Wednesday, January 17, 2018

Fire Punch Vol. 1 Review

The English Langauge debut of Mangaka Tatsuki Fujimoto Fire Punch chronicles the story of Agni a functionality immortal orphan who is now a living human torch after his entire village is wiped out as well as his only surviving family his sister Luna. After it is discovered that the village has been eating human flesh. The irony being that the flesh comes from Agni whose regenerative abilities make him one of what are known as The Blessed. Humans with superhuman abilities one of The Blessed known only as The Ice Witch having plunged the world into an eternal winter. Quickly Agni on his quest for revenge against Doma the leader of the military expedition force of the Theocratic City State known as Behmdorg that destroyed his village and killed his sister Luna. Finds a chipper young orphan named Sun who has the ability to create electricity who is convinced that Agni is some kind of God and a mysterious woman named Judah who looks exactly like his dead sister. While Bhemdorg forces try to take down Agni while Sun and a slave girl named Neneto are subjected to a fate worse than death. Words fail to describe this series it is both a testament to the stark beauty of winter and nature and the utter sadism and fanaticism of man. While also occasionally showing flashes of kindness only to have those destroyed by the malicious actions of others or misguided attempts at doing the right thing. Fujimoto-Sensei takes his time building the world with most of the first chapter's (which functions as a prologue)first eighteen pages. Building up the village and Agni and Luna showing the daily life and self-sacrificial personality of Agni. He's very much the kind-hearted older brother duty bound by his desire to protect his younger sister. While the significantly older villagers either die refusing to violate the almost universal taboo against Canabilism. Or receive the gift of Agni's flesh with gratitude. It lulls the reader into a false sense of security building the world and then snapping it around the audience's neck like a noose and breaking the proverbial neck of its collective hopes and dreams. In a tragic and beautiful fiery conflagration with painstakingly detailed renderings of charred corpses and the effects of the inextinguishable flames on Agni mentally and physically in chilling interior monologues. Fujimoto-Sensei gives his audience no respite for the rest of the series from slaves being forced to drink urine to repeated attempted sexual assault, rape, and dismemberment. All done with a cinematic flair that gives even the most squalid depictions of man's inhumanity to man exquisite craftsmanship from panel layout, to character positioning, to backgrounds and the choreography of the few fights. This is less a volume that stays with you and more one that claws out space in your mind because you cannot unsee some of the horrors inflicted on people. In particular, what happens to poor cheerful Sun in the latter half of the series being particularly hard to stomach as he is the kind of character you would see in a more "Traditional" Shonen Manga. Optimistic, cheery, willing to endure anything for the sake of his friends and family. In conclusion, this is the first volume of a series that emotionally scars and wounds making for a bleak almost funereal introduction to a fictional universe. That as I said in my Most Anticipated Manga of 2018 section of my Best and Worst Manga of 2017 post. Makes Berserk feel like Strawberry Marshmallow. While unremittingly bleak I highly recommend this title for fans of gritter more "hard-edged" Shonen Manga titles like Tsugumi Ohba & Takeshi Obata's Death Note or Hajime Isayama's Attack on Titan. Between this level of experimentation in Shonen Manga found in this title and Yoshitoki Ooima's To Your Eternity and the psychological nuance found in Shojo Manga titles like Morino, Megumi's Wake Up, Sleeping Beauty, Anashin's Waiting for Spring and Ichigo Takano's Dreamin' Sun. 2018 is shaping up to be a very good year for Manga in general and Shojo and Shonen Manga in particular.

