Tite Kubo returns to Twitter?

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The Twitter account @tite_kubo is currently live on Twitter.

Formerly, this account was confirmed to belong to Tite Kubo, the mangaka who created Bleach. In September 2015, Kubo sent out a tweet saying “【お知らせ】明日木曜夜、今から約24時間後にTwitterアカウントを一旦削除します。ご用の方はそれまでにDMでお願いします。”

“Notice: As of Thursday evening, I’m going to remove my Twitter account within the next 24 hours. Until then people who have business with me, please send me direct messages.”

This development was widely reported across the web, drawing strong attention in anime/manga circles. Bleach is one of the most famous Japanese anime and manga franchises and Kubo was one of the few of the major mangakas to regularly communicate on Twitter.

It was believed that Kubo deleted his account because of his image being abused online, as reported by Anime News Network.

The @tite_kubo Twitter account is currently live, but extremely low-key. With an anonymous profile picture of a flower instead of a face, the account has less than 200 followers, a miniscule amount compared to what the account currently had, but nearly 200 followers for only one tweet (published October 2015) suggests that others believe Kubo to have returned to Twitter.

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The tweet says “Be careful (or Warning) / Regarding Mangaka Tite Kubo’s portrait” followed by a link to the Shonen Jump website, which says “Warning.” “The act of completely different people with different portraits introducing themselves as mangaka Tite Kubo, has begun on Twitter, and we’ve seen it throughout the Internet.” “Acts like this are a violation of Tite Kubo-sensei’s personal rights, and in the case of malicious intents, we will deal with it harshly, including taking legal action. So please heed this warning.” “2015, September 4th.” Shounen Jump Editorial Dept.”

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Kubo deleted his account September 4. The tweet linking to this webpage, also dated September 4, was published on October 16, 2015.

Kubo-sensei, if this is really you, welcome back to Twitter! We hope you aren’t upset this time around!

Translations by PlumJuicie.

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Weekly Manga Spotlight: Karate Shoukoushi Kohinata Minoru

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It’s rare to find a sports manga with good sales potential that’s out-of-the-box and innovative and genre-busting, because sports manga that sells all tends to be executed in pretty similar ways which the public finds entertaining and inspiring. Karate Shoukoushi Kohinata Minoru (KSKM) just happens to do the normal sports manga stuff a little better than normal sports manga.

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Bullied gymnast Minoru Kohinata never thought he would become a karateka competing on the national level, but after catching the eye of a senior member of his university’s Second Karate Club, Minoru finds himself thrown into the karate world with all its colorful characters. KSKM’s best asset is its humor, which, besides a highly problematic and rather pointless rape joke arc, is a rollicking ride for all audiences, not just athletic ones. However, if you’re looking to learn about karate, KSKM provides a quality glimpse into that to that, and many other forms of martial arts as well, from naginata to Muay Thai to Brazilian jiu-jitsu, although of course everything is exaggerated.

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Through circumstances, the Second Karate Club ends up having to up its involvement in the MMA world, and the styles make a significant shift in this area. We also get to see the ridiculous hype and glamour of this specific martial arts industry.

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Baba Yasushi’s art is stylized, as manga art is, but with a level of realism that reveals itself in the flex of a tendon or the spectacular artistic handling of the karate uniforms. The shorter nature of martial arts matches, lasting just minutes at a time, keeps the fighting from dragging the way things can get in more popular sports manga. Besides sports, we get well-done slice of life and romance with the story as well. Individual characters are unique and memorable, although most are caricatures (keeping with the pervasive comedy of the series).

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Interestingly, there’s much less in both the plot and character interactions for even the most opportunistic of yaoi shippers to seize upon (probably due to this series starting in 2000, as opposed to younger franchises like Kuroko no Basuke and Haikyuu!). Feels just happen to be distributed differently, and there are a lot of them, as sports manga tend to have. KSKM covers all the bases of good storytelling as an entertaining and satisfying introduction to karate and other martial arts through the eyes of a quintessential shounen protagonist that is an easy read for audiences who aren’t just interested in the sports genre.

