Noob Reviews: Sword Art Online Manga

Welcome to my third post in the N00b Reviews series!

Yep another post, written by none other than the resident noob here at Cosmic Anvil. After looking at Shingeki no Kyojin last week I am going to be looking at Sword Art Online (SAO) in this post. Similarly to Shingeki no Kyojin I also watched the anime series of SAO prior to reading the manga.

First, let me give you a little back story as to why I watched SAO in the first place. For those reading this who don’t know me, since having gone to university and being a part of the video game society there, I have developed a strong interest in video gaming. And as you’ve probably guessed by its title, the theme of video games plays a big part in this series.

Kirito & Asuna

Kirito & Asuna


Summary:

Sword Art Online was written by Kawahara Reki and illustrated by Hazuki Tsubasa. It tells the story of ‘Sword Art Online’ (SAO) a virtual reality MMORPG (Massively Multiplayer Online Role-Playing Game) released in 2022. The game uses a virtual reality helmet called ‘Nerve Gear’ to simulate the gamers’ senses through signals sent straight to their brains. This allows players to control their avatars in the game using only their minds.

On the release of the game, players log into SAO only to discover they do not have the ability to log out. They are then told by Akihiko Kayaba – the game’s creator – that they will need to complete the 100 floor tower to return to the real world again. They are also informed that if they die in game they also die outside the game as well. Survival suddenly becomes imperative in the digital world.

The main story arc focuses on the protagonist Kirito – a beta tester of SAO  – who sets up as a solo player in order to conquer the game alone.  Along the way he becomes friends with Asuna, a mysterious heroine and sub leader of the infamous guild “Knights of the Blood”. The two eventually team up both romantically and in battle to defeat the game.


First Impressions:

Looking at the art style of SAO it is quite ‘cutesy’ looking, which lightens the dark nature of the series (being trapped in a game that could kill you).  I also think Kawahara Reki wrote Kirito to be relatable to the audience and almost a stereotypical archetype of a video gamer (Keeps to themselves, awkward, and of course, competitive).

SAO cuteSAO cute 2


What I liked:

I really liked the way the characters had relatable traits and we wanted them to succeed in their mission to fight against the game and get back to the real world.  Not only did the characters have relatable traits, but there were awkward relatable scenes as well. You’ll see what I mean here….

SAO embarrass SAO embarrass 2 SAO embarrass 3

I also liked that the fact that whilst they were in the game, the distance between reality and the virtual world was blurred, for example the fact they still needed to eat and sleep in the game, and the skills gained also varied from everything between combat and domestic.


 What I disliked:

I really can’t think of anything that I particularly disliked about the manga. Whether that’s because I am already biased to really liking the anime (one of the top rated shows on my Netflix account) or the characters. In general there was nothing that stood out to me as bad.


Another WTF moment?!:

In chapter 8 I discovered a weird moment at the beginning of the chapter that made reference to the anime. This was a bit of a WTF because it made me question whether the anime was happening within the games’ universe or if something  had been added in by the translators to remind readers about the anime. (See the pages below below and make up your own mind).

SAO anime SAO anime2 SAO anime3


How did it compare to the anime:

The main arc of the Sword Art Online manga focused heavily on the relationship between Kirito and Asuna and skipped a lot of the long battle scenes we see in the anime. I did also notice after reading a few chapters of the Sword Art Online: Progressive manga that there was more Asuna backstory and more information was revealed in the anime earlier on in the series, such as the meeting with the top SAO players. Also, a major part of the anime that was skipped in the original manga chapters was the Yui arc that focuses on the NPC (Non playable character) AI within the game that almost becomes a surrogate daughter to Kirito and Asuna.


 Overall Opinion:

Whilst I did enjoy reading the manga, overall I think I preferred the anime to the manga as it was a lot more action-packed and visually interesting. Once again, I am being sucked into wanting to keep reading more of the series. From what I’ve researched there are four main stories of the manga (SAO, SAO: Fairy Dance, SAO: Progressive and SAO: Girls Ops). I think I will probably read the other stories at some point, when I get round to it!


