Thursday, September 30, 2010

Hetalia Axis Powers Volume 1

By Hidekaz Himaruya. Released in Japan by Gentosha, originally serialized as an online webcomic. Released in North America by Tokyopop.

The concept of anthropomorphized countries is nothing new, as anyone who's seen Uncle Sam can tell you. Indeed, the year Hetalia came out, another Japanese webcomic artist was drawing various countries and their own (slightly more serious) troubles as "Afghanis-tan". But Hetalia's the one that really took off, and this title has been highly anticipated ever since Tokyopop announced it. It has a huge fandom in both Japan and the West, one which delights in fanfics, fanart and cosplay. It was, in fact, the most obvious license ever.

But is it any good? Well, mostly. It was originally a webcomic, drawn without much thought to a legacy, and that shows in the extremely scattered nature of Volume 1. (It also shows in the art reproduction, some of which is simply miserable. I'll have to assume that this is the case with the original Japanese as well.) There is no 'plot' as such to this, just Italy and his other country friends goofing around or getting mad at each other. Its 4-koma nature means the humor can be very scattershot, with pages going by with only weak gags. And it is, let's face it, one long ethnic joke.

That said, there's a giant goofy charm to this manga that can't help but carry you along. The premise almost seems to dictate this, as anything other than 'goofy comedy' would end up being even more hideously offensive. Theoretically, this is about the three Axis powers joining and starting World War II, but that's barely touched on except in the vaguest way. There's certainly nothing remotely mentioning the Holocaust. This is European History as dumb knock-knock joke, and it works better for that. Germany is meant to be the country as a whole, not Nazi Germany.

Talking about characterization almost seems to be pointless, but it's there. Italy is truly stupid and annoying, in the best comedic hero way. Most of the jokes either riff on obscure historical trivia or talk about their country's stereotyped loves and hates. Italy loves pasta, Germany is obsessed with order, America loves Cheeseburgers and being "the hero", etc. There are teases of relationships I'd like to see developed more - Austria, Hungary and Prussia in particular were quite funny and I hope to see more of them. I was also rather surprised at the occasional serious series of strips, especially Hetalia's version of the American Revolution, which comes out as a younger brother realizing that he's grown up and doesn't need his older brother's help anymore. It was actually rather touching.

It should be noted that the fandom for this series is largely yaoi-oriented. There's no actual evidence of this in the series per se - indeed, there was actually less shippy tease in this volume than I'd anticipated from hearing about it - but you can definitely see why it attracts said fans, and I certainly get why they'd be all over these guys. Hungary was the only female in the entire volume, but I do hear that future volumes introduce the occasional female country as well.

Overall, I'd say this was definitely worth a look, though if you take offense at the basic premise of WWII Countries acting like idiots than it's probably not for you. For all its historical footnotes it has no particular desire to be historically accurate, but I don't think anyone is looking to Hetalia to teach them anything. There are lots of pretty boys being silly here. That's all that matters.

Wednesday, September 29, 2010

Bamboo Blade Volume 6

By Masahiro Totsuka and Aguri Igarashi. Released in Japan by Square Enix, serialized in the magazine Young Gangan. Released in North America by Yen Press.

This volume of Bamboo Blade introduces yet another minor antagonist, this one clearly made out to be evil - she's drawn that way, and in a fake fakeout designed to confuse us we realize that she really *is* that way. Yet Konishi isn't going to take Tama down with dirty tricks any more than the other earlier clubs could, and tricking her into a sprained ankle is only going to make Tama mad. Indeed, the best part of this manga is seeing Tamaki in full rage mode - partly as she's so angry at anyone being that disrespectful of kendo, and partly as the pain in her ankle is causing her to lose her reason a bit.

The other cast members are all going through their matches as well, but these are actually rather predictable. Azuma is dealing with overeating, acusing her energy levels to wobble back and forth. Miyamiya is getting better at kendo, so much so that it looks like she may finally put up a fight, but this is sadly destroyed by the presence of Reimi and her wacky crush. Saya actually manages to win by simply being good at the basics, something that Bamboo Blade emphasizes but which we rarely see with these powerhouses around.

But Tama, despite her best efforts, can't hide her ankle forever, and Kojiro withdraws her from the match. Since they're all tied up, this means Kirino (who won easily earlier) now has to fight another battle... and what's more, gets good news at the worst possible time. Kirino's intense concentration is impressive, but I have to admit that I prefer her hyper idiot persona, especially to contrast with the others. (As an aside, we also get a flashback examining why Konishi is the way she is. Fairly typical of these sorts of series that like to humanize their rivals, but I'm not sure it really works here - Konishi's simply not very likeable.

Still, despite the result, it still seems as if these early battles are lacking something. Kojiro knows it, and the reader knows it too. Tamaki is simply TOO GOOD. She's miles ahead of everyone else, and this leads to situations like the one we had in this volume, where she has to be essentially crippled in order to be able to get past their team. This being a sports manga, this cannot be allowed to stand. Tamaki needs a rival. We don't get that in this volume... but the preview for the next (which is for once a serious preview) implies that we will see her in Volume 7.

As for this volume, in the end it was not as good as some of the others, but there weren't any major problems with it. For those reading the series, it's a good, enjoyable volume, giving you lots of kendo battles and a good helping of humor.

Tuesday, September 28, 2010

After School Nightmare Volume 1

By Setona Mizushiro. Released in Japan as "Houkago Hokenshitsu" by Akita Shoten, serialized in the magazine Princess. Released in North America by Go! Comi.

As I'm hosting this month's Manga Moveable Feast, it would be a good idea for me to actually have an opinion on the title that I am hosting. Which, due to the wonders of democracy, I had not actually read before. After School Nightmare was put out by Go! Comi between 2006 and 2009, and I never did get it when it first came out, most likely as I'm not generally into horror unless there's a healthy dose of humor.

The horror element is a major part of the series, and Volume 1 serves up some nice imagery. The girl with the holes in her face and chest is a startling image when you first see it, even if the backstory to it is sadly predictable, especially if you've read any Japanese manga before. The thing composed entirely of one long arm was also intriguing, though I did not actually find out the story behind it here. And of course you have the underlying menace of people 'graduating', which is clearly meant to equate to death in this universe.

Then there's our three main characters, each with issues of their own. I quite like Kureha, despite her clearly traumatic backstory (did the manga really indicate she was raped as a 5-year-old girl?), even if I understand that in a manga featuring two pretty 'boys', one of whom has a psychotic crush on the other, she is doomed doomed doomed. I was less fond of Sou, but then I dislike that sort of character in general, even though I know how distressingly common they can be in real life. And then there's Mashiro, whose gender ambiguity is starting to define his life. (I use his here simply as Mashiro in this volume is desperate to think like a guy). As others have noted, I wasn't too bothered by the 'girls are weak, guys are strong' nonsense as it's clearly being repeated more as a mantra to keep thoughts from straying too far.

Sadly, after all is said and done, I found Volume 1 strangely uninvolving. I'm not quite sure what failed to click. The manga is well-paced, the plot is laid out decently and with enough hints to make you want more. The characters are all hideously broken, which is exactly what you want in a psychological horror manga set at a school. It may simply be that I don't like the genre of manga (or TV, or books...) that TV Tropes has termed 'Kill 'Em All', which After School Nightmare is setting itself up to be. Getting to know and care about characters only to see the many and varied ways they die is not my thing, whether they be killed or 'graduated'. And the manga is clearly setting itself up to do this, implying that the herd of cast will be thinned very soon. Not my thing.

Still, as a shoujo series, it does provide a lot of what I think young Japanese teens would like. Being at your school and yet feeling 'different' from everyone else, dream imagery, sweet boyfriends who are actually girls and therefore unthreatening (Kureha actually says this straight out in the manga itself), coupled with the thrill of the 'dangerous' guy, and of course what will no doubt be endless miles of tragic backstory. For those reasons, I can see why anyone would want to read After School Nightmare.

Monday, September 27, 2010

Urusei Yatsura Volume 2

By Rumiko Takahashi. Released in Japan by Shogakukan, serialized in the magazine Shonen Sunday. Released in North America by Viz.

We're still early into Urusei Yatsura's run, and Takahashi is still working on the characterization. Lum is still mostly unlikeable, and Shinobu wobbles between sympathetic long-suffering girlfriend and jealous harridan. This volume, however, does manage to solidify Ataru's character. Having started out as merely your average incredibly unlucky teenager, by the end of this volume we have what would define him for the rest of the series - his excessive lust for women, and inhuman ability to do anything to try to get them.

Many at first might be surprised that UY has so many women after Ataru, considering what a horrible lech he is. This volume would agree with you, as it's filled with people noting that Ataru is lazy, stupid, ugly, perverted, and just plain awful. Amusingly, this puts him one up on the rest of the cast. The reason all the females in the cast go after Ataru is he has a personality, and is far more interesting than the other faceless guys here (theoretically it's Megane and company, but these zeebs are nothing like their anime versions). Moreover, Ataru may want to kiss, snuggle, and generally feel up anything female, but he draws a line at sexual assault, something the other guys around him have no issues with. This all reminds me why modern harem shows can get so tedious - the lead is a loser, but is also boring and 'nice'. Ataru is neither.

We get two more major cast members introduced here, though as with Benten (who also drops in for a dream sequence cameo) they'll leave for a while then come back with personality transplants. Oyuki the Neptunian princess is introduced in the first chapter, and seeing her trying (like Benten did 2 chapters earlier) to mack on Ataru is rather startling. Takahashi is famous for not plotting in advance, which means that early volumes of all her works can seem hideously out of character later on, and Oyuki is a prime example of that. We also meet Kurama, the crow-princess Ataru wakes with a kiss, and thankfully she is exactly as she'll always be - warring between needing to have Ataru as her husband due to tradition and loathing the very sight of him.

As always, the humor stems from watching horrible things happen to horrible people. There's less attempt to play on sympathy here, and Takahashi is already starting to move past the 'Ataru/Shinobu/Lum' triangle that was the majority of Volume 1. One chapter in particular struck me, with Lum creating a puppet Ataru that can move as she wishes. This naturally leads to her deciding to torture Shinobu with a similar puppet, and Ataru trying to stop her. It's a fairly serious chapter in comparison - it's still funny, but has a weird ending with Shinobu sobbing in her parents' arms and Ataru simply walking home with a feeling of doom. It's the death knell of Ataru as the normal guy, too - lech Ataru comes to the forefront from now on.