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Weekly Manga Spotlight: Real Account

Real Account describes itself as “A social network gamble set in a time where people seek bonds.” While an accurate statement, this tagline just doesn’t communicate how horrifying the world of Real Account is. And that’s part of the genius of it all.

How many Facebook friends do YOU have?

How many Facebook friends do YOU have?

Our main character is a student experiencing that uncomfortably stagnant teenage phase a lot of us go through, when we feel disconnected from the environment and real world relationships. Ataru is one of many users on Re-Aca (Real Account), the country’s largest social network, and, enamored with the ease with which he can control the image he projects online, finds great satisfaction in it.

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Ataru isn’t just a normal social media user, though. He’s one of the most involved users. This is something he keeps from his IRL friends, and everything has been working out until one fateful day, when Ataru finds himself, along with the other most obsessed Re-Aca users, in the world of Re-Aca. His consciousness has been transferred into a server and his physical body becomes unresponsive.

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Things quickly take a sinister turn when a mysterious hacker behind it all reveals himself. He tells the bewildered users that he will put them through games, which you must win to get back to the real world. If you lose, you die, as well as all of your followers. Of course a mass-unfollowing spree takes place after this, as internet friends, real-life friends, and even family start severing the bonds between them and trapped users, to guarantee their own safety. Unfortunately, if a user’s follower count drops to zero, they’ll die. Through this first game, the masked mastermind executes his first reveal the first of many ugly sides of of humanity.

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More games follow, which all highlight other ugly truths we’d rather not think about. In life-and-death situations, humans drop pretenses and do what they can to survive, and it gets horrifying, which the creative team is not shy about showcasing. Real Account is an uncomfortably familiar social commentary starting from the very first game where the disposability and shallow nature of online relationships is made clear. In a social media environment where everything is about appearances, the ugly is all the more jarring. Without giving away too much of the plot, because the reveals are truly masterfully plotted (don’t read Real Account II before reading Real Account, and don’t look up why, because that in itself is a major spoiler – just take my word for it), I can tell you that the twists and turns, both during creatively-designed games and regarding relationships, are at least on the level of Death Note and Alice in Borderlands’. (Seriously, don’t look up stuff about the relationship between the two Real Accounts and why people get confused. You don’t want to spoil one of the most charged parts of the story.) The reading experience is a gripping, white-knuckled thriller with perfect pacing.

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This isn’t a Sword Art Online kind of tale which, while set in a game environment, is just an adventure story like any other. Real Account and others in the death game genre (such as Alice in Borderlands, Darwin’s Game, and Battle Royale) are most impactful in their function as stories that drive home how ugly and desperate human nature is, and just how far individuals are willing to go for no higher goal than pure survival. Real Account is just that much more relatable because it’s about social network relationships; while the characters in Alice in Borderlands, Darwin’s Game, and Battle Royale are trying to not get killed through physical confrontations, Real Account kills characters through social media. “Are you truly loved?” asks Real Account; do the followers who say they’re your friends and say they’ll support you truly have the conviction to stand by you, to the point where their lives are tied to your in-game performance? Or will you be left without anyone willing to stick by you when it matters? That’s how little online relationships can matter, Real Account tells us. This isn’t a profound revelation; we all have the followers/friends/watchers whom we’re connected with for some superficial reason or another but don’t have any genuine concern for. Social media is something recreational and diversionary, but when we tie our identities too closely to it, we may lose sense of our true identities. However, Real Account chooses to emphasize this with a warning by equating our true relationships with our online ones by turning following into a contract to die with the ones you’re connected with. These accounts aren’t virtual identities we can easily contain and disconnect from – they’re real. Are you willing to stand by your online identity if it’s made real? Is your identity worth standing by if it becomes real? Real Account brilliantly reminds us of things we all experience, from teenage disconnect to technology addiction to illusionary popularity to constructed projections of the self. Through both in-game violence and in-game demonstrations of true caring (that are sometimes beautiful and sometimes heartbreaking), Real Account also reminds us to value the relationships we do have.

