After “Fire Punch” and “Chainsaw Man,” you’d think you have a good idea about what to expect from a manga by Tatsuki Fujimoto. A tragically dumb protagonist with an incredible ability born out of body horror. Outrageously violent and over-the-top action scenes. Series that give the impression they’re going to be about one thing before the status quo is smashed and it becomes about something else instead. Of these things, only the last applies to “Look Back.” This was a 144-page one-shot published in Shonen Jump that is unlike anything the mangaka has done yet, and also not much like anything you’d expect to see in the magazine it was published in.
In this volume, Denji goes to Hell. So does the rest of Division 4. It sounds like the kind of situation that’s tailor made for mangaka Tatsuki Fujimoto’s sensibilities, but it winds up being a case of reach exceeding grasp. Fujimoto’s vision of Hell is, honestly, a bit too mundane for my tastes. It’s got a roof of infinite doors, bloody bisected astronauts, and whispers of devils even more powerful than the Gun Devil. There’s a bit more to it, but I have a hard time believing that even this title’s target audience will be freaked out by what they see here. We also get some confusion regarding the real villain of this arc as it turns out that one of the bad guys who came to get Denji wasn’t what they initially appeared to be. The reveal comes off as a little more confusing than it needed to be, which is a disappointment. Toss in some initially clunky action scenes with the real villain, and you’ve got what is probably the least satisfying volume of this series yet.
That’s “least satisfying” as opposed to “actually bad.” There are some decent fight scenes over the course of the volume, initially involving Chinese Devil Hunter Quanxi and her accompanying fiends. Then when Denji gets his showcase fight in the back half, it’s one of the best I’ve seen in this series: Both in terms of action and unbridled stupidity on the character’s part. The way in which the threat Division 4 faces is also dealt with in a clever way, and Fujimoto delivers it in a way that makes it more visually interesting than his rendition of Hell. Finally, we get more indications that Makina is Not To Be Trusted and I still find myself interested in finding out what Fujimoto’s endgame with this character is. This volume is definitely more of a mixed bag than I’d have liked it to be, even if it does have a lot stuff to recommend it as well.
Then again, it doesn’t quite hold a candle to…
If you were hoping that Fiona “Nightfall” Frost would play a larger part in this series after being introduced in the previous volume, then vol. 6 has you covered in a big way. The first chapter starts off with the spy telling Loid “Twilight” Forger that Westalis has uncovered some information on a dossier that could “reignite the flames of war” between the East and the West. It’s hidden in a painting currently being held by a chief of industry with an unusual hobby. That would be the holding of extreme underground tennis matches where the only rules are that there are none! The winner of this latest tournament gets to pick one item from the host’s collection, which is how Twilight and Nightfall are planning to get their hands on the painting they want.
This is ridiculous even by “Spy x Family’s” normally tenuous grasp on reality. Then again, I did just watch “You Only Live Twice” for the first time over a week ago. That’s the James Bond film where the agent has to go to Japan to foil a plot by SPECTRE. How does he stop them, you ask? By loudly infiltrating their secret volcano base with an army of trained ninja! So for a series whose logic is defined by the logic from those movies, I’d say it still has a way to go before it jumps the shark. Fortunately the action is kept brisk and the arc doesn’t overstay its welcome. Which means that this tennis death match storyline is entertainingly ridiculous for the entirety of its duration. It gets bonus points for establishing Nightfall as a capable partner to Twilight and a quality comic asset to the series as a whole thanks to her utterly delusional yet straight-faced pursuit of her partner’s heart.
Fiona’s sincerity is such that you almost feel sorry for her even after Yor (unintentionally) makes it clear that she’s not going to give up on her (fake) marriage. This is just one thread that’s explored further in the volume’s back half as we get stories about Loid taking Yor out to dinner to smooth over any issues in their marriage, Anya goes on a shopping spree with Becky, and Damien angsts over his father’s absence in his life. These are all decent in their own right, even if it’s to be expected that they lack the utter zaniness of the opening arc. That last story does imply some consequences for the overall story as it looks like Loid will be taking the main goal of Operation Strix into his own hands for the immediate future.
