Friday, April 29, 2011

MMF: Now It's Time To Say Goodbye

I've been in anime and manga fandom far longer than I've ever been a blogger, and still look at Rumiko Takahashi through the eyes of a fan. And, though I haven't for years, I used to write a LOT of Takahashi fanfics as well, and thought about posting one here for the Manga Moveable Feast. I looked over my collection of Ranma fics, but my jaded eye doesn't regard any of them as good enough for posting. I like the UY ones better, but they take place in a shared fanfic universe, and explaining it would take longer than the fics itself.

That leaves the one Maison Ikkoku fic I wrote. MI tends to get a lot less fanfic than any other Takahashi property, mostly due to its closure and realistic setting. This fic was something my 24 year old self wrote after reading the manga and getting very, very frustrated over the antics of everyone in the cast who wasn't Godai and Kyoko. And so, as often happens, I wrote a fanfic to express my frustration. One might argue it's shallow and petty, which is certainly true. And that it's grotesquely out of character, also true. But I dunno... I still like it. It's just so gleefully nasty.

If nothing else, it's an object lesson in how fandom can take a source material and abuse it for their own purposes.

Here we go.


Maison Ikkoku - Now It's Time to Say Goodbye
by Sean Gaffney

*****

Yusaku Godai sighed as he took another look around Maison Ikkoku. It was hard to believe that, after 8 years, he and Kyoko were finally leaving. It was hard, but they felt a need to get away from their past, to try and start a new life.

He walked past Room 1, frowning as he passed. The room reeked of alcohol, and looking inside he could see that bottles had been smashed all over the floor. He saw a vague shape lying in the middle of the floor. Frowning slightly, he went in, picked up Kentaro, and put him to bed. No sense in leaving him lying on the floor. Godai always had a soft spot for the kid. Maybe it was the little ways that he reminded Godai of himself.

He walked back out of the room, turning off the light as he did so. Mr. and Mrs. Ichinose were lying on their futon, surrounded by the scent of alcohol, obviously not about to wake up anytime soon. Godai smiled. Mrs. Ichinose usually slept like the dead anyway.

Walking up to Room 4, he pondered just how much of his life had been spent here. He'd met Kyoko, gotten through college, gotten a job, and gotten married. It was hard, just abandoning the place like this. But he'd gotten a better offer from a place in Kansai, and he and Kyoko both agreed that Maison Ikkoku was *no* place to raise their daughter.

Walking into Room 4, he took note of the decor. He'd never been in this room very often, and was intrigued how much it fit its owner. Yotsuya was certainly one of the people he'd probably miss the least. Blackmail had kept Godai almost bankrupt for 7 years, and had kept Yotsuya in meals that, Godai suspected, were his only source of sustenance.

Godai sighed as he picked up the remains of the meal on the floor. Godai had decided, as a final treat, to treat Yotsuya to one last big meal. No one had been more surprised than Yotsuya himself, who quickly scarfed down the meal without a second thought. Typical, Godai thought as he cleaned up the rest of the room, no thoughts for others at all. Even Mrs. Ichinose and Akemi *occasionally* noticed my feelings...even if they used that to their advantage. He stuffed the remaining contents of the room into the crawlspace between his old room and Yotsuya's. It was a tight fit, but Godai wanted everything to be nice and neat when he and Kyoko left, so he ignored the occasional snap.

Turning off the light, he headed down to Room 6. Kyoko would be getting back soon, and then they would be on their way. Akemi was in here, since Godai had no way of getting her back to Cha Cha Maru by himself. He went into her room, noting that she was lying on the bed completely naked. Another typical aspect of Maison Ikkoku life that he wouldn't miss. Akemi was probably the worst of them, since she knew exactly how Godai has felt, right from the start, and just used him. He didn't know what the manager saw in her, really. He sighed as he rolled her out of bed to change the sheets again, ignoring the mess that was made on the floor. He picked her up gingerly, tucked her back into bed, and left the room.

He heard Soichiro barking outside, and his spirits rose. Kyoko must be back! He ran downstairs and greeted her as she came in.

"Hi! Did you get everything at your parents?"

Kyoko turned from the sink where she had been washing her hands. "Yes, everything's all set. I've just put Soichiro in the car. Are we ready here?"

"Yup. I've got almost everything sorted out. Why don't you change and check on Haruka-chan, and we can get going?"

As she left the room Godai smiled again, all his previous melancholy leaving him. They'd been married two years now, and he was even more in love with her than before, if that was possible. Godai once told Kyoko that she was his heart, and that he would die without her. Kyoko responded that Godai was her soul, and that without him she would crumble to dust.

They'd never been this overemotional before, but it was as if, after six years of Kyoko's denial, a dam had broken. They both felt as if they had to pour their hearts out to each other all the time. It was rare that they were not together anymore.

As Godai finished reminiscing, Kyoko came back, changed into a new outfit, and carrying a sleepy Haruka-chan with her.

"How'd your talk with your parents go?" Godai asked.

"Oh, pretty much as you'd expect. There wasn't much they could say in the end, though."

Godai gathered up their luggage and began moving it out to the car. As he got back, he saw Kyoko looking around, her eyes watering.

"I invested so much of my life into this place, Godai. It's hard to let go. All the memories, the good and the bad."

Godai put his arms around her. "I know, Kyoko. This is where we fell in love, after all. But we've got to move on sometime. Our lives are just moving in different directions. We'll always have our memories, you know."

Kyoko smiled, leaning back against him. "I know. And now it's time to say goodbye. Are we ready?"

Godai smiled, fishing out a packet of matches. "Of course." Smiling, he lit a match, then lit the entire pack, tossing it into Room 1.

As they left, the place that had once been Maison Ikkoku lit up the night sky.


END

Lychee Light Club

By Usamaru Furuya. Released in Japan by Ohta Shuppan, serialized in the magazine Manga Erotics F. Released in North America by Vertical.

It really has to be said, this is not the sort of manga that I would have bought and read were I not a huge Furuya fan. It's based off of a play by the performance group Tokyo Grand Guignol, and certainly there are many images throughout the manga I would qualify as exactly that - gore so lovingly depicted that it almost transcends and becomes art. But of course it *is* a Furuya title, which means that I get even more out of it - fantastic drawings, and a plot that had more depth than I was expecting.

I'll be honest, I was thinking that the manga would start slow and build up to a horror-filled climax. Which is why I was particularly startled by the first chapter, which drops you into a very disturbing club meeting where the club has been discovered and the trespassers must be dealt with. It's matter of fact about its nudity and violence (just as it is later on with its sexual content), and shows you exactly what we're dealing with when it comes to the club's leader, the neo-fascist Zera.

This is not exactly a realistic setting. Murders, rapes and abductions are carried out and no one in the outside world seems to notice or care. Vertical noted it as being a modern-day Lord of the Flies, but in this case the outside world IS just a short walk away - it's just no one notices or cares. To girls from another school passing by, the kids are creepy, but that's about it. Even the deaths of the club members, one by one, are done an an over the top, histrionic way. This is probably why I found the most disturbing image in the manga to be one of the more realistic - the violation of Tamiya's sister, halfway through the book.

The boys themselves are all various degrees of creepy - some are more noble than others, and find their inner consciences, but let's remember that they all were involved with butchering a woman in the first chapter. That said, I liked the plotting and counter-plotting, here literally represented by a game of chess, as well as Zera's constant paranoia about who will end up betraying him - I was actually surprised at who the real villain actually was, mostly as Zera's paranoia was so overdone I assumed that he was incorrect and that no one was betraying him at all. And all that said, some of the boys, particularly Tamiya and Dentaku, have some fantastic scenes where they man up and realize that they have to stop Zera.

Throughout all this, I feel I should note, the boys have also built a giant robot that runs on lychee fruit. It sounds completely ridiculous, but if you take this world as being as unrealistic as it is, Lychee starts to fit right in. His own plotline with Kanon, a girl who looks as if she stepped off the page of Furuya's 4-koma manga Short Cuts, is absolutely fantastic, and helped me to finish the book. While watching the Light Club slowly have their numbers ebb away in grotesque fashion can be fun to read about, Lychee and Kanon's plot is quiet, sweet, and gives a balance that helps the other scenes have more impact when they do arrive.

I had read another review of this title, which noted that the ending was heavy handed and moralizing. I'm not sure I agree, and even if it was I'm pretty sure that was the point. Here, in the middle of a group of young boys who glory in killing, rape and mutilation, is their creation being taught that it is wrong. The club sends Lychee out to find a pretty girl for them to moon over, and he keeps getting it wrong until one of them inputs new data into him - it has Lychee think "I am human". From then on, Lychee's destiny is set. In the end, Lychee proves more human than the megalomaniac Zera, who even dies thinking about his own ridiculous standards of beauty. As for Lychee, he may have killed, but he knows that it is wrong and requests forgiveness.

Honestly, I could go on for a while. We barely get into the actual background of the boys, something that I believe Furuya is now doing in an online 'prequel' running in Japan. I'm actually glad it was such a short flashback here, as I think it would have distracted from the overall thrust of the story, which has a breathless pace. Make no mistake about it, this is a book filled with sadism, horrific violence and sexual situations, and depraved behavior. But it has a human heart in its Frankenstein-esque robot, and what I'll take from it is not the scenes of people being cut open and smashed to bits, but Kanon singing a hymn and playing the organ surrounded by their corpses, and then simply walking away. More manga as thought-provoking as this, please.

Thursday, April 28, 2011

The Secret Notes of Lady Kanoko Volume 2

By Ririko Tsujita. Released in Japan as "Warau Kanoko-sama" by Hakusensha, serialized in the magazine LaLa DX. Released in North America by Tokyopop.

This volume didn't wow me quite as much as the first one, but that's more because I now know the characters and the basic themes. It's still a lot of fun, and as always the main reason for reading this series seems to be watching Kanoko snark at people, and Tsubaki stalk her.

The first chapter was probably the weakest, dealing with two rival girls each trying to get the attention of a guy. I liked the mention of putting on a 'fake personality', and how everyone does this a little bit and that it's not always bad. On the whole though, this part didn't gel for me. It was followed by a second chapter that was excellent, dealing with a boy who can't escape the shadow of his classmate... or rather, doesn't really want to. Discussing playing it safe versus taking a chance is always great, and is why this is a great series for teenagers - it seems to give desperately needed life lessons naturally. The chapter also gave us an overly perky teacher who turns out to be far more than what she seems. It's nice to see Kanoko actually impressed.

