Thursday, December 30, 2010

Review: Oreimo

 It is a well known fact that two of the most popular otaku genres (discounting old classics like the giant robot) are Moe (pronounced mo-eh), and self-parody. Self-parody is popular for obvious reasons, namely the fact that we otaku love talking about ourselves. Moe (AKA cute young girls doing stuff that is cute) is a bit more complex, and I do not feel like delving into that can of worms at the moment. Nice examples of self-parody series include Genshiken and Welcome to the NHK. Examples of Moe that did not make me retch are Azumanga Daioh! and The Melancholy of Haruhi Suzumiya. The anime I am about to tell you about today is an amalgamation of the two, a "Genshiken Daioh!", a "Welcome to the Melancholy of Haruhi". It is titled "Ore no Imooto ga Konna ni Kawaii Wake ga Nai", or in English, "My Little Sister can't be this Cute". Let's call it "Oreimo" for short.
  One day, average Japanese teenager Kyousuke Kousaka discovers an ero-game lying around the house. Later that day, his younger sister (do you hear that sound? It is fan boys drooling) Kirino kicks him out of bed, asking for advice. She lead him to her bedroom, and reveals to him her...rather large collection of ero-games (the joke is they're all little-sister games), expensive merchandise, and magical girl anime. Kyousuke never knew it, but Kirino is a major otaku! And so, despite his lack of interest in the otaku community, Kyousuke takes it upon himself to help his sister figure out how to live with her niche hobby.
 I found Oreimo to be very similar in mood to Haruhi, which, like Oreimo, is based on a light novel. The world is bright and cheery, laughter is infectious, the cute girls are cute, and Kyou-kun is the exact same character, not that there's any problem with that. At the same time, the show gives a true to life depiction of the otaku lifestyle (with the exception of some oddities) up there with Genshiken. Surprisingly, the two styles do not clash, nor do they neuter each other. The only place where it felt even slightly mismatched was in Kirino's obsession with gal-games,and that was taken seriously enough within the story (not to say it isn't played for laughs sometimes) to not affect my enjoyment of the series. Perhaps it even raises a good (if unintentional) point about otaku culture's often confused sense of sexuality. Why ARE little sisters so popular? Is there some deeper meaning to the perseverance of gender swap and harem shows? Who cares?
 Anyway, I found Oreimo to be a fun, smart, rollicking good time, though the people reading my blog (i.e. my family) may disagree. I'd make a closing statment, but I have a feeling it would change, just like the end credits did every episode. OK, done!
Oreimo is currently streaming HERE on Anime News Network

Update: I was right! My opinion about the show DID change. Not Genshiken. Not Hrauhi. This is nothing but crass entertainment. But you know what? I was entertained, so I'm okay. But you should avoid this. It is the Two and a Half Men of anime

Tuesday, December 28, 2010

Zyword of the week episode 2: A very Beriichi Christmas

 Okay, to be honest, I don't hate what I am about to talk about with a fierce passion, which will be mostly what I will talk about in this column. But it's Christmastime, and Christmastime is not a time for rage, just mild displeasure. Anyway, it is something I wish did not exist, and that is what this column is about.
  Bleach requires no introduction. Alongside Naruto and One Piece, it represents the third half of the modern Shonen Jump's holy trinity of gargantuan manga properties. Naruto is overlong, but the author clearly loves writing it. One Piece is genuinely amazing, as I have detailed previously. However, Bleach is just sad.
 It began sublimely, with a small cast and a fun premise, with stylish art to boot. Written by Tite Kubo, the story followed the adventures of Ichigo "Strawberry" Kurosaki, and orange-haired tough guy who can see ghosts, Rukia Kuchiki, a soul reaper (shinigami in original japanese) who, after accidentally giving Ichigo all her powers, acts as his mentor, his friends Orihime and Chad, Kon, a talking stuffed animal (long story), and their adventures fighting "Hollows", incomplete and therefore evil spirits. With that begins a fun, stylish romp though otherworldly spooks. It was even better than One Piece. Until...volume four.
  It's no secret that the Shonen Jump editors secretly control all the manga. Dragon Ball Z is probably the most famous examples of an editor forcing an author to change their plans for, well, monetary reasons. However, none have been ever so shocking as what happened to Bleach. In volume 4, Rukia is kidnapped by her evil brother, and with the help of some side characters who will never appear again, Ichigo and team go to the Soul Society to save her. I must admit, at first this idea left me a little giddy with fanboy excitement. If Bleach was neat and off the wall, who knows what will happen when the rules of the normal world are completely scrapped. It was going to be like One Piece's Grand Line. Boy, was I in for a shock. Lame, repetitive plotline of fight-lose-train-win-train. Stock, cliche characters. Hard-to-follow script. Random use of Ki. No character development for anyone but Ichigo, if you call power ups development anyway. Lack of trademark wit and spunk. And, of course, financial success. I hate to say this, since I have many friends who happen to be die hard fans of Bleach, but this series is ruined for me now. Bleach is dead. A different, lower quality series that happens to be called Bleach has taken its place. I really wish this new series didn't exist.