Hey everyone, it’s G. Willow Wilson’s new nightmare! Or, Ruin, as he’s known to his friends and to his creator, Dream. He’s at the center of this twelve-issue maxiseries, which is really two five issue arcs connected by a two-issue transition. As his name implies, things fall apart in the character’s wake, starting with the dream of a young priest-in-training who Ruin falls immediately in love with. Before he can get back to this boy and try to fix things, the nightmare has to find a way out of the Dreaming. Which he does, by way of the dreams of struggling single mom undergraduate Lindy who is trying to finish her dissertation on Shakespeare. Now she’s stuck in the Dreaming with SO MANY versions of the Bard and Ruin has to take care of her kid. It could always be worse, though. I mean, they could be dealing with the Realm of Faerie, which is currently under new management after a magical revolution saw its monarchy deposed and… something else put in its place.
“Waking Hours” suffers in comparison to the three volumes of “The Dreaming” that Simon Spurrier and Bilquis Evely (and friends) did in that it’s not some grand statement on the world and characters created by Neil Gaiman. No, this maxiseries is all about having fun in that playground while introducing some new characters into it. In that regard “Waking Hours” is a resounding success as Ruin, grumpy exiled angel Jophiel, vivacious mage Heather After, and even her thuddingly straightforward boyfriend Todd make for winning additions to this particular fictional world. There is the fact that I like the opening arc better than the closing arc, but both boast dazzling art from Nick Robles who has the style to stand with the best artists who’ve worked on these characters. Javier Rodriguez also delivers some fantastic and impressively designed work in the two-issue transition, while M.K. Perker pitches in ably in the back half.
Even if it isn’t a grand epic like the stories that came before it, “Waking Hours” is a fun romp that respects and adds to what has come before in the Dreaming. I wouldn’t have minded another twelve issues from Wilson, Robles, and co., but I’m glad we got these issues nonetheless.
With the threat of Donald Blake dealt with, this should be a time of rejoicing in Asgard, right? Wrong. Thor is brooding over how his powers and Mjolnir failed him in the previous battle and, along with that vision of Thanos he had back in vol. 1, he worries that his reign may be coming to an end sooner than he thinks. So he decides to talk to those he knows best for advice on what to do. Loki, Cap, and Jane Foster are consulted first, but they don’t have any real answers for him. It isn’t until he has a nice sit-down with certain other members of his family that the King of Asgard gets some perspective. Just in time for things to get even worse as something very important to him goes missing.
This volume is titled “Revelations,” but there’s actually precious little revealing going on. Much like the Loki stinger at the end of the previous volume, your enjoyment of the main story here will likely depend on how engaged you are by the mysteries Cates is setting up. In addition to the work he’s doing with the characters here, as well. Speaking for myself, I’m more impressed by the latter than the former, particularly in regards to the moment Thor and Freyja share regarding a plot point set up over in Jason Aaron’s “Avengers.” I also liked seeing the new team of “Avengers” established here, while Michelle Bandini (along with Pasqual Ferry and Bob Quinn) do solid work overall with the art here.
They can’t hold a candle to the work done by Aaron Kuder in the “Infinite Destines” Annual here. He delivers impressively detailed art showcasing the realm of Alfheim and a lot of characters that will be familiar to anyone who’s read Aaron’s “Thor” run. The story itself doesn’t make me want to track down the other entries in this themed Annual event, but it’s a serviceable enough story where Thor fights an evil version of himself and some good laughs are had at Hawkeye’s expense. The art is the main reason to read this issue, though, and it ultimately makes me glad that it was included here.
The titular object is something that was first sighted in WWII with cults, death, and destruction following in its wake. It could house Jesus’ unborn child’s fetus, or just Nazi gold, nobody knows for sure. Especially not the Secret Service. That’s why they’ve made tracking the case down a hazing ritual for new recruits who are given a year to close it before it’s passed on to the next batch of recruits. Currently working the case are Mitchum and Winters who are determined to actually get their hands on the case. They know that it was last seen in the hands of an L.A. gang, the Fovos, and one of their members was seen handing off a suspicious package to someone in a high-class neighborhood. Is this just another wild goose chase? Or is it the start of a series of events that will include disembowlment, murder, betrayal, madness, and suicide?