Two chapters in this volume were never translated by Viz when the series was coming out. This was easier back in the day, as the comics were coming out in 32-page 'pamphlet' format, and the audience did not have easy access to the originals to check, or the ability to whine on forums. The two chapters both deal with Japanese folklore more than the rest of the book, which may have been why they were skipped. They're also the two weakest in the volume, which may have been another reason.

With this volume, we have our Ataru, but Lum is still clearly the villain of the series. She's coming along a bit - one chapter sees her and Cherry teaming up to stop Ataru, the first time she's been shown to work with anyone from Earth - but it's hard to root for them as an actual couple. I'm hoping the next volume will change that, as it also introduces the last of the four 'Star' cast members, Shutaro Mendo.

Saturday, September 25, 2010

Tentative NYAF schedule

Strictly in terms of panels I'll definitely be attending, rather than panels I might drop by. Very subject to change, as the schedule is already different from yesterday (Viz's panel seems to have vanished, for example):

Friday:
3:15pm - Archie Comics
5:45pm - Dark Horse
8pm - Haruhi movie (assuming I can get in. And assuming it's in Japanese with subs)

Saturday:
11am - Bandai
12:15pm - Funimation
3:45pm - Yen Press
5pm - Del Rey and Spectra Books (which will likely be about manga, even if the panelists don't WANT it to be...)
6:15pm - Vertical, Inc. (Sorry, Square Enix. Can't bilocate.)
After that, may go to either Squeenix's 2nd panel, or go watch Erica at the GBLTQ panel on yaoi and yuri manga...

Sunday:
10:45am - Kodansha USA
1:pm - Welcome to the Space Show (no idea, but a friend wants to drag me to it...)

September's Manga Moveable Feast: After School Nightmare

Every month a group of manga bloggers get together and have a discourse about a manga title they feel needs to be discussed. It's a book club, and has led to discussion of manga that ranges from the alternative Sexy Voice and Robo to the adorable Yotsuba&! Essentially, we like to talk, and we're here to talk to you about manga, whether they be titles you'd never thought to pick up before, or titles that everyone and their brother reads but are still eminently discussable.

This month our manga of choice is After School Nightmare ("Houkago Hokenshitsu"), by Setona Mizushiro. Part shoujo romance, part psychological horror, and part gender identity crisis, it ran for three years in Akita Shoten's shoujo magazine Princess, and ended up being 10 volumes in total. Those volumes were published in North America by Go! Comi.

I'll be posting a review of Volume 1 later this week, but in the meantime I declare this months's MMF open, and invite people to send me links to their reviews/discussions/thought collages regarding After School Nightmare. Please email me any links at gaffneys at gmail dot com. If you don't have a blog, email me your discussion and I will post it to my blog.

This is the post you should bookmark - I will edit it as needed to add links to the end.

Johanna Draper Carlson has some thoughts on the series, and in another post looks at the same author's earlier X-Day.
Melinda Beasi points you to her review of Volume 1.
Erica Friedman reviews Volumes 1 & 2.
Lori Henderson gains interest in the series by reading Volume 5.
I've written up my own thoughts on Volume 1 here.
AnimeMiz takes a look at the romantic triangle of the series.
David Welsh reposts an excellent overview he wrote for The Comics Reporter.
Rob McMonigal discusses how After School Nightmare has some of his favorite things.
Michelle Smith enjoys Volume 1 quite a bit, finding Mashiro's dual nature well-handled.

Have fun!

Thursday, September 23, 2010

Manga the week of 9/29

Let's start with the not-Tokyopop stuff. Bandai has Volume 3 of Gundam-00 Season 2, which should definitely please the numerologists among you. Given this runs in Magazine E-No, I've decided to rename it Gundam For Airports.

Dark Horse has Volume 36 or Oh My Goddess, which will probably be a nice comforting relaxing read for me, despite containing none of the Keiichi/Belldandy sex marathon that readers have been waiting for for about 22 years now.

I'm not sure what Digital Manga Publishing's Seven Days - Monday→Thursday is all about, but any title containing an arrow is a winner in my book. Also, it runs in a magazine called Craft, so perhaps you could use it as gateway yaoi for knitters.

And then there's Tokyopop's pile o' titles. I've discussed how much I like Shinobi Life and Maid-sama before. Tokyopop's experimenting with Demon Sacred, releasing the first two volumes at 5.99 each. It's old-style shoujo from LaLa, and quite intriguing. And of course there's Hetalia Axis Powers. It was only two years ago that I was walking all over NYAF telling everyone and their brother to license this. Now Tokyopop has it, and I imagine it should do pretty well for them. Oddly, I've still never read it - I was recommending purely on hearing of the fanbase. Now I'll see what the fuss is about.

Bunny Drop Volume 2

By Yumi Unita. Released in Japan as "Usagi Drop" by Shodensha, serialization ongoing in the magazine Feel Young. Released in North America by Yen Press.

The second volume of Bunny Drop reminds you that parenting is a never-ending process of trying to remember 80,000 little things. Just when Daikichi feels he's got it together with cooking and nursery school, he finds he has to get Rin into a good primary school, and find out what sort of hobbies she likes so she can have some good well-rounded activities. Heck, he can't even remember to bring a camera to her graduation!

Still, Daikichi is in general a nice, dependable, rock solid sort of dad, bumbling on the surface but usually understanding what needs to be done fairly quickly. In a way, he's almost idealized, but then this is a manga written for the magazine Feel Young, which is marketed towards young women in their mid to late 20s. Just as titles like Margaret and ShoComi feature either cutie-pie nice guys or sexy jerks with hearts of gold, Daikichi represents a fantasy figure for the Feel Young reader. He's more realistic, of course, not being devastatingly handsome, and awkward around women, but he's got the makings of a great husband and father.

Not that Rin isn't a major part of this volume as well. After dealing with major life-changing tragedies last volume, she's settled in to being far more of a typical young girl here. And just as we follow Daikichi working out what parents have to deal with when raising kids, we see Rin dealing with what kids have to go through - peer pressure, popularity based on looks, and of course wanting to grow up as fast as possible. (And frankly, I thought Rin's tricked out hairstyle Daikichi gave her was great. Also love the Sukeban Deka ref.)

The main plot point in this volume, besides the usual 'single dad raising little girl' stuff, is finding and meeting Rin's mom. Who proves to be a less than likeable person, but then this is a long-running series, and I'm sure we'll see her again. Daikichi comes into the meeting with her with some expectations that are pretty much shattered, and his thought processes while Rin's mother is talking are the funniest part of the book, in a darkly cruel way. Sometimes young people aren't ready to be parents, and the combination of selfishness and self-hatred we see from Masako underlines that. Clearly we're going to see more of her, but in the meantime she does inspire Daikichi to make the decision to be a permanent parent, and not just take care of Rin 'for the time being'.

This is a slow-moving series, so the twice-a-year release from Yen, while financially sensible, can be frustrating. I was expecting there to be a romance starting between Daikichi and the divorced mom he's bonding with, but that's clearly not the focus of this series if it ever does happen. Instead, it's simply a sweet manga about a nice guy and his cute girl, filled with sweet moments. Which is fine with me.

Wednesday, September 22, 2010

Itazura Na Kiss Volume 3

By Kaoru Tada. Released in Japan by Shueisha, serialized in the magazine Bessatsu Margaret ("Betsuma"). Released in North America by Digital Manga Publishing.

Come on, Tada-san, throw me a bone. I realize I said in my last review of this title that it was basically like drinking raw shoujo straight from the tap, but even so, this is ridiculous.

The problem is not really Kotoko, who is pretty much the same throughout this vo0lume. The pacing of this series is realistic yet also slow, so as we head into the 2nd year of college Kotoko's lack of maturity niggles a bit more. Still, she's a shoujo heroine, so you pretty much take simple yet happy as a default option. She did briefly show that she can do OK if she applies herself, when she studied for her English final so she stayed in the same class as Naoki, and she was good (if panicky) in a crisis, but she's still pretty much a huge flake.

The problem is Naoki. He is developing, and we see it. He's starting to deal with the fact that he's essentially still adrift in life, and tries to make a clean break by moving out and living on his own. Which is exactly what he needed to do, so no issues there. But man, what a stoneface. The only time we see him show emotion is when he's pissed off. His moments of contemplation are entirely from Kotoko's point of view, and reveal nothing to us of his thought processes. Even in the final pages, where he thanks Kotoko for everything she did, doesn't seem to move him into a smile.

These chapters ran in Betsuma in late 1991, and shoujo was clearly another world then. Nowadays publishers know that you need to pay attention to other demographics while still remaining true to your core readership. Jump, for example, has a large female readership, as any cursory examination of all the Gintama yaoi at Comiket should tell you. Likewise, many guys these days are fans of shoujo and shoujo magazines (including myself). Here, though, we see Naoki only through Kotoko's eyes. He is a deep, unfathomable mystery, and we get few to no hints or reassurance that he even cares that Kotoko exists. Hell, even when they're forced to spend the night in the same bed, we don't get the standard shot of him watching her sleep with a sweet look on his face.

This does help to keep the suspense going - unlike many other shoujo manga, you can easily see why Kotoko has no self-confidence in their relationship - but it does make for very frustrating reading. Of course, it's also very well-crafted, and a page-turner as well, so everything balances out. I thought we had one too many rivals show up by the end of this book, but that's OK. The pure shoujo title continues to mine a deep, rich vein of girly romance. If you can put up with the lead being a ditz even now that she's headed into her twenties, and the hero being so hard to read he needs a Naoki for Dummies book, then this is still highly entertaining.

Tuesday, September 21, 2010

Excel Saga Volume 17

By Rikdo Koshi. Released in Japan by Shonen Gahosha, serialization ongoing in the magazine Young King OURS. Released in North America by Viz.

It's another volume of Excel Saga, and Teriha still hasn't recovered her memories. She's clearly still influenced by them, though, as she tells Umi that she has to get a part-time job to help pay for expenses, as she feels a distressing need to work and get cash. She actually proves to be fairly good at waitressing, which shouldn't be too much of a surprise given that she no longer has the hyperactive destruction personality of old. The cafe she works at is not only more otaku mockery, but also features a character who's a lookee likee of Karin Kanzuki from Street Fighter.