Written by marketing whizzkid Jess Hardcastle.

Check out Cosmic Anvil’s original manga series ‘Age of Revolution’ in print here and digitally on Comixology.


An In-Depth Review of Avengers: Age of Ultron (50% Spoiler Free!)

There’s snow on the ground, in the trees, in the air – snow everywhere. The sky is grey and the landscape scrubbed white by winter. We see men in black running; hear shots being fired; words being shouted in a foreign language. Flashes of familiarity rush past – Hawkeye’s arrows; Thor’s lightening; Captain America’s shield; Black Widow’s guns; Hulk smashing; and Iron Man whizzing in and out of view. It seems like confusion, but as they weave and duck in and out of each other’s way a sense of organised chaos begins to emerge, and these seemingly disparate heroes are drawn closer and closer together until they suddenly assemble as one and leap into a beautifully choreographed slow-mo (money) shot.

Iron Man gets the first line: ‘SHIT!’

This is how Avengers: Age of Ultron begins – with a bang, and the pace rarely let’s up from that point to the end. In fact, you may have to run at superhuman speed to keep up with it.

For those who have yet to see it, I will keep this first half of the review relatively spoiler-free, and then head into some major spoiler territory later on to discuss the finer points of the Avengers: Assemble sequel, including how it has laid the ground for spin-offs and further sequels.


Synopsis

 Following the creation of the Avengers Initiative and their success defending New York from an alien invasion lead by Loki (Thor’s Frost-Giant/Asgardian adopted brother), the team are on the hunt for Loki’s pokey-stick which has fallen into the hands of Hydra.

Loki pokey stick

The Loki pokey-stick.

The Avengers successfully obtain the Loki pokey-stick from Baron Von Strucker (manacle-wearing nefarious dude heading up Hydra) despite the efforts of the super-powered Maximoff twins: speedster Quicksilver (who has also appeared in Fox’s X-Men: Days of Future Past) and his sister the Scarlet Witch who possesses telekinesis and reality-manipulation powers. These two are pissed at Tony Stark as his tech was responsible for killing their parents, and gained their powers through surviving Hydra’s twisted experiments.

Twincest, anybody?

Twincest, anybody?

Back at Avengers tower, Tony convinces Dr. Bruce Banner to help him use the gem contained in the Loki pokey-stick to realise his dream of creating artificial intelligence so that the Earth can be better protected against the threat of alien invasion. He names the project ‘Ultron’. Banner reluctantly agrees, but when Ultron is “born” he attacks Jarvis (Tony’s computer system) and then the off-guard Avengers, interpreting his “mission” from Tony to bring “peace in our time” as the extinction of mankind so that Earth can evolve into something better. “All that shall remain will be metal”.

Ultron: Cover Girl.

Ultron: Cover Girl.

To aid his cause, Ultron recruits the Maximoff twins; equips himself with the strongest metal on Earth (Vibranium) and even decides to create life – the Vision – a more biologically composed version of himself powered by the gem from the Loki pokey-stick.

The Avengers finally track him down to a small city called Sokovia, where Ultron’s plan to destroy the Earth culminates in a difficult moral conundrum for the team: Do they sacrifice the lives of a few for the lives of many?


What does the film do well?

 The biggest question for any sequel is whether it matches up or surpasses the original, and considering just how successful Avengers Assemble was both critically and commercially, this question must have been making director Joss Whedon really sweat during the film’s entire production. Short answer? Yes, it definitely matches up to the quality of the first film and I think some of the audience may say that it even surpasses it. The strongest points of Assemble – a dynamic team made up of distinctive well-written characters kicking butt and snapping jokes – is replicated in Age of Ultron to the same degree of success and entertainment. The difference this time around being that with their group dynamic already established, no time needs to be wasted on introductions and sizing each other up. The pace is full-throttle, the stakes are high, and you’re never quite sure which is more fun: the gang beating the crap out of each other or getting drunk and trying to lift Thor’s hammer (not an innuendo).