A little while ago I reviewed another miniseries written by Matt Kindt called “Crimson Flower.” It was about an assassin who was inspired by Russian folklore and it felt like something the writer came up with and wrote over the course of a weekend. “Fear Case” is a little better than that, but not by much. That’s mainly due to the fact that Mitchum and Withers have a good rapport together, and there’s some actual momentum to their investigation as they get closer to the case and things start getting worse for them. The real problem here is that the climax of the story comes off as a real nothing-burger in terms of what the case is and what it means to the partners who’ve been searching for it. This isn’t elevated or degraded by Tyler Jenkins’ art, who provides serviceable work throughout. It is, ultimately, one for the Kindt completists as it’s not good or bad enough for me to recommend to anyone else.
What’s next for Mob and Reigen after they managed to defeat a branch of the evil organization of psychics known as Claw? Dealing with urban legends, that’s what! They’ve been asked to exorcise some well-known Japanese urban legends around town – the Dog-Faced Man, the Red Raincoat, the Slit-Mouthed Woman – along with another psychic who may or may not be in over his head here. This mini-arc is followed-up by stories where Mob has to exorcise a sweat ghost at an all-girl’s school, a haunted scarecrow at a farm, and some ghost-seeking college students who actually encounter one and want Mob and Reigen to do their thing. Even if the ghosts in question are of a dead family. All of this, however, is just the appetizer for the final storyline where our protagonists meet up with a lot of other psychics at a rich man’s mansion. He wants them to exorcise his daughter, but they’re not sure if she’s really possessed.
I guess it would be expecting too much for this series to jump right into another extended storyline after it wrapped up one in the previous volume. So it’s a good thing that all of the one-off and multi-part stories in this volume are uniformly strong. They all deliver some quality humor, clever twists, and in a couple cases, actual pathos. That last bit is down to the fact that Mob’s biggest challenge in this series is always going to be his inability to socialize normally with others. Sometimes that can actually be an asset, but it can also prove to be more frightening than dealing with the Slit-Mouthed Woman herself. Still, it’s always nice to see that Reigen, for all his faults, has his apprentice’s back and wants to do right by him. Even after he gets Mob involved in what looks to be a super-sized version of “The Exorcist.” Which I’m sure will turn out all right for Mob and Reigen. Just… maybe not so much for everyone else in the room with them.
You and your party members have just finished a ten-year journey to defeat the Dark Lord. While you’ve saved the world and become famous for it, what do you do next? If you’re the party’s elven mage, Frieren, then you bid your farewells and get back to doing what you’re really interested in: Learning more about magic. That is until she meets up with her old human and dwarven party members fifty years later and the march of time finally sinks in for the mage. Frieren realizes that while the ten years she spent with them were a drop in the bucket for your lifespan, they were far more meaningful to those who don’t live for a thousand years or more. Which is why Freiren is now determined to learn more about the people she adventured with, and the importance of getting to know other individuals in general.
“Beyond Journey’s End” isn’t the first series to tackle what happens when the good guys win and figure out what to do with the rest of their lives, and it won’t be the last. If you think that I’m making this sound like vol. 1 places this title in the middle of that pack, you’d be correct. While I doubt that the concept for this series won’t ever stop being novel to me, this first volume doesn’t have a whole lot to offer beyond that. I kept waiting for it to throw out some kind of twist as Frieren goes about her new journeys and I never really got it.
This first volume is still a thoroughly pleasant read, if nothing else. Writer Kanehito Yamada and artist Tsukasa Abe deliver a fantasy world that feels quite cosy, with its own quaint charm. Frieren is a nice enough protagonist with her own faults and quirks to go along with her magical skill and seeing her grow is fun enough. Highlights include her adoption of an apprentice and their encounter with a servant of the Dark Lord who is on the wrong end of the march of time. The end of this volume implies that there’s going to be at least a short-term focus in the storytelling, but we’ll see how long that lasts. As it is, “Beyond Journey’s End” makes itself out to be decent comfort food for those who like this kind of fantasy storytelling.
Here’s another Shonen Jump title that’s been giving off “Next Big Thing” vibes for a while. It was originally published first on Shonen Jump+, the magazine’s digital edition, and when its print volume hit it quickly became the first one to top one million copies in circulation. The title’s popularity has only grown from there, and what got it on my radar was the fact that it’s not about some kind of teenage kid who wants to be the best there ever was at [insert your choice of profession here]. No, it’s about a 38-year-old man who feels that he’s missed his shot in life and is doomed to spend the rest of it on viscera clean-up detail.