We do get two chapters which feature her amnesia, and attempts to reverse it, prominently. In the first, she's kidnapped by goons, who mistake her for "President Excel" of ILL - a place, of course, currently being held by RopponExcel. There's no bounty coming from ILL, who look over at their own Excel and reason she hasn't been kidnapped. So it's Ropponmatsu II to the rescue! Yes, Shiouji has finally managed to activate her, though she's a lot more robot-like and less genki than she was before.

The second chapter, and one of the best parts of the book, is her dream sequence after reading about "President Excel" in a magazine. Teriha knows the name is important, but not why. She then has a dream where the sound and picture keeps flickering in and out of focus, featuring Elgala and Hyatt (whose names she doesn't remember); Shiouji, Umi, and her new life; Menchi (who is terrified of her, which makes Teriha sad); and finally a loud, obnoxious blonde with a long braid. "Who is she? So loud... and violent. She's intimidating... but... it feels like I've always known her." And then, finally, we see Il Palazzo, whose face is black with shadow, crying out "THIS WORLD IS CORRUPT!" and she wakes. Sadly, she still doesn't have her memories, but it's a terrific sequence, and I'd love to see it animated.

Meanwhile, back with our friends at the government, Kabapu is not doing well. In fact, he's pretty much dying. And he keeps getting arrested for fraud and tax evasion. Needless to say, things are looking bad, but then, a miracle! It's the gold bar! Remember the gold bar? For those who don't, this is the gold that Elgala retrieved from her adventure in order to pay back the money she's taken out of an ATM in a drunken stupor. Hyatt then wanted to use it to pay back Watanabe, but never did. When the apartment complex burned down, the bar got stored with other possessions, and they've found it now.

This allows Momochi to gain access to Kabapu's secret bank accounts, and restore his wealth. Now rich and (semi)-powerful again, Kabapu recovers, in a scene that is so awesomely silly and perverse I don't dare spoil it. Carl Horn notes in the Endnotes that it's the volume's finest moment, and he's right. Now the security force can once again fight as AGENTS OF JUSTICE! Yes, it's the return of the sentai suits, only now they come with a naked transformation scene, much to Misaki's horror and outrage. Though, with Kabapu having wealth but not power, and vowing to destroy Il Palazzo by any means necessary, it's quickly pointed out that they are in fact terrorists now.

And like all terrorists, they need a secret base! Of course, Kabapu has forgotten the security codes, meaning they will have to break in. This is easier said than done, especially when one of the people breaking in is Iwata, who's gotten increasingly goonier ever since he got his new robot body. Needless to say, they trigger the self-destruct, which is very difficult to countermand. We are briefly reminded of Misaki's feelings for Iwata when she seriously asks Shiouji if he can do anything, and he (equally serious) apologizes, noting he can't. Iwata demands that Misaki confess her love before he dies. Which she does! Granted, it's in a sort of deadpan monotone, but with Misaki, you take what you can get.

Of course, they don't die. A mysterious person (who is clearly Miwa) stops the self-destruct at the last second, and they now have their base. Because Miwa is no longer using it as her OWN base. I have to say that Miwa is really shaping up to be the true villain of this series, despite her large-breasted come-to-Mommy facade. At the end of this volume, she asks Teriha if she has regained her memories, and notes (staring right at the reader) that getting memories back might not be as pleasant as she thought. Is she talking about herself? Teriha? Excel? We know that the Excel we know and love ALSO has buried and repressed memories...

In any case, now that Kabapu is back in action, the story looks to step up again. Teriha is still Teriha, though, so I think we need a new chew toy for the manga to play with starting in Volume 18. Hrm... Miss Elgala? Are you free?

Monday, September 20, 2010

The Kurosagi Corpse Delivery Service Volume 11

By Eiji Otsuka and Housui Yamazaki. Released in Japan as "Kurosagi Shitai Takuhaibin" by Kadokawa Shoten, serialization ongoing in the magazine Young Ace. Released in North America by Dark Horse.

This volume offers a comparatively long story for this series, taking over 3/4 of the book. But it's all good, as this is one of the better stories they've done, focusing on a little girl trying to 'start over' after supposedly murdering her mother and sister. As Carl Horn notes in the Endnotes, the story is loosely ripped from the headlines, riffing off of Nevada-tan and using a box cutter prominently. It goes in a different direction, of course, with the girl having some supernatural abilities.

The girl herself may be a minor weak point here, as she's shown to be very calm and unemotional through the whole sequence. Of course, this may simply stem from the shock of seeing her mother killed in front of her, and then being arrested and convicted of her murder. (Speaking of which, that mother was absolutely badass, doing her best to protect her daughter while dying of a slit throat. Major props.) The girl has a natural distrust of people from that point on, and her abilities don't help, as they tend to show her the dark underside of humanity.

We also get more political commentary, something you don't necessarily expect from a horror manga. Sasayama tells our heroes the girl's back story, and notes that the girl's conviction was pretty much railroaded through the system, especially once the tabloid press got a hold of the story. A great line here, noting "Why do you think Japan has such a high conviction rate? It sure as hell isn't because they're *all* guilty." Eiji Otsuka has used this series to advance his own beliefs many times, and the beauty of the series' setup is that it never really feels out of place. And even when it turns into a long talking-head lecture, there's always more corpses around the corner.

As for our heroes, they do a lot less this time around, mostly being there to find corpses and let events play out as they should. They get more to do in the other story in this volume, involving a miracle swimsuit that turns out to get into doping Olympic Athletes. Readers who dislike rats may wish to stay away here, though they're mostly just rat corpses. I also cannot help but note that both stories featured Karatsu and Sasaki staying behind while the other 3 do the 'leg work'. Usually Karatsu would have been right there with them. This is lampshaded when Karatsu notes that it's nice hanging out here with Sasaki, something which causes her to blush. Is she trying to make her move in her best socially inept way?

However, really this volume of Kurosagi Corpse Delivery Service is about Chihaya, the little girl from the first story. Her story runs the emotional gamut, and gives us plenty of gore (lotsa slit throats here) and eerie horror (page 142 is your creeeeeepy of the volume), but not in such a way that I was nauseated or wanted to stop reading. And the fanservice is higher here as well, with several pages of a bath scene, but it's presented naturalistically rather than perversely, just like its corpses are. Really, this series is for fans of all good manga, not just horror fans. Everyone should be reading this. Highly recommended.

Sunday, September 19, 2010

Walter Lantz Cartoons Part 10: Ski For Two, The Pied Piper of Basin Street, The Painter and the Pointer, Chew-Chew Baby, Woody Dines Out

A nice variety of cartoon this time, with 3 Woodys, a very weird Andy Panda, and the last Swing Symphony we'll be watching - there was only one more after this, sadly not on DVD, and after that Lantz turned his attention to classical music for a bit.

We get some classic Russian folk singing in the first Woody seen here, Ski for Two. Woody's looking for food, as always, and finds a ski lodge that notes it specialized in delicious food. So he hops on a train and heads to far northern climes, then skis the rest of the way (40 miles!), while singing the folk song 'The Sleigh', a classic in its day. He also throws in a line or two from Ochi Chyornye to boot. Naturally, this being mid-40s Woody, the proprietor is Wally Walrus, who notes that Woody doesn't have a reservation. Despite noting that he has tons of reservations - for other inns and sporting events - he gets thrown out anyway. (Great line when Wally calls Woody impulsive. "IMpulsive? I'm REpulsive!".) Woody then tries to get in by pretending to be Santa. Wally does not do himself any credit by buying this, mostly as it's only October. In the end though, Woody gets beaten up by Wally when trying to abscond with the food. Most of these Culhane Woodies have 7 minutes of him going insane at people, then briefly getting his comeuppance.

For the final Swing Symphony we get to see, it's a barnburner: The Pied Piper of Basin Street boasts in its credits that it features Jack Teagarden, one of jazz's most prominent trombone players of the time, as well as a bandleader. The plot is essentially your standard Pied Piper, with the rats wreaking havoc all over the town. The mayor (a not particularly good caricature of Lou Costello - Lantz still can't do celebrity impressions that well) is far too lazy and shiftless to do anything himself, but jumps at the chance for a Durante-ish piper to drive the rats out of town. And, of course, then reneges on the deal, paying the piper in peanuts (literally) and throwing him out. So the piper turns into Frank Sinatra and lures EVERYONE out of town - from the high school kids to swinging grannies. (I note that one shot has a guy in a malt shop sharing a drink with identical twin hotties - nice work, kid.) The town ends up on a swing riverboat with Ozzie Nelson and Glenn Miller's band. The mayor ends up with the rats. Great stuff, and fantastic music.

The next Andy Panda cartoon is rather bizarre, especially in amongst the others in the series. Andy's been redesigned by Shamus Culhane, and looks more adult but also less like a panda. In addition, he's apparently gotten a bit psychotic. He's having his pointer hold a pose while he paints him, yelling at the dog whenever he tries to move. A nagging fly gets the best of the dog, who not only moves but wrecks Andy's painting. In response, while going to get a new canvas, Andy ties a shotgun to the dog's leg, set up so that if the dog moves, it will shoot him dead. Yeah. For fans of the cute and harmless Andy Panda, this must have been jaw-dropping. Lantz himself hated it, and the personality and design reverted in the next cartoon. The plot itself is weird even beyond this, as it involves two goony spiders who decide to forgo their usual fly menu and catch and eat the dog. Even for a Culhane cartoon, this one's nuts, and I'd call it more interesting than good.

Back to Woody and Wally for Chew-Chew Baby, yet another in a progressively long series of cartoons where Woody is obsessed with food. He's also a deadbeat, so we open the cartoon with Wally throwing Woody out of the boarding house he runs for eating everything and paying nothing. Woody, searching for ways to get food and revenge - in that order - finds that Wally has put an add for 'female companionship' in the paper, so dresses up as Clementine in order to get some more food. Another fast one-liner - "Are you refined?" "Refined? I'm 110 Octane!" The usual Woody eating and abuse follows, with some cute cartoon gags such as the stoplight breaking Wally's fall. In the end, Woody blows Wally up AND gets away with all the food. What a jerk!