The longest chapter in the book is also the best, mostly as it gets out of the school classroom. They're filming a movie near Kanoko's current home (which is, I think, the first indication I got that her parents are actually constantly moving, as opposed to her just transferring all over the country for the hell of it.) Of course, rival actresses have a whole different set of issues from rival students, and Kanoko is glorying in playing her observation card. Naturally, Tsubaki is there as well, on a vacation (funny how that always works out - Kanoko is incredibly clueless about herself as always), and things actually take a turn for the serious here, as someone is trying to kill one of the actresses. Kanoko gets to play detective here, and ends up being pretty good at it. The best part, though, is seeing her talk Tsubaki into their sharing a room together so she can keep investigating, and his noting that it means "she isn't interested in me as a man". Given he's walking around the bedroom shirtless, it truly does boggle the mind.

The last Kanoko chapter of the book involves a boy who can't get out of the shadow of his older brother, and an overly optimistic girl who enjoys "making up fantasies" about people to cheer them up (well, more accurately, to cheer herself up.) That's her on the cover, horrifying Kanoko and Tsubaki with her re-imagining the series as a reverse harem. Fantastic cover, by the way. Yumemi actually turns out to be the star of this chapter, and manages to save the day with a little help from Kanoko. And once again we find Kanoko having her own advice turned back on herself, as she keeps trying to convince herself that she's an outside observer.

There's a short story at the end of this that is unrelated, but proved better than I'd expected. It was Tsujita's debut comic for LaLa DX, and has a girl who has difficulty showing her emotions trying to figure out why her boyfriend, who wears his heart on his sleeve, broke up with her. Understated and cute, it's easy to see from this why she was picked up as a regular artist.

Sadly, this is likely it for Kanoko. We're not sure if Tokyopop's titles will be license rescued or what happens to them, but I'm going to assume we won't see the last volume of this until told otherwise. I have the 3rd volume in Japanese, and from what I can gather it gets into what the heck her parents do that has them moving so often, and somewhat resolves her relationship with Tsubaki and her other two friends from his school. It's somewhat open-ended, but that's OK, as we now have the ongoing adventures of Kanoko and Tsubaki in high school (along with a few of the one-shot characters from Kanoko-sama, including Yumemi from this volume), Koi Dano Ai Dano, which is currently running in LaLa DX. It's a shame this was cancelled, as it's a fantastic series for young teens, even with the overly busy art that's typical of Hakusensha.

Wednesday, April 27, 2011

Manga the week of 5/4

Oh dear, it's the first Wednesday of the month. You know what that means. Buckle down, kids, it's Viz time. But first, a word from publishers who aren't Viz.

Picturebox is releasing another collection of seinen manga by Yuichi Tokoyama, and it's supposed to be quite fascinating. If you like the sorts of things D&Q and First Second put out, this may be the title for you.

Seven Seas has the second in its series of Gunslinger Girl omnibus books, and the first in its series of Blood Alone omnibus books. On a side note, I note that Blood Alone is the second Seven Seas title, after Hayate x Blade, to suffer from jumping mid-series to a larger publisher who would probably need a license renegotiation: it's currently running in Kodansha's Evening. Poor Seven Seas...

Another of the final Tokyopop books trickles in from Diamond, as we have the 4th volume of the shonen series Ratman, which I still resent for coming out here when Gegege no Kitaro, with its MUCH BETTER Ratman, is still not licensed.

Vertical has their one-off Furuya title Lychee Light Club coming out this week, from the magazine Manga Erotics F, which is becoming and increasingly popular cult favorite among manga bloggers. As for the title itself, well, it's based on a Grand Guignol, and is written by Furuya. It is therefore essential.

And then there's Viz. OK, let's see...

Shonen: the final volumes of Hikaru no Go and Genkaku Picasso are out. The start of the omnibus editions for Naruto and Kekkaishi, with each being a '3-in-1', as well as the 3rd volume of their Death Note re-release. Gintama, which everyone in the world should buy. And Tegami Bachi: Letter Bee, which runs in Jump Square and is probably very different from Ant & Bee Go Shopping (which I would love to see adapted into an anime).

And shoujo: the debut of Ai Ore!, an oversized 300-page first volume from the twisted mind of Shinjo Mayu. Fans of Sensual Phrase will eat this up. More of the insanely popular Black Bird and Kimi ni Todoke. New Oresama Teacher and Otomen volumes for fans of comedy. For adventure fans, there's new Haruka Beyond the Stream of Time and Story of Saiunkoku. And for those who just want a good cry, have a new volume of We Were There.

Are you prepared? Is your wallet prepared?

Because It's Funny: Rumiko Takahashi and Characterization

I can't find a copy of the interview in question, but someone once asked Rumiko Takahashi why Nabiki Tendou, a girl who in the first couple of chapters of Ranma 1/2 seemed to be a fairly normal Japanese girl, turned into a money-loving shark who would gladly sell out her family and friends and seemed to have no conscience or soul. Takahashi's answer was "because it's funny."

I was reminded of this while reading Stefan's post yesterday. Much of what I tend to think of as Ranma, including many characterizations that are almost thought of as canon these days, was never actually used by Rumiko Takahashi in the canon material. It was stuff invented by fans for their fanfics in order to make the characters easier to write, give a third dimension to, or just make more bearable. So we got 'fanon': Nabiki uses the money she extorts to finance repairs to the dojo, for example, or Kasumi being far more savvy than she lets on and using her yamato nadesico persona as a front. And yes, it could go the other direction as well: Akane hits Ranma because she is mentally unstable and needs psychiatric care.

See, Takahashi gave us, in both Urusei Yatsura and Ranma, great characters who it's easy to love. We want to see them succeed, we want to laugh at their stupidity. But they are not fleshed out. They aren't three-dimensional. They don't feel real. They feel like characters in a goofy shonen manga that will do anything for a laugh. This is not necessarily a bad thing. Comedy is not pretty. It's simply funnier to watch people be horrible to each other, and much easier to do so if they all can fall into basic patterns of behavior. Akane will jump to conclusions and hit Ranma. Ranma will say something insulting and thoughtless. Lum will get jealous and zap Ataru. These are the cornerstones of the series. And over the course of the series, while there is slight forward progress, if it has to be sacrificed so that we can see a huge pile of cast members screaming and hitting each other? So be it.

Of course, both UY and Ranma were turned into successful anime. Like all anime, they had to find ways of expanding the source material: if you animate 16-page chapters for a series, you'll run out of material far quicker than you'd anticipate. Some of the ways they did this involved the characterization: the characters were softened, and didn't seem to be such moral vacuums. At the same time, their traits were exaggerated for the comic effect that animation can provide. So you have Akane hitting Ranma even MORE. And it's the anime, more than the manga, that fans are familiar with. As a result, these characterization seemed to stick more than the manga ones, even if they're sort of once removed.

The same thing happened with Urusei Yatsura, where Mamoru Oshii, the series director for several seasons, had several battles with Takahashi about the direction of the series. And indeed, if you watch the UY anime Ataru, Lum, and the others get several 'Awww, they're really sweet after all!' moments that just aren't in the manga itself. Not to say the manga never had those moments. But they were much less common, and I think Takahashi preferred her characters to be petty, vindictive, and spiteful in the long run. That made plotting and comedy easy.

Comedy's hard to write. Much easier to be dramatic. As a result, when you take series that give you some fun and fascinating characters, but then don't do anything with them (no one reads UY or Ranma for the plot), and throw in an anime that sometimes exaggerates or softens said characters depending on the director or episode... well, you've got a recipe for fandom controversy. Bashing and Ship Wars didn't start with Bleach, after all. Writing realism into Ranma and UY became a common theme in the mid to late 90s, and continues on a smaller level to this day. And if you try to realistically write a girl who habitually punches a man so hard he flies several city blocks... well, you're going to have issues.

(On a side note, this is one reason why, much as I love it, I have some problems with Maison Ikkoku. Takahashi essentially did the same thing as Ranma fanfic writers, which is taking her wacky characters and placing them in a setting with far more realism, and realistic leads. Godai and Kyoko, however, despite their faults, were no Ataru and Lum. They were sympathetic people we really wanted to root for. As a result, when Mrs. Ichinose, Akemi, and especially Yotsuya messed with them for the lulz, I got a lot more irritated then I would at UY or Ranma characters. It just felt like it hurt more.)

I was unfamiliar with the concept of 'bashing' till I got into Ranma fandom. I didn't see it quite as much with UY (though it was there), mostly as most fans liked the pairing of Ataru and Lum, and there were never any realistic rivals presented for the fans to argue over. Ranma, though, with the introduction of Shampoo and especially Ukyou, had alternatives. Both were harem series, but Ranma is a harem series in the modern definition: nothing ever gets decided, and the fans argue about who the lead guy will end up with till it dissolves into a screaming match. UY and Ranma both had 'semi-open' endings, where Takahashi implied that the couple would eventually get together... but didn't actually show it. Therefore there is, in the mind of many, no canon pairing: Ranma and Akane did not get together in the end, therefore they are NOT together.

And yes, other characters got bashed as well. When you take a series about a bunch of insane goofy teenage martial-artists seriously, you suddenly realize "Hey, she's a psychopath!" or "Hey, his motivations are guided by a misplaced hatred!". Psychoanalyzing to death is the order of the day. It can make for good drama - hell, I did it myself back when I wrote Ranma fanfics. But it can also have some unfortunate consequences. There's a line running from Ranma through Love Hina right to Harry Potter, a line which has fanfics whose basic plot can be described as 'Lead male gets a backbone, decides to man up and shows the girls who've been tormenting him what for'. Part of this is a side consequence of weak male leads, which at least Ranma does not have to deal with. But it gets a bit unrealistic when the cast starts behaving in ways that are not remotely close to the source material. And much of it is driven more by 'I hate Angry Girl X' and shipping than anything else.

In the end, I started to ask myself, is it okay that Ranma and UY are essentially two-dimensional? They don't have depth of characterization, even though they have great characters. There is no hero's journey. Ryouko Mendou is hurling grenades and laughing like a loon in the final volumes, just as she did in her first appearance. But it's still funny. And there is a wide variety of plots, especially in UY, where it seems that Takahashi could never stop thinking of insane material that made me impressed at her twisted mind. (A robot alien teacher shaped like a chalkboard eraser?) It's a question of what one wants out of the material. Do you want wacky, Osaka-style comedy shenanigans? Well, you are the reason Takahashi is one of the richest manga authors in Japan. If you're watching or reading Ranma or UY for the romance, or to see Akane come to terms with the fact that Ranma isn't a pervert and she should stop leaping to conclusions... then she must be a very, very frustrating author for you. Perhaps you should write a fanfic about it?

