As I observed in the review of Reborn as a Vending Machine, I Now Wander the Dungeon, anyone who’s had more than a passing interest in anime & manga anytime in the past decade will have encountered the phenomenon illustrated by that name: the Obnoxiously Over-Long Light Novel Title. It’s hard to believe that in the sweet and pure time of youthful childlike innocence that was 2003 The Melancholy of Haruhi Suzumiya was considered a bit of a mouthful for a title. How times change! 2008’s My Little Sister Can’t Be This Cute, rendered even longer in Japanese as Ore no Imouto ga Konnani Kawaii Wake ga Nai, was the first tug on a loose thread that’s been unravelling longer and longer ever since. In 2009 What if the Manageress of a High School Baseball Team Read Drucker’s “Management”? became a novelty salaryman sensation – The Economist reported that it sold over a million copies – and publishers understood that if convoluted titles could still hold the attention of impatient business executives they wouldn’t hold back anyone. Then, the deluge. 2011 brought us My Youth Romantic Comedy is Wrong, As I Expected; by 2017 we were drowning in Sew for Her! Strip Her? Change Her Clothes!! She Screwed Up Her High School Debut and Became a Shut-In, So I’ve Ended Up Co-Ordinating Her Youth (Fashion); and take pity on the J-Novel Club graphic designer who has to fit Me, a Genius? I Was Reborn into Another World and I Think They've Got the Wrong Idea! onto the cover.
There are a few reasons for this phenomenon. It started as a practical adaptation to Japanese reading habits – web novels were a popular way to spend time on the morning commute without having to fill your bag with a bulky paperback (popular titles like Sword Art Online started out as web novels, in fact), but in the years before smartphones became widespread many Japanese still used clamshell flip-phones with even smaller screens: where space was a premium, and sites were reluctant to fill pages of description for new stories but still had to list their titles, you could exploit a loophole to expand your presence by turning the title into its own synopsis. Long titles have lasted well into the iPhone age, however, because they quickly were co-opted by otaku: any geek worth his salt can recall reams of trivia and minutiae, and so it was a point of pride to be able to reel off reading lists that were practically novels in and of themselves; then, when even the otaku themselves admitted that it was getting inconvenient typing out the full spiel every time and abbreviated titles were introduced, these were nonsense syllables (My Little Sister Can’t Be This Cute became Oreimo, What if the Manageress of a High School Baseball Team Read Drucker’s “Management”? became Moshidora) that said nothing unless you knew what they were referring to in the first place – to learn the abbreviation, you had to be told the full title first (Western releases of the My Little Sister Can’t Be This Cute anime were just called Oreimo from the start, but this doesn’t seem to have really caught on with our versions other light novel adaptations). The Obnoxiously Over-Long Light Novel Title is thus an otaku shibboleth – an obscurantist, exclusionary gatekeeping tactic, a secret codeword through which the nerds can keep out the normies.
All of this might seem to be besides the point to talking about a manga, but I started off with that long introduction because it was unfortunately what came to mind when I first picked up Precarious Woman Executive Miss Black General off the shelf. Long titles were once contained to light novels – but in Japanese katakana this is one syllable short of My Little Sister Can’t Be This Cute! Long titles are starting to infliltrate into other media too. Once long titles were just publishers fattening up their whales, but now the lunatics are taking over the asylum!
Not only is Precarious Woman Executive Miss Black General a long title, it’s a nonsensical one too. Light novel titles are, at the very least, somewhat descriptive but Precarious Woman Executive Miss Black General is an utterly incoherent word salad and one of the most excruciating titles to say. Could you have guessed from reading it that this is a manga about superheroes? Couldn’t Seven Seas have thought up anything else for an alternative when bringing this manga Westwards? Something like “Mistress Maniac” would pithily highlight the lead’s sex, leadership position, violent occupation and ‘precarious’ grip on reality. If I can boil it down then these long titles are just symptoms of lazy, bloated writing that we really need to be more disciplined about.
Still, never judge a book by its cover. Should griping about the clunky title really weigh down the rest of Precarious Woman Executive Miss Black General? While it is the first professionally published project of mangaka “Jin”, it has had some staying power, being serialised in the Monthly Dragon Age manga magazine since 2015. It has shared the magazine with a number of titles that have gone on to have anime adaptations, running a wide range from Full Metal Panic to Tenchi Muyo, and Precarious Woman Executive Miss Black General also had a ten-episode Original Net Animation (ONA), presented in a similar format to Blood Lad and Upotte!, released in 2017. However, whereas its Dragon Age stablemates are household names to English-speaking anime fans, the anime version of Precarious Woman Executive Miss Black General was completely overlooked in the West and never received an official license nor even much attention on the fansub circuit. Does that mean that it’s not up to snuff compared to its better-known colleagues, or is it a hidden gem whose shine was only blinded by larger lights? Seven Seas bringing over the manga version should let us find out.