He's even more obnoxious in Woody Dines Out, which takes a break from Wally Walrus for a bit and has Woody battle an evil-looking cat. Woody has more right to be appalling here, though, as the cat is trying to kill him. Woody, desperate for food and finding only closed restaurants, wanders by a place that specializes in "stuffing birds". Yeah, well, Woody doesn't have to be smart, he gets by on being loud and appalling. The cat is a taxidermist, who at first thinks Woody's just annoying, but then recalls he has a flier offering $100,000 to anyone who can stuff a king-sized woodpecker. That's almost 1.2 million dollars in today's money, so the cat turns bloodthirsty. He gives Woody a soup laced with knockout drops ("Blackout borscht"), then prepares to slice him up. Woody quickly escapes, and proceeds to abuse the cat mercilessly, mostly with an elevator. In the end, the cat abandons his dreams on money, mansions, yachts, and women, with Woody invading the last one and taking the women for himself!

Some excellent cartoons, with one exception, and even that was bizarre and wrong enough to be interesting. I am hoping that we get something soon other than Woody trying to get food.

Saturday, September 18, 2010

Alice in the Country of Hearts Volume 4

By Quin Rose and Soumei Hoshino, based on the game by Quin Rose. Released in Japan as "Heart no Kuni no Alice ~Wonderful Wonder World~" by Mag Garden, serialized in the magazine Comic Blade Avarus. Released in North America by Tokyopop.

I've been reading and enjoying the Alice manga since it started coming out, but haven't reviewed one till now. Mostly it was because I wasn't quite sure what to say. Alice is one of those mangas where I greatly enjoy the experience, but wonder why. I'm clearly not the target audience, nor is this title particularly deep or filled with broad comedy. It is what it sets out to be: a manga adaptation of a game for females, with the plot being "which guy will she pick?". Of course, being a manga adaptation of the game, she's not about to pick anyone.

I decided to review it, however, after taking a look at another manga based off of an otome game, Ugly Duckling's Love Revolution, which I reviewed back in July. That was a good example of what NOT to do when basing a manga off of a game - it required knowing the game, and kept all the characters as ciphers, so you didn't really care.

That's absolutely not what's happening here. First off, the manga is actually telling a story. I've never played the Alice game, so I don't know if it's retelling the basic events of the game or what, but you won't be lost at all if you're unaware of its origins. Secondly, while the guys in this manga *are* total otome game stereotypes (the brooding sullen guy, the mean sarcastic guy, the cheery obsessive guy, the cheery psychotic guy...), the main male characters are all fleshed out and made interesting, if only as you want to see if they're all going to snap and kill each other.

For once, the 'All Girls Want Bad Boys' idea works well, as you aren't left choosing between a bunch of bland bishies, but guys with real emotional problems. Likely NONE of these idiots would make a good boyfriend for Alice, which is a good thing as I suspect that, like Ugly Duckling, she won't be choosing one in this manga, not wanting to annoy readers who picked a different path. Getting away from the romance game genre allows these jerks to be JERKS, and the manga is better for it. It also helps you really admire Alice's steadfast attempts to be friends with most of them, even the ones that she normally can't stand such as Peter or Blood.

The manga started out being only loosely based on the Wonderland books, and that's even more accurate here, as Volume 4 has little to no resemblance to anyone from the original Carroll. Instead we're left to wonder about the world Alice is trapped in, and what the basics of it are. We're given very little information, and even then only in bits, so have to work out for ourselves not just what is going on here, and the character's motivations, but also why they're all obsessed with Alice. Yes, yes, she's the protagonist, but it goes further than the game origins. It reminded me almost of Suzumiya Haruhi, with Ace at one point saying that he plans to kill Alice just to see what happens, a plotline that should be very familiar to readers of that series.

Of course, I admit a lot of the philosophical questions are purely in my head. The manga is not really interested in providing me answers to my thoughts, or to delve (much) into psychological issues. The only weak point in this volume I found to be the start of the final chapter, which clearly makes a leap forward into the other two games available in this series, mentioning the other worlds (Clover, Diamonds, etc.) available to Alice and also introducing the Joker. A better segue would have made things more smooth - instead I wonder if there are chapters missing.

This is much better than I'd expected, and I'm pleased that it's been such a huge success for Tokyopop - consistently in the NYT bestseller lists for weeks. It's not going to blow anyone away, but I'd definitely recommend it as an excellent example of how to write an adaptation of a 'romance' game where you have to pick one amongst all the various options - whether those games be tons of women OR men. Recommended.

Rin-Ne Volume 4

By Rumiko Takahashi. Released in Japan by Shogakukan, serialization ongoing in the magazine Shonen Sunday. Released in North America by Viz.

As if to answer my prayers for more flawed and annoying characters, this volume of Rin-Ne brings the big guns. Here we meet his father Sabato. It's always a pleasure seeing Takahashi draw parents. They're so aggressively horrible, and totally play to her strengths, as the more awful a character is the better the comedic potential. From UY with Ataru's parents constantly wishing he'd never been born and Ryuunosuke's psychotic and abusive dad to Genma 'why yes, I traumatized my son over and over as a child to make him grow stronger' Saotome, Takahashi's fathers are unrivaled.

And here we have Sabato Rokudo, who manages to set new lows. If this manga wasn't essentially a lighthearted fantasy comedy, it would be grotesque. (Fans of Hayate the Combat Butler, and his parents, know what I'm talking about here.) Here we have a man who tells his young son that his mother is dead, then holds a competition to see who can be his "new mom". He's liberally stealing money from his son's bank account and leaving huge debts with IOUs in his son's name. And best of all, he's desperately trying to get his son to become a MURDERER in order to hold up his failing company of murderers.

We'd seen Rinne get upset about damashigamis in the previous volume, and this one goes further into explaining why. It blithely discusses the fact that damishigamis go after the souls of humans who aren't supposed to die yet, and take them to the afterlife. Um... that's killing them. No two ways around it. And his father is one of the top damishigamis around, and wants his son to take over the family business? If I weren't already so used to 'hilarious' Takahashi plots that are stunningly horrific when looked at seriously, I'd be disgusted.

Luckily, the funny is also brought. There's tons of silliness here, ranging from Sabato's various weapons of debt (I wonder if the debt/death puns are solely a Western coincidence?), to the side chatter from all the various girls and demons Sabato has charmed into wanting to marry him, and of course the simple one-liner gags, like Sakura's cell having not only a barred jail door but an easily walked-through sliding panel door. It's a froth of silly that's not going to make anyone gasp or cheer, but is fun and relaxing.

As for our two leads, Rinne is getting a little better, especially as he seems to finally be realizing that he's falling in love with Sakura. In fact, the rest of the cast all seem to be acting on the basic idea that they're already a couple. Which would be great, if only we knew what Sakura felt about it. Or indeed at all. If anything, she gets even WORSE here, being the most implacable and unemotional Takahashi girl I've seen since Kasumi Tendou. I actually have to wonder if it's getting to be a plot point, rather than a deliberate choice. This was especially noticeable at the end of the arc with Rinne's father, where she's asked if the statement about her dating Rinne is a lie. Her reply is "Hmmm... I guess so" with a blithe smile on her face. Later we see her in her room thinking she was happy Rinne wasn't forced into a marriage, but again her face is so implacable it's suspicious. Did she leave her temper in the afterlife?

I enjoyed this book more than the previous two. Even though this can be a very frustrating series, I'm prepared to give it the benefit of the doubt. And I hope we can see more of Rinne's horrible father soon - he adds much needed spice.

Thursday, September 16, 2010

Manga the week of 9/22

A small but filling dose of manga next week.

Vertical has the second volume of Felipe Smith's manga from Japan, Peepo Choo. The first volume was very much in your face. I may review all 3 at once, since I never got a chance to review the first one.

Viz has what they list on their website as the final volume of the Shakugan no Shana manga, which may come as a surprise to those who know that Vol. 7 came out in Japan a while ago. When I first saw this, I thought it might be due to low sales, but it could also be a licensing issue, or something else. I still think calling an unfinished series finished is the wrong way to handle it. There's also the first volume of the low key samurai manga House of Five Leaves from Natsume Ono.

Yen has a pile of stuff. I'm not certain if this volume of With the Light is the last (the creator died before it was finished), but it's still worth your time. Bunny Drop is eagerly awaited by the whole blogging community, while Bamboo Blade is eagerly awaited by ME, and I believe this volume is the one that 'catches up' to the anime series. Cat Paradise is a series I couldn't get into, but lots of my friends like it, and it manages to exist in Champion Red without being creepy, always a plus. This is its final volume. And for those who enjoyed the yaoi otaku weirdness of My Girlfriend's A Geek in manga form, now you can read the novel it's based on.

Hayate the Combat Butler Volume 16

By Kenjiro Hata. Released in Japan as "Hayate no Gotoku!" by Shogakukan, serialization ongoing in the magazine Shonen Sunday. Released in North America by Viz.

This is another fun volume of Hayate. For those who like the series' goofy otaku humor, there's jokes galore! If only they were explained by some endnotes. Sigh... My favorite was mocking the 'Four Heavenly Kings', which takes swipes at both Pokemon and Megaman. I also love Hibino Fumi to death, even if she's barely in this volume. Her ability to speak before thinking serves her well.

If you want romantic comedy, that's in here as well, though of course don't expect anything approaching resolution. The volume begins by finishing up Hayate and Hina's date, with both of them suffering from the fact that they can't read the other's feelings well. Hayate eventually does manage to win her over, and all is well... oh wait, Hayate also has a habit of being hideously honest, even when the situation calls for subterfuge. Hina is not amused. Oh well, at least she got to see an amusement park.

Perhaps the most startling part of the volume was seeing Yukiji Katsura, everyone's favorite desperate lush teacher, as a hot young high school student. We'd heard before that Katsura-sensei used to be slightly less... bitter and over the top, but seeing her in flashback as the girl everyone admires in class is still stunning. I also agree with Kaoru-sensei, the idea of Hina turning out like that is very scary indeed.

The best reason to get this volume, though, is the second half, which has a longer story focusing on Izumi Segawa, the goofy airhead of Hinagiku's three friends. She's placed surprisingly high in the first popularity poll (even Hata said he was surprised), so this was no doubt created to give her more face time. It works pretty well. We meet her insane father, who is naturally incredibly overprotective (He apparently owns So*y... gosh, I wonder what company that cam be? The asterisk makes it impossible to tell!). And the family 'butler' shows up, with his crush on Hayate still very much intact. Throw in Miki and Risa stirring things up for fun, and the realization that Hayate has another (if less obsessed) suitor, and you have the basis for much fun.