Tuesday, April 26, 2011

Top Properties for the Big Three (License request Day)

Time to geek out, folks! A media magazine, Tsukuru, recently posted a list of the top 15 properties for each of the top three manga publishers: Shueisha, Kodansha, and Shogakukan. It's only for the period from April 2010 to March 2011, i.e. the last year. And it's a very good look at what sells in Japan, and how that doesn't always correspond with what sells in America.

Shueisha's list:
1) One Piece
2) Naruto
3) Kimi Ni Todoke
4) Bleach
5) Real
6) Bakuman
7) Reborn!
8) Gintama
9) D.Gray-Man
10) New Prince of Tennis
11) Toriko
12) Tenjou Tenge
13) Gantz
14) Nura: Rise of the Yokai Clan
15) (tie) KochiKame
15) (tie) Mayoi Neko Overrun
15) (tie) Beelzebub

As you can see, Viz are pretty much on the case here. All these are licensed there with the exception of New Prince of Tennis (old one still going); Gantz (Dark Horse has it); KochiKame (169 volumes, unlicensable); and Mayoi Neko Overrun and Beelzebub. Of those last two, MNO is fairly new, and also is a harem comedy, something which doesn't sell as well here as people expect. And Beelzebub has nudity issues, even if it's baby nudity, and is also about delinquents.

As for Gintama, well, what can you do? We don't even know why it's being discontinued here, really. We assume sales, but who knows? Maybe the creator pulled his approval; maybe the translator burned out (it's a notoriously hard series to translate). All you can do is sigh and hope tastes eventually change...

On to Kodansha, which shows the widest variance between Japanese and North American tastes:

1) Nodame Cantabile
2) Vagabond
3) Saint Young Men
4) Fairy Tail
5) Big Windup!
6) (tie) Billy Bat
6) (tie) Moyashimon
8) (tie) GTO: Shonan 14 Days
8) (tie) Hajime no Ippo
10) Initial D
11) xxxHOLIC
12) Ahiru no Sora
13) Ace of Diamonds
14) Mahou Sensei Negima!
15) Kindaichi Case Files

...man, if I'm Kodansha USA and I'm reading that list, I'd want to cry. Let's see, hiatus series; owned by Viz; unlicensable; Kodansha USA; sports manga; Urasawa, so who knows?; hiatus series; sequel to out-of-print title; unlicensable sports manga; out of print; owned by Del Rey; sports manga; sports manga; Kodansha USA, and notoriously bad seller cancelled and out of print here. That's 2 proven sellers for the new company in a list of 15. I don't really know what to say, and don't want to turn this into a 'why doesn't sports manga/josei manga/etc. sell' post, so let's move on...

Shogakukan:
1) Case Closed (Detective Conan)
2) Hayate the Combat Butler
3) Cross Game
4) Major
5) (tie) Kekkaishi
5) (tie) Kyō, Koi o Hajimemasu
7) Iryu - Team Medical Dragon
8) Oishinbo
9) (tie) Kanojo wa Uso wo Aishisugiteru
9) (tie) Suki Desu Suzuki-kun!!
11) (tie) Rin-Ne
11) (tie) Kenjiro Hata Shoki Sakuhinshu
13) Kenichi the Mightiest Disciple
14) (tie) Bokutachi wa Shitte Shimatta
14) (tie) Dr. Koto Shinryoujo
14) (tie) Gaku

Despite having many titles that make me think "no way are we ever seeing that", this is a more promising list than Kodansha's. 5 of the titles are being released by Viz: Case Closed, Hayate, Cross Game, Kekkaishi, and Rin-Ne; a 6th got a special collector's edition, Oishinbo. Of the rest, Major is a sports manga and is 74 volumes. No. Team Medical Dragon and Dr. Koto are both long medical drama mangas that would do well as a Viz Signature title if Viz Signature titles sold better than they are right now. Kenichi has all sorts of issues, being overly long and unlikely to stop anytime soon. And Gaku is about mountain climbing. Oh yes, and Kenjiro Hata's one-shot collection, which isn't going to come out over here if Hayate doesn't sell better.

That leaves four other titles, all shoujo series. Two run in Cheese! and two in Shoujo Comic, neither of which are what Viz tends to mine for shoujo series (they hit up Betsucomi the most). Kyo Koi wa Hajimemasu in particular was made for the Black Bird crowd. Of the others, Kanojo wa Uso wo Aishisugiteru is about a moody composer and his cute high-school girlfriend who's in a band. Shoujo K-On? Suki Desu Suzuki-kun!! is a complicated romantic manga about a group of people all in love with someone else, and would sell more to the Butterflies Flowers/Ai Ore crowd. It also had an anime. Lastly, we have Bokutachi wa Shitte Shimatta, which again is about a shy girl and a handsome bishonen guy, and is by the author of Kare First Love, which Viz put out a while ago.

So, let's sum up: the series I think will be licensed within the next year or two? New Prince of Tennis, Mayoi Neko Overrun, and two of the four shoujo series from Shogakukan. As for what I'd LIKE to see licensed, regardless of 'sellability'? Saint Young Men and the two medical dramas. Oh yes, and un-hiatusing Nodame and Moyashimon would be nice as well. :)

Fear and Loathing in Nerima: The Real History of Ranma 1/2

(Sean here. This is a guest post by Stefan Gagne, better known as Twoflower. Stefan was the person who got me into Ranma, and hence manga, in the first place, so is also the perfect person to write a MMF post regarding the series.)


A little under two decades ago, I attended an overnight anime festival at a friend's house. This was back when the amount of translated anime available was quite limited, and we had to pool together a pile of VHS tapes for communal watching if we wanted to watch anything at all. Didn't matter if it was good or bad, so long as it was Japanese, and we could understand what they were saying.

During this rampage of mecha, pop idols, and comedy built around a completely different cultural axis of humor, I was exposed to a weird little show which started with a redhead beating up a panda in the middle of a rainstorm. It was confusing. It was amusing. It was gripping. This was my first taste of Ranma 1/2, Rumiko Takahashi's martial arts romantic comedy.

It would become my fanboy obsession for nearly a decade.

It had it all: comedy, fighting, romance, fascinating characters, familiar patterns, things you could hook into again and again. I wrote endless amounts of fanfic for it, under my moniker, Stefan "Twoflower" Gagne -- much as others were doing at the time, while the series was hot. Romance stories, dramatic stories, character portraits, elseworlds, *cough* self insert romantic dramatic portraits in an elseworlds, and so on.

For years, I wrote these stories, I watched the show, I bought the tapes. I played the characters in online roleplaying games. I was right there in the beating heart of Ranma 1/2 fandom. And eventually... I gave up on it.

I came to the realization that the fandom that had sprung around it was watching the series in Coke bottle thick rose colored glasses.

Through the eyes of fandom, the series was a DRAMA. It was about people fans knew and cared for, desperately yearning for love, trying to find resolution in their tumultuous lives. Cursed teenagers looking for cures. Destined romances seeking to overcome the obstacles in their path. Lost boys who just needed to be found...

In every fan's eyes, there were one true pairings, and there was light at the end of the rainbow. Their struggles mirrored ours, and were thus deep and meaningful.

But in reality, Ranma 1/2 was a paper thin slapstick comedy built on mutual hatred, indifference, amorality, and endless failure for the amusement of the audience. Funny, to be true, but still not the work of great weight and wisdom that it was being heralded as.

Let's take a look at what was ACTUALLY going on in Ranma 1/2. Here are the rules of the series, at the core.

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RULE #1. EXPRESSED AFFECTION IS ALWAYS WRONGHEADED.

Many characters profess deep spiritual love for someone. Often, for someone they just met five minutes ago and have nothing in common with, often someone who doesn't even know they exist. Hardly a great basis to start a relationship on, but that's just the root of the problem. The end results are worse.

In Ranma 1/2, anyone who claims to love someone will never, ever be loved back by that person. Be it genuine disinterest or abject emotional denial, it won't see resolution, and the fallout is intense. Mousse loves Shampoo; Shampoo hates Mousse. Ryouga loves Akane; Akane barely knows Ryouga exists. In fact, the best these suitors can hope for is NOT to be beaten to a savage pulp on a regular basis by their supposedly destined true love.

There is only one two-directional romance in the series, Ranma and Akane, and even that is so tsundere that it makes Asuka look positively sedate. Ranma routinely insults Akane, Akane routinely beats the tar out of Ranma, both of them deny any affection whatsoever, and whatever feelings they have are buried under piles of miscommunication and passive aggression.

Only near the tail end of the manga do they have ANY sort of peace. And they're the supposed "true love at first sight" pairing.

Is it really any surprise that fanfic's been written about the two ending up in horrible spousal abuse scenarios?

RULE #2. EVERYONE HATES SOMEONE TO DEATH.

Nearly every character has one or more blood rivals who hate them and crave their utter destruction. ("Obstacle is for killing," and so on.) These rivals will scheme, plot, cheat, and do whatever it takes to triumph over their enemy -- even when their hatred is barely justifiable on any level. Being a martial arts comedy, rather than cold blooded murder this takes the form of beatings and attempted beatings.

Usually, this hate stems from "I love X, X loves you and not me, so you must die." Ranma is on the receiving end of most of these, of course, being the alleged protagonist. Of course, being ultra-macho Ranma, he welcomes all this hatred as a chance to use his martial arts skills fighting off his enemies; he never seeks any other type of resolution beyond hoping they'll go away or pounding them senseless. He's not mature enough for anything else, and, well, see Rule #3 later
on.

There are no friendships to balance out all this hatred going around. Ranma and Akane have no friends, aside from two generic background characters each who only exist to occasionally tease them about their relationship problems. There's no anchor of human compassion in this sea of loathing. Even Ranma's own parents consist of an amoral madmen who routinely tortured and abused him in the name of martial arts training, and a mother who has vowed to murder him if he fails to live up to her standards.

(In her favor, Kasumi never has an unkind word for anyone. But she's generally window dressing, there to smile and do the laundry and cook and clean, and doesn't offer any actual, meaningful compassion and counsel.)

No, the best you can hope for in Ranma 1/2 is either indifference or temporary alliances.

The latter is the only form of loyalty to be found. When a common enemy arises, usually "The Bad Guy of This Movie Or OVA," that's when rivals unite. Typically, though, the bad guy needs to do something drastic like kidnap ALL the girls, or have some MacGuffin everybody wants. Only then can problems be put aside in favor of turning en masse on this one enemy... and once that's done, it's right back to the Circle of Hatred, as if nothing ever happened.

RULE #3. NOTHING EVER HAPPENS, EVER.

