Review: ‘Boy’s Abyss, Vol. 1’ by Ryou Minenami

I’ve read virtually everything that the manga artist Shūzō Oshimi has released, which is unfortunate as he has become my favorite. I searched online for other series similar to what that author produces. Many recommended Inio Asano’s stuff, but I’ve also gone through his. Then someone mentioned this series. Although I’ve only read the first volume so far, it has become my most intriguing find in a while.

Shortly after we meet the protagonist, a high schooler, he tells to his homeroom teacher that he won’t go to college, as he needs to stay at his town to help his mom: the father isn’t in the picture, his grandmother has dementia, and his older brother is a violent hikikomori. Our protagonist has resigned himself to a life of misery. He feels powerless to change his fate. The guy is, however, somewhat obsessed with an idol group, whose casual, carefree cuteness and cheerful songs provide a fast escape.

His only friend is a short, somewhat chunky (certainly for manga standards) girl he’s known since childhood. However, she’s leaving soon for college, and she’s worried that the protagonist’s mental health will only deteriorate once he’s left behind. We learn about a prominent feature of their small town: a fabled spot on a bridge, where hundreds of years ago a couple of lovers jumped to their deaths. It ended up getting called “Lover’s Abyss”. It recently got featured in a popular novel, and some of its fans travel to this town in the boonies to visit the site.

As if his home life wasn’t ruinous enough, the protagonist has to endure having turned into the de facto gofer of a local gang leader, who was also his childhood bully. Worse yet, the protagonist’s mother, intending to relieve herself of her burden, has pleaded to the bully’s father, who runs a construction company, to hire her son so he can contribute to the household income, which will likely end up turning her son into a sort of slave not only for this bully but for his entire crew. The protagonist suspects that his mother knows he’s been bullied by that guy, and that she’s sacrificing his well-being for her own benefit.

During one of the runs to buy cigarettes for the gang leader, our protagonist deals with a new clerk at the convenience store. She refuses to sell him the cigs because he’s underage. Afterwards he witnesses this beautiful but aloof clerk handing some expired food to a homeless guy, who winks at the protagonist as he passes by. Then the protagonist realizes that the clerk is none other than his favorite member of the idol group with which he’s obsessed. He’s stunned. What the hell is this girl doing here? Why is she working as a clerk? How come she looks so despondent?

The protagonist reveals that he has recognized her. She makes him promise that he won’t tell anyone, and asks him to please show her around town, because she’s just moved there and is a bit lost. She ends up sitting on the back of his bicycle as he visits some local spots. The girl, who’s a few years older than him, gets the sense of how miserable he feels. They talk about the famous local spot for suicides, and as they stand on a bridge looking down at the river below, she offers the protagonist to kill themselves together.

From then on, at least until the end of the first volume, the story has become a psychological roller coaster. Why does this beautiful twenty-year-old, who had it all in a big city, want to die? Is she romantically interested in our hapless protagonist? Was that guy she met at the back of the convenience store truly a random homeless person she was helping out? The protagonist can’t understand this girl, but he doesn’t want to stay away from her, and the notion of jumping off the local bridge and freeing himself from a life of misery is becoming increasingly alluring.

The drawings and compositions set up well the somber, gloomy mood of this story. Whoever is in charge of drawing the scenery does a particularly good job. However, the main artist uses classic exaggerated expressions to add levity in certain moments (just a few, thankfully), but for this story they feel as out of place as they would be in Oshimi’s “Blood on the Tracks”. However, regarding the story, he does a great job setting up dramatic questions, and I feel in good hands.

Unfortunately I had to stop reading it on the train yesterday, as it features nudity. In particular a really nice pair of perky tits. So you might dislike this series if you are against drawn tits, I guess.

Review: ‘Tomo-chan is a Girl!’ by Fumita Yanagida

This is a review of the whole series.