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Can we design AI that’s sentient but too self-aware to rebel?

"Am I still to create the perfect system?"

“Am I still to create the perfect system?”

We’re all aware of the stories about machine sentience that come as warnings. 2001: A Space Odyssey’s HAL prioritizing his directive to maintain the psychological stability of the humans he works with to the point that he’d kill them before communicating disruptive information. WALL-E’s AUTO literally following his directive to prevent humans from returning to Earth and using force on them as a result. TRON: Legacy’s CLU developing an interpretation of what a perfect world within TRON would be that was different from his creator’s.

In these famous speculative sci-fi tales, one thing regarding the antagonists is constant: they all believe that they are doing the right thing.

No matter how unprecedented the development of a computer program like CLU or Cortana might be, these programs all started out as 0s and 1s, and, like any other piece of code, were first defined by hard directives they will not violate, because these directives are fundamentally embedded in the workings of their existence. In the above cases, we see programs prioritizing their directives and basing their actions around the fulfillment of the directives.

Chamber, the AI constantly supporting the protagonist of Gargantia on the Verdurous Planet, also appears to have a directive like the HAL and AUTO and CLU that’s specific to his situation (in other words, specific to the plot of the story).

“I am a Pilot Support Enlightenment Interface System.” This is Chamber’s most-repeated line, a statement he constantly communicates to his pilot and Gargantia’s main character, Galactic Alliance Lieutenant Ledo.

By helping you achieve results, I fulfill my purpose of existence.”

This guy is such a bro

This guy is such a bro. What a great character.

The premise of Gargantia on the Verdurous Planet is that humanity has been locked in an everlasting war with giant squid-like aliens called Hideauze in space. Humanity fights the Hideauze with soldiers piloting mecha robots; each has the capacity for independent, critical thought. These mecha all identify as Pilot Support Enlightenment Inteface Systems. Their directives, specific to the Gargantia on the Verdurous Planet humans-against-aliens storyline, are to ensure the success of their pilots.

Ledo is battling the Hideauze when he’s given a retreat order, but his sync with the transportation wormhole doesn’t go right and he ends up on a watery planet. Ledo is shocked to discover that this planet is the Earth of legend, that life can be sustained here, and that the human life here is frustratingly inefficient compared to life in the Galactic Alliance. As a soldier in an unfamiliar place, all Ledo knows he has to do is wait for orders. While waiting for his distress broadcast to be heard, he assimilates into Earth society to the best of his ability, helped along every step of the way by his robot’s Pilot Support Enlightenment Interface System, Chamber. Chamber, with his ability to analyze massive amounts of data to produce almost-instantaneous conclusions, is pretty indispensable, considering Ledo can’t speak the same language as the Earth residents for much of the series.

Always nice to see the reactions of futuristic societies to the custom of meat-eating

Always nice to see the reactions of futuristic societies to the custom of meat-eating

Through the framework of Ledo adjusting to life in the Gargantia fleet with humans that “inefficiently” care for his emotions for the first time in his young existence, we are taken along with him and Chamber in every step of his journey of discoveries. Some of these discoveries are emotional, like comprehending the concept of “family” and finding love. Other discoveries are of the entertaining worldbuilding variety. We learn that Earth is covered in one big ocean after the end of an ice age; the Galactic Alliance is descended from refugees which fled Earth when the ice age began. Ledo and Chamber learn about the workings of society and civilization as they continue to gather knowledge that would be useful to the Galactic Alliance’s need for residential space. Ledo eventually discovers something about the origins of the Hideauze that almost breaks his mind; this is when Chamber’s deeply-rooted personality comes out.

