Nikesh Shukla’s second novel Meatspace is what happens when the fractals of a man’s loneliness are traced through social media and reassembled into a spectre of depression. Tweets, status updates and blog posts are the 2015 equivalent of wearing one’s heart on one’s sleeve, and the characters in Meatspace are all very expressive. Cut through the gristly irony and melodrama, and the remaining sinew shows readers how Shukla’s cast of aimless authors are feeling at any given moment of their days — except when they’re on the Tube.
Kitab Balasubramanyam was fired from his job in London for writing a novel in a secret Google doc instead of earning his pay. Now he’s holed up in a bachelor pad with his brother Aziz and a fridge full of chutney that his ex-girlfriend Rach left behind. Every minute of every day he’s online, randomly liking his relatives’ status updates and photos on Facebook or deleting and rephrasing a tweet to sound more authorial as he checks the nonexistent sales figures of his now-published book. Living off his mother’s life insurance policy is only going to get him so far, so he’s trying to make the author thing work out by doing readings at local pubs, which is going as fantastically as it sounds.
Dawdling in the bar bathroom after his latest stint at the mic, Kitab Balasubramanyam meets another guy who is also floating through life: Kitab Balasubramanyam. A second Indian guy at the same exact London pub book reading with the same exact name. Weirdness ensues.
Every chapter starts with a glimpse at Kitab’s browser history and is permeated with hashtags and blog posts and stored tweet drafts, all of which jigsaw together to illustrate how not-okay he is. Meatspace is brimming with pop culture references so relevant it’s like Nikesh Shukla has found a way to make ninja edits to the print copies, as if it wasn’t already impressive enough.
The world of Akame ga KILL! is like a frenetic mash-up of The Hunger Games and Attack on Titan. The premiere volume of the 2010 manga series made its U.S. debut in March, pitting vivacious and foolhardy swordsman Tatsumi against the Capital, an affluent city rife with corruption and depravity.
Surrounded on all sides by roving gangs of assassins, rebel armies and nomadic tribes of ferals, the Capital is many impoverished settlers’ only hope — or option — for survival. Tatsumi embarks for the Capital from his village with his friends Sayo and Ieyasu, dreaming of becoming a renowned mercenary. The three are separated during an ambush; Tatsumi assumes his friends will journey to the Capital to regroup, so he does the same, utilizing his superior skills in battle to aid fellow travelers along the way.
When he arrives, Tatsumi is awestruck by the sights and smells of the city. Amidst the aristocracy, he finds a tavern and encounters Leone, a cat-like vixen who cons him out of all his earnings from the journey’s battles. Now desperate, Tatsumi sheepishly accepts an offer of lodging from a wealthy family in exchange for his service as a guard at their estate.
As quickly as Tatsumi settles into his new routine as a sentry, a team of brutal assassins assaults the estate and murders the entire family in cold blood. Tatsumi protects the family’s youngest daughter from a skilled female ninja, but she cajoles the girl into revealing her family’s terrible secret. The assassins are impressed by Tatsumi’s unwavering demeanor and “kidnap” him after the ordeal to offer him a choice: join their ranks and become a killer by trade or die.
Akame ga KILL! Vol. 1 is filled with characters who hide their lunacies behind perfect façades absolutely begging to be sliced in twain, and there is no shortage of bloodshed in the first volume. Manga and anime fans who revel in seeing justice gracefully dispensed with a katana will surely dig this.
Princeton professor and essayist Christy Wampole weeps for the millennial generation. In her collection The Other Serious, she discusses America’s cultural reliance on irony to get through work and school days, muses on the rapid rise and fall of hipsterdom as a fashion trend and state of mind, laments the lack of conversation between young and old people in America and pities the overly serious states in which many people conduct their lives. Her essays are a beautifully written series of polite reality checks arranged to highlight how deeply American youth is entrenched in consumer culture.
In “The Great American Irony Binge,” Wampole diagnoses today’s espresso-sipping, Apple-worshipping, tight-jeaned and handlebar-mustached facetious youth with chronic boredom and hopelessness, positing that a lack of any clear life direction and the Sisyphean nature of the U.S. college experience has caused them to chisel broken facades and congregate to strengthen the radiance of their collective “It’s cool, man, everything’s cool” attitude. In “Toward a Sterile Future,” she wonders whether our perpetual quest to streamline every aspect of human life with consumer technology puts us at risk to become complacent. She imagines a future in which there is no such thing as an artisan and people are one more cloud-based service away from becoming the machines on which they rely for daily function. She segues this into an assertion that human interactions feel weird because people are usually enshrouded in the snuggie of online anonymity when conversing. Face-to-face interactions are becoming rarer and rarer, to the point where they are beginning to feel surreal. In “On Awkwardness,” Wampole suggests that simply embracing the weirdness and remembering that we are all individuals with different values and experiences could lead towards a new social enlightenment.
