Tuesday, December 10, 2013
2013 was a year in which the Manga “fandom”. For me became less of a part of my life not in giving up or burn out but simply that I don't bother to interact with others online or in real life out of a simple choice to want to be left alone or avoid the more toxic aspects of fandom (trolls, crazy super fans, and creepy perverts). I also buy less part of this is cold hard economics and it's partially I simply don't want to be “locked in” to buying a series I'm only mildly interested in or ambivalent about. Thankfully with the growth of legal online streaming I'm able to watch more Anime for free. As far as thoughts on Anime in general with a few major exceptions (Kill La Kill and Gallie Dona come to mind), Anime releases are very much part of a franchise either being adaptations of a light novel, Manga, or Visual Novel or a continuation of a previous season. Some of these aren’t bad but it speaks to the lack of original content and most of them feel like generic re-treads of the same tired concepts except instead of being heavily based around Moe it's mostly Fan Service (this was especially true of The Fall season). As far as what was good in Anime it's debatable as is any kind of art sure there are shows I'm watching that are entertaining but ultimately inconsequential, or leave no impact like Infinite Straitos 2 which is simply a generic harem series with some okay mecha design and action. All the girls simply end up being one note stereotypes or archetypes, while Outbreak Company which from how it was being marketed sounded awful ended up being a pleasant surprise able to juggle real emotion and the some times pander heavy fan service that seems to be what is thought to make money these days. I also have to say that Gingitsune goes down as one of the better series I've seen this year although I watched very little during the summer and spring was depressing due to having to slog through a number of creepy fetishistic harem and light novel derivative titles. As Gingitsune, takes a very Japanese concept a young girl whois the heir to her family's shrine and can see the spirit guardian of the shrine a large grumpy fox named Gin with a fondness for Tangerines and makes it a sweet relateble series about growing up and coming to terms with life while also running a winsome thread of spirituality through it punctuated with slapstick comedy and honest morals to various episodes. Also Non Non No Biyori the spiritual successor to Barasui's Strawberry Marshmallow (in my opinion) holds a special place in my heart for capturing the feel of a real Moe series instead of the multiplicity of series that feel like they where done by committee or made specially just to sell merchandising. Also being produced by Studio Silver Link helps as they are one of my favorite Anime production companies and the only reason I even finished Oniai. As far as thing that where bad or “worst of's” most of the things that where truly bad or uninteresting I dropped the long stalled Blaz Blue Anime was indecipherable after three episodes and did nothing to counter the almost universally low opinion Anime adaptations of fighting games have in Anime fandom. It looked nice but the story seemed to be only a mishmash of references to a series of games I doubt most of the western audience has played while also having parts of it feel like fan service to the fans of the games as several characters seemed to appear just to do their “special move” than disappear. Other low lights include the Madoka Magica Spinoff Manga series which made me think that the reason we haven’t seen a lot of really bad “Madoka clone” series the way we did with Neon Genesis Evangelion is because Madoka Partners is doing a fine enough job destroying their own brand with inferior spin offs that have none of the deep philosophical concepts or well written characterization of the original TV series while I have no interest in the movies even if the third movie is completely original the TV ending works just fine for me. Also I'd be remiss if I didn’t mention Oreimo in my worst of as this is the best recent example of a series’s ending ruining what could have been a interesting concept along with a turgid second season of the Anime that left a lot of people feeling as if they'd been tricked. The second season of Genshiken could also be added to my worst of simply because it goes nowhere and replaces the original cast with a almost completely new cast of characters who all seem the same while the Mangaka becomes progressively more obsessed with one new character to expense of everyone else. My three picks for best New Manga meanwhile are idiosyncratic and obviously not going to be what everyone considers the best but it's my list so their and it's in no particular order from best to worst or anything. #1 Monster Musume by Okayado: This title is simply put a harem series with Monster Girls I think it's one of the best new series out because it's just a harem title it's not trying to be an action series and a harem series or any kind of harem plus anything it's simply the story of a put upon guy who ends up with a bunch of cute monster girls living in his house it's a simple concept but it works and never feels as if it's trying to be more than what it is. #2. Watamote: This is the manga for anyone who hated High School or is tired of series like Kimi No Todeki that paint an unrealistic saccharine picture of High School or alternatively make it like this epic angst riddled struggle like Devil and Her Love Song. Focused around the failures and self deluded antics of Tomoko Kuroki a girl who thinks that everyone else is the problem to her becoming popular. It’s alternatively one of the funniest series currently in print and one of the most depressing due to the presentation of Tomoko being so honest and unafraid to present her as an often vindictive and judgmental but ultimately extremely lonely and teenager which I'm sure more than accounts for her extreme popularity online as the ultimate “Anti-Moe” character while also hitting too close to home for some having to drop the series because of that. #3 Helter Skelter Fashion Unfriendly: I did an entire review explaining why I liked this, simply put it's not something you see released much it's a dark jaundiced view of humanity and most Manga that get released is simply escapist entertainment this is a work that goes deep into the ugliest parts of human nature for being that against the current grain of cutesy consumerism that Japan tries to palm off as “Cool Japan.” I can't praise this series enough. 