Tuesday, January 9, 2018

Dreamin' Sun Vol. 5 Review

Shimana finally takes her romantic destiny in hand and confesses publicly to Fujiwara at the school's 100th Anniversary Founder's Day Festival. Both putting Fujiwara on the spot and sending Shimana into an anxious mood on thinking whether Fujiwara will accept her declaration or not. When he finally reciprocates her feelings and agrees to go out with her this does not end the Angst Shimana continues to feel when she learns that Nakagawa an English teacher in Shimana's high school may be Fujiwara's ex. While the now tenuous romantic relationship between Shimana and Fujiwara also causes Zen to move out of the house he shares with everyone. While Manami and Asahi's legal ordeal seems to be coming to a close but not how Asahi would like. With the series now at the halfway point of the series ten volume run. Dreamin' Sun now sinks into what happens after the love confession and the feelings are reciprocated by Fujiwara and Shimana. Takano-Sensei makes most of the volume a "deep dive" into Shimana's insecurities of dating someone with a five year age difference, Having to deal with his ex and your own questions about how he really feels and whether it is legitimate love or just pity. Making for a very dour post love confession relationship. Yet this all feels honest sometimes getting what you want turns out to be not what you expected it to be and for Shimana it's this self-doubt and insecurity. Intermixed with Fujiwara's brusque attitude intermixed with the few moments of kindness that he shows or softer side such as his fondness for cats or protecting Shimana from a molester. Or that he really is trying to grow in affection for Shimana but feels incapable of love. Although his tendency to become belligerent when he drinks is off-putting it at least feels true to his character even if it feels like a slightly unneeded blemish even if it is played for humor. What past actions or experiences brought this about it's hard to say and current events are just as mysterious be it Zen moving out and telling Shimana he's fallen out of love with her. This struck me really hard because Zen is very much an open book emotionally. So to see this turn around is surprising and adds another element of depth to characters that started out rather two dimensional. Thankfully the volume is not all introspective angst and questions about the reality of someone's feelings. With little moments of Miku and Shimana bonding or Fujiwara being a comically exacting stickler for how Okonomiyaki is prepared. Between this series and Anashin's Waiting For Spring a psychological subtlety is being brought back to English Langauge Shojo releases. This is good as a well-written female lead makes for a better series all around. Still Dreamin' Sun impressed with its characters and the panel layout and visual storytelling. With panel layout being able to show subtle emotions or the interior mindset of characters. Such as the after-effects of Zen's confession to shimana. With the top panel focusing on Shimana and the bottom on Zen. Simple shot-reverse shot cinematography but the pain and bewilderment are almost palpable thanks to the expressive faces and close-cropped panel layout in the scene showing the taught and heavy mood without needing to bludgeon the audience with the importance of the scene.

Sunday, December 31, 2017

Land Of The Lustrous Vol. 4 Review

After the events of the last volume, Spring has finally come and the Gems are awakened by a more laconic and somber Phosphophyllite with Rutile noticing a certain amount of memory disintegration in Phos. While the other gems are fascinated by the new properties of Phos's new alloy arms. Latter on Phos and Bort temporarily team up testing the bonds between Bort and Diamond while Bort and Phos fight a Lunarian that it seems to have some familiarity with Sensei. Leaving Phos with questions of how much loyalty Phos should show to Sensei. While Phos is also having hallucinations about Antarcticite and establishing anew a connection with Cinnabar. With volume four Land Of The Lustrious feels settled in its world while volume one felt jumbled volume two felt transitional and more about establishing the structure of the world and volume three was all about character growth and establishing stakes in the battle with the Lunarians. This volume mixes humor, solemnity, and almost claustrophobic action in a way that feels organic with no real odd tonal shifts. With a good section of the volume dedicated to tightly cropped fight scenes interspersed with one-page splash pages to give a sense of grand scale to the battle with the Lunarian. In particular, Diamond's battle with it, in fact, Diamond's entire character arc is the strongest in the story showing the Gem's self-sacrificing nature but also a kind of inward melancholy. Showing that Ichikawa-Sensei can give real human emotions to non-human characters and not have it crash directly into the Uncanny Valley. Also, this volume has a better economy of storytelling knowing when to start one story arc and end another feeling less muddled than the story in Volume One. While also being able to equally show the art you can tell Diamond is troubled in one scene, not because of an internal monologue or obvious narration. Simply because of the pained expression on Diamond's face or Alexandrite's transformation at one point hinting at some kind of internal conflict behind the seeming "Lunarian Otaku" exterior. While also continuing to keep the aura of mystery around Sensei while also subtly humanizing him as well. Making for a series that has gotten beyond it's growing pains of the first two volumes and the oppressive emotional heaviness of volume three and instead struck a good balance between humor, heart, and dark oppressive Angst with Phos having all the hallmarks of a trauma case or someone who suffers from PTSD. This is again impressive because the audience is having to believe a sentient rock can feel that deeply and be that emotionally wounded. This is an all another kind of Anthorpomoriphization and it succeeds in spades. Never did I mentally "check out" and think "it's only a rock" about any of the Gems they were happy I was happy sad I was sad. If good art is as I feel a marriage of empathy and beauty this series is an exquisite union of the two.

