Sunday, April 21, 2013

Gamerz Heaven (manga, vol. 2) by Maki Murakami

Gamerz Heaven has action, comedy, and fantasy elements. It was licensed by ADV Manga, which no longer exists.

Synopsis:

The previous volume ended with Kaito and Nata facing the final boss. Things don't look good for Kaito, even after all his friends suddenly join his party. Fortunately, Kaito notices that the final boss is actually a fake. He defeats her and the group moves on.

Their primary goal, at the moment, is keeping others from identifying Nata as the Navigator. They stop at a cosplay/item shop to pick up some equipment, only to learn that the shop uses a bartering system. They have nothing to barter, so they agree to be the shopkeeper's errand boys and deliver a package for him. This soon lands them in trouble, as they run into Tada and his buddies, the bullies from Kaito's school in the real world. Their boss turns out to be Itsuki, the girl who, in the real world, secretly hated Kaito and directed the bullies to act against him. Itsuki is the new area boss.

Due to Kaito's stupidity, it's not long before Itsuki and her minions figure out that Nata is the Navigator. Strangely enough, Itsuki doesn't seem all that interested in taking Nata. All she really wants to do is kill Kaito. What no one realizes, though, is that Rush and a new character, Lost Soul, are watching everything. Lost Soul kills Itsuki for being a traitor (i.e. for not being interested in capturing Nata) and, soon after that, things go from bad to worse as the entire city is wiped out as though it never existed.

Review:

I had a lot of fun with the first volume of this series. This volume wasn't as good.

There were quite a few characters I didn't care about. Only one of the three bullies was at all memorable, although I suppose all three were necessary for the “ultimate form” joke. The second girl in Kaito's group (I can't remember her name, but it wasn't his friend Kawashima) seemed like a combination of Ren (dry sense of humor) and Kawashima (fanboy bait; ability to fight enemies better than Kaito) in terms of the purpose she served, but both those characters were more interesting than her.

In the previous volume, Itsuki was shown quietly orchestrating Kaito's bullying and eventual expulsion, so I thought her motives in the real world might turn out to have some link to world in Gamerz Heaven. The whole “she torments Kaito because she has an unrecognized crush on him” thing was kind of...lame. Although I did laugh when Kaito said that anyone he talks to is his friend. Kaito's definition of “friend” is extremely broad. I wasn't attached enough to Itsuki to feel sad about her death. All I really felt was frustration that a potentially interesting storyline was fumbled so badly.

Rush's reappearance was also less-than-satisfying. He seemed to pop in and out of the story entirely according to Murakami's whims, disappearing after getting his butt kicked in the beginning of the volume (to be fair, he hadn't expected Kaito's friends to drop in like that) and then suddenly reappearing with Lost Soul in tow before disappearing again after revealing that (maybe) he wasn't really one of the game's big villains. Although Ren seemed to perk up at the mention of Rush's name in the previous volume, I don't remember there being any sign that he knew him or recognized him in this one.

My favorite parts of the volume were probably the cosplay/item shop and Lost Soul's appearance. The cosplay shop bit played on what I consider to be one of this series' strengths, the RPG/gaming humor. It was better and funnier than Murakami's brief trip into tentacle rape humor, which I could have done without. Lost Soul got the mystery aspect of Gamerz Heaven back on track. Nata had no data on him, so I'd love to know who he is (underneath all his gear, he looks an awful lot like an evil Nata). I was also intrigued by the brief, shadowy revelation, at the end of the volume, of yet another villain. Whoever that guy is, he's strong enough to have Rush in chains. I'm going to bet that he's the guy who designed Gamerz Heaven in the first place.

All in all, I was a little disappointed with this volume. I'd still read the next one, if it were possible for me to do so – I don't know if it was ever released in English, but it doesn't look like it's available from any libraries, and the only copies of volume 3 that I can find for sale are either in Japanese or incredibly expensive. I suppose this is where my Gamerz Heaven reading will have to end. The one good thing about this volume being so disappointing is that I'm less upset about not getting to read further than I might otherwise have been.

Extras:

Again, there are a couple pages of translator's notes. There's also a page in which Murakami adds censorship pixels to random panels from Gamerz Heaven, completely changing how those scenes could be interpreted. The result is...dirty.

Read-alikes and Watch-alikes:
  • .hack//SIGN (anime TV series) - The .hack//whatever series is pretty huge, and I have no idea which one is the best to start with. I've seen two of the anime series, and .hack//SIGN was the best of the two, so that's what I'm recommending. If you like the idea of gamers being able to walk around in immersive virtual reality worlds, you might want to give this a try.
  • Dragon Drive (manga) by Ken'ichi Sakura - Another action-filled series focused on gaming. In this case, players are given dragons that get stronger as they win battles against other players' dragons. As in Gamerz Heaven, the protagonist is pretty weak when he starts the game. I've written about the first volume.
  • Sword Art Online (anime TV series) - I haven't seen this yet, but it might be a good one for those who'd like another "characters living in a virtual reality world" series. The only way to leave the game in this series is by beating it. An additional note: Sword Art Online fans are rabid. As a reviewer, they scare me almost as much as Fate/Zero fans.

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