2014: Titles I'm looking forward to and trends I want to see die #1. Title: Arpeggio of Blue Steel: Originally serialized in Young King Ours (home to Trigun and Hellsing at one time) is a post apocalyptic Sci-Fi story based around the crew of a Submarine who battles the invading alien forces known as the Fleet of Fog the secret to their victory being that their sub is a former fleet of fog ship. Also all the Fleet of Fog ships have AI called Mental Models that take the form cute girls. When I first heard about this series I was instantly intrigued having watched the Anime now I really can't wait until June as this series seems to have an engrossing Sci-Fi plot mixed with epic military battles and a smattering of cute girl fan service in short it's got something for everyone along with an art style that looks all it's own. #2. Title: Strike Witches: Strike Witches is one of my favorite series the Anime's first season was near perfect and the second season despite some filler and an over abundance of fan service in some parts carried the story on while also feeling like a good way to end it. The manga had never really been on my radar until Seven Seas announced they had licensed the first series. Than subsequently several other titles, it's a great way for me to become reacquainted with the girls of the 401st while also getting a chance to have more stories on this great Mecha Musume series also, I'll be particularly interested in seeing the art style and character design. #3. Title: Say “I Love You”: Licensed by Kodansha from their older teen Shojo/Josei magazine Dessert and due out in Spring of 2014, I came across it from watching the Anime adaptation which had wildly different opinions on it some thinking it was great others thinking it was terrible. I came away from it convinced that I had to read the Manga of it as it felt like a Manga for young women or older teens who had a brain and could actually think instead of simply regurgitating tired plot ideas and tired character archetypes. I think this could be the first Shojo title outside of Sailor Moon that I've actually liked putout by Kodansha as Missions of Love became too squicky after four volumes and Tokyo Mew Mew felt like Cash Grab: The Manga. Trends I want To See Die: #1. “Rapey” Romance and Supernatural Romance Titles: I know in a objective sense titles like this won't go away because they continue to sell as the Manga equivalent to bad bodice ripper fiction and it wouldn’t bother me that much except all that seems to come out or sell briskly now as far as Shojo Manga is this type of stuff. In which a heroine has a guy pressuring her to have sex with him for whatever contrived reason. Or she's forced into some kind of “pact” or sham marriage with him for an equally contrived reason, and it ultimately feels like the audience is supposed to find the heroine either a ridiculous cipher they can feel superior to or is supposed to find the prospect of potential ravishment “Exciting” only further testifying to how sexually broken we are as a society this side of The Fall. Again it's more the amount of this kind thing instead of the fact that any of it gets put out at all that bothers me and at least with the release of titles Voice Over Academy it seems to at least be slowing down a little. #2. Moral Crusader Syndrome: This is the trend of people feeling that in the need to protect other people's children or in over reaction to their own child getting a hold of a Manga title that might be age inappropriate or something they wouldn’t want them to read. They than try and ban all Manga or Graphic Novels this seems to happen every six month to a year like clock work from the woman in Florida who claimed her son was traumatized by a copy of Gantz and had to go into therapy because of it. Or the mother who wanted to ban Death Note because she felt it was wrong for middle school aged children to read. Thankfully groups like The Comic Book Legal Defense Fund exist to stem the tide of ridiculous parentaly motivated book banning and we can chuckle a little at these examples . But there’s also the much more serious problem of governmental censorship in Canada (a country where you can not only be prosecuted for having Manga but also for speaking out against Homosexuality so at least their equal opportunity tyrants). Along with movements in Japan to have Lolicon declared hate speech by certain sectors of the Feminist movement or child pornography by traditionalist conservatives. Along with recent prosecutions such as the Brandon X case and the Handly case from 2009, I can only hope that in time people with “cooler heads” will realize that reading Manga won't turn you into a sexual predator and that a drawing of child is not a child. Best Reissue: Dance In The Vampire Bund Omnibus: Dance In The Vampire Bund is a series I love it's a mixture of solid action sometimes insightful character writing and a alternatively lush and epic, and hard boiled writing style. With the omnibus reissues the series get an oversized edition collecting three volumes per omnibus fixing the cramped style that detracted from the detail in the original individual volumes. Making for a much more satisfying reading when the epic battles of the latter half start, while also giving more for your money with three volumes per omnibus so it's also economical as well. I'm still a little amazed this sells and has sold as well as it does. Given the content I've even gone so far as saying this is the title I'm 90% sure would send me to prison if it fell in the wrong hands. I still can't help but sing the praises of this series for all the good in it and the omnibus only show why it's such a big seller for Seven Seas. Honorable and Dishonorable Mentions: Dishonorable Mentions: K-On! High school and College: These where the sort of sequels that continued on from the original four volume series from the beginning they where fraught with controversy, from angry Otaku worrying about their Wifu haveing