Well... mostly much fun. We've noticed, starting about Volume 9, that it's a bad idea to let Hayate have flashbacks to his childhood. We see that again here, as Izumi tries to find a way to change the subject so that she doesn't have to admit to having a crush on him. She asks about what his ex-girlfriend he'd mentioned was like. We see him think of her, the same princess-curled blonde we'd seen in earlier flashbacks (though we still can't see her face)... and he starts to cry. He's not even sure why he's doing it. Luckily, Izumi giving him a hug to calm him down gets things back into comedy range, but... when is Hata going to show us who that girl is, and why Hayate's past is so traumatic?

We get the answer in the preview for Volume 17, which shows us it will be there. Hata also apologizes in the author's notes, noting the next volume will be 'a major turning point'. And he ain't kidding. The next volume of Hayate the Combat Butler, continuing into 18, will be far more serious than this series has ever been to date. Meanwhile, this is another light, fun read. It won't bring in new readers, but its antics are just what fans of the series want to see.

Wednesday, September 15, 2010

Twin Spica Volume 3

By Kou Yaginuma. Released in Japan as "Futatsu no Spica" by Media Factory, serialized in the magazine Comic Flapper. Released in North America by Vertical.

As we get into the third volume of Twin Spica, it becomes clear that one of Yaginuma's strength's is how to pace things out. I didn't get this at first, as when I finished the first chapter I felt that the whole 'Asumi runs away' was resolved entirely too neatly. But of course it's not resolved at all, as we see the teacher continuing to show bias against her once she returns - as well as seeing that he's been ordered to by higher-ups, for reasons unknown. For once, we're reading a 16-volume series that feels like it's been plotted out to 16 volumes in advance, rather than one where the editors said "this is a hit, can you add 12 plotlines?".

One plotline that I'm surprised we haven't seen yet is the student bullying. Perhaps because Asumi is bullied enough by her teacher, the students here seem to stick together. Not just her circle of friends, either; we see a great scene where the students are all put on a spinning, revolving wheel of death and forced to do math. Asumi, of course, handles the g-force with ease, as we have already seen that physically she is badass. If tiny. When she finishes, the other students crowd around to congratulate her and wonder how she can do such things. They also join Kei is protesting the teacher's bullying of Asumi. They're the anti-Gakuen Alice students. (At least so far.)

And a lot of this volume is devoted to showing us that even the cold or 'villainous' characters are just human beings after all. Not only is Sano, the aforementioned teacher, being told to try to get Asumi to quit (which to be fair he doesn't push against too hard), but he then resigns after a brief crisis of faith (involving some backstory for The Lion, the tragic accident that powers much of this series). Asumi comes to realize that he, just like her, is a dreamer who wanted to see humanity get into space, but was simply crushed by events. The best art in the volume shows her confrontation with Sano as he leaves the school, showing that she knows what he's dreaming of.

We don't get Mariko's backstory here, beyond her clearly being rich and lonely, and her parents being very overprotective and wanting to isolate her. But that's enough for now, and she certainly remains one of the characters I want to see more of (I will admit that their other friend Kei, who is likeable enough, I don't really feel the same way about.) Mariko needs to open up, and starts to do so here a bit, overpowered by Asumi's basic niceness (at times this reads very much like a shoujo manga).

There's more main story here, so we only get one 'side story' starring Asumi as a child. This one being a very melancholy tale from her middle school days of her brief friendship with a sickly boy who is the only one besides her that can see Mr. Lion. However, I'm definitely more into the main story by now. I want to see Asumi do more spaceflight stuff, and see more of Mariko. And I definitely want to find out why the higher-ups in the school seem to have it in for Asumi. Is it entirely related to her father's work on The Lion? In any case, this series continues to be almost impossible to put down.

Tuesday, September 14, 2010

Toriko Volume 2

By Mitsutoshi Shimabukuro. Released in Japan by Shueisha, serialization ongoing in the magazine Weekly Shonen Jump. Released in North America by Viz.

Though I did greatly enjoy reading this volume of Toriko, I will admit that as a manga, it's not very filling. A light snack, something to whet the appetite, but I'll be turning to series like One Piece or Gin Tama if I need a real meal.

OK, enough of the food metaphors. Toriko is, in many ways, a perfect Jump series. It is very much geared to boys. We see lots of fantastical creatures, lots of beating those creatures up, and lots of... well, that's it, really. The entire volume consists of going on a quest to find this rare but delicious whale, the Toriko world's equivalent of tiger blowfish, which is not only very easily poisonous but also in a cave surrounded by hideous predators. It's not something Toriko can do with just Komatsu, so he secures the help of his friend/rival Coco, who is the milder and more sensible counterpart to Toriko's loud and boisterous self.

The author continues to love drawing this insane, creature-filled world that the leads inhabit, and it's here that we see his real strength. The creatures and things we see are imaginatively silly and/or dangerous as need be, and of course incredibly tasty as well. Unfortunately, the same cannot be said of the human cast. Toriko so far hasn't really found much depth, Komatsu is still pretty much 'useless cheerleader with no powers', and Coco is rather dull.

There was also one bit that I found needlessly short-sighted. At one point the dorky sidekick, Komatsu, is literally killed by a 'firecracker' Toriko left him to scare off predators. The firecracker turns out to essentially be a bomb, as Komatsu later notes. We get very scary shots of his eardrums rupturing and his heart stopping. Of course, this is only Volume 2, and he's a main character, so he is immediately resuscitated by a kindly old badass drunk. That's not my problem. The problem is that Toriko's reaction to all this is "Oh! A ha ha ha, well, you're all right now!". I know that this is meant to be the simple lunkhead shonen hero, but come on. Even Luffy would not give a friend a bomb, kill them by accident, and not feel some remorse.

I wasn't as fond of the 2nd volume of Toriko as I was the first. But then I'm not exactly the target audience for this series. 10-12-year-old boys are, and I think they will just eat this up. No pun intended.

Monday, September 13, 2010

Butterflies, Flowers Volume 4

By Yuki Yoshihara. Released in Japan as "Chou Yo Hana Yo" by Shogakukan, serialized in the magazine Petit Comic. Released in North America by Viz.

In looking at my review of Volume 3, I noted that one of the things I enjoyed most about this series was seeing Masayuki's over the top sexual harassment towards his lover Choko, and hoped to see more ludicrousness. Oddly enough, I don't get that here in Volume 4. And yet this volume pleased me more than the previous ones. Why is that?

I'm tempted to say Gundam, though that's not exactly correct. What makes this volume work is that the over the top humor that had mostly been confined to Masayuki's advances in previous volumes expands to cover a much larger array of ridiculousness. Thus you get the 'elevator' to the president's office that looks like the passage to the secret base you see in 70s giant robot shows, or Masayuki bitching about how he and the president are TOTALLY DIFFERENT, as Masayuki prefers 80s robot stuff to 70s. Half the time these jokes read like complete throwaways, which actually makes them funnier. (My favorite was the Saikano reference.)

More importantly is the development of Masayuki. I'd mentioned that there was less of his leering sexual harassment this volume. That actually starts off halfway through the volume, and is noted immediately by Choko, who actually misses the attention a little bit. Understandable, as this was the easiest way to tell his affection towards her. I kept waiting for the punchline, expecting him to be holding off as he's trying to get into her pants for some special reason. But no, it may just be that he's actually trying to be a better boyfriend to her. He does, in the end, ask her to move in with him, which might be part of why he was holding back, but I still think it's a good sign of growth.

As for Choko, she's still not as strong as I expected her to be from her kickass scene in Book 1, but she does OK. She spends a lot of the first half of this book 'imprisoned' in the president's palatial estate, but at least is strong enough to say no to the president to his face, and also smacks Masayuki the one time he DOES go too far. I'm hoping that Masayuki's attempts to be a better person allow her to grow as well, and that the two can finally show affection for each other without the passive aggressive behavior we've seen to date.

This series can be frustrating at times, but it's no Hot Gimmick. The main reason for that is there's a playful tone to the whole thing, both in-universe with Masayuki's 'courtship' and in real life, as Yoshihara knows when to pile on the gags and when to show the hot sex scenes. There's still a bit of guilt to this pleasure, but this volume in particular was a lot of fun.

Sunday, September 12, 2010

Walter Lantz Cartoons Part 9: The Greatest Man in Siam, The Barber of Seville, Fish Fry, Abou Ben Boogie, The Beach Nut

It's 1944, and Shamus Culhane has settled in at Lantz. Which is terrific, as it gives us a run of cartoons that's the best so far, including one cartoon scholars call the best Woody Woodpecker cartoon ever.

In the first of two Middle Eastern Swing Symphonies for this post, we get The Greatest Man in Siam, a Swing Symphony with lots of hot jazz. The plot has the King announcing that he'll give his daughter's hand in marriage to the greatest man, as you'd expect. We get lots of gags about people who say they have various attributes - the smartest man, the richest man, etc. The daughter is a gorgeous harem girl, and one of the reasons these cartoons are rarely seen on TV - she's almost drawn too sexily, with semi-transparent harem clothes showing off all of the legs and a great deal of the rest of her. In the end, the 'hottest' man in Siam comes by and wows everyone with his playing and dancing, and he wins the contest by getting everyone to dance.

And now we get Culhane's first Woody Woodpecker cartoon. There's a few differences to note. Woody has another new voice, that if writer Ben Hardaway, and this one would stick with him for the rest of the 40s. As a voice artist, Hardaway is a great writer, but hey, Woody cartoons aren't known for their snappy dialogue at this point anyway. He was also redesigned to be a bit shorter and cuter, though he's still pretty wild compared to the 50s version. As for the cartoon itself, it's been voted one of the 50 greatest cartoons of all time. It usually even gets more votes than Warners' Rabbit of Seville, which is impressive. Woody goes to a barber to get a haircut, only to find the barber's been drafted. Woody decides to cut his own hair, only to be beset by customers, so he quickly pretends to be the barber. His first victim is a cliched Red Indian, who Woody gives the hot towels treatment to, then eventually tosses across the street to be a cigar store Indian. Then a construction worker comes in and asks for "the whooooooole works". He quickly regrets this, as Woody whips out the lather and razor and starts singing Largo El Factotum from Rossini's opera. He also goes even more nuts than we usually see from Woody. He's positively terrifying in this, whipping around a noticeably chipper straight razor, and generally being almost homicidal. The worker escapes, but returns to toss Woody into a wall and throw the barber pole at him. Words don't do this justice, you really need to see it.