Love & Lies Vol. 3 Review

Ririna despite herself is falling for Yukari while Takasaki is conflicted about whether to cheer on her friend and the boy she has loved for years. While Yukari and Ririna are summoned to a special government course that turns out to be a kind of government sex education course. That leads to Yukari and Ririna being sequestered in a room with each other and Yukari trying to feign like they have had some kind of physical intimacy after he learns that it's implied that if nothing happens negative consequences will ensue. This leads to a rift between Ririna and Yukari while Takasaki is stuck at a mental impasse about what to do. With most of the story in the volume being introspective and revolving around halting emotional "movement." With a question of duty versus desire. Love & Lies continues to be a frustrating read if the second volume was Musawo-Sensei trying to have everything. This volume is more giving with one hand and taking with the other. This volume has some excellent use of panel layout and use of imagery such as three panels focused on the ticking of a clock not only showing the passage of real-time but also the growing distance between Ririna and Yukari. Or the framing of characters faces showing reactions and the subtility of their inward emotions. Such as Nisaka's reaction to Yukari's declaration of forgiveness the dramatic irony, of course, being that Nisaka thinks that Yukari knows what Nisaka did to him while Yukari was resting his head on the desk at school. While it may not be exciting to praise primarily the technical execution of this volume I still have to say that a series that is able to keep me engaged somehow despite a rather lackluster first two volumes is impressive. Still, for all, it's exquisite technical execution in panel layout composition and even expressive character reactions and design. The character writing still, for the most part, feels stilted and cliched. While finally, Takasaki gets some interiority and an emotion of her own beyond what Yukari sees her as. It's fleeting and quickly out of focus but at least it was there even if it ended up being like a Will-O-The-Wisp. If anything Rirrina has the best character arc in the entire volume from flusteredly trying to explain away a wet dream she has about Yukari kissing her. Leading to her hurridly studying up on everything from kissing being a way to raise one's immune system to the habits of Kissing Gourami. Leading her to exclaim in her head "What immoral fish!" Which if nothing else made me laugh. Even a good portion of the volume's first chapter is dedicated to Ririna gaining a new friend at school which seems like a small victory and it made me happy to see. Or any number of small little moments that show that beyond the prickly exterior Ririna can be thoughtful and considerate. Even Yukari gains some self-awareness at what a "non-entity" he is. So these little moments make for good character development only to be undercut by the Love Triangle framing narrative. An unrelated bonus story about an Idol singer and her government-mandated Husband was included as well in the back and is if nothing else sweet. With this volume, Love & Lies continues to be if nothing else frustrating, not good enough to be enjoyable from a storytelling perspective but has enough of a finely honed understanding of the mechanics of panel layout and blocking of a scene and even characters interior thoughts as opposed to their outward or public actions. while still never really progressing beyond the initial love triangle wich the story feels if you will forgive the pun wedded to. I will keep reading this series if only for it's technical merits and the occasional flashes of inspired character writing but I dearly hope that the impase this series seems stuck at will move forward and some real consequences will be had.

