English-First Manga Re:Anima Debuts



Hot on the heels of Oma Sei’s BLOOD BLADE and Isaki Uta’s The Spellbook Library, Kodansha USA has launched yet another English-first manga with Yoshinori Matsuoka’s sci-fi story Re:Anima. Now rounding out the number of English-first titles from Kodansha to three, the question posed is such: can Re:Anima prove Kodansha’s success with its English first market, or does it crack under pressure? Ultimately, this is but a single chapter so that question will be forced to stew for the time being- but that doesn’t mean that opinions and initial thoughts can’t be shared in regards to Re:Anima.

Of course, what’s an opinion without its research in this day and age, so why not provide a bit of background to prove its validity. Yoshinori Matsuoka is a name that many English speaking (or in this case, reading) manga fans most likely have no awareness of. The sole group that might perk their ears up at the name are diehard Hiro Mashima fans. The reason? Matsuoka both drew and wrote a manga adaptation for the mobile RPG of the same name, which was designed by Hiro Mashima. It’s an interesting connection, and also illustrates what much of Matsuoka’s history as a mangaka has been like.

For the vast majority of Matsuoka’s history as a mangaka, that is, only a paltry 6 or 7 some odd years, they’ve been “relegated” to visual adaptations of existing worlds- but not adaptations of light novels, which I found interesting. In total, they’ve done art for 5 different manga, and with 4 of them only did art. It’s a surprising history to take a look at because Matsuoka initially broke into manga with creating their own story from scratch. Since Kessen No Kuon in 2017 however, they’ve been stuck painting worlds that are not their own, and Re:Anima serves to be a return to their roots as a mangaka. Obviously, that raises the question: was Kessen No Kuon even good?

To be truthful, that’s hard to say, for the most part. Kessen No Kuon was never licensed in any other language, to my knowledge, and even when dipping into fan translations it does not seem to have anything there. Ultimately, I’m forced to admit that I’m unable to comment on the quality of the story without putting in the effort to (poorly, due to my skills) translate the manga. What I can do however, is share my opinions on the series from purely a visual perspective, and I think it really displays the strong points of Matsuoka as a mangaka quite well.

One of the most unique aspects of Yoshinori Matsuoka’s art in Kesseno No Kuon is arguably its character designs. Very strong willed, and with a lead character that I’m sure will incessantly remind readers of Toshiro Hitsugaya from Bleach, it’s something that leaves readers with distinct taste of Matsuoka’s visual style. Similarly, background art is something that impressively thrives within the manga. A bit of a point of contention, especially in regards to starting mangaka, it can be a bold decision but it pays off in spades in creating a memorable world for the story to explore.

That’s more than enough about the past though, the focus now should be on the present- the time frame that features Re:Anima rather than Kessen No Kuon. How does Matsuoka’s latest work compare to his original? Really, in every sense of the word- better. Arguably the largest level up is in the character designs. Still retaining the intense individuality that appears in their earlier work, Matsuoka is able to coax out more “realistic” and detailed designs from their art. It’s an impressive feat considering how little opportunity they’ve had, and plays a big role in how they’re able to successfully convert on a narrative style that’s changed very little since Matsuoka’s early days as a mangaka.

I think the simplest way to express Matsuoka’s work on Re:Anima in that sense, is that they’ve not lost touch with what they love in their art. The individuality of their art remains strong, while the quality and accuracy has skyrocketed, and their ability to pull the most humor out of their art possible remains intact. A lot of people may take for granted how good Re:Anima looks, but I think it’s important to value just how much improvement there’s been while leaving Matsuoka’s visual identity intact.

I think I’ve established how good Matsuoka’s visual work is, both in terms of past and present, so I want to shift focus towards the narrative. In an interview posted on the Kodansha USA website, Matsuoka themselves explains the choice for a sci-fi story, and this one specifically,

“This new series Re:Anima is a fresh take on an old idea I had that didn’t quite get anywhere. I’m beyond thrilled that it’s finally getting the chance to see the light of day. My favorite manga—which also happens to be the first one I ever read—is the science fiction series Level E by Yoshihiro Togashi, and wow, is it something! It’s been my dream to draw a manga like that someday”

– Yoshinori Matsuoka via Kodansha USA

Evidently, this is something that Matsuoka has very much dreamed of being able to create, and you can feel that passion in the narrative. A Sci-Fi story through and through, Re:Anima strikes to the core with an Altered Carbon-esque equivalent of sleeves that everyone uses to live out day to day life. For any that don’t understand the reference, the idea is that the “true” humans are not the bodies that exist in front of the reader, but something deeper. It’s not quite the psychological inquisition that Altered Carbon provides, but it certainly does all it can with its idea.

That’s to say that even though people are represented as people, as themselves, the question still stands in regards to sense of self and satisfaction in relation to life. It’s great, and I think it’s a really unique appeal because it doesn’t allow people to change appearance, abilities (technically), or anything else- what you see is what you get. And that makes the content of this debut chapter hit even stronger. The ideas of freedom and human connection appear abstracted against a virtual life lived in the real world, and Matsuoka does their best to bring those themes down more towards the Earth so that all can understand their intent.

And that’s not to mention that happens because of a climate crisis. All that’s really left is to create some heavy handed commentary on capitalism, and they’ll have nailed a (not-so-distantly) dystopian retelling of the outlook of our current world. Truly, what more can you hope for out of a science fiction story?

Re:Anima reminds readers of the bygone era of science fiction stories, while staying true to Matsuoka’s vision.

I think it’s incredibly tempting to compare Re:Anima to older sci-fi and cyberpunk stories, but I think that is a disservice to Matsuoka’s style and vision. While it may strive to provide challenging questions like Ghost In The Shell or any other classic series, Matsuoka’s intent was never to challenge them on their turf. No, Matsuoka truly wanted to create something of their own, intense humor and all, and I think that what we see in front of us right now with Re:Anima really exemplifies that desire. Their inspiration from Level E is clear, and their ability to deliver on that inspiration is very obvious. I wouldn’t say that I expect great things from Matsuoka and this manga per se, but I expect for it to be a well executed and enjoyable experience. With that in mind, I’m very much looking forward to seeing where it goes, and I hope that readers will give Re:Anima the chance it deserves.

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