Remember Andy Panda? He's still been cruising along with the occasional cartoon. He's grown up now, mostly, and has lost his father's presence, but he's still very much a 'Porky Pig' type character, in that he does not actually drive the action. In Fish Fry, he decides to buy a pet goldfish and take it home. Unfortunately, he quickly runs into a mangy-looking cat who wants the fish for dinner. What follows will not surprise anyone who's watched the average Tom & Jerry or Tweety & Sylvester cartoon, though this cat is a lot more urban than either of those two. Fish Fry does boast a tremendously bizarre ending where, after attempting to run away from a bulldog about 3 times, the cat simply goes insane, leaping about into the distance laughing. It makes no sense in the context of the rest of the cartoon, but is certainly startling, I'll grant you.

Back in Swing Symphony land, we're still in the Middle East, and it's time for Abou Ben Boogie. This one has less plot than the Greatest Man in Siam, but has a lot more hot harem girls wearing next to nothing. My guess is that the first cartoon drew rave reviews from the dads in the audience. At an opium den (another reason this cartoon isn't seen very often on TV), the entertainment is there to tell us about Abou Ben Boogie, who is known for his hot dancing. He shows up about halfway through, but his attempts to romance the girl seem to be met more often than not with him kissing a camel. In fact, the camel gets more screen time than the girl, and shows that its dancing is pretty hot as well. Another great cartoon, showing that Lantz's folks had become experts at timing jazz licks to intense animation.

Meanwhile, Woody may be cuter and smaller, but he's even more of a horrible screwball pest. And now he finally has an ongoing nemesis in Wally Walrus, who is voiced in a heavy Swedish accent by Hans Conried (best known to cartoon fans as Snidely Whiplash). The cartoon opens with a bunch of beachgoers on the boardwalk watching Wally beat the crap out of Woody. He stops to explain how things got this way. Knowing Woody as we do, I think we could have guessed. Wally is trying to relax at the beach, but Woody runs over him, smashes into him, steals his food, soaks him, and then cons him by playing a phony swami. Sadly, in the end Wally does himself in, as his attempts to tie Woody to an anchor and drown him just succeed in destroying the entire boardwalk.

Now that Woody has a new look, new director and a regular adversary, he's improving by leaps and bounds. And even Andy Panda's cartoons have gotten interesting, if not Andy himself. Great stuff. Next time, we'll look at some 1945 cartoons.

Saturday, September 11, 2010

The Winter's Tale

By William Shakespeare. First published in Britain in 1623 by Edward Blount, William Jaggard, and Isaac Jaggard. Review copy from 'The Arden Shakespeare: Third Series', edited by John Pitcher.

I have to say, the more I read about Shakespeare's stuff, the more impressed I get. And we're talking about possibly the most famous writer in history here. The notion of 'tragicomedy' was not new when Shakespeare wrote this play in 1610 or so, but the Jacobean audiences were still having trouble with it. John Fletcher had written a tragicomedy 2 years earlier that had bombed, and was apparently bitching about how the audiences were philistines. So Shakespeare wrote The Winter's Tale, which basically is also sort of a tragicomedy, but divides it almost exactly in half. The first three acts are a tragedy, then the last 2 comedic and pastoral. Blending? What is that?

Oddly enough, the dividing point seems to be the bear. The Winter's Tale certainly contains Shakespeare's most famous stage direction in all his plays: "Exit, pursued by a bear." It's suspected that there may have been a performing troupe in London at the time, whose trained bear Shakespeare wanted to use. He had to know, however, that if this was going to be put on again, they would not have handy access to a bear every time. And, be it special effects or just a guy in a bear suit, the bear is almost impossible to pull off and not have it be ludicrous. So why not play that up, and make the appearance of the bear a big laugh? After all the drama of the first three acts, giggling at the bear (even as it does kill off one of the characters) lets the audience lighten up for the country dancing and foolish trickery that follows.

Speaking of the country scenes, this play is also unusual in that the lead romantic heroine does NOT dress up as a boy to disguise herself. Admittedly, there is a matter of mistaken identity here, as she's a missing princess masquerading as a shepherdess, but she's been raised there, so knows nothing of her magical heritage. It's odd seeing Shakespeare, who in his later plays loved to have callbacks to his earlier ones, not use the old girl dressed as a boy (played by a boy dressed as a girl dressed as a boy), but there's a surprisingly limited amount of cross-dressing here.

The play can be hard to perform, like almost all Shakespeare, because of his habit of using unlikeable characters in major lead roles, and not having them get what they deserve. King Leontes in this play may be the only jealous husband we've seen who manages to give himself brain fever through sheer force of will. His ludicrous accusations of adultery get worse and worse as the early acts go on, and it requires an actual Godly Oracle to tell him he's an idiot. Even then, he still doesn't believe the Oracle, so his wife and son die just to show him the error of his ways.

As I said, the first half reads very much like a tragedy. Leontes has some similarities to both Othello and Lear, but lacks the innate nobility of both of them. It's very frustrating seeing him create infidelity out of basically nothing at all. Some productions try to make Hermione a genuine flirt and tease to give him some motivation, but I think this not only does her character wrong, but misses the idea that he doesn't need motivation. The problem with this, of course, is that in the end he gets his happy ever after. His daughter returns, his wife is resurrected, and all is well. Many people think he didn't suffer enough. Well, he did grieve for 16 years, but we're not shown that much.

Oh yes, the resurrection. The other reason this play is so well known is Hermione's appearance as a statue come to life. It's been suggested that this was Shakespeare trying to apologize for Lear, which had in the end a dying Lear babble that Cordelia was coming back to life, and certainly it's not the only time he would do this - Pericles, which was written only 2 years earlier, has a very similar plot where the lead's wife is not really dead. The difference here is that we SEE the statue come to life. The Winter's Tale is at a period in Shakespeare's life where he was very fond of fantastic elements - after this he'd write The Tempest, which goes even further - but a lot of people can't suspend disbelief quite that much.

Tragicomedy, pastoral, romance. Whatever. It's one of three genre-blending plays Shakespeare wrote in a row (along with Cymbeline and The Tempest), and generally regarded to day as one of his better plays, if not necessarily in the top echelon. I'm not sure I'd be able to stage it well (the festival scene, which runs to about 45 minutes, can be punishing with all the dances and songs), and there's the Leontes problem, but certainly this is a lot easier to put on stage today than Shrew or Merchant of Venice. Check it out if you get a chance.

Oh yes, and the 'shores of Bohemia' thing? That was totally a joke. Shakespeare knew where Bohemia was. He was laughing up his sleeve as he wrote that. Plus it helped add to the sense of unreality.

Friday, September 10, 2010

Library Wars: Love & War Volume 2

By Kiiro Yumi, based on the novel by Hiro Arikawa. Released in Japan as "Toshokan Sensou: Love & War" by Hakusensha, serialization ongoing in the magazine LaLa. Released in North America by Viz.

Usually when I review a new volume of a series I've already covered, I go back and read my last couple of reviews to make sure I don't accidentally repeat myself. This was especially amusing for me as my review of Volume 1 of Love & War went on about how the series was not about the romance between Iku and Dojo, but about their futuristic world of censorship and military intrigue.

Ahahahaha. Sorry, I spoke too soon. Not that it's a bad thing. This is a great, light and easy read, filled with lots of blushing looks and people insisting that their love is merely tremendous respect. But yes, I had forgotten why this series was created. It's not to tell Library Wars all over again. One can assume fans of this series would be reading the light novels for that. It's to tell the story filtered through the pages of LaLa magazine, which also features vampire romance, reverse harems, Class Presidents dressed as Maids, and whatever Natsume's Book of Friends is. When you read a shoujo magazine, you want shoujo.

We do certainly get enough of it here. Not only is Iku dealing with the fact that Dojo seems to show a special interest in her, and why it makes her heart beat so fast, but now Tezuka, who was demanding Iku be discharged from the Library Forces only a chapter or so ago, is asking her out! What's a girl to do? Luckily, Iku is in the classic mold of Hakusensha heroines, which means that she's strong like an ox but idiotic in terms of love matters, so she doesn't really have to do much except get progressively more frustrated that she can't figure out what these guys want. She's perfect for Dojo, really, who is doing the exact same thing, insisting that he's only interested in her development as a soldier.

This is not to say that there is no political intrigue in this volume. In fact, I was surprised at how serious it got. Ripping stories from today's headlines (despite apparently taking place at least 30 years in the future), the government is up in arms about a serial killer being caught who had a number of 'questionable books' in his bedroom. Naturally, the evil books made him kill people, so it's time to ban them. Our heroes aren't having any of that, though. We get our first big raid with Iku on the job, and she performs exactly as you'd expect - disobeying orders and going off on her own, but saving the day. (If this weren't a fictional shoujo manga, she'd never have even made the squadron, but hey, I don't want realism in my Library Wars.) We also get to see their big boss, the head librarian, stand up to the police and insist on the privacy of their borrowers. The manga definitely takes a stand against censorship full force.

I also can't believe I haven't mentioned Asako, Iku's roommate, who spends this entire volume being amazing. She figures out who's been stealing library books, she works out that the giant raid is just a fakeout, *and* she tries hard to get Iku and Dojo closer together. Even for 'best friend of the heroine' characters, she goes above and beyond. And she's hot, too.

My favorite moment in the manga was one that combined the simmering romance with the intrigue, as Iku is enraged to discover that even among Library Forces, there are those who still think censoring 'the bad titles' is OK. She gets ready to go mouth off, but is stopped by Dojo, who once again reams her out for her uncontrollable temper. But then, continuing his growth from Volume 1, we see him note that her honesty and sense of justice are her strength. It's a great line, and exactly what she needed to hear. When these two get together as a couple, they'll be awesome.

Not that I expect that to happen anytime soon. The series is up to Volume 6 in Japan, and is still running monthly in LaLa. Assuming there is a romantic resolution, it probably won't happen till the final chapters. Still, this remains a great read, combining frustrating romance with nice action scenes. The heroine may annoy some readers, in that her temper and inability to do things a soldier has to do can rankle, but that's why she has Dojo there to make her shape up. Recommended.