Thor Hammer

Totes worthy.

Beyond the explosions, dick jokes, bromance, and Tony Stark’s excellent sunglasses collection, the introduction of artificial intelligence to the Marvel cinematic universe sparks some heated and emotional debates between the team about responsibility, scientific ethics, the ‘greater good’, and complicated parallels between the monstrous and the heroic. Considering this, it is especially fitting that the cyborgian being ‘Vision’ is finally gifted his life by the lightening strike of Thor’s hammer, deliberately invoking the most famous of all artificially made creatures – Frankenstein’s monster.

During the battle for Loki’s pokey-stick at the start of the film, Scarlet Witch uses her reality manipulating mojo to mess with Iron Man’s head and bring to life his greatest fears. In his vision, he sees his fellow Avengers dead and the Earth laid open to an incoming alien invasion that he is powerless to prevent. “We create the things we fear,” Ultron monologues later on. Not only does Scarlet Witch put the fear of God in Tony Stark, but also she allows him to take the gem in the Loki-pokey stick. Does she see a bit of Dr. Frankenstein in Stark and hopes that he will create a monster of his own? It’s not quite clear.


What doesn’t the film do well?

 Let’s get nitpicky. Age of Ultron is a solid and character-led action romp and I have little complaints about it, but I did find a few small things to gripe about concerning Ultron. Ultron, as a follow up to fan-favourite Loki, has some big Asgardian shoes to fill. Does he fill them? Well, nearly. Ultron’s first appearance in corporeal form is a limping, skeletal robot, and dripping with oil – as though he really has been birthed from some sort of artificial womb. Very creepy. The next glimpse of him is even more sinister; as he sits alone in an abandoned church, draped in holy cloth and philosophising to Quicksilver and Scarlet Witch, he definitely sends out some cool Dr. Doom vibes (the Fantastic Four’s arch nemesis and perhaps Marvel’s most melodramatic of villains).

Ultron on his Throne

Age of DOOM.

However, as Ultron’s character develops – and the more he tries to distinguish himself from his baby-daddy Tony Stark – the more like wise-cracking Stark he sounds. Seeing as he essentially copied and pasted a large part of Stark’s personality, this makes sense. After all, if Stark did create what he fears, his narcissism means that he fears himself most. Ultron is all the worst parts of his personality. But, personally I wanted more psychopath and less jokes as the comedy kind of lessened his menace.

My other little gripe with Ultron is a mild spoiler, so you may want to skip this paragraph if you don’t want to hear any. Without revealing too much, Black Widow becomes Ultron’s prisoner for a short time in the second act. Whilst imprisoned by him, she is able to alert Hawkeye to Ultron’s location, and is then able to escape. There’s one big problem with this: Why did Ultron even imprison her in the first place? Why didn’t he kill her? His first directive – before global destruction – is to destroy the Avengers. He has one right in front of him… and doesn’t kill her. If he wanted her to draw the Avengers into a trap, then why didn’t he kill her once her purpose was served? It seems a little sloppy for a supremely intelligent robot. If anyone can offer up an explanation I’d be happy to hear it.


MAJOR SPOILERS AHEAD!

 If you’ve seen the film already, or if you’re okay with spoilers, then keep reading. If not, STOP. You’ve been warned.

Right, for those still reading, let’s discuss some finer points of the story and uncover some of the teasers dropped for Infinity War, Civil War, and other upcoming Marvel films that may or may not be about wars.


 Black Widow & Bruce Banner

Black Widow and Hulk

What is love, baby don’t hurt me… No seriously, don’t hurt me plz.

