answered.

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Spread over a few volumes, the final arc is exciting and well-paced. A member of the Ikedo family “business,” also a student from a rival high school, coerces the Fujimoto Corps to sell stickers bearing his school’s name, or face a the replacement cost of the overpriced stickers and a likely beating. In a major role reversal, it is Fujimoto, the protagonist-like leader, who caves in and accepts to sell the stickers, while Ikedo is the one to fight back and spark a war against multiple schools. Ikedo becomes the hero in the end, while Fujimoto barely manages to claim a victory in a short side fight prior to the final showdown.

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Ikedo’s strength in character, despite setbacks, is contrasted to Fujimoto’s lack of courage under pressure. The arc is packed with great fight scenes, and all of the pieces, from art to story to pace, come together to form an above-average conclusion to a largely enjoyable series.

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The final chapter in particular differentiated itself from typical yanki series, as it was thought-provoking and forced a reevaluation of Ikedo altogether. Sakuishi did well in balancing the mysteriousness of Ikedo’s character while supplying just enough information to satisfy curious readers. His insertion of such a unique character into a generalized yanki setting of the period proved to be entertaining, while still retaining the elements that made such high school beat-em-ups so enjoyable. Given the amount of baseball matches in Gorillaman, it is not surprising that Sakuishi’s next work was the baseball manga ‘Stopper Busujma.’ Interestingly enough, Masanori Morita, mangaka of long-running yanki hit ‘Rokudenashi Blues’ in Shonen Jump, also returned with a baseball series, Rookies. After that, both artists’ next works centered around entertainers.

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While Gorillaman did have an OVA and video game, like many yanki manga, it never received a TV anime adaption.

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Gorillaman concluded in 1993, and spanned 19 volumes.

Mokkori Hanbe

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Following the fairly abrupt conclusion of his Mito Komon-centered comedy, Komon-sama- Suke-san no Yuustu (黄門さま〜助さんの憂鬱〜), career mangaka Tokuhiro Masaya (徳弘正也) launched a four-part series last fall. This latest work, Mokkori Hanbe (もっこり半兵衛), ran in Grand Jump Premium, the sister magazine to Grand Jump published once every two months. Due to its limited run thus far, Mokkori Hanbe seems to have slipped under the radar, with virtually no information or images available online. There isn’t even a page or description of the work on Grand Jump’s website, although a preview in the May issue of Grand Jump Premium advertises its return in July with a full serialization. In hopes that Tokuhiro will introduce another full-scale epic adventure in the likes of Kyoshiro 2030, (which I previously reviewed) as opposed to the repetitive and ultimately unsatisfying Komon-sama, I am examining the initial four-part Mokkori Hanbe special.

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Perhaps Tokuhiro has developed an interest in period pieces, as Mokkori Hanbe opens in historical Edo, as did Komon-sama. Reminiscent of Kyoshiro 2030, Hanbe also opens with a penis gag- the titular character Hanbe is having a wet dream, indicated by his bulging erection, as his young son gasps at the scene. A creepy old lady peering in through a hole in the wall insists that the wet spot on Hanbe isn’t urine.

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Panels later, Hanbe is busy washing his kimono. Readers of my Kyoshiro 2030 review will be familiar with Tokuhiro’s style of raw, unadulterated vulgar humor.

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After the initial attention-grabber, the story’s basic plot is introduced. In Edo, after the city folk finish their day’s work and return home to sleep, protagonist Tsukinami Hanbe heads out to perform his job as a night patrolman. Precautionary lantern in hand, Hanbe circles Edo Castle throughout the night, until his candle runs down. Later, he describes his lantern as the light signifying the hopes of the people of Edo.

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As a samurai, Hanbe was appointed to this post eight years ago, in 1709, after protecting a daimyo from night attackers.

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Despite the honorable act, Hanbe recognizes the daimyo as a notoriously incompetent villain, and a weakling who kowtows the shogun, Tsunayoshi Tokugawa. Regardless, Hanbe is offered the position of night guard on the spot- as one of six guards, he is to offer protection to the 250 residents of within his area.

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Hanbe accepts the role out of his hope to protect the people, rather than to please the corrupt official. Sure enough, a messenger visits Hanbe’s home, to deliver a lantern, box of candles, and a charm. And thus Hanbe’s new career begins.

IMG_20160524_181716Never short on the visual gags, Tokuhiro introduces the three “beautiful” beggars who Hanbe encounters every night. Grotesque throwaway characters are common to his works, and often make many reappearances. The mangaka’s methods of creating plot and character development through comedy are at play once again. Even run-off gags and one-liners, of which there are many, help in establishing the complexities of his world. In this case, Hanbe generously passes alms to the beggars, as we continue to see his character as being an upbeat one, with a strong conscious and a sense of justice, despite any flaws. In contrast to these virtues, much of the world around Hanbe is largely bankrupt of such traits, as one lady implies that the alms will be used for alcohol.