Monday, December 25, 2017

Golden Kamuy Vol. 3 Review

Chronicling two stories the remnants of the Shinsengumi under Hijikata Toshizou trying to marshal forces for a revolution. While Sugimoto newly sprung from Seventh Division's clutches by his own quick thinking and Asiripa and Shiraishi running a diversion. Are caught in a tense standoff being stalked by "The Nightmare Bear Hunter" Tetsuzo Nihei and Tanigaki Genjirou who both seek to kill Retar for no other reason than the challenge it presents in taking out what seems to be the last Hokedio Wolf. For a volume that has everything from Nihei coldly recounting how he stalked and murdered three poachers to a disembowelment early on in the volume and enough stone-faced action and tense standoffs to make Sergio Leone take notice. there are just as many moments that are darkly comic and comic in a sort of ribald ultra-masculine kind of way. Be is Asripa accidentally getting into some Sake and becoming both belligerent and effusive. to finally eating Miso that she is still convinced is excrement complete with a two-page spread of her eating it and asking for more still convinced that it is excrement made only more humorous by the stretched and crumpled facial expressions of revulsion she makes. This thankfully helps lighten up the otherwise deadly serious but not self-importantly so volume. While also showing some obvious influence of older Western Cowboy films. In particular with Hijikata Toshizou taking out an armed band of robbers with a Katana and a shotgun. In a scene that is both beautiful in it's shot composition and panel layout but also horrifying in the easy brutality with which Toshizou carries out the massacre. A large part of the volume is dedicated to hunting be it the philosophy behind hunting superstitions associated with it to have to deliver the coup de grace to a wounded deer. After Sugimoto flinched at killing it and he and Asiripa stalk the deer while being tracked by Genjirou and Nihei. Nihei himself is another fine addition to the "rogue's gallery" Golden Kamuy has slowly acquired. Nihei oddly enough reminded me of Wolf Larsen from Jack London's The Sea-Wolf. If anything other than the painstaking amount of detail that goes into research on everything from how to access water in Winter to chewing Sakhalin Fir Pine needles to relieve exhaustion to the again preparation of food. It is Noda-Sensei's ability to craft a group of characters that all feel like they could be protagonists in their own series while also not overpowering the whole story with their presence. Volume Three continues to make for a fun pulpy throwback to old Gekiga. While also feeling completely modern while also grounded in its time and place in the story. While never feeling like an attempt at writing a history lesson or Noda-Sensei burdening the audience with his interests to the detriment of the story and plot.

To Your Eternity Vol. 2 Review

March and Parona learn the truth about the ritual from Hayase while after being imprisoned Fushi continues to learn and self-actualize even becoming able to understand abstract emotional concepts like empathy and latter in the volume hints at the origins of the polymorphic sphere are hinted at with possibly apocalyptic consequences. While also showing Fushi's growth in language comprehension and bringing the story arc involving March and Parona to a bittersweet conclusion. Volume two is a strong continuation of the already excellent first volume never a mere workmanlike continuation of the plot, themes, or character arcs. Oima-Sensei shows an amazing amount of thought in writing the secondary cast March, in particular, having the strongest character development in the volume. While for the most part, a one-dimensional character with rather childish and traditional dreams of motherhood wich where seemingly to be so cruelly snatched away due to the sacrificial rites of her people in volume one. The revelation about the true motives behind said rites while revealing an appalling amount of cynicism on the part of the Yanome. This event gives March her real chance to fulfill her dreams by educating Fushi and caring for Oniguma as well. While Parona is shown to be given to self-lacerating guilt and the end of the arc in chapter 11 brings the story to a wonderful coda. Filled with honest pathos and emotion the seemingly indomitable Parona is shown to be weak in an all too human way comparable to the subtle hints of brokenness and vulnerability Hiromu Arakawa gives her characters in Fullmetal Alchemist. With dialogue never being a ham-handed explaining of how Parona feels instead allowing scene composition and sparse interior monologues and flashbacks to show her emotional state and motivations. The village is redeemed from its blood guilt of human sacrifice and life is shown to be meaningful by what you make of these life circumstances no matter how bitter. Making for a rather steely moral to this arc while also showing if anything that empathy is an intrinsic part of what it means to be human. These themes are weighty ones for a comic for boys but ultimately I think any audience be they 12 or 22 or adults. Can benefit from taking a moment to think about the deeper and subtler complexities in this volume. Oima-Sensi has taken a subtlety and refinement often found more in Men's or Women's Comics and planted it firmly in the often overly bombastic world of Shonen Manga. Making this only more impressive is the fact that this is only her second full serialization in Shonen Magazine after A Silent Voice. Showing an emotional breadth and depth that is impressive. If anything this volume goes from strength to strength in each chapter. This is not to sell short or damn the art with faint praise. From panel layout use of blocking even the strange almost contorted proportions, Fushi takes on mid-transformation. To the use of backgrounds to convey abstract ideas like mortality, calm, despair, and even the shift in different cultures. To a disturbingly accurate amount of body horror feeling more akin to the waking nightmares of a Lovecraft or a Barker. To Your Eternity continues to be one hundred percent it's own story in a Manga landscape where seemingly every title feels focus-grouped, tied to a media mix package, or derivative. To have a series that can have me happy, sad, and terrified at possible implications for future volumes may have. Is a testament to how much of a labor of love this series feels. Never going for cheap shock for its own sake. In a word, everything feels intentional on the part of the Mangaka. In closing, While I hate to be obsequious or guilty of "Boosterism" in a review I feel this series will make Yoshitoki Oima the new voice that many have sought for so long in a glutted Manga market. The "Princess of Manga" if you will and long may she reign.