Nobody actually learns anything, nobody communicates, nobody matures. Time does not pass. School years don't go by. Every day is exactly the same, with the same battles, the same schemes, the same problems.

This is situation comedy at its purest. Episode by episode, storyline by storyline. You could hack a few dozen chapters out of the middle and nobody would notice save for missing the first appearance of the occasional returning guest character. Zero sum input, zero sum output.

The real countdown clock for the series is not any sort of ongoing plot -- it's Rumiko Takahashi's desire to beat her previous record for continuous volumes of a series. The series went on, and on, and on, and on, and on, and on as long as she felt like writing it.

Only at the very end is there any resolution with Ranma and Akane... namely, a wedding that's promptly attacked with high explosives by all the blood rivals from rule #2 who are upset about the end result of rule #1. The more things don't change, the more they stay the same.

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In short, Ranma 1/2 is a series powered by hatred, driven by violence, and going nowhere.

Oh, it's still quite funny, don't get me wrong.

Total sociopathy is actually a pretty good formula. Most American sitcoms revolve around the cast being a bunch of wacky misanthropes. They don't usually solve their problems with violence, but they still backstab and scheme and miscommunicate. Flawed characters who can't sort out their own emotional baggage are funny as hell -- their efforts will fail, their directions will be misguided, their insane plans will collapse. It's all in good fun, ESPECIALLY when someone loses an eye.

But the disjoint between what fans WANTED Ranma 1/2 to be (a powerful dramatic romance), and what it actually was (a simple and amusing misanthropic slapstick comedy) was staggering. That's where the problem lies; not with the series, but with the beast that grew around it, trying to solve its problems or deny they ever existed.

You'd have whole communities built around various ships, all claiming to be the one true romance, despite NONE of the romances including the official one ever really going anywhere. Fanfic was written to resolve this conflict between what the fans craved and what the series wasn't actually providing. Cities burned and nations crumbled under the rampaging armies of otaku with differing views on the true destinies of the cast of Ranma 1/2. ...okay, maybe not THAT bad.

Fandom can be a wonderful thing. It can bring people together, making human connections over a shared love of a thing. It can inspire sparks of creativity, driving people to study and interpret and play around... and Ranma, being shallow as a kiddie pool, sure had a LOT of room to interpret and play around. In a way, that was its greatest strength, and its greatest weakness.

In the end, there's the manga, there's the show, and it is what it is. By this point in history there are anime fans right now who weren't even alive when otaku were watching the old Viz tapes of Ranma 1/2. What the legacy of the show will be, long after its initial perspective has faded, remains to be seen.

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Stefan Gagne is an indie game developer and original fiction author, and long time fanfic writer. He works as a webmaster in his day job and is currently working on Anachronauts, an original genre mashup adventure series. He does not hate otaku, honest.

Monday, April 25, 2011

Urusei Yatsura Volume 4

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

This volume of UY was published by Viz in the 2nd Lum collection, The Return of Lum, though the last 2 chapter began the 3rd collection, Lum in the Sun. This is also the last Japanese tankobon that has a 'missing story', at least till Viz drops the series. Well, it's half missing. The first chapter of the volume, 'Eat Drink Man Alien', was put out by Viz in Animerica. However, when the collections came out, it wasn't there.

It's an interesting chapter, though also the weakest in the book, which may be why Viz dropped it. Ataru has Megane and company (in their final appearance in the manga) over to study, but all the other boys want to do is study Lum. Meanwhile, a drunken alien fox spirit crashes near our heroes, and promptly possesses Ataru, who begins to act like a drunken salaryman. He even kisses Lum full-on several times, leaving her dazed. It's rather startling to see, given I don't think they ever kissed in the series while Ataru was not possessed. Things spiral out of control as the fox spirit's wife shows up and starts possessing various women to yell at her husband - including a 6-year-old girl, leaving the town thinking Ataru is a pedophile. Naturally, it ends in chaos and violence, with Ataru in the hospital being threatened by at least two dozen angry townspeople.

The rest of the volume continues to establish Mendou as Ataru's comic foil and rival, and begins to see the establishment of the 'Core Four', which is to say that when a UY chapter begins and we need four people to begin the action, it will almost always be Ataru, Lum, Shinobu and Mendou. Things are actually quite even-handed here, as for every chapter where Ataru acts like a lecherous idiot and gets what's coming to him, there's another chapter with Mendou acting like an egotistical spoiled rich brat and getting what's coming to him. The chapter where Mendou ends up with an alien baby, right after everyone's talking about a boy who got expelled for getting a girl from another school pregnant, is hilarious, and shows us that when Ataru's not in girl-hunt mode he can be quite clever - devious, even.

There are a few chapters here that seem very 'Japanese culture', but unlike previous volumes Viz just rolls with it and translates them as best they can. (Cultural endnotes? Are you kidding? These came out back when it was a 32-page pamphlet comic!) One in particular may seem very familiar to fans of the UY movies - Ataru falls asleep and meets Mujaki, along with his tapir who eats nightmares. Naturally he's trying to get Ataru to have a few more terrifying dreams, while Ataru only wants a harem. (Interestingly, his harem INCLUDES Lum.) Mamoru Oshii would take this chapter and expand it into what is generally considered the best UY movie, Beautiful Dreamer.

In terms of characterization, there is still some, although I note that here, as with Ranma, if characterization stands in the way of a funny gag, the gag wins every time. Lum's temper is still highly variable - sometimes she's trusting and snuggly with Ataru, sometimes she's madly jealous and electrifying him, and sometimes she's merely exhausted and drained at having to watch him mack on everything that moves. Things really get interesting with three chapters towards the end of the book, all of which help to show us that this is about where Takahashi made up her mind to make the main couple Lum and Ataru - and how the manga is better for it.

In the first, the biology club is raising caterpillars, and one of them is more gluttonous than the others. Naturally, they named it Ataru. They're going to get rid of it, but Ataru takes it instead, feeling sympathy for the caterpillar being blamed for things out of its control. Unfortunately, the caterpillar then escapes and eats Mendou's lunch - Mendou, who hates 'ugly things'. What follows is an epic chase, with Lum helping Ataru to try to escape the rest of the class, all of whom have come to the opinion that the caterpillar has to go. They get up onto the roof, and the caterpillar surprises them all by transforming, not into a butterfly, but a fairy. A gorgeous fairy, because she thrived as Ataru believes that she'd be beautiful. This chapter shows us a softer side of Ataru the lech we really hadn't seen before, as well as how well he and Lum work together.

The second was made into an anime episode, and the episode was voted the best ever by Japanese fans. The chapter is simpler but just as nice. Ataru is macking away at girls at school as usual, but Lum isn't jealous, merely sewing a doll of herself to give to Ataru. After he shoos her away (Lum's not attending classes at this point), she turns and says "bye-bye" sweetly, then takes off. When Ataru gets home, he finds the doll she had sewn on his desk, and no sign of her. When she's not at school the following day, he panics, at first thinking Mendou made off with her, then admitting glumly that she's disappeared. After the Mendou servants spend most of the day searching (though their search tactics are fairly questionable) Ataru goes to bed, upset and crying that Lum would simply abandon him like that. Of course Lum has done nothing of the sort, and is merely getting her passport renewed. The doll; holds a microphone so that she can make sure he's not unfaithful. When instead it shows his despair at her absence, the expression on her face is lovely to see. Naturally, when she returns Ataru tries to remain uncaring, but it's not fooling her at all.

The last sweet chapter involves Lum once again pestering Ataru for a date, and he actually agrees - provided she dress up as a normal human girl, and not use her powers. He certainly knows Lum well, as while she manages the first part, the second is much harder, given her powers are a natural part of her. So she tries diving from the high board at the pool, only to chicken out and fly away - Ataru has to drag her into the water and pretend it's 'stunt diving'. She gets hit on by several teens at the pool - so she electrifies the entire thing, knocking them all unconscious. (Ataru is "used to it".) They even hook up with Ataru's friend Kosuke and his girlfriend for lunch, only to find Kosuke's girlfriend eats like a horse and terrifies all three of them with her voracious appetite. Finally, Ataru takes Lum through a haunted house, hoping to impress her with his bravery, only to end up terrified himself. Lum is great here - I love her fake "eek!" pose when she realizes Ataru wants her to be scared and snuggle - and it's just nice seeing them on a date, even if Ataru spends most of it on edge. He and Lum are getting closer and closer, and the audience is now clearly meant to root for them.

A good solid volume of UY here. Some stories weren't quite as good as others (though they did provide us with things like the Devil riding a Vespa with a cart of chow-chows behind him watching television, something that makes you wonder how Takahashi's brain works exactly), but overall things have settled down and we've started to do what UY does best - take the core cast, have some weird situation happen, and watch them react. And in three of the stories, we almost get, dare I say it, heartwarming. Folks who want to see what early Takahashi was like, and who don't mind the art (still finding its feet) should really find Viz's Return of Lum graphic novel, which despite being the second in the series is probably the best starting place for a casual fan.

Sunday, April 24, 2011

Excel Saga Volume 22

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

Yes, at last, we are CAUGHT UP with Viz's serialization of Excel Saga! Do you know what this means? It means you won't get to see me talk about it till April 2012, as Excel Saga is down to a yearly release. Ah well. In the meantime, we have the action-packed Volume 22! And I'm not joking, after the seeming stasis of the Teriha arc and its aftermath, things all seem to be coming together here, and everyone clashes against each other.

First off, to resolve the minor cliffhanger from last volume, Il Palazzo appears on Excel's homebrew computer to tell her and Elgala to keep doing what they're doing and do not attempt contact. Excel finds this suspicious, but sends Hyatt (who is not 'on individual assignment' back to him while she and Elgala reconnoiter. Excel is really dealing with a lot here - she's slowly getting her Teriha memories back, she's realizing that Il Palazzo has been compromised and can't necessarily be trusted, and she knows that telling Elgala this would be a mistake. So she puts a straw dummy of herself at the riverbank, and goes off on her own to sneak into Professor Shiouji's home base. Honestly, throughout this volume Excel shows impressive ability to think and plan. After everything she's been through, it's nice to see her get focused.

Of course, that's not to say she's suddenly competent. She does get into the base, through a combination of luck and her repressed memories. Once there she runs into Iwata, who is somewhat taken aback to find that Teriha is now attacking him. The two of them get into a fight as Misaki, Watanabe and Sumiyoshi also appear. Sadly, Iwata then recalls fighting Excel's doppelganger last volume and tries to use robot strength to knock Excel out. It works all too well, and now they have to deal with a captured fugitive.