 Who’d have thought it, right? I mean, these two? The pairing up of Widow and Banner is a bold step away from the continuity of the comics, but provides a clear point of separation between them and Marvel’s cinematic universe, which I think is necessary. For the comic book fans scratching their heads at Widow and Hulk’s compatibility, the film again uses its central theme of the monstrous twinned with the heroic as an explanation. At Hawkeye’s safehouse, Bruce tries to dissuade Natasha from pursuing a romantic relationship with him, reminding her of the green-skinned danger she could be in. She in turn reveals to him that she too harbours a ‘monstrous’ secret. During her training as an assassin she was sterilised in order to also sterilise any empathy that may make her less efficient in her murderous profession. As a woman who cannot have children, she implies that she too feels less than human, and seeing her interact with Hawkeye’s children so affectionately brings this pain to the surface.

Hawkeye’s loving and naturally created family also provides a stark contrast to the man-made monstrosity of Ultron grown in a lab by two “mad scientists”. As the AI genre always dictates, meddling with the natural order of things produces wholly unnatural children.


Infinity War: Part 1 & 2 (2018 & 2019)

Avengers Infinity Wars

 THIS is what Marvel has been building towards since the end of Phase One and throughout Phase Two. To cut to the chase, the infinity gems are super powerful on a cosmic level, and when collected together form the infinity gauntlet, which the maniacal Titan Thanos (the big-chinned pink dude first seen in Avengers Assemble) is looking to possess for universal annihilation. For a comprehensive summary on which gem has appeared in which film so far, check out this article on Screen Rant.

In Age of Ultron, we get the first name drop for the infinity gems from the beautiful bearded mouth of Thor. After Scarlet Witch gives Thor a scary vision of a dark Asgardian brothel (?) complete with creepy dancing girls and a blind Heimdall, Thor also glimpses a red face for a split second. He decides to take time out from the main plot to visit his old drinking buddy Dr Selvig, who takes him to a mystical pool (yes, this really happens) that enables Thor to see his vision again.

Thor

You mind doing that scene again but slower, Chris?

Meanwhile, nerd-mates Tony Stark and Bruce Banner decide to mess with the natural order of things once more and put the not dead Jarvis into the bio-tech hybrid body Ultron has been creating for himself. Just as Captain America, Scarlet Witch, Quicksilver and Hawkeye arrive to shut the fun down, Thor storms (literally) through the ceiling to bring the body to life with his lightening, having ascertained that the face he saw in his vision was The Vision. At the centre of the Vision’s power – and forehead – is the gem from the Loki pokey stick. Whether this gem is an infinity gem or not is kind of up to debate at the moment, especially since the gems’ colours have changed in translation from page to screen, but seeing as Loki used it to take control of people’s minds previously, it seems to be a safe bet that it’s the Mind gem.

Vision

Ummmm.

Then there’s Thanos’ little cameo in the post-credits scene. This is the most intriguing Infinity Wars teaser of the film. We see Thanos reaching out towards the gauntlet, pulling it over his fist, and uttering: “Fine. I’ll do it myself.”

WHAT?!

Was Thanos in control this whole time?? I mean, Thor does mention that he suspects someone has been “pulling the strings” when he explains what the infinity gems are. But if so, what has Thanos even been controlling? Could it have been that strangely fortuitous moment when the formula for creating Ultron just magically solved itself the second Banner and Tony left the lab? Or maybe it was the moment that Scarlet Witch decided to let Tony take the Loki pokey-stick? Or is his pawns failing him in Guardians of the Galaxy? I NEED TO KNOW MARVEL.


Civil War (2016)

Civil War

 Those not familiar with the comics would have probably missed any Civil War hints, but for the eagle-eyed (and eared) fans, there were some palpable undercurrents of what is to come nestled in the dialogue. Most notably, the existing tension between Captain America and Iron Man resurfaces more than once as they clash on some fundamental ethical issues surrounding Stark’s way of doing things. This is essential for the prelude to Civil War, which pits Cap and Iron Man squarely against each other upon the introduction of the Superhero Registration Act.

Plus, given the mass destruction that is dealt by the team to various miscellaneous Asian and East European cities, it’s not a jump to expect that public opinion will start to turn sour towards the self-proclaimed ‘heroes’ that have essentially been cleaning up their own messes, and the registration act seeming more and more imminent to curve their activities.