The most endearing romantic comedy manga that I’ve read in a while. Our main couple are two emotionally stunted individuals who grew up competing and inflicting violence upon each other. As children, the guy often got the tingles for the titular Tomo person, but he repressed them, as he didn’t want to consider himself a homosexual. It took him until middle school to realize that his childhood friend was in fact a girl, but by then the damage was already done. Tomo is too wild, too much of a tomboy, and too generally uninterested in lovey-dovey stuff for the main guy to consider her a romantic prospect, although he doesn’t want to spend his time with anyone else.

The manga starts with both in high school. Tomo has become an extremely fit girl with uncomfortably large breasts. The guy has gotten buff from years of martial arts training in the hopes that one day he’d manage to defeat the titular Tomo. Most of the initial comedy comes from their inability to deal with their long-standing, repressed feelings for each other.

As the two remaining main characters we have a raven-haired, cynical and aloof girl who acts as Tomo’s confidant.

Also, a doll-like, mostly dumb, inexplicably British girl who bridges the difficult emotional issues of the rest of the cast with her big-breasted innocence (sort of like Chika Fujiwara from ‘Kaguya-sama: Love Is War’, but without the malice).

We meet a few memorable secondary characters. The British girl’s mother got pregnant at thirteen years old, is extremely rich, and cheerfully explains that she coddles and overprotects her daughter so she’ll never leave her side. Tomo’s mother is an older clone of herself, except married to a big oaf of a man who runs a dojo famous enough that the Yakuza is wary of its members; however, the guy can barely stare at his wife without fainting. One of my favorite “arcs” of the series comes from a pair of high schoolers who mistake Tomo for a romantic rival, but when they confront her, they quickly realize that they dared to intimidate someone who would eagerly send them to the hospital. They remain terrified of Tomo even after she takes upon herself to help them approach their romantic interest. Eventually, the two girls shift into admiring Tomo’s cool, manly demeanour, while regretting that she hadn’t been born with a dick.

For whatever reason, this series seemed to have been released on a page by page basis, with a fixed format: four stacked panels. An odd choice for a story that develops arcs for not only every main character, but for a few secondary ones as well. In any case, this is an almost entirely character-driven, consistently funny series that features well defined, contrasting personalities. I thought there was plenty more to squeeze out of these people, so it’s a bit of a shame that it has ended unambiguously.

Review: ‘Memories of Emanon’ by Shinji Kajio

A short story in manga format, about a smoking wench who goes around breaking people’s hearts, and who also retains the memories of her entire evolutionary line. So she says, anyways.

The tale is set in the late sixties. As the protagonist we have an alter ego of the author, a curious young guy who reads plenty of sci-fi.

He has boarded a big ship that will presumably end up in some Japanese port, and inside he comes across a mysterious, hippyish, beautiful young woman. He’s eager to get to know her, but as his opening he admonishes her for smoking, which annoys her. However, faced with the closeness of drunk old guys who are eager to ply her with liquor, she prods our protagonist to leave with her to get some fresh air, which will allow our hapless protagonist to get to know this girl.

Most of this story is about unveiling the concept: as far as Emanon (‘NONAME’ backwards) knows, she’s been reincarnated hundreds of millions of times, ever since she was a multicellular organism floating in the primordial soup. We still don’t know how that transfer works; when she dies, does her consciousness jump to another body? Is she reborn in her own offspring?

The protagonist has read enough sci-fi that he can come up with a few suggestions for why Emanon exists. The guy believes, assuming this beautiful gal isn’t lying, that her purpose must be to exist as a witness to human evolution, and possibly become the trigger for the next step once our species outgrows its brutal instincts.

The protagonist, being a young, red-blooded guy in the presence of a fascinating, beautiful girl who can carry a conversation about any obscure topic, is on the fast path towards falling in love. Will that lead to happiness, or to ending up haunted for the rest of his life?

This manga is short enough that you, whoever the hell you are supposed to be, should just grab a copy and read it. It’s good.

In the afterword, the author comments that he came up with Emanon back in the sixties, when he himself was travelling around for work in the big ship featured in the story. He daydreamed that one day he’d end up meeting another passenger who would turn out to be that kind of beautiful, mysterious girl, wearing the kind of fashion he was into, with whom he’d spend a few hours that he would remember forever.

