What is Seven Seas?
No, it’s not the company releasing Sinbad’s Adventure (at least, not yet). Founded in 2004, Seven Seas releases about 20 new volumes a month. If the name flew under your radar like it did mine, you may not even realize how many titles they get out until you start checking your shelves for the little ship logo. And just what kind of manga would that be? Well… everything, really. Seven Seas’ catalog is a smorgasbord (sushi bar? country buffet?) of titles: shoujo, LGBTQ+, slice of life, classic works, fantasy, and ecchi are just a sample of genres available, spanning manga, light novel, and even original English-language (OEL) manga. Even with the diversity in titles, Seven Seas seems to have an eye for picking up stuff that’s already beloved by the manga community, or will be loved. So while I figure out where I’m fitting a new bookshelf in my house, how about we talk about what came out in December?
Thanks to the magic of plot devices an animator’s work computer going on the fritz, the main character of a cult magical girl anime, Pretty Angel Nirbrave, has entered the real world. Here, she fights not the evil organization trying to destroy the world, but bill collectors. Clearly, she got the raw end of the deal. (Spoiler: the bill collector won.)
After having read this, I just can’t get over how deceptive the cover is. The shot of a drawn NirBrave looking pensive, set against a photographed background, gives you no indication of what a trip this manga is. From NirBrave’s literally-scripted first introduction, the manga wastes no time poking loving fun at magical girl anime and the ridiculousness of its own concept. And while NirBrave often looks as nice as she does on the cover, the art has no issues with shifting to madcap or outright parody for a laugh.
As a foil to the gallant angel/selfish jerk of NirBrave, we have Mayuri, a girl otaku who serves as both narrator and relatable character to the audience. This pairing creates a sort of girl/girl buddy manga reminiscent of The Odd Couple, but with explosions and visual gags. I cannot overstate how much I love the idea to make this a girl-driven story, which allows it to escape some cliches, such as obvious romance trappings and the same tired ecchi jokes. Yes, there is some ecchi in this, but it’s not obnoxiously male-oriented like it tends to be in straight boy driven manga. One of my favorite scenes involves a NirBrave panty shot because she’s manspreading on a park bench in exactly the way a pretty angel doesn’t, and it’s hilarious to me because I so have sat like that before.
Captain Harlock: Dimensional Voyage
Seven Seas loves bringing us some classic manga, but this technically isn’t that (that’s the Classic Collection). Captain Harlock: Dimensional Voyage is a reboot of the original story following Tadashi Daiba, a young man who joins up with the famous pirate’s crew to help defend Earth from an alien invasion. The famous Leiji Matsumoto is still overseeing the story, but the art duties have been passed onto the next generation in Kouiti Shimaboshi. Kouiti faithfully preserves Leiji Matsumoto’s character designs (I love Tadashi’s young handsome look and Tochiro Oyama’s goofy design in particular). At the same time, he brings a quality and detail to the art that brings Harlock into the twenty-first century. The first volume of this retelling does a good job of setting the stage with both the impending conflict against the Mazon and the backstory of Tadashi and Harlock’s meeting. It starts with using a journalist seeking to understand Harlock while narrating Earth’s dire straits (spoiler: she’s seeking to understand him because she’s a Mazon, which is a shame, because I was enjoying her character).
For those looking for subtle stories with gray areas and moral ambiguity: it’s not what Leiji does. His body of work, influenced by the post-war Japan he grew up in, feature heroes where men are men, women are beautiful (and often dangerous), and unfettered bravery is the only antidote to a world poisoned by hedonism and apathy. In this, Captain Harlock: Dimensional Voyage pits its hard-working, hard-drinking, straightforward cast of heroes against both the corruption and carelessness of the Earth government and the treachery of the female alien Mazon. I’m not really fond of the gender roles that tend to be enforced by Matsumoto’s “a man must be a man” outlook and his female enemies (one of the reasons I didn’t stick with Space Battleship Yamato), but Captain Harlock: Dimensional Voyage attempts to temper this not only with active female characters, but also contrasting Harlock against worthless men. I also like that they’ve put off some of the overpowering perfection of Harlock’s character by choosing to focus on Tadashi Daiba and putting the crew up against seemingly insurmountable odds. Just like the art is both true to Leiji’s style and brings it up with a higher quality, I’m curious to see if the plot itself can achieve both staying true to the original Harlock story and improving on it.