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Hanbe’s meetings with these women had led his colleagues to nickname him “mokkori” Hanbe (hence the title). The word “mokkori” is one of numerous onomatopoeia, or words representing sounds, that manga commonly use. It represents the sound of an object bulging out  from under cloth, usually in the case of a rising erection. The concept was used frequently in the 1980’s manga City Hunter, and to a lesser degree in the anime adaption. In other words, Mokkori Hanbe is a pretty dirty title for a manga.

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While walking through a wealthy merchant neighborhood, Hanbe catches a black-clothed thief. Pulling off her face covering, and their entire top in the process, Hanbe exposes the thief as a beautiful woman. A similarly clothed retainer redresses her and helps her to escape. Hanbe finds the incident bizarre- her exposed nipple was too beautiful to that of a commoner, he concludes. Furthermore, he finds the smell of upscale white powder on a torn piece of her clothing. Why was a woman like this robbing a rich wholesaler?

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Hanbe follows the pair to the riverbank, where he sees the woman tossing the stolen money from a boat, to a group of zombie-like poor people. Later, Hanbe is told by one of the beggars that the “thief” is actually the daughter of a rice shop merchant.

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Many poor farmers moved to Edo to escape famine, although these workers were further exploited by merchants, who took a surplus of tribute from them. The daughter has become a Robin Hood-like hero, stealing from the rich and giving to the poor, in order to help right the wrongs created by greedy merchants and samurai.

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The poor turn out to be morally corrupt themselves, as they latch onto the daughter’s boat one night and attempt to rape her.

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Luckily Hanbe is there to step in and save her, and the poor bow down in penitence to him.

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By the end, everybody reaches a sensible resolution. Hanbe helps the daughter legitimately distribute her family’s rice balls to the poor during the daytime. The masses line up orderly, and happy expressions replace their zombified scowls. This introductory story spanned two chapters, released back-to-back in the same issue.

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The next chapter delves into Hanbe’s past as a samurai. Though his son is too young to remember, others can still recall Hanbe’s violent past, including Kondo Tatsuzo, a fencing teacher of the Higen clan. After cutting down a rude passerby, the hostile man suddenly sees Hanbe nearby, and recognizes him from a past exam, where contestants fought in a tournament to become officers.

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Tatsuzo, who himself had lost in an earlier round of the tournament, was forced to watch in horror as Hanbe brutally beheading his opponent, a fellow member of the Higen clan, in one move during the final round.

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Tatsuzo decides that he has become strong enough to take down Hanbe, and attempts to attack him deceitfully. Hanbe, who had vowed to refrain from killing after realizing the beast he had become, counters Tatsuzo’s attack by slashing him in the stomach, with a sheathed sword. More and more, Hanbe seems like a pretty nice guy.

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In the fourth and final installment, a questionable source describes Hanbe’s former brutality.

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After slaying 120 ronin (a masterless samurai) in the tournament, Hanbe served under a brutal lord, following his orders to kill indiscriminately. Everyone came to fear Hanbe, and his wife left him for a young samurai.

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Presently, after pondering his violent past, Hanbe strikes down a group of thugs on the job by cutting off their topknots, as opposed to murdering them. Its a shame that out of a four-part special, two of the chapters covered essentially the same topic, from the build-up to the resolution.

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Its hard not to be just a little disappointed in works like these, after such epic tales like Kyoshiro 2030, or even Legend of the Immortal Showa Vampire. Tokuhiro’s presentation is skilled, and his experience in executing fight scenes is clear as ever.

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However, with works such as Mokkori Hanbe and Komon-sama, it feels like Tokuhiro is returning to the largely episodic style of narrative from his debut work, Shape Up Ran. For instance, in Komon-sama, it seemed that the purpose of many of the events was to point out the fact that the beloved icon Mito Komon was just a gross, corrupt old man.

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Both structures are entertaining, and the mangaka has certainly shown his talent in both, so its difficult to label his change in pace as a regression. However, perhaps the repetitive gags were more tolerable, even more complimentary, when they were but one piece of a major work encompassing grand adventure, apocalyptic worlds, passionate romance, and larger scale battles. As the last two Mokkori Hanbe chapters demonstrate, repeated plots become much more noticeable in an episodic format.

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With that being said, the positives definitely outweigh any problems. Like Tokuhiro’s other works, Mokkori Hanbe justifies its vulgarity through intelligent commentary on larger social issues. Among the funniest gags was the deliberate mixup between okome (rice) and omeko (slang for vagina). Later on, only two beggar “beauties” are seen, and one is holding a skull, presumably of the third lady. Hanbe is given various nicknames throughout, including “Slayer Hanbe,” “Mediocre Hanbe,” and “Buddha Hanbe.” The daughter of the rice merchant starts wearing elastic clothing, to avoid it pulled off again. In one instance, Hanbe extinguished his lantern, the “hope of the people,” while receiving a oral sex from one of the women he saves. This is the type of dark, disgusting humor common to Tokuhiro’s works.

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From its start, Grand Jump Premium has tried to brand itself as a magazine with sophistication, with travel journals, some avant-garde (kind of) manga, works by established artists, and most recently a collaboration with the Louvre, in Paris. Hopefully the upcoming return of Mokkori Hanbe in July will live up to the magazine’s attempted branding.