Reality rarely blesses us in such ways; fortunately some people’s minds are strong enough to conjure up daydreams that allow their owners to forget for a while about life’s eternal disappointment.

Review: ‘Ultra-Gash Inferno’ by Suehiro Maruo

Four stars.

If there was such a thing as hell, and one of its inhabitants was able to render spontaneously his psychosexual nightmares into a manga format, something like this graphic novel would pop into existence. This manga is you-can’t-tell-people-you’re-reading-this disturbing. Although the collection contains a curious amount of eye-related incidents, it goes way beyond shoving eyeballs into vaginas, which is almost a joke in this post-Bataille world.

Most of the short stories come close to hallucinatory non-sequiturs, but the last one, about a midget who’s trying to seduce a beautiful woman left behind in post-war Japan along with her young son, is haunting me already. The author seems to have about as much faith in human beings as I do, and it’s always nice to come across a kindred spirit.

For those people interested in exploring their darkest impulses even if they risk realizing, “Fuck, I’m into this”, this one is a classic.

Review: ‘Chainsaw Man, Vol. 1’ by Tatsuki Fujimoto

Straight from my Goodreads profile.


While the first volume by itself is closer to four stars, I’ve read the first three already, and I’m hooked.

A brutal dark comedy set in an alternate modern world in which powerful, more or less sentient demons appear suddenly to cause mayhem, so the various societies have set up organized ways to hunt them down. The friendlier demons offer contracts to humans in exchange of boons, usually to gain superpowers that would allow that person to hunt down worse demons.

We don’t know any of these details as we are dropped into this story to follow an orphan whose pet is a dog demon with a chainsaw sticking out of its head. This kid’s dad got in debt with the Yakuza but then died, so the Yakuza are forcing the son to pay off the debt through murdering demons that presumably have a bounty on their head.

I was already enjoying the somewhat sloppy, but very expressive art style, but when the inciting incident hit, I got why this series has become one of the most popular ones: our protagonist, now a teenager, [spoiler] gets betrayed by his Yakuza handlers, who have made a deal with a demon: they murder the protagonist along with his pet demon. They chop him in pieces and throw him in a dumpster. But the kid, while he was still alive, had made a contract with his pet demon: it was free to take over his body once he died. The sentient demonic dog liked the kid well enough, so he resurrects the protagonist, physically takes over his heart, and turns him into a devilman, a cross between a human and a devil [/spoiler].

The protagonist becomes one of those extremely common cases in Japanese fiction in which he rides both worlds: the common world of humans and the special, conceptual world of this story. Whenever he can pull the cord that hangs from a hole in his chest, he transforms into a devilman with chainsaws coming out of his head and arms; along with his unstable nature, that turns him into a proficient killer.

We are introduced to the broader setting through meeting so far the most important person of an organization that hunts down devils: a beautiful, mysterious, poised young woman called Makima. She embraces the protagonist as he was coming down from his murderous rage, the first kind gesture any human being had for him, so he agrees to become this woman’s “dog”, who’ll kill whoever she orders him to.

The protagonist is my kind of guy: illiterate, half-wild, worried mainly about figuring out whether or not he’ll get to eat and sleep soundly that day, eager to kill to satisfy the first woman who was kind to him, and solely driven by his need to fondle some boobs. His ridiculousness, short-sightedness and general lack of care for whatever big plots may be cooking contrast with the human cast around him. I found this guy refreshing; the tremendously driven protagonists of other series often seem to know from the get-go that they are getting involved in several-seasons-long plots that will involve killing increasingly tougher enemies.

We also meet a fast favorite “devilman” partner: an even wilder young woman who calls herself Power and is contracted to a Blood Demon, which gives her the ability to conjure weapons out of her own blood. She’s crass, impulsive, a pathological liar, has two horns sticking out of her head, refuses to flush the toilet, and is so far solely driven by her need to rescue her cat.

I’ve already read the first three volumes. I hadn’t gotten this hooked on a manga series in a while. It’s dark and brutal, yet consistently funny. The author throws you into increasingly deranged and convoluted circumstances that you live through along with the protagonist and the other characters you get to care about.