Excel being Excel, she goes back and forth between berating her captors and demanding food. Well, she has been living as a fugitive for a while. They bring her food, and she eats about 12 bento boxes worth. Misaki even notes that she's not worried that it's poisoned, which Excel responds to with "You couldn't put enough in here to kill me." Probably true, but it's rare for Excel to be aware of her own superhuman attributes. She then gets into a long discussion with Misaki about their respective organizations, which ends up telling us more about Misaki than it does Excel. Excel is in her 'for the greater glory of ACROSS' mode, while Misaki is at her cynical best, noting she doesn't care who rules the world as long as she is left alone. Her image on Page 53 is actually rather scary in its combination of threat and disinterest.

They would like Excel to just go home, but the trouble is they aren't sure how she got in - and neither is she, since she did it mostly on instinct. She does decide to escape from the bed they currently have her handcuffed to, and gets out of her room by simply ripping out the computer lock with her bare hands. Sadly, this also sets off the big alarms all over the base, and gets Dr. Kabapu down there - who most certainly is NOT for letting her go. As all this is happening, Il Palazzo (or more likely Miwa) sends RopponExcel (called Isshiki throughout, aka 'First') to capture our Excel. Everyone converges in a hallway, and the two Excels, now that there isn't a bomb about to go off, have the big confrontation Elgala expected in Volume 20. Excel has mad kung-fu skills. Isshiki has a hand laser that can sedate into unconsciousness. Round 1 goes to Isshiki.

Isshiki, before this, also managed to break Iwata (yes, again) in two. This does not, however, prevent Kabapu from using his body as a puppet to attack Teriha. Given that Iwata is unconscious and therefore can't actually be stupid, this fight is far more even than many other fights involving Isshiki. Kabapu destroys her hand laser; Isshiki then destroys his control (and it is revealed that yes, it's Miwa rahter than Il Palazzo who's calling the shots for Isshiki). Intriguingly, Kabapu notes that Isshiki is EQUAL to Iwata in power, not surpassing him. Then the fight is promptly finished by Excel herself, who is still groggy but is awake, kung-fu fighting, fast as lightning, and REALLY REALLY ANGRY. She kicks Iwata (controlled by Kabapu) into a pile, grabs Isshiki, and screams into her face, demanding to know where Il Palazzo is. There's a short crackle, and just like in Volume 9 (remember Volume 9?), Isshiki shorts out in contact with Excel and folds like a ton of bricks. Excel, while noting that she's still really heavy, then PICKS HER UP OVER ONE SHOULDER and asks Misaki where the exit is. And then exits, as security's basically completely shot anyway. I merely note once more that when Excel is not paying attention to her limitations, she is astounding, given Isshiki weighs about one ton.

So now Excel is back on the riverbank, with Elgala. But as a bonus, she also has Isshiki, who is following Excel's orders, although Excel still can't get any information out of her. Elgala is hopelessly lost when having to deal with two Excels, and one of my favorite lines has her asking Isshiki to say "I am an imposter" after everything she says. Excel, though, is not just standing there having Isshiki catch fish and cook for them because she's good at it (though she is). She's trying to draw the enemy out. And when this happens, she sends Elgala out to deal with them. Sadly, it's only Professor Shiouji, who is totally unimpressed with Elgala's supposed stick-fighting skills. He asks Elgala to tell Excel that he, like Misaki, is not her enemy, but not her ally either - and that Umi is totally innocent in all of this.

As this is going on, Hyatt's corpse floats down the river, leaving a red tide in its wake. Upon revival, she notes that the ACROSS base was deserted. So our heroines are all back together again. (We also have the funniest part of the volume here, when Elgala is overexcited and Excel hands her what she thinks is water - only to find it's a cup of Hyatt's blood. She promptly hallucinates the Sanzu River, with her dead form crossing it in a small boat to get to the afterlife. Upon returning to reality, she notes "Senior Hyatt, yours is a dark eucharist.") (Oh, Happy Easter, by the way!)

Now Excel is positive that Miwa is their enemy, but needs more information. So after 'pretending' to have a fight to throw off their observers (which just causes Hyatt to collapse in a bloody heap in confusion), she and Elgala proceed to ambush Misaki, hogtie her, and toss her into their wheelbarrow (wow, it's REALLY been a while since we've seen the wheelbarrow). Misaki is very angry about this, for several reasons: 1) She would have talked to them anyway, no need for kidnapping; 2) not knowing what was going on, she set off her alarm so that Iwata and the others are coming for her, and 3) she doesn't have much to tell them anyway. She says Miwa's a free-agent, and more self-centered than evil. Iwata then comes to get her... in the body of Nishiki, as he's now body-hopped again. While Excel and Elgala escape, Misaki deals with this new crisis. Shiouji has no idea how he jumps bodies, his own body is slowly dying without his consciousness in it, and he doesn't know how to fix it. Last time Misaki punched him - this time, she tries kissing him (in Nishiki's body - Ropponmatsu 2, for those playing at home), a full page-and-a-half kiss of awesome. It works, though Misaki is starting to fray at the edges a bit with everything going on.

As is Watanabe, as the cliffhanger has him power up his suit when he sees Hyatt, his one true love, lying dead in the arms of "Excel", aka Isshiki. Watanabe's been 'dissolutely evil' for some time now, but it appears his feeling for "Miss Ayasugi" have not dimmed. Cliffhanger!

This volume was fantastic, showcasing Excel at her finest, giving Misaki and company lots to do, and having Elgala carry the bulk of the humor at her expense. All this and liner notes by Carl Horn! Do yourself a favor and buy Excel Saga. It'll make many folks very happy.

Friday, April 22, 2011

Karakuri Odette Volume 6

By Julietta Suzuki. Released in Japan by Hakusensha, serialized in the magazine Hana to Yume. Released in North America by Tokyopop.

I noted in my last review that after reading a volume of Karakuri Odette I wanted to go into great detail about every little thing. And that turns out to be exactly the case with this, its final volume, which wraps things up very well and shows almost everyone (sorry, Chris) getting some well-deserved character growth.

Probably the biggest thing that surprised me about this volume was the attention devoted to Grace, companion to Travis and another robot creation of Dr. Owen's. She had sort of been the equivalent to Chris in Volume 5, being a more robotic girl who doesn't quite measure up to the emotions felt by more advanced creations such as Odette and Travis. This is also the case in this volume, but we get to see that this does not mean that she's emotionless, and that the treatment she gets from Dr. Owen and Travis verges on abuse at times. She's the child who's lost favor with her father, and becomes increasingly desperate to get it back.

If you think this is building up to a jealous rage, especially since Travis is trying to get Odette, at a low ebb due to Asao's caustic remarks earlier, to marry him, you;d be correct. But where Grace really shines is in the aftermath, taking a damaged Travis to Dr. Owen to be repaired. She even offers to let her body be scavenged so that he might live. But Dr. Owen has already moved on to his next favorite, and tells Grace to leave Travis. You can almost hear the 'snap' as she looks at Travis, and she runs right to Dr. Yoshizawa, who she had earlier heard disclaiming loudly how he loved Odette. She is not too proud to beg here, and it's that more than anything else which gets the Professor marching over to Dr. Owen's to give him an epic verbal smackdown. What's more, when he returns, saying to Grace that Dr. Owen wants she and Travis to return, she essentially bolts out of there to go home. It's really sweet, something I wouldn't have expected from Grace *or* Dr. Owen when we first met them.

The other major plotline here is Asao's graduation. Odette is starting to realize that Asao will not be around for her anymore, something not helped by his gleefully throwing it back in her face. (Asao's behavior has been very jerk-like throughout when he's not being the best mentor ever, and this is consistent with the previous five volumes.) Of course, when he's asked to capture Odette by Dr. Owen, noting he seems the type who would do that, he throws it back in the doctor's face. Asao is prickly but good-hearted, and it usually takes a bit of a situation to get him to show it. (I loved that he kept the gun. Which proved very useful!) Of course, he then has to go off to Odette's rescue, and tell her in his usual grumpy way that what Odette should be paying attention to are ACTIONS - not words. Odette was asking this about Travis, but clearly Asao also meant himself, given he'd been acting like a complete ass with Travis not 5 minutes earlier.

And of course we have Odette, who may be shown off here as the most advanced and most "human" pf the robots in the cast, but still has a long way to go to grow up - just like the rest of humanity. She shows maturity when rejecting Travis's offer of marriage, which it turns out is also somewhat of a childish "just us two and no one else" fantasy. She doesn't want that, and loves her friends. This is balanced out by her feelings for Asao, which come as close as the manga is ever going to get to being romantic here. She's devastated by his graduation, freaks out when he sees her damaged face, and when he continues to maintain his cool, uncaring facade she finally snaps and tosses him in a locker, which she then hurls into the air and upside down. A talk with Yoko calms her down, and she has to admit that she will need to move on. Life goes on is the moral learned here.

There is a short scene where she makes up with Asao, but it's made very clear that even if she does like Asao in that way, he doesn't see her as more of a friend. His concern for her was initially that of how she would survive in the world as a robot girl. Now he can see how she's essentially human - he has no need for concern anymore, as she's no longer someone he has to worry about with every tiny little life situation. Odette has achieved what the story set out to show - her problems will mostly be problems every person faces as a 16-year-old now, not robot problems. Grace notes "you're at a much higher level than we are", and it's easy to see that when you read this volume.

There's a couple of other subplots wrapped up here - Shirayuki is losing her ability to hear people's inner thoughts, and is freaking out, but is finally told that this is a good thing, as it means that she's growing up with friends rather than in an increasingly desperate isolation like others with the power. Oddly, she's told this by her drill-haired servant, who I'd forgotten was a human. Hey, this is a series filled with robots, and most of the time she acted like a two-dimensional hired friend. Despite the awkwardness of this, it's good to hear that Shirayuki is opening up as well.

This was probably exactly the right size for a series like this - I think a few more volumes would have risked seeming very drawn out and filler-ey. As it is, this is almost a perfect length to give to someone as a gift (it's a Tokyopop property, so buy it fast before it flies out of print), and you get a heartwarming and fun story about a girl who strives to be human and half the time doesn't realize she's already there. A fantastic license for Tokyopop, and I'm glad it got finished.

Also, on page 142, I swear Odette is drawn to look like a character from Peanuts.

Butterfly Volume 1

By Yu Aikawa. Released in Japan by Gentosha, serialized in the magazine Comic Birz. Released in North America by Tokyopop.

I had originally planned to talk a lot about how this was an intriguing volume that showed promise but still had a few flaws, and how I looked forward to seeing how it played out in future volumes. Now, of course, it's a series incomplete at one volume, and unlikely to see anyone pick it up again. As such, the intrigue has worn off a bit and my opinion isn't as good as it was. Not the fault of the manga, though.