Monday, December 18, 2017

Blog Update and What I Plan To Watch Durring The Winter 2018 Anime Season

With 2017 almost over in a matter of weeks, I now come to what I plan to watch in the upcoming 2018 Anime Season. Also as a prescript update on the state of the Blog Manga reviews have been coming more regularly. Thanks in part to having some encouragement thanks to Katherine Dacey at Manga Critic linking to my reviews in her Monthly Manga review roundup on her site. We may not agree on a number of issues but she will always have my respect and be my Senpai and Sensei in Manga reviewing. But I digress I'm doing my best to try and regularly review certain series that I think are deserving of having a light shined on them such as Generation Witch, Kiss Me At The Stroke Of Midnight, Dreamin' Sun, and Delicious In Dungeon,. So I've taken to not reviewing more well-known series because while I may have something to say about a series like Full Metal Alchemist or Fruits Basket. I've chosen to be forward-looking and focus on reviewing newer titles because the world does not need another handful of reviews on widely popular or "gateway" titles. As I've always tried to model my Blog after old Punk Rock, Heavey Metal, and Hardcore Punk Fanzines (think more Sniffin' Glue and less Otaku USA)While trying to keep it very "me" and have a DIY Ethos and covering what has been reviewed seemingly countless times before detracts from the forward-looking and sometimes idiosyncratic point of view I try to express. Also, this focus on Manga has meant I've had to cut back if not outright stop reviewing Light Novels as while I can read them quickly the release schedule can be very slow. I understand why it is so slow but having almost six months between new releases makes it hard to review regularly without establishing a huge backlog of other Manga and Light Novels I have to read or review. Also would not want to start any kind of drama with people who disagree with me or end up getting slandered by people. Besides most of what I'd want to say about Streaming companies or the state of the Anime "Community" in The U.S.A, I can say on Twitter. Also I just kind of get sick of the general Fandom Drama and cliquishness that seems to exist. So if anyone is interested in knowing my thoughts about ANN or Crunchyroll or just Anime and Manga musings, in general, that will be on my Twitter account from now on. While the Blog is for Reviews, Seasonal Anime viewing plans and thoughts on License Announcements and Best and Worst of the Year list only. With that bit of housekeeping out of the way on to what I will be watching this Winter 2018 Anime Season. Death March kara Hajimaru Isekai Kyousoukyoku (Airing Jan 11, 2018, Broadcast: Thursdays at 23:30 (JST)): The Anime adaptation of the Light Novel series that has three volumes out in English thanks to YenOn. Death March tells the story of computer programmer Suzuki Ichirou who falls asleep trying to finish a Mobile Game project and is transported to a fantasy world. Only now he is fifteen years old goes by the name Satou and has almost unstoppable power. Along the way, he gains an almost harem of demi-human and human slaves. While going on various adventures and fighting monsters and demons. The series is in a word polarizing often being thought of as little more than a Wish Fulfillment Power Fantasy and honestly, it is but I have read the first three volumes of the Novel series. The most interesting parts of it are the slice of life parts where Satou teaches the girls in his care how to cook or tours cities with them. I'll be interested in seeing how the video game like point allocation system is handled in the Anime. While Director Oonuma, Shin (Baka to Test to Shoukanjuu and Watashi ga Motenai no wa Dou Kangaetemo Omaera ga Warui!) Is more than capable of turning in a good adaptation while Aoi Yuuki as Arisa holds out the most promise for a good performance as far as voice cast goes. I'm interested in seeing how this is adapted more than what the story will be having read three volumes of the original Light Novel series. Karakai Jouzu no Takagi-san (Airing Jan 8, 2018, Broadcast: Mondays at 23:00 (JST)): An adaptation of the Manga of the same name of the titular Takagi-san's teasing of her classmate Nishikata and his often failed attempts at teasing her. This has the potential to be a sweet low key romance with some comedy. The Manga did gain kind of cult following on 4chan. While it's being produced by Studio