Friday, December 24, 2010

The Otaku's Best of 2010

So, 2010 is almost over, and I must say what a terrible year. That whole "market crash" thingie, all the scanlators, frickin' Quasar of Stigma! But, I digress. There were plenty of good things that happened this year, good things that did NOT, in fact, involve breast-feeding alchemists. Of course, no one actually read Quasar of Stigma, and I only read a chapter to sample and see if it fell into (almost wrote "feel into") the So Bad It's Good category. It did not. So anyway, I guess it wasn't THAT bad a year... oh HI, Hetalia! Whatever, here's what I enjoyed this year.


Haunting, beautiful, and charming, the short stories in A Drunken Dream feature many popular tropes of Shoujo manga, but are told quietly, with a short, wistful execution, like a melancholy dream. Highlights include the bitter-but-still-wistful "Girl on Porch with Puppy" published in the Tezuka-founded COM magazine, which also published Phoenix, and "The Willow Tree" a beautiful example of the power of visual storytelling.

Best New Anime EDEN OF THE EAST directed by Kenji Kamiyama

An incredible piece of speculative  fiction, Eden of the East tells the story of Akira Takizawa, an amnesiac man with nothing from his past except for a cellphone with 8.2 billion yen and a contact with a woman named Juiz, and a gun (this is literally all he has; when we first meet him, he is standing around in front of the White House naked with no clue what he is doing). The story also centers around Saki, a directionless college graduate who gives the story an emotional core in a manner alike to the "companions" in Doctor Who. Surprisingly warm-hearted, there is something in this for everyone. Bonus points for the film references.

Best Reprint CLOVER by CLAMP

Clover is CLAMP's most challenging work, a steampunk shoujo opera of doomed romance in three acts. The brand-new Dark Horse edition puts the entire epic together in a single volume, with high-quality images that do far better justice to CLAMP lead artist Mokona's high contrast experimetation.

Best Finale SCOTT PILGRIM by Brian Lee O'Malley

I probably don't have to tell you, but Scott Pilgrim is so epic. However, what many people have lost in the sea of internet memes is that SP has a genuine emotional core. This is a story about learning to live with yourself and live a happy life, an important moral for the often socially inept comics/animation/games world. Plus, there are epic fight scenes and great lines like "Ramona earned the Power of Love! The Power of Love heals all wounds!" So take another look at this book that you probably already own, and think about it for a good, long time.

Best Continuing Series One Piece by Eichiro Oda

As we approach (or reached already, if your Japanese) volume 60 with no sign of stopping, this is one commercial gargantuan where all I want to say to the artist is "Good for you!" and give him a HIGH FIVE!

Best Guilty Pleasure Demon Sacred by Natsumi Itsuki

That's right, freaks and geeks! I actually bought this goddamn thing! It may be cheap, disposable entertainment, but Tokyopop had a good idea for a change, and sold the first two volumes at a price point of $5.99 a volume, meaning I could enjoy this for what it was and not be distracted by my sudden lack of cold, crisp ca$h money.

Best Webcomic/Best Thing Ever AXE COP by Malichi (6) and Ethan (30) Nicholle

He is a cop. With an axe. And a dinosaur. Who can fly. And has Gatling guns for arms.What more do I have to say? Oh yes. Book edition now in print.