Black Panther (2018)

Black Panther

The most obvious hints at the Black Panther film was the visit to Wakanda – home of the Panther – and the name check for Vibranium, the strongest metal on Earth that makes up both Cap’s shield and Ultron’s armour.

But I have reason to suspect that there was originally supposed to be a lot more featured from Wakanda than the final cut of the film gave us. Cast your memory back to the trailers for Age of Ultron and you may remember a shot of what appeared to be a woman disrobing in front of the mystic pool that Thor took a dip in to go down memory lane. This woman appeared to be African, and many assumed she was Wakandian. This entire scene was interestingly nowhere to be seen in the cut of Age of Ultron that I saw here in the UK.

Woman in the Cave

Who dat?

One plausible explanation is that Black Panther was originally going to fulfil the important role that Spider-Man plays in the Civil War story, but after Marvel retrieved the rights back from Sony for the web-slinger, Whedon could have been forced to take some Black Panther content out at the last minute as it was no longer important to establish his presence strongly. But that’s just a theory… A comic book movie theory. (Sorry MatPat, I couldn’t resist.)


Written by Hannah Collins. Check out her own blog on pop culture and gender representation here.

For original manga-inspired comics, head to the Cosmic Anvil website and Comixology.

N00b Reviews: Shingeki no Kyojin

Welcome to the second post in my N00b Reviews series! 

Today I will be reviewing the Shingeki no Kyojin (Attack on Titan) manga, which  I chose after having watched the first series of the anime.

Last time in my Fairy Tail review, I mentioned being confused in regards to how you actually read manga, but I think I’ve finally sussed it out! It’s from right to left rather than left to right as is with Western books or magazines… Such a Noob 😐


Summary:

Shingeki no Kyojin is a shōnen fantasy manga written and illustrated by Hajime Isayama. It is set in a world where humanity lives inside walled cities due to their fear of roaming Titans (huge humanoid creatures). Very little is known about the Titans apart from the fact they seem to enjoy eating humans for no apparent reason.

attack on titan anime

Fee, Fi, Fo, YUM.

The story focuses on a group of three childhood friends – Eren Yeager, Mikasa Ackerman and Armin Arlert. After their section of the city gets attacked by an abnormal Titan (a Titan who is large and stronger than normal Titans) and Eren’s mother is graphically devoured, Eren vows to avenge her death by joining the military to fight back against the Titans.


 First Impressions:

Compared to Fairy Tail that I reviewed last weekShingeki no Kyojin has a lot more text. This could be due to the nature of the story being a lot more complicated and darker, so there is a greater need for more text to explain the situation.  Again, I really like the art style and layout of the manga, especially now that i’m coming to terms with how to read it correctly 😛


 What I liked:

What I really enjoyed about the manga was that the characters were well written and as a reader I developed feelings for them and cared about what was going to happen to them next. This made the manga addictive and I couldn’t help but keep reading more! What I especially liked was the strong female characters like Mikasa Ackerman (one of the main characters) who is shown to be ranked top in the military training and often puts herself in the way of danger to save others. Another example later on in the series is Hanji San who is experimenting on two captured Titans and is shown to be both as brave and intelligent as the male characters – or probably even more so.

I also thought the extra details provided in the story about wall building and the mechanics of the three dimensional maneuver gear was fascinating and gave me a deeper insight and understanding into the weapons and defense systems in place. It felt like a fully-fleshed out world that the writer had spent so much time crafting that it was totally believe – even with giant humanoid monsters running around eating people. I also liked the fact that as the story progresses we find out more and more about the Titans at the same time as the characters do. It also keeps up a an air of mystery around them that keeps you wanting to read more.


 What I disliked:

My only real complaint with the manga was some of the illustrations appeared too busy. It felt a bit like too much was going on at the same time and the drawings needed less detail to give more clarity to the important action panels, as you can see in this example:

Attack on Titan

Sometimes less really is more.