This is essentially a supernatural thriller, which tries occasionally to move into the horror vein but doesn't quite make it as it's not scary enough. But then scares aren't really what it's going for. Instead we get more of a tense mystery atmosphere. The lead guy wants nothing to do with the occult, mostly due to past trauma, but naturally the occult keeps drawing him into its nefarious schemes. One of the better things about our hero, Ginji, is that he's genuinely freaked out by this, rather than retreating into passivity like other examples of kids who can see the supernatural. The first chapter has a date he's on go awry when he hospitalizes a haunted house worker trying to scare him. It's a plot tactic designed to put him into debt so he has no choice but to do this, but the sudden violence was genuinely gripping.

The other lead, Ageha, is a bit more stereotypical (and also possesses one of the biggest ahoge I've ever seen in manga, sometimes taking up half the page above her head), but makes for a good balance with Genji's temper. Ageha's secret is revealed halfway through the volume, and surprised me more than it probably should have, but in the end does not particularly change anything, as this volume is more about the mystery.

The mysteries themselves are a combination of one-shot 'monster of the chapter' types, solved by Ageha's powers and Genji's ability to punch things, and the ongoing plotline with Genji's brother and his death (and the possible murder that he committed beforehand). My favorite was the third, which managed to undercut itself nicely (I loved the swim team's reaction once they find out how mundane it is, as if the fact that they'd seen a ghost was now completely normal). The other plot suffers a bit from being stretched out over (presumably) the whole series, so we just get bits of it here, such as the fact that the cute girl interested in Genji may have seen his brother's kill. She's fairly faceless, though. I was amused by Ginji's 'guardian' and his girlfriend, who seem to be overly affectionate in ways I rarely see adults being in a manga like this.

As I noted, I'd probably like this more if I kept reading it - it was good enough for me to have ordered Volume 2. As it is, though, I'm not quite intrigued enough to try to track down Japanese volumes from 6 years ago. Still, if you like supernatural stuff and don't mind that it's cancelled, Butterfly might be up your alley.

Wednesday, April 20, 2011

Manga the week of 4/27

After a few weeks where it took me forever to write this post, I get a break.

Dark Horse has the 16th Vampire Hunter D novel, which is apparently still only the tip of the D iceberg. Yikes.

Bandai has the 2nd volume of Code Geass: Queen, part of their two doujinshi anthologies that focus on the cast, sorted by demographic. This one is marketed to young guys, and thus will no doubt feature lots of Kallen, C.C., Shirley, Milly, and Nina. Well, maybe not QUITE as much Nina...

Tokyopop (remember them?) are finally letting the 2nd volume of Russian Orthodox Boobies... um, I mean Qwaser of Stigmata emerge into comic shops, though it's apparently been available everywhere else for weeks. I'm sure its targeted demographic will be very happy.

And Viz is releasing the 4th volume of Bakuman. I'm so confused... it's not the first week of the month... why is my Jump coming out in an odd week? I CAN'T STAND THE CONFUSION IN MY MIND! In any case, for those who like this meta-guy manga, the 4th volume is here for you!

And that's it. Perhaps people can catch up on the previous few weeks of HUGE. Any favorites?

Elisabeth Sladen

I'm grotesquely behind in my reviews and really should write another today, but sadly all thought of that went out of my head last night when I got home to find Lis Sladen had died. Lis was, as part of Doctor Who, a large part of my defining childhood years. As such, I wanted to write a bit about her.

Sarah Jane wasn't my absolute first Who companion: that was either Jo Grant or Romana, depending on which set of memories I believe. But as time went on and companions and Doctors came and went, she tended to become the 'default' companion in my mind. When a new companion arrived on the show, or in the books and audio CDs, inevitably I held them up to Sarah to see how they measured up. It probably started with The Five Doctors, but certainly by the time of the New Adventures in the 1990s she had transcended most companions to become iconic, something I'd argue has only been done with two other companions: Susan and Jamie. (Rose isn't old enough to be iconic yet.)

There was a joke in fandom about how Sarah was actually two companions: the staunch feminist we saw in Jon Pertwee's last season, and the softer and more vulnerable one we saw with Tom Baker. I think someone actually joked that she regenerated when Jon did. Certainly I do think Sarah got softer, but I don't think she got less tough - I can think of at least half a dozen Tom Baker stories that feature her taking on things that would have sent me curling into a little ball.

One of my favorite scenes of all of Doctor Who is in Tom Baker's 2nd story, The Ark In Space, where Sarah is the only one small enough to fit into an air duct and drag a wire that will help stop the villain. Except she gets stuck, and starts to freak out (as would we all). The Doctor, knowing Sarah well even now, goads her into getting unstuck and moving forward again by calling her useless. She gets to mad she manages the rest of the crawl in record time, and once she emerges he grins and says "I knew you could do it."

Everyone joked about Sarah getting abducted or hypnotized, so much so that the show eventually had her grousing about it herself, in what proved to be her last episode, The Hand of Fear. But we kid because we love, and while fans may argue about how feminist she really was, no one I've met in Who fandom has ever disliked Sarah Jane Smith. As the show moved on and I watched more, I had other companions that I focused on - Nyssa, Ace, Benny, Donna - but if I ever had to make a Top 5 Companions list, she was always on it. And, of course, she was able to inspire The Sarah Jane Adventures, and have it be a triumphant success, taking Sarah Jane into the 21st century and showing us that she was just as awesome in her 60s as she was in her 20s.

And now she's gone, so soon after the death of Nicholas Courtney. Death is a part of life, and she had been fighting cancer, but it still seems like this was far too soon. Lis Sladen had so much to tell us, both as herself and as Sarah, and now the worst won't get to see it. Luckily, we have her past work to cherish. I think I'll pop in Pyramids of Mars tonight. Or maybe The Brain of Morbius. Or hrm, there's always The Temptation of Sarah Jane Smith... or I could listen to The Ghosts of N-Space! OK, perhaps not the Ghosts of N-Space...

Tuesday, April 19, 2011

Cross Game Volume 3

By Mitsuru Adachi. Released in Japan in 2 separate volumes by Shogakukan, serialized in the magazine Shonen Sunday. Released in North America by Viz.

I have trouble starting out this review of Cross Game. It's hard to know what to write. Like a volume of the manga itself, you just want to drink it all in, or simply wordlessly hand it to someone. Writing it all down seems superfluous somehow.

Things I liked in this volume (which is Vol. 6 & 7 in Japan)? I liked the introduction of Azuma's brother Junpei, which at first seems like it will be another in the vein of goofball sadsacks such as Senda. But Junpei not only has a more serious connection to Azuma than we'd thought, but also turns out to have hidden depths. We don't see as much of that here, but the fact that Ichiyo is warming to him fast says a lot - we know she doesn't normally suffer fools gladly, ergo there is more to him than it would seem. (Crafty Junpei is also likely correct - staying with Ko and his family is probably the best thing that could happen to Azuma at the moment.)

The plotline where the filthy old man watching from the sidelines turns out to secretly be the company president checking up on things is older than I am, but Adachi carries it off with panache, making the board chairman lovable despite the obvious premise that he's the one that left power in the hands of the interim principal and the coach in the first place. Speaking of their coach, he remains stubborn till the end, but I enjoyed seeing his placidity destroyed by Azuma the night before the big game.

There's a few 'filler' chapters near the end of the volume, which help to provide some relief after the tense ballgame that takes up much of the middle. I was surprised to see the team's manager, previously shown to be a bit of a Libby, get some needed character depth... only for it to be undercut on the last page in a hilarious final gag. I also greatly enjoyed Aoba's solution to the guys who are constantly asking her out. The only chapter that didn't work for me was Senda's New Year, mostly because, much as I try to get sympathy for him, he's just such an idiot.

The outcome of the ballgame is not particularly in doubt, so instead you spend a lot of it watching Ko and Aoba. Ko in particular is now totally driven to get to Koshien, though once again it mostly seems to be driven by Wakaba's death. Azuma, perceptive as he is, is quick to note how hard this is on both Ko *and* Aoba once he discovers that there was another sister who passed away. The saddest part of the volume for me was when Ko, somewhat flippantly, notes "You don't have to believe me, but she was crazy about me!", to which Azuma replies, "And you were crazy about her?" Ko's response is more muted. "Yeah..."

Of course, Ko and Aoba are destined for each other, and the more that we see them interact, the more we get Wakaba's quick note to Aoba, "Don't take him from me", in Volume 1. They react exactly the same way to situations, they're both stubborn as mules ("Don't let those two throw to each other"), and once again we see how they like to imagine their interaction as a web of deceit. The high point of the whole volume for me occurs when Aoba runs like hell to get home and score the first run of the game, with Ko in the batter's box. Ko notes he would have brought her home (this is after she holds up her hand for a high-five and then yanks it away - so immature!), and Aoba responds, "You've betrayed me so many times, since way back." Ko notes "That's because you've never relied on me." It's fantastic how well these two know each other (I didn't even mention Ko's dead-on impression of her stubbornness earlier), and how denial and lies have become a comforting blanket.

The volume ends by introducing Aoba's cousin, who seems to be set up to be a romantic rival for Ko. Even remembering that cousins don't have the same taboo in Japan that they do here, I still don't give him much of a chance. Not that he's needed. There's a much bigger romantic rival that's killing any chance of a relationship with others that Ko and Aoba may have. And she's dead.

Really, you should be reading this simply because it is good. Crafted well, great characters, a sports manga that is about the people rather than the sport, and has some great doses of humor (hey, he didn't even break the fourth wall this time!). Highly recommended.

Monday, April 18, 2011

Tokyopop addendum/NYC trip

First off, a quick update to my Tokyopop post: the news doesn't get better. The books scheduled for 5/31 apparently are not shipping. This includes Hetalia 3 and Maid-sama 9, as well as the conclusion of Hanako and the Terror of Allegory and Clean Freak Fully Equipped. Obviously, this sucks even more, and I imagine Hetalia fans will be particularly... angry about it on the Internets. ^^;;

Secondly, I took today off to go buy Japanese manga in the city. I do this about 3-4 times a year, usually in a combination of 'I need to get this volume of series I support by collecting it in Japanese' and 'I try to see what stuff Japan reads that will never, ever come out over here. Ever.' types. This trip was no different. In addition, I also categorize stuff into 'worthy' (things I like and enjoy) vs. 'trash' (things I buy to see how truly stupid they can be, or am morbidly fascinated by for some odd reason). Previous trips have led me to such things as Soap Girl Moko (which I blogged about here), as well as even stranger things. Though not as strange as Gantz.