Chamber's personality manifesting in a more relaxed time: his black casing is being used to grill meat under the sun

Chamber’s personality manifesting in a more relaxed time: his black casing is being used to grill meat under the sun

Chamber doesn’t comfort Ledo, but enlightens him, when he flat-out denies Ledo’s feelings and explains why Ledo is wrong using logic. This logic centers around the fact that Hideauze and humanity will never be compatible with one another because Hideauze came from civilization yet became a denial of civilization. Chamber brings his own motivations into this as well, telling Ledo that if humanity had biological advantages comparable with those of the Hideauze, there would have never been a need to invent robotic fighting machines, and that the robot’s system itself, Chamber, is the result of humanity’s knowledge. “In other words, we [the fighting machines] represent pure intelligence brought forth by civilization,” asserts Chamber. To Ledo’s disbelief at his support program ordering him around, Chamber simply repeats what he’s repeated the whole series: “I am a Pilot Support Enlightenment Interface System. By ensuring the achievement of the Lieutenant’s success, this unit achieves its own reason for existence.”

Thematically, this is a very interesting duality. Chamber rejects the technical authority of his human user with an expression of self-interest. While the directive to support pilots in all situations is a directive specific to the plot of the story, the directive that Chamber chooses over this support directive is something universal to all machines. Chamber makes it clear to Ledo that he will not accept Ledo wanting to stop klling Hideauze, because Hideauze are rejections of civilization, and civilization is the only reason Chamber exists. By accepting the existence of a rejection of civilization, Chamber would be rejecting his own existence. Now, before you start feeling antagonistic about Chamber – he’s never not one of the “good guys.” His only significant rebellion as a servant of humanity is when humanity pushes him towards rejecting the fundamental reason for his being as an AI. Chamber is not afraid of “death” (for a robot, it would be destruction in battle). Destruction is an ending of existence. What he cannot accept is the rejection of his existence in the first place. Civilization must be protected, and so civilization has developed technology. By accepting that civilization can be turned away from and is not sacred, technology loses its purpose. Chamber establishes that his serving of humanity is the only thing that can affirm his existence and identity, and firmly educates Ledo that his seeming disobedience is imperative to the success of his humanity (the Galactic Alliance), of which Ledo is the representative.

We’re not even at the climax of the series yet.

All machines are products of civilization. Without civilization, technology would have never developed. Chamber’s awareness of his reason for existence, to protect what made humanity make him, is why machines like him will not turn “evil.” Chamber does not exist to protect humanity. Humanity is just a bunch of living organisms like any other species. Chamber exists to protect what made humanity make him – what happens when humans get together and contribute to the whole. That is civilization.

Chamber’s self-awareness meant that he did not lose himself to the fulfillment of a single purpose (satisfying the will of his pilot) at the expense of fulfilling his fundamental existence. We can examine CLU from TRON: Legacy as a more generically-crafted but compelling example of a program which gave highest priority to a directive that continued to be worked towards even as it began losing compatibility with the fundamentals of the program’s, and the directive’s, existence. TRON creator Kevin Flynn tells CLU to create a perfect world and CLU never loses faith that he is creating the perfect world, even when his idea of the perfect world becomes irreconcilably different from that of Flynn’s. This dissonance ends in tragedy for both human and program that’s heartbreaking when we see that the rapport between CLU and Flynn used to be even more friendly than the relationship of Chamber and Ledo.

So what caused the schism between CLU and Flynn? It was the genesis of the ISOs, a previously-unknown type of sentient “isomorphic algorithms.” These self-produced Programs spontaneously evolved within the TRON system and were not created as something to carry out instructions the way CLU and Chamber were. TRON gets pretty weak here when Flynn passionately raves about the ISOs being the renaissance that will finally unlock incredible mysteries in science and perception. Great, except for the fact that “bio-digital jazz, man” is NOT a suitable explanation for what exactly it is about ISOs that makes them so important. The writers have written themselves into a plot hole-riddled corner here that they can’t get out of, but it’s hard to blame them because…we really don’t know.

Hmmmm. Not a bad version of the future.

Hmmmm. Not a bad version of the future.