Best Dub Tales from Earthsea directed by Goro Miyazaki and dubbed by Disney

Now, most people agree that Earthsea kinda sucked. Goro Miyazaki's theatrical attempt at getting his famous father to notice him, the film has every element of a classic Ghibli except, well, the magic. However, I would argue that this is a fitting adaption of Ursula K. LeGuin's Earthsea Cycle (you know that old guy, Sparrowhawk? The first book chronicles his youth). Anyway, Disney has once again done a fabulous job with the dub, possibly improving the Japanese original. Willem DeFoe steals the show as Cobb.

Most Anticipated of 2011(Anime) EVANGELION 2.0 directed by Hideaki Anno and MOBILE SUIT GUNDAM directed by  Yoshiyuki Tomino

As readers of this blog may know (do you exist? Tell me in the comments PLZ!), I am an uber-fan of Eva, and, while disappointed that Anno doesn't want to do anything new, am really looking forward  to seeing how he can change things up a bit. Plus, it's showing in a theater where I live. Hooray!
Also, after watching five episodes or so dubbed on ANN, I am really psyched for the re-release of  the historic Mecha show Mobile Suit Gundam, with the Japanese included for the first time! (I still like the dub though)
Update: Anno is not the Director of 2.0, rather it is Kazuya Tsurumaki, co-director of most of the TV series. Anno is the supervising director, however, as well as the screenwriter.

Most Anticipated of 2011 (Manga) THE BOOK OF HUMAN INSECTS by Osamu Tezuka and ONWARD TOWARD OUR NOBLE DEATHS by Shigeru Mizuki

These are, of  course, very different selections. "Insects" is one of Tezuka's titles from his experimental period, and is being released, as always, by Vertical. Vertical has done a fantastic job with every Tezuka title they've published to date, and if the cover design is even close to the level of quality of Ayako, it will be a real treat.
I am also quite pleased to hear that Drawn and Quarterly has seen fit to publish Onward Towards Our Noble Deaths, the first North American translation of a title by Gekiga and Youkai master Shigeru Mizuki.While it is too bad that his classic GeGeGe no Kitaro couldn't come out first (it is available in french, like every other manga I want to read), but I have been anticipating this ever since I read a description of it in Dreamland Japan.
Anyway, both of these (and Eva 2) are coming out in March, so I guess that will be a busy month for me.

Thursday, December 23, 2010

Zyword of the Week episode 1: ZyWHA?!?!?

Sorry for not updating last week; to be honest, I'm super tired. During this super cool holiday season , I will post this, along with a best of oh-ten list, and *possibly* more. Our regularly scheduled Eva analysis and random reviews will return next year.

OK then, welcome to my newest feature!!! (BTW, MVs You Will Like is dead) Zyword of the Week is about things that you wish you didn't exist, that could potentially single-handedly make one leave the otaku life forever and not look back, and how y'know, terrible they are. Today we will be discussing Zyword, and it's (lack of) many nuances.
It was customer appreciation day at my local comic store, and they were giving away free stuff. Of course, everything they were giving away was crap. Love Hina the Novelization (?), FLCL the bad manga version, an absolutely horrible-looking OEL called Harvey and Etsuko, and... Zyword. Attracted to the flashy cover art, the mention of the author, Tamayo Akiyama, being a former member of the shojo super group CLAMP (it did not occur to me that there was probably a good reason for that "former" bit), and I dunno, it just felt like destiny. Anyway, I'm glad I got it, because in doing so, I have prevented someone else from ever needing to suffer though this turd.
 To begin, let's look at the dialogue. Here is some examples of the less contrived speech:

"And she has FOUR ranks of custom-color spells?"

"Luna, don't you ever listen? I've told you over and over--when breaking spells, always take your surroundings into consideration! The weather, the terrain... You produced a flame spell without checking how much power to use first and now you've lowered the air pressure of this area!"

"You're insane! I don't care care HOW powerful you are-- but it's IMPOSSIBLE to collect a shield spell!"