The worldbuilding and the protagonist’s role in it are suspiciously similar to ‘Jujutsu Kaisen’, another tremendously popular series, but ‘Chainsaw Man’ contains the kind of brutal grittiness that I wished the other series contained (I ended up dropping it because I couldn’t take it as seriously as it wanted). Even the protagonist’s handler, a demure loner contracted to a canid demon, is virtually identical to his counterpart in ‘Jujutsu Kaisen’. As far as I’m concerned, this series does everything better except that it lacks Nobara Kugisaki.

Some of the best animators in the world are already working on the anime adaptation of this series, which will surely become a hit:

Don’t Google anything about this series. The author isn’t afraid to make you care about his characters only to kill them brutally a short time later. You gotta admire that kind of shit.

Review: ‘The Science of Storytelling’ by Will Storr

From time to time I post on Goodreads the reviews of books I’ve read, and some of those reviews may be suitable to appear in my personal blog or whatever this WordPress site is. I merely copy-pasted this text from that other site, but you might get something out of reading it (I doubt it).


Four and a half stars.

I used to be obsessed with reading books about writing techniques, surely because I believed there was a correlation between learning the right techniques and me being able to avoid having to work full-time at some office. After reality proved that hope to be a delusion (reality tends to do shit like that), I stopped reading such kinds of books for a while.

In any case, I learned I could classify them into three categories:

1) Those that don’t believe in rules and that want to inspire you to write. They love expressions like “writer’s block” as the reason why you can’t push scenes out. I found such books mostly useless, but I guess they help those who want to brute-force their way into writing a novel. Or at the very least, the kind words contained in such books comfort those writers as they inevitably end up stuck in a ditch.

2) Those that have studied many stories that worked, and have synthesized sets of rules or suggestions so you can build your own stories. They range from Campbell’s mythical stuff to random fiction writers of which I had never heard, but that have produced useful lists that probably improve your stories.

3) Those that realize that human brains are organic machines that respond in somewhat predictable, researchable ways to stimuli, so if a writer wants to capture the reader’s attention, surprise them or in general affect them reliably, there might be scientific studies out there that suggest how to do so. My favorite of this category might be Lisa Cron’s ‘Wired for Story’, but I can’t recall any other at the moment.

Although you can’t go wrong with many books of the second category, I prefer the latter. This book I’m reviewing contains plenty of references to scientific studies or to books on popular science to justify its conclusions.

In general, the author advocates for the following:

-One’s stories should be built around a main character’s fatal flaw. The book says plenty of interesting stuff about how to build those fatal flaws (the author calls them ‘sacred flaws’) and how they should affect the story.
-An inciting incident should kick off the story with unexpected change tailored to a main character’s fatal flaw, which causes that person to react in unexpected ways.
-The plot’s main goal should be a result of that main character’s reaction to the inciting incident.
-Instead of going on about acts like most books that get into plotting, the author considers that you should focus on figuring out different stages of that main character’s development, in which he or she is a “different” person.
-The story’s ending should answer definitely whether or not that main character has outgrown his or her fatal flaw, or if it has grown ten times worse.
-Character growth shouldn’t be limited to the main character. The writer should explore how the interactions between all the main characters cause them to grow (this is a contrast with other books that suggest that the rest of the cast should remain steadfast to avoid stepping on the main character’s journey of growth).
-Likely other stuff I can’t remember.

I would have rated the book five stars if some of its points didn’t get repetitive. For example, it brings up studies that show that our ancient brains make our decisions for us, and the parts of our brains that evolved later mostly make up a story of what has bubbled up to its department, the same way it tries to build a coherent narrative out of dreams. In general we just delude ourselves into thinking that we hold certain beliefs (religious, political, tastes, and about the people we love) for logical reasons. We are little else than filthy monkeys with delusions of grandeur, whose tribal impulses, that have changed little in millions of years, will inevitably fuck us all up. Such monkey-brained loons shouldn’t be trusted with the fate of thousands or millions, and to be honest we likely shouldn’t be writing books either.