her “purity” sullied in the College series to the uninteresting bland antics in the high school series and the degraded art. In the end both series ended at one collected volume each and except for completeists was promptly forgotten by almost every one it was a cynical cash grab and had none of the charm of the original which it's self is quickly heading into obscurity. Dragon Ball Z Ocean Dub DVD re release: Simply this is a repackaging of an old dub for the chance to get the money of old DBZ fans with more money than common sense. Of course Funimation is going to put it out because it's a guaranteed way to make money but it's still kind of an insult to the intelligence of fans I feel. Attack On Titan: After I read the first two Twilight novels I made a solemn vow to myself that I wouldn’t get sucked into something because of the hype for this reason I've not watched the Anime adaptation of Attack on Titan and having read the first two volumes of the Manga I found it the equivalent of a series like Death Note where it conflates violence and shock value with maturity. I honestly don't have much to say except this is a series I passed on and my reasons for passing on it still stand Honorable Mentions: Silver Spoon Season One: The latest work by Fullmetal Alchemist Mangaka Hiromu Arakawa is a simple story of a city boy who transfers to a High School in Hokkaido only to find out it's a agricultural school and that he'll be forced to do hard labor on top of having to deal with the ethical implications of farming as well as animal slaughter for food. The Manga has been extremely successful in Japan (I don't know why Viz still hasn’t licensed it), the Anime captures a story full of heart, courage, and an overall sunny Shonen vibe that's odd for a series serialized in the often more cerebral Shonen Sunday. Chronicles of the Going Home Club: Yes it's a “cute girls doing cute things” series but it captures a more off kilter Otaku feel to the genre as opposed to the “forced Moe” of series like Good Job Club with the girls feeling like actual characters while also making over the top beyond the impossible physical comedy some found it shrill I found it hilarious in the over the top nature of it and skewering of tropes and conventions along with the winking self awareness of it.
Monday, December 9, 2013
Yumi works as prostitute, to subsidize her earnings from working as an Office Lady (a sort of secretary in a Japanese office building responsible for light clerical work, scheduling appointments, and serving tea to visiting clients). That she can afford to keep and feed her beloved pet crocodile while also having to deal with her step-mother, that she despises and eventually becomes privy to information that her step mother is keeping a younger man as a lover. Yumi latter becomes acquainted and involved with the man an aspiring novelist named Haru . Pink the second work by Kyoko Okazaki to be released Vertical, is less bitter and acerbic than Helter Skelter, but also seemingly more resigned to the character’s fates as well as well Yumi blithely accepts that being degraded is part of working as a prostitute and an honestly flippant tone permeates most of the series until the end which reminded me slightly of the ending to (the 90s OVA) Kite. While Haru is often the “straight man” feeling put upon, but also deeply bonded to Yumi over the series, its a testament to Okazaki's skill that she didn’t try to paint Yumi as the stereotypical “fallen woman” who needs to be saved by the male love interest. Instead it's all matter of factually even cynically (clinical even) laid bare the inadequacies of all the characters. No one is really succinctly defined instead it's many shades of gray, Yumi has desires to see foreign places has a love for Kamen Rider and is a “City girl” for lack of a better term. While also having to deal with juggling a secret life and living in a society that values pretense and outward proprietary often hiding moral and social hypocrisy beneath, it's a series that judges no one but doesn’t approve of anyone either simply showing “Bubble era” Japan for the decedent, cynical, and sometimes romantic environment it was. Thankfully though set in this time period none of it feels dated or like a time capsule of bygone era, instead it's depressingly current with trends in modern society and the fact that Pink still speaks even after being originally released in 1989 is impressive if a little disheartening. Yumi's step-mother, probably has to go down as one of the most loathsome and odious creatures in the history of “wicked step-mothers” in recent memory a shallow social climbing emotional vampire who is capable of showing some semblance of human emotions but it all seems to mask an amorality that's chilling. Haru for his part is simply there he's not extremely integral to the story and feels kind of superfluous for a large part of it until he ends up with Yumi than he simply feels like he's their as Yumi's boyfriend and nothing much else. At best he's a plot device an Josei equivalent of the love interest as plot device in which the girl is used as a way to spur on the hero in Shonen and Seinen romances. That's not to say he's completely, without characterization it's simply that other than wanting to be a novelist all other kinds of characterization about him is strictly defined by his relationship to other characters in the end he never gets to be a real person or a unique individual he simply feels acted upon and under realized. While Keiko (Yumi's step-sister), is probably the most interesting character in the series it's a pity she wasn’t used more as I really found her to be my favorite character in the series, due to her conflicting loyalties to Yumi and her often times morally reprehensible mother, while also having an depth of insight that's chilling in one so young. Okazaki's art is rough looking with a newspaper style design that values simplicity and directness over the sometimes florid over detailed art style found in Shojo Manga, while also using negative space and composition to explore character’s inner mental states and turmoil. Even including small author's notes to criticize her drawings of drinking glasses or something one of her assistants drew giving an irreverent self aware feel.