However, the art style is quite nice. Akiyama did the character designs for Magical Knight Rayearth, and the art effectively emulates the finer points of early CLAMP. However, I could hardly tell, because the art is so awash in screen tone it looks like someone sneezed on all the pages. I mean, the pages originally in color look LESS muddy than the rest of the goddamn book! As the author herself mentions in the back notes, "I've beenexperimenting with the computer more lately." No, REALLY?
Also, many designs are downright derivative. For example, let's look at The animal mascot, Ride. Ride looks exactly like Mokona from Rayearth, Tsubasa, and xxxHOLiC (none of which are porn, and all of which are CLAMP titles), except with a six-pointed star lazily slapped on to make it more "magic." Ugh.
 Now, you may notice that I have not discussed the plot of Zyword at all and that is because it is completely incomprehensible. The first line in the book is "The Chaotic Spell World." One would expect an explanation of what this "Chaotic Spell World" is, right? Nope! I think that it was the titular Zyword, but honestly, I'm not even totally sure about that. Eventually, I gave up on trying to follow the story (was there even one?), and just aimlessly flipped through the book in abject horror.
The sad thing about this book is that it could very easily be much, much better. This artist is very talented, and unlike me, has a good grasp on how to tell an involving story. But instead, we get a confusing, muddled mess. If you showed me this when I was getting into manga, I'd have stopped reading on the spot and never look back. I really wish this didn't exist.

Friday, December 10, 2010


It occurred to me the other day that with a blog with the subtitle "A place for people who know what a Henohenomoheji is, and those who are willing to learn", it would probably be a good idea to explain what a henohenomoheji is. First let me show you the hiragana characters:

Now, take the characters He, No, Mo, and Ji:
 arrange them like this:
 HE     HE
 NO    NO
J     MO    I

This is a very old japanese pun, and I love it to death. Look for various manga:

Review: Neon Genesis Evangelion-Part 4-episodes 16 thru 20

It happened a year ago, but it haunts me still. The day when I completely lost it over something impossibly minor, for just a moment. Things like this seem to happen in sets, so it happened again, until I could not look at myself the same way.  Eventually it was forgotten, but I didn't forget. Then I found Evangelion.
In the beginning, it was like a refuge. The pilots (even Rei) were at times almost disturbingly real; they were like my friends in real life. I watched as they got braver and braver, coming out of their shells, just as I wanted to. My synch rate with Eva grew, I guess. Maybe to 400% (heh heh). To me, their adventures were as real as reality. And then it was just that. Real.

In episode 16, Shinji, like I, lost control, just for a moment. Before this, he was happy. Proud of his Synch Rate. Behaving brashly in battle. Then he lost control. Nerv watches in horror as Shinji/Eva tears the angel to shreds, as the world of Evangelion darkens for the first for the first time. Then begins the horror.

The fourth child appears on the scene, and his Eva goes out of control, possessed by an Angel. Shinji refuses to fight the eva/angel due to the child his age within, and allows the angel to beat him near death. Gendo does not like this, however, and deploys the dummy plug. Shinji sits there inside the giant that he was moments ago controlling as it beats a friend to death.This is not a scene showing how Gendo is jerk. This is a powerful metaphor of the fear and self-torture that I went through myself. Shinji does not learn who the fourth child is until after the fight, and the fourth child does not die. While some may consider this a cop-out, I personally found this aspect of the story a very brave decision on Anno and Studio GAINAX's part, despite some clunkiness in the story this leads to. It's easy to get shock value from an OMG I KILLED MY FRIEND plot, and indeed, the manga version does just that to a resounding effect, but is inaccurate to the reality of human emotion. The Absolute Terror, as it were, of moments like these, is the moment directly afterwards, not only the what have I done, but the realization of the impact the event has. No-one will forget. You can never run away. But of course you try.

This of course leads to episode 19, "Introjection/A Man's Battle", beginning directly after the previous episode's events, with Shinji attempting to destroy Nerv. This fails. Shinji is dishonorably discharged from Nerv personnel, a fate that Shinji happily accepts. However, the new angel shows up and of course Nerv fails to defeat it, and interestingly, the Eva does not work without Shinji. After a brief encounter with Kaji (who, I may add, is the one sane character on the show), Shinji bravely returns to combat. Then it happens again. I won't say how or why, but what happens next completely destroys Shinji. He goes completely insular, quite literally so in episode 20, losing himself and others in a wave of paranoia and fear. I know that wave. Perhaps it was not that extreme, but I felt as if what was happening to Shinji was what happened to me. This recognition of depression helped me get over my own brief depression, and I'm sure it helped Director Hideaki Anno get over the depression that he, quite famously, went though over the course of the series. This is the beginning of the grandest moment of the series, and not even the hero's lowest point. Am I the only one who gets this?