Thursday, September 9, 2010

Manga the week of 9/15

It's a pretty busy week at Midtown Comics. First of all, they're getting in all the Viz the rest of us got this week. So I already covered a lot of it.

In the Viz that Diamond and Midtown are getting at the same time, we have a new Hayate the Combat Butler, a great silly comedy manga I enjoy. This may be the last pure silly volume of that, as 17 begins a very serious arc. I'm also very fond of Dogs: Bullets and Carnage, which pretty much delivers what its subtitle suggests. And there's another volume of the light (somewhat too light) Takahashi comedy Rin-Ne.

Digital Manga Publishing has been quiet lately, but are making up for it with a giant pile of books, 13 in all. The majority are yaoi, which is mostly a genre I don't follow as much, but even I've heard of Finder, one of the titles listed. They also have the 3rd volume of the classic shoujo manga Itazura Na Kiss, inspiration for approximately 80 billion other shoujo titles that came after it.

And Dark Horse has the 34th volume of Berserk, a title that we've discovered sells perpetually well. Which is good, as it subsidizes the awesome yet poor selling Kurosagi Corpse Delivery Service, which celebrates its 11th volume by switching from beige to black covers. One of the best horror titles out there, with a wicked sense of humor and the legendary endnotes of Carl Horn. (Which sounds like a bad RPG quest. "Traverse the Mountains of Despair to get me the Endnotes of Carl Horn!") Everyone should get this, even if you think you hate horror. It's fantastic.

Oh My Goddess! Volume 15

By Kosuke Fujishima. Released in Japan by Kodansha, serialization ongoing in the magazine Afternoon. Released in North America by Dark Horse.

It's interesting to go back and read these early volumes of Oh My Goddess, if only to see what hasn't changed. The cast has graduated, and as a result has shrunk, but by this volume everyone was essentially in place, and Belldandy and Keiichi were firmly entrenched in their loving yet utterly chaste relationship. Likewise, Dark Horse has unflipped the art and put the TPB in the correct chapter order, but the translation is, I believe, still the same one from their old version. Not that there was much that needed to be changed - Studio Proteus are excellent.

The first part of this volume finished off the Queen Sayoko arc. I found this most interesting for Sayoko herself, who tries hard to be the villain of the whole thing but just isn't nasty enough. This has been the case through the series, as she and her cousin Aoshima try to break up Bell and K1. She tries to do it through honest (mostly) means of seduction, though, wanting to lord it over Belldandy that she's better rather than for any desire for Keiichi (though she does get why he's a chick magnet). Aoshima, by contrast, tries to date rape Belldandy. Not in the same league. So in this volume, with Mara giving Sayoko powers over reality, Sayoko finds that 'victory is boring'. After having Belldandy bow before her, clean the floors, tell stupid jokes... what more is there to do? She could tell her to break up with Keiichi, but she's not going to use force or compulsion. I admire that in a villain. Of course, this is her final stand - she's one of the cast who disappear once everyone graduates.

The second part of the volume features Keiichi's sister Megumi, a favorite of mine for some time, and her race with the so-called "Queen of Nekomi Tech", a female motorcycle rider who enjoys trouncing students who are late, or nearly late, for class. As I've mentioned before, this is a manga about motorcycles that happens to have some goddesses as supporting players, so these chapters are lovingly detailed bike porn. "You got *Showa* titanium shocks on the front and a *quantum* gas cart for the rear mono! *Brembo* magnesium racing brakes! Hey, is that swing arm magnesium too?" This chapter also gives us a change to see K1 and Bell riding as a motorcycle with sidecar team, and we see that this is basically what they replace sex with. They are so perfectly in sync that it's mind-numbing, and get a beautiful double-page spread. In the end, the Queen surrenders and gives Megumi her title... which is ironic, as in OMG 35, the newest release over here, Megumi is finding that title leading to nothing but heartbreak.

The remainder of the volume deals with Skuld and her angel angst (she's still pretty bratty here), as well as Urd's own discomfort with her half-demon self (which will pretty much be a major plot point in many volumes to come). The final part has the dumbest premise (Belldandy, who can drink gallons of sake and not notice, gets drunk on Coca-Cola and goes around using her powers on everyone), but has the typical sweet romantic ending, where a creepy guy asking her to sleep with him, and she comes out of the drunk coma enough to note that she can't as she's in love with Keiichi. I go on a lot about how frustrating this couple is, and why they haven't progressed. The frustration wouldn't be there without these scenes that show what a fantastic love exists between the two of them, though. They're both fairly idealized, but you just love seeing them in love.

Oh My Goddess has long been a success here, and recent sales figures courtesy Matt Blind at Rocket Bomber show that its sales are consistent and decent, even after 35 volumes and a complete reprint of 1-20 with unflipped art. That's impressive, and reminds you that the series can still be worth it for fans, despite the frustrations.

Wednesday, September 8, 2010

Portrait of M & N Volume 3

By Tachibana Higuchi. Released in Japan as "M to N no Shouzou" by Hakusensha, serialized in the magazine Hana to Yume. Released in North America by Tokyopop.

Yes, at last, THIS is what I was talking about. After 2 volumes of some of the most depressing comedy I've read, Tachibana has figured out how to play up the funny with her two leads. Oh, there's still lots of serious, and Mitsuru's reprehensible family is still a problem, but at last we can momentarily forget about these things and just watch all the misunderstandings and physical humor.

Nowhere is this more apparently than in the first chapter, which takes place on a class skiing trip. Mitsuru is hoping for a nice romantic time with Natsuhiko but keeps slamming into trees or getting accidentally run over by skiers (leading to her immense pleasure), Hijiri is hoping to teach the "clumsy" Mitsuru how to ski (sadly, she knows and is better than he is), and Natsuhiko is running into reflective surfaces everywhere that cause him to go into paroxysms of love for himself. Add to this a new girl, Ririka, who gets to be the normal one reacting to all these freaks, and then toss them all down a few cliffs and onto some moving logs.

Ririka's cute, and not only does she get to be the normal one, but she allows Mitsuru to have an ally who's not male. In a manga filled with jealous females out to destroy the heroine, this is important. Of course, naturally she's fallen for Natsuhiko, and thinks Mitsuru is actually Hijiri's girlfriend. But that's just standard shoujo misunderstandings. At heart, Ririka is there to stop Mitsuru being too serious and depressing. It doesn't work, mostly as Mitsuru is so far down that crawling up to happy is almost impossible, but the thought is there.

By the way, nice cameo in the author's notes from Shigeru Takao, the author of Teru Teru x Shonen, which ran alongside M&N in the magazine. I suspect 'beautiful, big-breasted young lady with a homo fetish' is not how she wanted to be introduced, though. :)

The most amusing part of the volume for me was the fake gay subtext between Natsuhiko and Hijiri. Originally done as a gag for the ski trip (and really, Ririka's seeing them as gay is TOTALLY UNDERSTANDABLE given what she saw), apparently the female audience for Hana to Yume went over the moon at the idea, so Tachibana added even more goofiness with Hijiri trying to break them up by saying Natsuhiko is secretly gay, and Mitsuru proceeding to tell the school this in a wacky hypnosis story. It's the chapter that feels the most scattered (the author notes it was hastily rewritten), but also the funniest.

In amongst all this welcome comedy, Mitsuru and Natsuhiko finally confess and become a couple. These are the sweetest moments of the book, mostly as the two leads are so earnest and serious that you really root for them to become closer. Of course, this is then followed by self-doubts and still wondering what the other thinks, but that's standard shoujo. Their relationship also leads to the weak point in the book, which is Mitsuru's family. Her Oedipal brother is introduced, and he seems to treat her just as badly as her mother does. I say seems as mother comes in towards the end of the volume, and reaches new lows of emotional abuse. I think Tachibana gave Mitsuru's backstory too much realism. Mitsuru's life to date is simply HORRIBLE, and while there's far more comedy here to save it, the ending just reminds you of that fact. At least she's finally starting to rebel a little bit.

So, slowly getting there. I don't expect the book to become a laff riot - like Gakuen Alice, the series seems to revel in its emotional whirlwind - but adding lighthearted moments makes Portrait of M & N a title that is worth your time, provided you don't mind all the protagonists' emotional baggage.

Monday, September 6, 2010

Top Ten Negima Manga Moments

It can be hard to recommend a long-running series. It's a huge money sink, and you buy hoping that you'll get a satisfactory ending but not actually knowing this (mainly as the series is still running in Japan). One of my favoite current manga, Mahou Sensei Negima, also has two other big problems in recommending it to new readers.

First, the adaptation is all over the map. It's changed translators and adaptors at least 3 times, and each group has a new approach. The early volumes got character names completely wrong (Shen Rin? Try Lingshen Chao.), and its adaptation by noted comics writer Peter David was... loose, to be polite.

Second, I'll be honest. The first three volumes aren't very good. They suffer from an overuse of Akamatsu's traditional 'fan service' and 'comedic violence' that he'd already done to death in his bestselling predecessor, Love Hina. Now, neither of those go away entirely, but in future volumes they either get toned down or spaced apart better. And the 'tsundere' characters get much better defined here as being more than a hair-trigger temper and an angry punch.

And then there's the basic premise. By now most casual readers know the story about Akamatsu slowly changing his manga from being a harem manga with magic to being a fighting manga with magic, but the romance still exists. This despite the hero being ten years old, and most of the girls being fourteen. Japan has a casual relationship with age in its anime and manga, and even though most of the romance in Negima is 'innocent', limited to confessions of love and admiration or kisses to get magical abilities, it can still make a reader uncomfortable.

That said, I think Negima is, especially lately, a fantastic example of a shonen manga. It's hitting exactly the right beats, balancing well between epic fight sequences, gripping plot revelations, touching character development, and yes, the occasional naked girls bath scenes. This posts lists what I consider to be 10 of the defining moments in the 27 volumes of Negima released to date by Del Rey. And trust me, it took a lot of narrowing down. They're listed in order from earliest to most recent. And yes, there are some spoilers here, but I will try to gush about the moment while not revealing TOO much.