Sunday, December 8, 2013
New girl Moe joins the gym due to being impressed by Sakura's fortitude it's established she's not to be messed with when she "one shots" Rio with her finely honed skills from years of Karate, also Moe only wants to work with Sakura looking upon her as her master while also having more fortitude it's nice to see a plucky youngster get a go in the ring and the mystery of who Blue Panther is gets quickly solved almost anticlimactic thanks to Jackal. While the training scenes work out okay but no real match takes place simply feeling like a wasted twenty minutes in wich we never get to see Moe wrestle professionally, while the build up of Sakura challenging Blue Panther ends the episode on a cliff hanger waiting to see what will happen. While the writing sometimes feels like it needs to have characters explain motivations instead of simply letting them speak such as Rio's attempts at being encouraging coming of as her berating Moe this scene could have been left fine as is but is weighed down by a need to over explain things and violating "show don't tell" in ways that are annoying due to how common this style of writing has become in Anime screen writing as of late this is just the most egregious example of many, many, many, examples.
Gin and Haru are the focus of this episode and it show if anything how strikingly similar they both are to each other even if they'd never admit it, over all it's cute to see Haru's many moods from fawning over Satoru to the childish way she act when the girls and boys from the local school having a water fight at the shrine that ends up breaking some of the water dippers used for purification. While also Tatsuo gets some screen time and establishes what a good and nice person he is by going out of his way to console the kids who broke the dippers or buy fried tofu for Haru after he learns that its' her favorite. I really think this is a good series that knows how to use characters and scenery but wont ever gain much of a fan base due to it being so obviously Japanese wich I think could be a point of appeal but makes it almost impossible to liscinse or a dub that stay true to the series. Still it's a chery little pick me up I look forward to each week.
This is a frustrating volume not because it's bad but because it's so very good in some places and simply mediocre in others, specifiably Jiro has became more and more of a cipher and feels less like a character and more like a plot device used to carry out action. While he get's one truly great moment of characterization, where he hugs Konoe despite his Gynophobia in an attempt to comfort her at her family grave and promises to be her Best Friend, which comes about due to Konoe's inability to be clear about what her intentions or feelings are. This whole story line of Konoe's obvious romantic interest and Jiro trying to be supportive but not understanding her true feelings isn’t brought up again until the last two chapters of the volume with one in which Konoe get's comically drunk and almost confesses. Or the last chapter which gives some much needed depth to Suzutsuki outside of being a gleeful Sadist as she admits to her self that she loves Jiro as more than a friend. I found this whole revelation at least gave some closure as to how she really felt instead of simply playing with the idea and having it be a joke and wasting time on a potential relationship that goes nowhere. The rest of the volume feels as if they where unconnected “one shots” about the various girls from Suzutsuki's “hiccups” being a verbal tic that causes Jiro to call her “Cute” for the first time to going on a sort of date with Nakuru to help her figure out wither boys are really attracted to her or simply her looks. The Nakuru story has the best attempt at trying to give some insight into her thoughts but also has many moments that are simply fan service or Nakuru construing what Jiro says in the most overly sexual manner. While Masamune's story is an excuse for maid fan service and a sappy moral about friendship and accomplishes nothing. But again it's at least trying to go somewhere with her character as opposed to Kuhara's story which feels completely inconsequential, at least this volume had good moments to outweigh the bad as opposed to being frustratingly average or loosing all attempts at plot progression to simply wallow in comedy or fan service. Although those moments happen as well especially in the story involving Suzutsuki's hiccups or Masamune's maid cafe job but this could simply be the artist wanting to do something in more detail than the writer originally did. Art continues to be clean and simple with great detail given to clothing something I've praised the series for from the beginning but also there's an overindulgence in background tones as opposed to actual backgrounds which could either be a time saving measure or a testament to the limited skills of the artist . While character design shows obvious attention to detail in the female characters various “charms,” emotions are able to be shown and feel as if they are real emotions and not simply drawings on a page. From embarrassment (by far the most prominent emotion of the female cast), to desire and remorse a good mixture of the subtle and the over the top plays throughout in the art but the narrative pacing suffers considerably from the constant switching of characters making for a jarring and uneven story that ends up feeling like three chapters of real story and a whole lot of fluffy filler to round it out.