Speaking of which, I got 4 manga magazines at Kinokuniya.

One, Hana to Yume Vol. 8 (2011), I got as I'm a Banri Hidaka fanboy and this had her series returning after she took a short break. It had Akiyoshis! OK, yes, Sugimotos, but it's all part of the Akiyoshi cluster. Definitely worthy.

Another, Monthly Comics @ Bunch (April) I got as I'd never got it before, and was interested. It used to be Comic Bunch, but that got folded and split into two spinoffs. For those looking for Angel Heart, the TOTALLY NON-CANON RYO AND KAORI 4EVAH City Hunter spinoff, it's in Comic Zenon, the other Coamix title. Comics @ Bunch actually has a licensed title, by the way! No Longer Human is still running in it. It also has BTOOOM!, one of the best titled manga out there. A tentative worthy here.

In addition to those, I got issues of Big Comic Spirits and Weekly Young Jump, both magazines for young college age men, one from Shogakukan and one from Shueisha. Spirits manages to be slightly skeezier this time around, despite lacking a chapter of Kono S o, Mi yo!, which must be on break. (I may go over that manga at a later date. It's definitely in the 'trash' category.) Ikigami: The Ultimate Limit also runs in Spirits, as does Oishinbo (albeit irregularly).

As for Young Jump, it's filled with manly manga for men, with surprisingly little cute girl romance. It has Gantz, which this issue had a chapter that was particularly screwed up EVEN BY GANTZ STANDARDS. Yikes. It also has Tough, a 71+ volume martial arts manga that is Shueisha's answer to Grappler Baki when people ask "What can you never license to North America?), and Addicted to Curry, which *is* a romantic comedy with cute girls (and a food manga), but this issue seems to be in 'gripping tragic drama' mode. Both of these are highly variable, but I'd say they're more trash than worthy. But fun trash, with some hidden gems.

From Kinokuniya, I got the penultimate volume of Excel Saga, because EXCEL SAGA. This one seems to be giving us some answers at last. Some.

I also got Vol. 2 of Koi Dano Ai Dano, the sequel to The Secret Notes of Lady Kanoko currently running in LaLa DX. It features the adventures of Kanoko and Tsubaki in high school. Both I regard as very worthy.

From Book-Off, I got four used manga. Two worthy, two trash.

In the worthy column, I got Vol. 1 of Shimane no Bengoshi, a Business Jump title that's been running since 2004, dealing with the adventures of a young female lawyer out in the boondocks of Japan, helping folks out. Despite being in Business Jump (a title I associate with Amai Seikatsu, which is 39 volumes of comedy about an underwear company), it's actually clean, and rather sweet and slice-of-life drama.

I also got a volume of short stories by Nakamura Ching, the author of GUNJO, which you may be familiar with from Erica Friedman's reviews at Okazu. These are one-shots she'd done a few years earlier, mostly from Weekly Young Jump. As you might expect from this author, they are quite striking, and I look forward to reading the volume in more detail. (Well, OK, looking at the art and pretending I read Japanese.)

Then we get the trash. One I got for the title, Detective Idol Unit Tricolore (yes, there's an e at the end there). It's pretty much exactly what it sounds like, a mystery manga about an idol group who are also crime solvers. It ran in Young Sunday (which is now defunct) for 18 volumes from 2000-2004, and is by Kitazaki Taku, the author of the Kono S o, Mi yo manga I'd mentioned from Spirits.It's filled with cute young women showering a lot, and is pure light and frothy trash.

Then there's Seishokusha 1, which I grabbed at the last minute without really looking. It's by Morinaga Mayu, who is hopefully no relation to the yuri mangaka Morinaga Milk. It had a silver cover, and looked trashy. Hey, its label was Young Jump, so how bad could it be? Bad. This goes beyond trash into porn, and isn't recommended at all for anyone. On the other hand, it does remind me that the stuff from the 'Young _____' magazines (fill in the blank) in the late 90s seemed to be a lot more ecchi than what we see today. But I may just be reading the wrong ones. Which I suspect is quite fortunate.

I then got home to find an Amazon.jp order had arrived. It contained the 25th volume of Sayonara Zetsubou-sensei (the cover features Nami, doing a pose one could only describe as 'normal'); The 6th volume of Kono S o, Mi yo, which I've now mentioned 3 times, far too many; and the 3rd 'bunkoban' collection of What's Michael?. Worthy, trash, and worthy, respectively.

Now I wait another 4 months or so before I do this again. :)

Saturday, April 16, 2011

Sic Transit Tokyopop

I'm a little late on this post, but frankly, it was depressing news and I didn't feel the desire to write about it yesterday. So yes, Tokyopop has announced it's shutting down its book arm here in North America as of 5/31. Assuming that this means the titles currently scheduled to ship 5/31 *will* ship (which we don't know yet), this means the last TP releases will be:

Hetalia Axis Powers 3 (of 4, ongoing in Japan)
Maid-sama! 9 (of 12, ongoing in Japan)
.hack//GU 4 (novel) (complete as far as I can tell)
Happy Cafe 8 (of 15, finished in Japan)
Fate/Stay Night 11 (of 14, ongoing in Japan)
Sgt. Frog 21 (of 22, ongoing in Japan)
Maid Shokun 1 (of 4, finished in Japan)
Sakura's Finest Volume 1: Sakura no Ichiban (of 5, finished in Japan)
Samurai Harem: Asu no Yoichi 8 (of 15, finished in Japan)
Deadman Wonderland 5 (of 9, ongoing in Japan)
Hanako and the Terror of Allegory 4 (complete)
AiON 3 (of 7, ongoing in Japan)
Butterfly 2 (of 5, finished in Japan)
The Stellar Six of Gingacho 3 (of 10, finished in Japan)
Clean Freak Fully Equipped 2 (complete)
The Qwaser of Stigmata 2 (of 11, ongoing in Japan)

Note that I grabbed this list from Amazon, and set it to sort by 'best-selling'. So Hetalia and Maid-sama at the top, cute Hakusensha shoujo with no anime and Qwaser at the bottom.

Series with releases scheduled after May, now unfinished (or never begun):

Gakuen Alice (23 volumes, ongoing in Japan)
Demon Sacred (11 volumes, complete in Japan)
Pavane for a Dead Girl (6 volumes, ongoing in Japan)
Red Hot Chili Samurai (8 volumes, ongoing in Japan)
The Sacred Blacksmith (5 volumes, ongoing in Japan)
Kampfer (6 volumes, ongoing in Japan)
Skyblue Shore (6 volumes, finished in Japan)
Lives (2 volumes, complete in Japan)
Alice in the Country of Hearts (6 volumes, complete in Japan)
Silver Diamond (23 volumes, ongoing in Japan)
V.B. Rose (14 volumes, finished in Japan)
Togainu no Chi (8 volumes, ongoing in Japan)
Battle Vixens (18 volumes, ongoing in Japan)
Ratman (8 volumes, ongoing in Japan)
Chibisan Date (1 volume, ongoing in Japan)
Shinobi Life (10 volumes, ongoing in Japan)
The Diary of a Crazed Family (4 volumes, ongoing in Japan)
The Good Witch of the West (7 volumes, finished in Japan)
Gosick (novel series)
Full Metal Panic! (novel series)
Chibi Vampire (novel series)
Twelve Kingdoms (novel series)
Trinity Blood (13 volumes, ongoing in Japan)
The Secret Notes of Lady Kanoko (3 volumes, finished in Japan)
MariaHolic (8 volumes, ongoing in Japan)
Suppli (10 volumes, finished in Japan)
Totsugami (3 volumes, ongoing in Japan)
Brave 10 (8 volumes, ongoing in Japan)
Snow White Panic Mix (7 volumes, finished in Japan)
Portrait of M & N (6 volumes, finished in Japan)
D.N. Angel (15 volumes, on hiatus in Japan)
flat (4 volumes, ongoing in Japan)
Ame Nochi Hare (4 volumes, ongoing in Japan)
Aria (12 volumes, finished in Japan)
Strawberry Marshmallow (6 volumes, ongoing in Japan)

And this isn't even including Blu titles, or series that had been on hiatus. That's a lot of series left hanging.

Much as I'd like to blame all of this on Stu Levy and his pouring of TP's money into his pet projects, I think it was Borders that really broke things here. The chain was a big big manga haven, and bookstores are where the sales are - online purchasing is simply not as big as brick and mortar buys. When Tokyopop switched to Diamond as its distributor, then Diamond announced that it would stop shipping to Borders... it was over, really. Yes, there's Barnes & Noble, but they never got behind manga the way Borders did.

Staring at that list, I know some people will be thinking "Maybe the titles can be rescued!". When I look at that list, I see precisely one title that I think likely to get rescued - Hetalia. *Maybe* Maid-sama and D.N. Angel, if I'm being wildly optimistic. But honestly, license rescues rarely if ever happen. The company that did them the most, I think, was in fact Tokyopop.

A lot of the mid-majors in Japan must be seeing the news and wincing right now. Hakusensha especially, but Kadokawa, Akita Shoten, Gentosha, Mag Garden... all were pretty heavily involved with Tokyopop, and now they have to see about finding new publishers who want to pick up their works. Which can be difficult, especially in this economy.

So who's left? Viz and Yen, obviously. Kodansha once they restart next month. Vertical, which is in a realm of its own as always. Dark Horse, propping up the manga department with their Western comic arm. Digital Manga Publishing. And the smaller, boutique publishers: Bandai, Udon, and Seven Seas.

I'll end this post by reflecting on the huge amounts of awesome Tokyopop gave me over the years. I got into manga via Viz, but really became a rabid fan thanks to Tokyopop. Sailor Moon, CLAMP, Fruits Basket, Gatcha Gacha, all those Lupin volumes that only I bought, Love Hina, GTO, Kare Kano, Marmalade Boy, Kodocha, Ai Yori Aoshi, Planetes, Karakuri Odette... so many memories. Tokyopop was behind the manga boom, forcing publishers to abandon floppies and make the GN the way to go.

I'll miss them a lot.

Friday, April 15, 2011

Blue Exorcist Volume 1

By Kazue Kato. Released in Japan as "Ao no Exorcist" by Shueisha, serialization ongoing in the magazine Jump Square. Released in North America by Viz.

Sometimes it's hard to start a series when it's actually starting. This especially holds true for Jump series, which frequently take a few volumes to get off the ground (and sometimes completely change direction). If the series has gotten buzz, and there's already 15 or so volumes out, you can slowly catch up one by one, and if a volume is slow or awkward, shrug it off because you know the good stuff is coming.