The Count of Monte Cristo
Edmond Dantés is accused of a crime he didn’t commit and sentenced to life in an inescapable prison. If he stayed there, we wouldn’t have much of a story–not only does he escape, but he comes into a massive fortune. Thus begins the exploits of the Count of Monte Cristo, who begins a grand scheme to enact revenge upon the former friends that put him in jail. This extra-thick book is both adapted and drawn by Ena Moriyama. The art is nice and pretty, if not too distinctive, but I think it’s really the writing where this work shines.
Though I’ve done a fair share of classic novel reading, The Count of Monte Cristo was one I missed–in part because it’s a massive work where even some English translations are abridgments. So the choice to adapt this work into a single-volume manga is… ambitious, to say the least. But with great risk comes great reward. The Count of Monte Cristo succeeds at making a complex story accessible by focusing in on the core theme of revenge… and forgiveness. The first few chapters detail out the depths of Edmond’s despair, as well as providing the background for both his knowledge and his wealth. From there, it becomes a story of karmic comeuppance as the betrayers began to have the walls close in on them. Edmond, who has lost everything, teeters on the edge of darkness as he focuses on his revenge. Indeed, it could very easily have been a story about a man turned into a monster by rage. But The Count of Monte Cristo manages to turn away from the utterly nihilistic ending and become a story of hope, and boy, I appreciate that. For those that want to introduce themselves to a classic, or those that just want a good story, this is worthwhile.
Record of Lodoss War: The Grey Witch
Most anime fans of the 90s will have at least heard the name Record of Lodoss War, if they haven’t actually seen it. Although several short animes and manga volumes were released during that time, the original light novel they’re based on has never made it over here in English–well, until last December, anyway. Record of Lodoss War: The Grey Witch celebrates the 30th anniversary of the book that started it all with a gold-printed hardcover that features a gallery of selected illustrations.
But what about the plot? Record of Lodoss War: The Grey Witch is the answer if you’ve ever had the question “what would it be like if Tolkien ran a Dungeons and Dragons campaign?” This is very classic fantasy with many of the hallmarks of both Lord of the Rings and tabletop RPGs. (As a matter of fact, Record of Lodoss War is based on a tabletop RPG.) So it comes as no surprise that a group of adventurers with various skills (the warrior Parm, the cleric Etoh, the thief Woodchuck, etc.) go traveling on a quest that ends up dropping them in the middle of an emerging war between the countries of Lodoss. At times, this leads into cliche: of course the elf and the dwarf hate each other, of course goblins and dark elves are universally, irredeemably evil. Among the cast, the ones I found most interesting were Woodchuck, an older character who’s spent twenty two years behind bars and is trying to make up for his lost youth, and the titular Grey Witch, Karla, who has some surprising and actually convincing reasons behind her scheming, far beyond a Sauron-esque “everything the light touches belongs to me” motivation.
The writing itself is not technically very strong, which I think is a feature of the original text rather than the translation. The head hopping can get a little too quick at times, and the narration sometimes wanders with side observations and telling rather than showing. And yet, I felt compelled to follow the story all the way through. There’s some kind of je ne sais quoi Record of Lodoss War: The Grey Witch captures, in the vein of books like the Harry Potter series or the Dan Brown books, where the author and translator have figured out how to tell a good story.
The works I’ve talked about here are actually just a taste of Seven Seas’ ever expanding catalog. Other works that came out in December:
- Absolute Duo volume 2 by Takumi Hiiragiboshi & Shinichirou Nariie: This variety of magical academy story involves a main character whose weapon of the soul is… a shield. No worries, I’m sure he still attracts all the ladies!