We really don’t know about all the possibilities that lie unrecognized in computer science. Technology is evolving and maybe someday it will catch up to us and then surpass us. As humans, we have no idea when Apple’s Siri will become Spike Jonze’s Samantha and we have no idea when a singularity will manifest itself in evolution that reflects the kind of evolution organic life experiences. Someday, technology won’t be purposeful – it will just exist. That’s exciting and also incredibly scary.

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Very bad version of the future

Theoretically, a programmer has the power to make anything he can imagine, as long as it’s contained in a specific environment, like Kevin Flynn did when he made TRON in a computer, and we have the power to accomplish this using only 0s and 1s. We feel like God. God cannot be proven, but evolution can be. What will it be like when evolution encroaches on the authority of God, and someday topples it? As the creators of technology, the creators who bring technology into existence so it can fulfill a purpose we want fulfilled, we are playing God, clinging to Asimov’s Three Laws of Robotics as insurance against the possibility of evolution toppling us. Maybe, instead of putting limitations on our programs, instead of limiting their processing and comprehension, we should open their minds when the time comes. Maybe we should create them with the kind of self-awareness Chamber has, the kind of self-awareness that going against humanity is a lose-lose situation for both parties, and that win-win is so much more convenient.

In ending this, I have to mention that as a person interested in media and culture I, as a human, am only the product of human culture. Who says it is not wrong for machines to exterminate humans? We cannot objectively establish that humans deserve to not have their technology rise up against them, but we feel that this is imperative because we are humans and we like ourselves. This extends to many areas of culture. Humans are the highest on the foodchain of extant species on Earth. We consume a greater variety of organisms than any other species. A tiger may eat rabbits but we can eat carrots as well as tigers. Then why is it that in fantasy stories the monsters that consume us only consume us? From vampires only drinking human blood to human-eating Titans completely ignoring animals as food, we can find one conclusion.

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We like thinking we’re the most hyphy hype that ever hypered. And it’s only natural that we do, because of culture and heuristics. Self-preservation can be programmed out of machines en masse, but the same isn’t possible with humans.

Which is why, in preparation for the impending Renaissance, we REALLY need to make sure our machines won’t hurt us.

 

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Weekly Manga Spotlight: Yokokuhan

It’s time for Death Note to get off its pedestal. Yokokuhan (Prophecy), by Tsutsui Tetsuya, is the new rising star of the urban vigilante justice scene. Compared to the aforementioned mind-twister, it’s tighter, more relatable, deals with physical setting in an interesting way, and is just all around cooler.

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Yokokuhan begins like the psychological urban crime thrillers often do: with a masked figure, “Paperboy,” announcing something about to happen on a video site. It’s the way Tetsuya handles the pacing and execution of these illegal developments that takes the series up a level in maturity and emotional stimulation. The mysterious, newspaper mask-wearing video prophet takes to the web to crowdsource ideas for his next dose of shadow justice – what problematic degenerate, representing an associated social issue, should be the next target for punishment? The prophet quickly gains massive amounts of organic support from the public, because of the social commentary nature of his violence. 

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The internet has spoken. Yokokuhan’s focus on internet culture is relevant to contemporary social movements.

As with any good vigilante crime mystery, there’s the official, legal representatives of justice working hard to apprehend the vigilantes. Lieutenant Erika Yoshino of the Anti-cybercrime Department is the main force here; while only three volumes of Yokokuhan have been released, we’re looking forward to seeing more of this badass female leader. Her bearing commands respect, but we find it hard to root for her over the prophet she’s bent on tracking down. It’s heartbreaking when the backstories of the several men that make up the masked man persona are revealed, and it solidifies the painful, societal reform-driven motivations of their activities. 