How did it compare to the anime?

I found the manga was more straight into the action and didn’t focus as much time on the training as the anime did – basically less filler and more story.  I also found the anime was in chronological order whereas there were moments where the manga featured a lot of flashbacks.

AoT 2

Uh-oh!


 Overall Opinion:

I really can’t stop reading this manga, someone help me?! I think I might be addicted! My only hope is I don’t go past the point of the anime otherwise I know I’m going to be disappointed with the anime in the same way that a book fan is nearly always disappointed with the film adaptation simply because it doesn’t match up the source material. It will be interesting to see how the live-action film coming out in Japan this year compares with both the manga and anime series.


Written by Marketing Whizz-Kid Jess Harcastle for Cosmic Anvil.

Check out Cosmic Anvil’s very own manga-inspired comic book series ‘Age of Revolution’ in print and on Comixology!

N00b Reviews: Fairy Tail

Welcome to my special section of Cosmic Anvil’s Recommends blog – N00b Reviews!

I’ve never read or seen any manga before, but have recently seen a couple of dubbed anime series’ such as Sword Art Online, Attack on Titan, Blue Exorcist and Steins Gate that have peaked my interest in all things Japanese. I am completely new to the world of manga though, and so each week I will be reviewing a different popular manga series by reading the first arc of the series and sharing my thoughts and opinions on them as a complete n00b to the manga world!

I am going to start by looking at Fairy Tail; a shōnen manga series written and illustrated by Hiro Mashima. The reason I chose Fairy Tail is because I enjoyed watching the first episode of the anime series, and was intrigued by potential differences between that and the manga.


Plot Summary

Fairy Tail tells the story of a 17-year-old Stellar Spirit Mage Lucy, who wants to join the infamous wizard guild ‘Fairy Tail’. Her ambition leads her into the hands of a bunch of unsavory pirates led by a devious magician. Along the way she also meets the main hero Natsu, a strange pink-haired boy that seems to have the powers of a dragon earning him the nickname ‘Salamander.’ He is also part of the wizard guild Fairy Tail; a bunch of crazy mages that always seem to leave a trail of destruction behind them. (For example, in the first issue Natsu saves Lucy from a bunch of perverted pirates and conspiring wizard but in doing so destroys half of the town.) Natsu and Lucy also join forces with a magical flying blue cat named Happy and undertake missions to gain jewels (currency) for the Guild.


First Impressions:

My initial thoughts when reading the manga were the issues were quite short, well-drawn but a bit confusing if i’m being honest! But that might be just because I’m not used to the layout of manga yet. I was unsure of the order in which to read some of the speech bubbles and it didn’t seem to make a lot of sense. But on the positive side I did really like the style of the illustrations.

There are also a few ‘WTF??’ pages though:

Fairy Tail perv 2

Is all manga full of super pervy characters? Do they all feature really creepy guys and creatures and constant references to boobs and short skirts..?

 


What I liked about Fairy Tail:

Pervy Bull

I really liked the art style and themes of friendship and teamwork similar to Yu-gi-oh. The manga is light-hearted and filled with comedy, the characters were well-written, and it did encourage me to carry on reading more issues.


What I didn’t like about Fairy Tail:

I didn’t like the short story arcs as I felt like I wanted more stuff to happen in each chapter. As I mentioned above I disliked the confused feeling I had with what was happening because I was unsure about the order in which to read some of the speech.


Overall Opinion:

All in all, I did enjoy my first taste of manga and can see it being something I genuinely gain a keen interest in. My only hope is that they don’t all feature loads of pervy characters and confusing dialogue layout. As for Fairy Tail, I would recommend giving it a read if you especially enjoy fantasy and magic-based stories.

And so my journey to discover everything there is to know about manga begins!


Written by Marketing Whizz-Kid Jess Harcastle for Cosmic Anvil.

Check out Cosmic Anvil’s very own manga-inspired comic book series ‘Age of Revolution’ in print and on Comixology!