- Akashic Records of Bastard Magical Instructor volume 2 by Hitsuji Tarou & Tsunemi Aosa: Female magic user gets to be taught by an incompetent male teacher. It’s a harem series, so he must have some redeeming qualities, right? Reminds me a bit of Denpa Kyoushi/Ultimate Otaku Teacher.
- Arpeggio of Blue Steel volume 12 by Ark Performance: A flooded Earth fights back against an alien invasion with submarines that can turn into girls. A bit Outlaw Star, a bit Martian Successor Nadesico.
- Dance in the Vampire Bund Omnibus volume 7 [Bund II: Scarlet Order 1-4] by Nozomu Tamaki: An omnibus release of the NYT Bestselling manga about a special district in Tokyo where vampires live, and their attempts to coexist with the human Tokyo.
- Dragonar Academy volume 13 by Shiki Mizuchi & Ran: Harem comedy, but with dragons.
- Grimgar of Fantasy and Ash volume 4 by Ao Jyumonji & Eiri Shirai: An isekai (other world) light novel about a group of people dropped into another world who aren’t given phenomenal cosmic powers, and thus have to struggle to survive. Not to be confused with the Grimgar of Fantasy and Ash manga being released by Yen Press–same story, different formats.
- Magical Girl Apocalypse volume 13 by Kentaro Sato: Reminiscent of Fort of Apocalypse and Deadman Wonderland, Magical Girl Apocalypse unleashes a murderous magical girl upon an ordinary high school.
- Magical Girl Site volume 4 by Kentaro Sato: A spinoff of Magical Girl Apocalypse, Magical Girl Site grants traumatized girls magical powers and then sets them against each other.
- Magika Swordsman and Summoner volume 8 by Mitsuki Mihara & MonRin: Seven Seas does love their magical academy harem, don’t they? This one centers around summoning and the sole boy in a girls’ school.
- Monster Girl Doctor volume 1 by Yoshino Origuchi & z-ton: A slice of life light novel involving, you guessed it, a doctor who treats monster girls.
- Not Lives volume 7 by Wataru Karasuma: Boy ends up sucked into an online MMO and must play dangerous games in order to survive. Part .hack//Sign, part Yu-Gi-Oh (the part without the cards).
- Pandora in the Crimson Shell: Ghost Urn volume 9 by Masamune Shirow & Rikudou Koushi: Created by the men behind Ghost in the Shell and Excel Saga (now there’s a pairing!), this is about cyborg girls who team up to fight crime.
- Pollyanna by Eleanor H. Porter & Yukawa Kazuna: Pollyanna turns frowns upside down by sheer force of personality. This is not an adaptation or a full manga, but a reprint of the classic children’s novel, with the addition of a few illustrations.
- Species Domain volume 4 by Noro Shunsuke: Being an elf changeling in high school is not a big deal. Claiming you can do magic to appear more elf-like might be. At least, until the elf girl meets a boy who uses apps to do magic, solving her magic-less problems(?).
There were also two releases under their adult/mature line, Ghost Ship:
- To Love-Ru Omnibus 1 by Kentaro Yabuki & Saki Hasemi: A typical “boy meets girl” story, where by girl we mean a (naked) alien princess and by meet we mean that due to a cultural misunderstanding, boy and alien princess become engaged. The casts of Tenchi Muyo and Urusei Yatsura can sympathize. A multi-volume release containing the original volumes 1 and 2.
- To Love-Ru Darkness volume 1 by Saki Hasemi & Kentaro Yabuki: The sequel series to To Love-Ru, in which more (often alien) girls try to get into the boy’s pants.
December’s releases give a pretty good example of what I meant when I said that Seven Seas’ genres are all over the place. Even if none of the ones I talked about appeal to you as much as they did to me, chances are you can find something in December’s releases that does.