Rating: 5/5 – Enter the Cute Girl Brigade!
by ComicSpectrum reviewer Al Sparrow.
It’s always fun when two manga you enjoy cross paths. In the second volume of Haganai: I Don’t Have Many Friends – a character with a predilection toward ecchi (fanservice and sex oriented) anime and manga tries to defend one particularly pervy game by saying it’s all about the writing – that it flows like Japanese poetry (many an otaku – myself included – has tried this tactic (Pro fact: It never works!)). She’s called on this malarkey by being asked to read the dialogue out loud, which she can’t do without blushing, finally running from the room in a panic.
The game in question was based not-so-loosely on The Sacred Blacksmith and the relationship between Cecily and Luke, the two central characters who seem destined to become lovers before it ends.
I would defend The Sacred Blacksmith by saying that while there *is* fanservice a-plenty, it never delves into anything overly lascivious by manga standards. I would say that sure, a volume isn’t going to go by without a shot of Cecily’s skirt blowing up (and to be fair, artist Kotaro Yamada does have a real talent for drawing the female form), but there’s nothing you’re not going to find in any other manga of this type out there. I would say that it’s a superlative book because it doesn’t fall into the same trappings other manga of this stripe often do.
I *would* say all that. But I can’t now that volume 3 has come out. A trope of most anime and manga is the inevitable “Hot Springs” episode, where all the ladies gather in various forms of undress at a hot spring, bathe and fondle each other, and discuss the imponderables of the cosmos while walking around buck naked. It’s usually pandering, does little to advance the storyline, and for many anime/manga fans, it’s the part of the story they most look forward to viewing. That said, it’s refreshing to see The Sacred Blacksmith get it out of the way early. Usually the episode is relegated to the end of the series to ensure everyone looking for it will at least watch up to that point.
I don’t say any of this as a negative (note the 5/5 score I gave this particular volume). As mentioned, Yamada is an incredible artist who brings a lot of visual impact to this series. In a very humorous afterword, he talks about his excitement about getting to draw old people for a change in volume 4 (as opposed to the overflow of young girls in this volume). Yet it’s this overflow of young girls that helps make this a standout volume in the series. A group of young women come in search of Cecily’s demon blade Aria – each wielding a demon-blade of their own – and they outclass Cecily’s abilities in almost every way.
While Cecily is the protagonist of the series, she’s really not been given a chance to step to the forefront of the book and shine…until now. Luke takes a back seat to her this time around, as she learns more about her relationship with Aria, how best to wield her, and how sometimes the line between friend and enemy is hair-thin. She befriends these warrior-women, learns their true motivation for wanting to possess Aria, and finds a solution that benefits everyone. Amid all the boob-jokes, fanservice, and the aforementioned hot springs scene, there’s a really good side-story in this volume. One that makes me happy I’ve continued reading it.
The supplemental pages at the end devoted to talking about swords and how to make them are always entertaining, but this time they were educational…at least for me. Each of the demon blades used in the main story were based on actual swords and knives. One girl wields something called a ballock knife that…well…when you see it you’ll know why it’s called that. I had no idea that such a thing was real, or that the ballocks served a purpose. Any knife enthusiasts reading this are probably chuckling at my naivete, but anytime a manga can educate as well as entertain, I’m all for it.
The Sacred Blacksmith consistently surprises me. It seems to start falling into stereotype after stereotype, only to take those tropes and re-define them to some small degree. As long as it can keep doing that, and continue to keep Yamada at the artistic helm, I’m in for the long haul on this one.
Reviewed by: Al Sparrow – firstname.lastname@example.org
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