1) Nodoka's Confession (Volume 4). So often in shonen harem manga, especially ones involving a pile of girls and one guy going nowhere for several volumes, we get the classic aborted confession. The girl tries to indicate that she likes the guy, but is either too shy, or he misunderstands, or some sort of chaos prevents them from doing anything. So she backs off, resolving to try again later on. Nowhere is this more apparent than in Love Hina, Akamatsu's prior manga. And Nodoka was having a lot of trouble separating herself from Shinobu, the character in Love Hina she most resembles. So it was a big surprise when, after a chapter of waffling, she buckles down and admits that she's fallen in love with Negi. This ends up being the defining moment of her character. She's shy, and prone to panic and second-guessing, but when the pressure is on, she's the most courageous of the entire cast. It also sets up later moments when her courage goes beyond love and into risking her life - literally - for her friends.

2) Setsuna's Reveal and subsequent aftermath (Volume 6). Setsuna was introduced in Volume 4 as a 'shadow' bodyguard for Konoka, the term being in quotes as it's Setsuna herself who lurks in the shadows, humiliated by her past failure to save Konoka (when they were both small children) and determined that she can only protect her by never getting close to her again. What's more, she's covering up a hidden heritage, one which gives her even more self-loathing problems. So when it becomes clear that Konoka will be sacrificed unless something is done, Setsuna reveals her true, ugly form... a pair of huge, fluffy white angel wings. (Technically she's apparently some sort of albino half-crow demon, but they look like big, fluffy angel wings). After briefly boggling and noting how pretty the wings look, Asuna notes that Setsuna, who knows Konoka better than anyone, should know that she'd never care about something like that. Sure enough, once Setsuna rescues Konoka from the bad guys, Konoka's first thought is that she looks beautiful. Not only does this play up having more confidence in yourself (a constant theme of Negima), but it starts the KonoSetsu yuri pairing love. The manga has no ACTUAL romantic couples, but if it did, these two would be one. They're just adorable together.

3) Evangeline to the rescue (Volume 6). Let's face it, when you're an undead vampire mage trapped in the body of a small girl, it's hard to get respect. This applies both to people in story and out. And the reader didn't think much of Evangeline when she was defeated fairly easily by Negi and Asuna in Volume 3. So, since Akamatsu already planned to have Negi taught more magic by Evangeline as a mentor figure (albeit a semi-evil one), how to how that she's actually incredibly super-powerful when she's actually concentrating and taking her opponent seriously? Well, one way would be to have her show up in the middle of the final fight, casually have her robot familiar trap the demonic monster that's towering over the whole area in a magic barrier, and then destroying it with one casual spell. Oh, and after getting her entire body run through with a giant stone spike by Fate, who had been manhandling Negi and Asuna earlier, she casually re-forms her body and slams Fate around. Then he RUNS AWAY. All this punctuated with maniacal laughter. If you're going to introduce a badass mentor, show why they're badass. Oh yes, and one of the more pathetic evil minions gets owned by Eva's crazy puppet. No, literally a puppet. With strings and everything.

4) Kaede vs. 'Ku:Nel Sanders' (Volume 13). Despite all the lip service Akamatsu gave to 'All of the 31 girls in the class will be important to the story', Negima like every other series with huge casts has its star players and its supporting characters. Kaede, the huge ninja girl, sort of sits between the two poles. She's at her best here, in the midst of a giant tournament arc, going up against a new character who has shown up and simply wasted the competition. What's more, Kaede jumped from Round 1 to Round 3 when her Round 2 opponents, Mana and Ku Fei, took each other out. So we really had no idea what to expect. Both very similar characters, being the 'smiling with eyes closed' types you see so often in manga, they are casually polite at the start, and then Ku:Nel decides to use gravity magic to simply flatten Kaede. Everyone gasps, and he wonders if he actually overdid things a bit. Then we see four Kaedes, all surrounding him, commenting on how awesome his power is. What follows is a fantastic battle, pure shonen grace and artistry, showing two equally matched opponents simply going at each other, tossing compliments the entire way. This is where you realize that Akamatsu finally did it - he has the fighting manga now, not the harem manga. And the audience love it.

5) Eva confronts "Nagi" (Volume 13). Akamatsu is very good at subtly pulling the heartstrings when he wants to. After a long battle between Negi and his "father" (actually a simulacrum created by Ku:Nel Sanders, but it looks, acts and fights just like the real thing), we're already emotionally exhausted seeing Negi joyfully living a reunion he never thought he'd have, false as it is. After thoroughly trouncing Negi, his father (who only has a short time before the illusion expires) tells him to live wife happily and prepares to leave. This despite Negi noting, to the illusion's surprise, that he's not dead. As if this weren't enough, Evangeline then bursts into the arena, confronting the man who she stalked for years (and who imprisoned her at the Academy). After some brief humor where "Nagi" finds that a) an evil vampire is his son's mentor, and b) he forgot to release her from the imprisonment, which wasn't meant to be that long, Eva tells him to shut up. Knowing it's only an illusion, but not caring, she asks for a hug. Which he refuses. So she settles for a pat on the head. This he accedes to, and we see her blushing, with tears in her eyes. This is, I think, the only time the entire series we've seen Eva cry. It's a beautiful moment, and shows you the effect Negi's father had on her.

6) Chao's past (Volume 18). After defeating Chao Lingshen at the end of the Festival, Negi confronts her before she returns to the future that she failed to change. He notes that the markings on her body, magical tattoos that drew an insane amount of power, and implies that these were put on her by force, a charge which she does not dispute. He then asks Chao about what happened to her to bring her to this point. At this point we're all expecting a long flashback arc telling us about Chao's past. But Akamatsu knows his audience is already exhausted by the Festival arc, so Chao cuts him short. This is one bit I'll actually quote in its entirety: "Negi-bozu... knowing a person's past doesn't mean you'll understand them. If you want to know about me, go read a history textbook or watch the latest news. My past is no different from the countless tragedies that happen every day on this planet." I talk here about good plot and character moments, or great tipping points. This is one moment I'm including as it's simply good writing. It sums up Chao better than any flashback could.

7) Negi punching Fate (Volume 21). The cliffhanger to Volume 20 was rather stunning. After arriving in the magical world, Negi's having enough trouble dealing with a bunch of stowaways without having evil villains around. But Fate is there, and decides to simply take Negi out there and then, with a huge stone spear through the shoulder. Negi coughs up blood and collapses in a heap. The others try to rescue him, but their pactio cards and weapons are all locked in a magical box which they can't open due to arriving at the Magic World equivalent of Customs. Then, the rest of Fate's evil gang show up and take our heroes to the cleaners. Powerful allies like Setsuna and Kaede are shown to be overmatched by these guys. Then Fate notes that he should simply turn everyone to stone permanently. As he prepares to do this, he is met with a left hook to the face from our hero, who has somehow managed to get back up and punch the hell out of Fate USING THE STONE SPEAR HE WAS IMPALED WITH. Every shonen hero needs a point to show that he's the hero. This is one of Negi's biggest.

8) "Super Magical Girl Yue!!" (Volume 23). Yue has always been one of the more interesting girls in Negi's class. At first seeming like the stereotypical 'emotionless girl', she later proves to be anything but, showing she's simply reserved unless around friends, or when she gets fired up. She's among the worst in the class for grades, but it's heavily implied that it's apathy and hatred of studying that causes this rather than any issues with learning. Now she's ended up in the magical world, and even worse she has amnesia. Luckily she's relatively safe at the world's largest Magic Academy, and quickly joins the school. Without her memories holding her back, and with a subject that actually interests her, Yue shows she's an utter genius, quickly leaping to near the head of the class in a mere month. This culminates in a marathon battle to see who gets to represent the class as Magical Bodyguards. Yue manages to out-think most of the class in taking the lead, then after her rival tries taking a shortcut and instead merely ends up awaking a killer monster, Yue calmly ascertains the monster's weak point, gets her rival to rain ice spears down on it, then uses her broom to FLY THROUGH THE RAIN OF ICE SPEARS and take it down with one stab of a knife at its one tiny weak point. Not bad for a deadpan flat-chested girl, huh?

9) Fate capturing [REDACTED] (Volume 26). This is the one point in the story where I actually try to hold to not spoiling, as opposed to simply saying I won't and then revealing all. That's because this revelation is utterly fantastic. It comes at the end of another long battle with Fate, which ended as most other battles have, with Fate retreating after beating the tar out of Negi, but with our heroes unscathed and with new information courtesy of Nodoka and her magical mind-reading. That's why it's all the more stunning in this volume to see that one of the characters has actually been captured and replaced with a copy, and Negi's party suffered its biggest loss yet. They don't actually know this yet, but we the reader get to be ahead of Negi for once as we see Fate's crew taunting their prisoner that in order to be rescued, Negi and company have to notice she's gone. In a series like this, you need your villains to be dangerous and feel like a threat. This was a huge step in that process. Negi's just lost one of his most precious allies.

10) Ako discovering that "Nagi" is Negi (Volume 27). And sometimes it's all about the heartbreak. Ako is first given an arc in Vols. 14-15, where she's romanced (accidentally) by Negi, who has taken aging pills and is pretending to be his cousin Nagi. Ako already has a lot of self-image problems to start with, and dealing with Negi's genuinely unconscious flirting (Chisame notes he's a 10-year-old "natural-born gigolo") makes her fall completely in love. Her self-image problems are partly due to a huge scar that goes across her back, which she's had since she was a child (we still don't know how she got it), and partly due to thinking that she's merely a 'side-character' in someone else's story, supporting the stars (such as Negi, Asuna, Nodoka, and Setsuna, for example). Having been dragged along to follow Negi and company to the magical world, she finds herself sold as a slave in order to buy medicine to cure a nasty disease she got immediately on arrival. But hey, she meets Nagi again, who's entering a tournament in order to free her and her fellow classmates who are also now slaves. Then she discovers that Nagi is actually her 10-year-old teacher. She at least manages to get away from him before breaking down, but we then see her in the hot springs, sobbing her heart out. For a series with tons of naked fanservice, there is for once nothing erotic about this - it's pure cleansing agony, and yet another in a series of horrific moments for this girl who can't catch a break.

I've left out so many, but this post is already getting a bit long. If you have any others to suggest, leave them in the comments! (Note: don't suggests moments that haven't come out from Del Rey yet. I'm well aware there's tons of awesome after these. Please support your North American publishers.) So, in short, Negima is awesome.