Wampole offers gentle criticism while never disparaging any group or individual, and does so with a style that embraces the beauty of simplicity. Splashes of effervescence and relevant cultural references make her essays incredibly engaging, and her arguments foster creative evaluation in the best way possible. Perhaps the best way to summarize The Other Serious is with this quote from the titular essay: "I want to understand what has forced half the population into an unbearably heavy seriousness and the other half into an unbearably light, confettilike eruption of irony."
After working on her last series for four years, mangaka — that’s someone who writes and illustrates manga — Go Ikeyamada has a super-fun and adorable new series called So Cute It Hurts!! The first volume of So Cute It Hurts!! follows identical twins Megumu and Mitsuru Kobayashi as they meet their first real high school crushes at the same time. Apparently, it’s a twin thing.
Megumu, or Mego for short, is a hapless history otaku who knows everything about Japan’s feudal warlords. Mitsuru is really good with a kendo sword and fights for his school team, but he’s even better with the ladies from the visiting schools. While his body is agile, his mind is not so sharp, and he’s bombing his history class. Knowing that his sis is well-versed in Japanese lore, he asks her to swap clothes with him and go to his all-boys school to take a test and save his grade. Mego likes her brother, but not enough to agree to such a hackneyed scheme.
When she wakes up the next day, Mego finds a wig and a note from Mitsuru in her room and realizes that he’s already absconded with her books and school uniform. Begrudgingly, she equips his slacks and hoodie and heads to his school, only to be accosted by the third toughest guy in the entire student body. Meanwhile, Mitsuru, dressed as Mego — “I’m so cute it hurts!!” — witnesses the class beauty tormenting a girl for being different, and can’t help but intervene. Neither Kobayashi twin realizes they’re about to meet the person of their dreams, but as their school days progress they draw closer to the fateful encounters that’ll leave them breathless and starry-eyed.
So Cute It Hurts!! is filled with lots of manga in-jokes that fans of the medium will appreciate, but newcomers will still laugh out loud at the silliness of the plot and the situations in which the twins find themselves. Ikeyamada’s art mixes traditional anime styles with adorable chibi stand-ins on nearly every page, giving the story a very light-hearted feel. So Cute It Hurts!! is shaping up to be a great teenaged romantic comedy that manga fans should definitely check out.
Journalist Greg Toppo, author of the new book The Game Believes in You: How Digital Play Can Make Our Kids Smarter, has experienced both sides of the highly polarized and controversial status quo of video gaming. While some abhor games, believing them to be time sinks that are slowly brainwashing our youth, others value them as unique forms of highly engaging media capable of reaching an audience that is notoriously unengaged. In The Game Believes in You, Toppo analyzes current efforts to blend education and recreation into perfect learning tools for plastic minds.
The Game Believes in You is comprised of 12 chapters. The majority focus on the positives and argue that games could — and should — be used in public school classrooms, and a few debunk falsities that have stigmatized games in recent years. Toppo profiles visionaries who are championing Pokémon as the nation’s answer to No Child Left Behind, teaching curriculums entirely from within the realms of World of Warcraft, renting land in Second Life to serve as virtual Open Door space and even developing methods to mentally control games as a form of therapy to treat ADD, ADHD, PTSD and depression.
Games can also become new means to teach the classics. Walden, a game is volunteer-developed and aims to condense Henry David Thoreau’s social experiment into a replayable, decision-driven adventure. Lexica is a tablet-based MMO (massively multiplayer online game) in which players create avatars and help classic literary characters who have been sealed away in a gigantic library to be forever forgotten. Both games draw heavily from source texts for inspiration, and Lexica even includes entire books to be read for quest credits to level up and unlock new content.
Toppo posits that games are becoming more accessible to children at even younger ages as the 21st century progresses, and educators everywhere should be taking advantage of this. Rather than lambasting our youth for staring at their beloved screens all day, we should be using those screens as conduits to their malleable minds and showing them that education can be just as fun as their favorite games.