In Precarious Woman Executive Miss Black General there are many villains who want to destroy the city, but fortunately it is protected by Braveman, the selfless superhero who stands up for Truth, Justice and the Japanese Way. He’s capably seen off all threats to the peace of the people, but he’s about to be confronted by his greatest foe yet – the RX Organisation, ready to overthrow the decrepit international order and rrrrrruuuuullllleeeeee the wooooooooorrrrlllllllddd! The RX Organisation will surely be Braveman’s most fearsome challenge – not that they’re anything like an actual threat, mind. The RX Organisation is a hopelessly amateur outfit: it only has three henchmen; their Imperious Leader must schedule his villainy on off-days from his part-time job; their hideout is not a volcano lair but a shack in the junkyard; and they can’t even intimidate the kids in the playground. However, among this sad bunch of nincompoops is a wildcard – The RX Organisation’s second-in-command, General Black herself. Black’s a lame excuse for a General as she can’t fight and can’t plan, but even though she’s as much of a bungler as her RX Organisation comrades she’s still a dire threat to Braveman… because she’s an outrageously obsessed Braveman fangirl and she’s become a villainess precisely so she can get manhandled by his big buff biceps and swept up in his cape to get a spanking for being such a naughty girl. That’s kind of compromising for Braveman in this modern age of sensitivity training and sexism scandals – managing clingy girlfriends has confounded the mightiest of the Avengers, so will Braveman be able to cope with a needy nemesis?
Precarious Woman Executive Miss Black General is thus a comedy series laughing at the misadventures of General Black and the RX Organisation as their plans for world domination are thwarted by their serial incompetence on the one hand and Black being bedazzled by Braveman on the other. The humour is very mostly slapstick as we follow Black’s repeated pratfalls trying to entice Braveman with her sultry villainess act, and her accidental victories over him when she embarrasses him enough into withdrawing. It’s fairly straightforward stuff and this physical comedy thus relies on good art to deliver the punchlines – happily Precarious Woman Executive Miss Black General delivers on this front. Jin has a sharp, striking style that is reminiscent of the work of Gen Kobayashi on The World Ends With You – chunky, graffiti-edged, with a little punky irreverence. Real punks would no doubt call it a poser but for my part I think it strikes a good balance between a lashing of rebel cool and not being so off-the-wall it becomes plain grotesque, which means that it keeps a light-hearted, playful attitude which suits the comedy and it’s never mean-spirited. The characters are all very expressive, nailing the essential cartoony double-takes, and even the faceless henchmen have a little bit of personality in their different eye-shapes, which is a small but nice touch. Black herself has a good design: her demented, “precarious” attitude is also shown by her eyepatch – she can actually see just fine, but she wears it because she thinks it makes her look cool, giving her the touch of the “chuunibyou” to show how she’s off with the fairies. The military miniskirt comes across like a milder PG-rated Elsa The She-Wolf and the X-symbols for the RX Organisation’s logo are like the baddies from Metal Slug, with clothes thick enough to give her a solid presence – she’s no float-away-in-a-breeze moé waif – while not compromising her curves.
On that topic, there’s some occasional mild fanservice but it’s all fairly tame – infrequent panty shots when the RX Organisation go tumbling arse-over-tit, a couple of scattered bust-envy remarks between the girls – and nothing really especially raunchy as manga goes; despite the setup of Black drooling over Braveman, this really isn’t an ecchi manga. It does manage to gamefully play with both its superhero and its manga pastiches around that – Braveman is defeated in one chapter when Black’s jetwash Anime Nosebleed ruins his costume, and the poor rube who volunteered to get imbued with mighty animal powers from the RX’s resident mad scientist only to belatedly realise she’s been turned into a cockroach-woman who defeats the heroes by making really grotty chittering sounds was a sharp puncturing of the ludicrously overwrought Terrafomars.
Don’t judge a book by its cover, so Precarious Woman Executive Miss Black General shouldn’t be judged by its terrible title. Despite the first impressions that came from its convoluted name it’s an unpretentious story. It doesn’t have any deep insight into superheroes and it’s not laugh-out-loud funny but there’s enough physical humour here kept bouncing along with spirit and heart to make it an easygoing, lighthearted, pleasantly good-natured read.