So I suspect it is with Volume 1 of Blue Exorcist, which, as a setup for a Jump series about a hot-blooded exorcist who's also the son of Satan, is entirely... adequate. The first chapter slightly less so, as it reads very much like a pilot episode (Nura had the same problem with its first episode), and doesn't really go anywhere unexpected - Father Fujimoto had 'I am going to die tragically' tattooed across his forehead from the moment he showed up. Luckily, things pep up right at the end with the introduction of Mephisto, who is a giant freakish freak of the sort I love to see in Jump series. His alternate form is possibly the funniest moment of the volume.

After we begin Volume 2, at the academy, things start to improve as the author takes pains to worldbuild. The Academy itself looks great - the two-page spread of its grounds it fantastic, and made me want to walk around in it. I likewise enjoyed the revelation about Rin's brother, and look forward to seeing more of their interaction - so many anime fighting series have siblings either on opposite sides or one dies to protect the other. Luckily for Rin, he already has his designated tragedy, so he and his brother can continue to bond. The other major character we meet, Shiemi, is a sweet, nice, girl in the Orihime Inoue vein, though so far lacking the eccentric quirks that drew people to Hime. I hope we get more to draw on in the future.

Again, the trouble with first volumes is that we don't get much of Rin wising up, learning, and getting more powerful. I'm not sure how much he'll actually wise up - his character is pretty much a hothead by definition, and will no doubt be rushing into any battles with little analysis. But right now he seems to be there to be exposited to, as we learn more about the way that exorcism and demons work here. Which unfortunately makes him a bit dull right now. There's a few cool action sequences, but...

So as a debut Blue Exorcist is okay, but I still wonder if I would enjoy it more if I'd waited till Volume 5 was out, and then read it all in one big gulp. I will check out Volume 2, however.

Wednesday, April 13, 2011

Manga the week of 4/20

First off, my obligatory Tokyopop/Diamond rant. Most of this months' titles shipped on time. 2 were on Diamond's list this week, but my store (and Midtown) did not get them: Gakuen Alice 16 and V.B. Rose 12. Two are simply M.I.A.: The Secret Notes of Lady Kanoko 2 and the Hetalia Axis Powers Postcard book. I suspect the last of those is genuinely delayed, as Amazon also doesn't have it. But Amazon has had the others for 2 weeks now, so it's a repeat of last month. And they aren't coming next week either. I'm behind on Gakuen Alice anyway, but I'm Amazoning the other two, which means when Diamond gets off its arse and ships them via the direct market, I may do a contest giveaway.

Rant over, so what's out next week? Quite a lot, actually. Breaking it down:

Bandai has a 3rd volume of Code Geass: Knight, the doujinshi anthology book marketed for young women with an emphasis on yaoi tease.

Digital Manga Publishing has a slew of things, including three shoujo titles from Mag Garden's Comic Blade Avarus. The Beautiful Skies of Houou High in particular has a solicit that I suspect makes it sound more yuri than it is. There's also a new Itakura Na Kiss, which surely must be getting near the point where the couple actually get together. Surely. Any volume now. On the yaoi front, there's the 2nd volume of the late 1990s 'Treasure', and the second omnibus of Yellow 2, making it Yellow 2 2. Does that make sense?

Our long national nightmare is almost over, as Kodansha Comics releases the last of its fake new releases, the 6th volume of Akira. Like the previous 5, this is a straight up reprint of the old Dark Horse release. Next month will see the company actually release things that are NEW.

Finally appearing a mere 14 months after its solicitation in Previews is the 4th volume of Udon's reprint of Silent Mobius, as they do their best Dark Horse imitation. Luckily, Udon's reissue has been top notch, so us fans of the series should get a nice treat.

Viz has two new Ikki volumes, House of Five Leaves 3 for you Ono fans of not-really-yaoi-but-close-enough, and Kingyo Used Books for you really-you-read-this-for-the-characters? fans. There's also March Story, with its Korean creator but Japanese magazine release, as it's in Sunday Gene-X. And there's a new 20th Century Boys, which is still chugging along.

And lastly, Yen Press has a new Black Butler, for those who were bored with seeing 1-4 in the NYT list and wanted a new volume to keep it company. New volumes of High School of the Dead and Omamori Himari remind us that even Yen Press is not above catering to the 'harems and boobies' school of manga, as typified by Dragon Age, the magazine they both run in. There's a new twist in this month's Higurashi: it's the 2nd volume of an arc, but it's not the end! The Eye-Opening Arc has not even begun to screw with your head yet, and is only at its halfway point here. Pandora Hearts not only runs in the same magazine as Black Butler, but also sells very well, possibly to the exact same demographic. Lastly, it's the end of an era, as one of Yen's first licenses, Spiral: Bonds of Reasoning, comes to the end with Volume 15. Congratulations to Yen on completing this shonen mystery series!

What interests you this week? It's OK, you can admit it's Omamori Himari, I won't get mad. Much.

Clean-Freak Fully Equipped Volume 1

By Touya Tobina. Released in Japan as "Keppeki Shounen Kanzen Soubi" by Hakusensha, serialized in the magazine Hana to Yume. Released in North America by Tokyopop.

In reading this short shoujo series, I noticed immediately a fair number of similarities to the also recently licensed Secret Notes of Lady Kanoko. Both start off with what is clearly meant to be a one-chapter story that wraps everything up, only to have to dial it back and send certain characters away in order to continue the basic premise when asked to make it a longer series. And both series have the love interest stick around, be it by gratuitous stalking (in Kanoko's case), or by constant letter writing (in Clean-Freak's case). And they're both the same sort of fun, light-hearted and not entirely realistic shoujo comedy that we've come to expect from the folks at CMX... sorry, at Tokyopop. (I do wonder if the recently-departed Asako was responsible for licensing these two series, as they really do seem like CMX bait.)

That said, the protagonists in the two series differ quite a bit. Senda, the lead male and title character,l is a hypochondriac and has a bit of obsessive-compulsive disorder, owing to a trauma he had when he was a boy. (To be honest, the trauma doesn't seem too traumatic, but hey, whatever sets up your plot.) The humor of the volume lies in his over the top ways of protecting himself from anything that could possibly infect or interact with him, ranging from going on field trips wearing hazmat suits to a giant square "bubble boy" type environment that he walks around the school in. How much you enjoy this depends on how much you can suspend your disbelief - much of this borders on the ludicrous - but I found it fun after I was able to get into the author's groove.

The supporting cast fall into the 'introduce one new character every chapter' cliche that typifies much of this genre. In the opening 'one-shot', we meet the super-cute Aiuchi, who is popular and outgoing and seems to like Senda and see beyond his off-putting exterior. In return, she really brings out the best in him, and helps us to realize that beyond his obsessed exterior is a nice guy with a strong moral code. They bond after he discovers she has motion sickness, and defends her from some boys "grossed out" by her throwing up on the bus, but then the author shunts her off to New York so that Senda can stop loosening up and we can have an actual plot. She's still very much present throughout, though, both via letters (the pictures of her with various animals is hysterical - I presume she must visit the Bronx Zoo every day) and Senda's thoughts (when asked to consider why he likes Auichi rather than, say, the girl throwing herself at him).

As for the others, Anzai is there to be Senda's opposite, and is fun, even if his over the top antics can grate a bit. The backstory with his mother was quite serious, and I appreciate the fact that it wasn't resolved neatly. Yumeno is the aforementioned girl from the previous paragraph, who also sees beyond Senda's exterior to the real person within, but is more pushy about it, and has the basic problem of showing up after he's started crushing on Aiuchi. Sotsugu probably gets the least development here, being an animal lover, but maybe he'll have more to do in the next volume. All three of them serve the same basic purpose, which is giving Senda a reason to start interacting more with the world and stop living in his own sterile environment.

There's a one-shot at the end, the author's debut which ran in The Hana to Yume a year earlier, but it's really pretty bad. It does serve to show that her art has improved, at least, though it's not terrific. But the series is fun, and at only two volumes it's not that much of a time sink. No doubt Volume 2 will see Auichi's return from New York, and hopefully will wrap things up with a nice sweet bow while leaving the main reason to get this title, which is watching Senda's amusingly over the top freakiness.

Tuesday, April 12, 2011

Skyblue Shore Volume 2

By Nanpei Yamada. Released in Japan as "Sorairo Kaigan" by Hakusensha, serialized in the magazine Bessatsu Hana to Yume ("Betsuhana"). Released in North America by Tokyopop.

As I was reading this volume of Skyblue Shore, it began to dawn on my that its heroine was a rare breed, especially in Hakusensha shoujo: she's a nice person who can make friends with anyone but doesn't seen either flighty or dense. Tomo seems to live very much in the real world, and as such doesn't require more down to earth friends (her best friend Anri seems to fulfill the flakey stereotype here). She's still a teenager, of course, so we aren't talking mature beyond her years, but it is nice to see.

The fact that she is so outgoing also balances nicely against Tento, who can be very frustrating. It is nice to see a sullen male shoujo lead who isn't mooning over the heroine right from the start - in fact, romance is sort of only one mild subplot in this, with Tomo still being very hung up on the older brother Riku, and indeed getting into a love triangle. The relationship she was with Tento is that of a good friend and mentor, and it's a delight to see, especially when it focuses on the beachcombing and making of accessories. Tento worries about Tomo, who is the outgoing heart-on-her-sleeve sort that makes people worry. Unfortunately, Tento is still quite repressed and brooding, and still has issues with his past (the flashback we see here goes a long way to explaining why).

So we have Tomo, who's extremely nice. We have Tento, who's sort of moody but not precisely rude to anyone. We have Riku, Tento's brother, who's a barrel of laughs even though it's implied part of that might be a facade. Isn't there anyone who can break up the monotony of a group of good people growing up and learning about life on the seashore? Oh, hi Michiru! She is a total breath of fresh air in this series, as she's so angry, rude, and generally appalling. Of course, this means little to Tomo, who has made it her goal to get Michiru to open up and become friends with her. But it's clearly a long-term goal. In a series filled with peaceful coming-of-age characters, Michiru is a sour apple that makes the whole thing more flavorful. I want more of her, and hope that she opens up while still being blunt and rude.

As this volume wraps up, we get the sense that it may focus more of the making of beach artifacts and sales thereof - the flamboyant guy who managed to piss off everyone in his one appearance seems to speak of that, as he has the right air of 'rival artist' to him. And I hope to see more of Tomo and Tento getting closer, though the series has not yet quite placed its foot in the romance pool yet. This is still a coming of age drama (with funny bits), and quite an interesting read. If you can get used to the mouths.