Josei Manga is the least represented of the main demographics of Manga in English whether it's that these titles are hard to license or it's a perception that they don't sell if one where of a more cynical bent you could argue that it's a prevailing misogyny or sexism in preconceiving that women don't read comics so getting stuff for them is futile. The reasons are not really known and I feel it simply boils down to cold hard economics more than some sort of disdain for women as an gender in comics fandom (although that sort of “macho jock” attitude does exist in fandom). With all that being said Vertical has decided to take a gamble, in releasing the unfinished award winning work Helter Skelter Fashion Unfriendly, by (now sadly incapacitated due to being hit by a drunk driver in May of 1996 a fact that facilitated Moyoco Anno having to finish parts of the paperback release) pioneering Josei Mangaka Kyoko Okazaki. Helter Skelter is bleak, dark, and nihilistic in it's cynical destruction of the illusions of fashion and beauty, as it shows the moral and physical decay of the protagonist the new “it girl” Liliko a model who owes her looks to experimental and highly expensive and illegal plastic surgery procedures using aborted fetal tissue. Okazaki's withering critique of not only the fashion industry but almost the entire concept of beauty or at least it's conflation with the concept of eternal youth is bracing almost refreshing even in it's unvarnished treatment of a truly despicable human being in Liliko who is never portrayed as an innocent victim but someone who becomes addicted to the fame and shallow praise of sycophants while also being prostituted by her manger and slowly breaking down completely . The one spot that seems to show her any humanity is Liliko's relationship with her sister which is underdeveloped and instead only serves to show Liliko's decline along with the media being more than willing to kick her when she's down. Also the use of perception versus reality is used to great effect in which fans of Liliko assume she have some sort of fabulous life because she's on the cover of magazines and thought to be physically pretty. While in reality she's more than willing to give in to the darkest most repugnant aspects of human nature out such petty motives as ennui, boredom, and spite, this is not a fun work it is not a work that is enjoyed in the way one enjoys escapist entertainment. It is a work that takes the vaunted idols of those entertainments and exposes them as the cheap fakes they are. Celebrity someone once described as “undeserved acclaim for doing nothing”, Helter Skelter is the truest representation of that idea I have seen and for that it deserves nay must be read to show the utter fraud that is perpetrated on society by the “entertainment industrial complex.” Character design and lay out are a loose and sketchy none of the characters are conventionally attractive it's a testament to the artifice of fashion and entrainment. While also capturing the human cost of the false ideas foisted on people in the name of a false concept of beauty in the often bloody splatter drenched suicides and chilling acts of cruelty, I had trouble telling whether certain characters where female or male due to the short hair cuts and androgynous features. The use of text to show character’s inner thoughts or the public’s perception of events through tabloids and newspapers that are recreated in drawings speak again to the artificial nature of the world the characters inhabit no one says what they really mean and everything is hid behind a veil of incredulous hipness. The only downside is that this work is left unfinished but what we have in conclusion is a testament to the very worst of humanity and that's a good thing because than we can aspire to be better than these people.
This is the swimsuit episode both celebrating and mocking its artificiality as well, simply it's an episode in which Minori needs to use her paid time off so Shinchi after having helped out with Petralka last episode gets permission to use the royal villa. So the entire crew goes to use it and of course it's all luscious fan service and honestly all the girls do look quite fetching in their swimsuits mostly focused on Minori which wasn't bad for what it was although for my money I was partial to Elbia and the action scene involving the voyeuristic Self Defense Forces members had some good action sequences with Miusel's magic conjuring in particular looking extremely impressive. Overall a slight episode that is humorous more than serious and felt like a nice change of pace and while it was a swimsuit episode the winking acknowledgement of it as such makes it a bit more enjoyable than simply as fan service. While also allowing for some decent character moments such as Shinchi lamely trying to defend Miusel and he not wanting anyone to get hurt or pull a "heroic sacrifice"