Shin-Ei Animation which has worked a few TV series such as Sweetness and Lighting and Tonari no Seki-Kun: The Master of Killing Time. The Studio has mostly done work on the Doraemon and Shin-Chan movies. While the voice cast is top tier, in particular, Takahashi, Rie (Megumin in Konosuba and Emila in Re: Zero) as Takagi is going to be particularly fun to watch as she plays Takagi who has to be played with a kind of layered personality outwardly a mischievous trickster while inwardly hiding her affection for Nishikata. Pop Team Epic (Airing Jan 7, 2018, Broadcast Sundays at 01:00 (JST)): An adaptation of the absurd Gag Manga by Ookawa, bkub this was originally supposed to come out in Fall 2017 but had to be pushed back to January. Chronicling the adventures of short and hot-tempered Popuko and tall and slightly calmer Pipimi. It's hard to describe the series some call it a Meme in Manga form. I personally think you could call it a misanthropic version of Lucky Star as the series is riddled video game, pop culture, and Anime references. While having an attitude of spite towards the Anime Industry and sometimes humanity in general. I don't expect this series to gain a wide audience as it's too esoteric in some aspects to be easily understood. Still, I think it could gain a cult following among English language fans. Ito Junji: Collection (Airing Jan 5, 2018, Broadcast Fridays at 22:30 (JST)): An Omnibus collection of animated shorts based on the works of Junji Ito and produced by Studio Deen. This has the potential to be a good attempt at making a Horror Anime based on the works of one of the real greats in the genre. Although given Ito's strange character design and oftentimes odd scenes of body horror this may prove difficult to animate but if the ethos and mood can be made right than I have hope. Basilisk: Ouka Ninpouchou (Airing Jan 9, 2018, Broadcast Tuesdays at 00:00 (JST)) Set a decade after the first series this continues to chronicle the feud between the Iga Ninja Clan and the Kouga Ninja Clan. the original Basilisk produced by Studio Gonzo is a personal favorite of mine with it's somber and tragic depiction generational clan hatred destroying the two Ninja clans while a cold uncaring fatalistic universe looks on blankly. This looks to be more of the same grim stone-faced stoical storytelling that the original series provided. While also looking to be an improvement Animationwise over the workmanlike but overly glossy early 2000s Digital Paint of the original. Also of note is that Inori Minase (Rem in Re: Zero Kara Hajimeru Isekai Seikatsu). Is voicing female lead Hibiki Iga while I have faith that she will be able to portray the silk hiding steel personality that would seem to be befitting a Ninja Clan Princess. I will have to wonder. As Nana Mizuki's performance in the first Basilisk as Oboro "Lavender Princess" Iga came off as a naive waif. So the contrast may be interesting to see. Overall this is the series I'm most excited about that is coming out this Winter 2018 season. As it is frankly a very different series in an Anime market these days that feels mostly apt to make adaptations of Moe, Slice Of Life, Isekai, and Iyashikei series. Hakumei to Mikochi (Airing Jan 12, 2018, Broadcast Fridays at 21:00 (JST)) A series about a group of what appear to be female gnomes and their soothing adventures simply looks to be a gentle respite from the grime and hustle and bustle of life. Yuru Camp△ (Airing Jan 4, 2018): The adventure of a group of friends who enjoy camping this could possibly be another Encouragement To Climb or Non-Non-Biyori. Grancrest Senki (Airing January 2018,): An adaptation of Ryo Mizuno's Light Novel series of the same name. with direction from Omata, Shinichi. This will hopefully be a return to old school Sword and Sorcery Anime while also crafting an epic narrative filled with the kind of swashbuckling action that made Record of Lodoss War such fun. Devilman Crybaby (Airing Jan 5, 2018) A ten-episode ONA released exclusively on Netflix telling the story of Go Nagai's Devilman franchise. With direction by Yuasa, Masaaki (Ping Pong The Animation)and done as part of a celebration of Nagai's fifty years as a Mangaka. This will from PVAs and trailers alone look to be a spectacle for fans of Animation. While it may finally be a way for Nagai to gain some kind of fanbase outside of Manga Otaku and historians of the medium in The West. Netflix even saw fit to make a dub for this series for English Language audiences.