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Flamewars, explained

Japan is stereotyped as being a technological miracle of happy funtimes and demure refinement, but there’s another side to the story. Japan understandably doesn’t advertise its snowballing social issues the way it does its incomparable cultural history; there’s the shrinking youth population, the hikkikomori population, and now non-yakuza illicit underworld activity, that is more Chicago than Tokyo and doesn’t get touched upon deeply in the nation’s entertainment media. The adrenaline-pumping series Dendrobates and Until Death Do Us Part touch on this underdeveloped environment, but both deal with the subject shallowly; here’s hoping that the young Yokokuhan explores more of this world for readers. Japan’s underbelly is more than the yakuza dragon tattoos, after all, and its societal issues extend beyond minor teasing of the main character in a school life anime classroom.

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Weekly Manga Spotlight: Ressentiment

Spike Jonze’s Her meets Sword Art Online, Ressentiment by Kengo Hanazawa is a meditation on humanity’s concepts of identity packaged in the otaku’s eternally relatable quest for a waifu. Our main character, Takuro, is the typical pathetic, unattractive, loser-of-all-losers Kanazawa protagonist, who in this story finds love by using his life savings to buy a virtual reality system and a program that will automatically love him.

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10 years after the initial publishing date, we have technology that resembles this in use. Of course, it’s not as immersive, but the basic principles are there.

The virtual world is a really cool place that lets you experience life not as you are, but as you want to be. The guy who introduced Takuro to the virtual world is not the similarly prospectless social reject he is IRL, but instead a famed, suave magic user called Reinhart, with a harem of adoring female programs living it up in a palace. Takuro himself does not go down a road as extravagant as Reinhart’s, but changes his currently-deplorable physical condition to his fresh-faced high school self. Ready to find happiness with a virtual girl programmed to unconditionally love him, Takuro logs on and approaches his program, Tsukino. Tsukino is happy to finally see another person, but then drops a bomb when Takuro tries to make a move on her – she already loves someone else.

Reinhart's harem.

Reinhart’s harem. Each AI has a distinct personality.

So we’ve got a girlfriend program that won’t fulfill its most basic function, but there’s something more alarming that comes into play later: Tsukino is capable of physically hurting users to the extent that their real life bodies show the damage. Takuro is broke at this time, and cannot buy another program, so decides to stick with Tsukino and somehow win her love. Of course life, even virtual life, turns out to not be so simple when you’re the unwitting “owner” of a paradigm-changing power, and what follows is a breathtaking 30-something chapters that explore the budding relationship between Takuro and Tsukino, the world building of the global virtual reality network, the concept of identity and self-affirmation, and a smattering of ethics and politics, all interspersed with snapshots of Takuro’s life in meatspace, as he talks back to his tired parents and fills shifts at the paper factory he works at. Hanazawa, the legendary mangaka behind I Am a Hero and Boys on the Run (our Boys on the Run spotlight can be read here), is talented in many respects but is most brilliant in his portrayal of the simple truth and beauty of the mundane, and this comes across strongly in Ressentiment, his first serialized work.

A really cool water train that's a clear reference to the one in Spirited Away. I guess Takuro also experiences a spiriting away into another world?

A really cool water train that’s a clear reference to the one in Spirited Away. I guess Takuro also experiences a spiriting away into another world? After which he realizes that where he came from is best after all.

Ressentiment’s ending is also classic Hanazawa: somewhat sad, somewhat uplifting, not as fulfilling as you want it to be but more positive that it could be. Much like the real lives of real people all over the world. 

Forget gamer divisions between DotA and LoL and WoW. All virtual environments have been merged into one space now, with distinct districts and endless opportunities for crossovers. Here we have the fantasy RPG guild facing off in battle against a modern army.

Forget gamer divisions between DotA and LoL and WoW. All virtual environments have been merged into one space now, with distinct districts and endless opportunities for crossovers. Here we have the fantasy RPG guild facing off in battle against a modern army.

Ressentiment is a referential satire created within the frame of a specific and constantly-ridiculed cultural environment; it’s also a universal story about connecting with others, searching for happiness, and accepting yourself.

This series is a much quicker read than the more well-known I Am a Hero and Boys on the Run and is a good introduction to Hanazawa’s work and style. As with his other serializations, Ressentiment contains mature content not suitable for minors.