Wednesday, December 1, 2010

MMF: Can One Piece be taken seriously?

[note: I am writing this for the current Manga Moveable Feast, for anyone wondering what the MMF in the title is about. Also, I have only read up to volume 27 (the middle of the Skypiea arc) of the 55+ volume series, so apologies to those expecting in-depth discussion of every page.]

 For most manga readers, One Piece needs no introduction. The story that Akira Toriyama wishes he wrote, One Piece is basically about a bunch of silly pirates who call themselves The Straw Hats and the adventures they have. The Straw Hats are Monkey D. Luffy, who is even sillier than his name, Roronoa Zoro (or Zolo, in the english version), an I-don't really-care type master swordsman, Nami, a thieving navigator, Usopp, a tall-tale spinner, Sanji, a badass cook who is awkward around girls, and Tony Tony Chopper, who is sooooo cuuuuute! The story centers on the core Shonen Jump principles of yujo, doryoku, shori (friendship, perseverance, victory), as well as unique themes of dreams and high adventure. Oda's unique storytelling method sets One Piece apart from the rest of the pack, cramming every other panel with enough information to fill several hundred volumes of Naruto, in a style a style similar to saturday morning cartoons such as Looney Tunes (there's even ultra-violence that somehow leaves no-one affected!). Needless to say, One Piece has been made into a saturday morning cartoon. But with all that unfiltered silly, is it possible that One Piece is a genuine drama, with authentic characters and powerful, maybe even deep, metaphors? Strangely enough, the answer is yes.
 Take, for example, this scene in volume 24 (part one of Skypiea). The crew is having basically a little down time, when suddenly... A SHIP FALLS OUT OF THE SKY!!! That is, of course, very silly, but it is not a joke. This moment is surprisingly tense, as the Straw Hats run to save themselves from a threat they can neither avoid nor comprehend. But a tense moment does not get a series taken seriously (is Bleach serious? InuYasha? DBZ?), and really this moment WAS kinda silly. In my books, a series should not be taken seriously (serious fun being beside the point) unless I can take the characters seriously. Fortunately, I can.
 Looking at another scene in volume 24 (which I happen to have right in front of me), Luffy and crew make a stop at the pirate village "Mock Town" and encounter the evil pirate Bellamy the Hyena and his crew of mean jerks at a bar. On a whim, Bellamy beats Luffy within what at least looks like an inch of his life, renouncing the principles of dreams and adventure that The Straw Hats hold so dear as rubbish ("'They were lucky to die chasing their dream!' Ha ha ha!! I SAY THEY'RE LOSERS!"). The Straw Hats walk out of the bar, devastated. However, as they are about to leave, a big guy sitting in the middle of the road who Luffy encountered earlier (later revealed to be Blackbeard himself) looks at them with a big toothy grin an proclaims "PEOPLE'S DREAMS TO NOT DIE!" This scene brings a tear to my eye ....
 You see, Oda has figured out something very smart that even the most gifted of the current SJ writers (Kubo, Ohba/Obata, I'm looking right at you guys) fail to grasp. Fighting does not make a story automatically  gripping, nor does a reality based scenario. What does is a believable, emotional, and relatable set of characters, and this Oda excels at. Every character is a living, breathing person, and because of this I take One Piece seriously.

Saturday, November 20, 2010

Review: Neon Genesis Evangelion-Part 3-episodes 12 thru 15

So, the mold has been set. Shinji and crew will ride those amazing Evas into grand adventures. A bold new era has begun...nope. Beginning now is the grim second half of the saga. Actually, that's not totally true, as nothing all that tragic has happened yet. But one can sense a major shift in the story. Episode 12 "The Value of Miracles/ She said, "Don't make others suffer for your personal hatred."" reveals Misato's dark childhood for the first time, completely changing our perception of the character. The battle with the eighth angel, Sandalphon, could have been incredibly silly, but ends up being surprisingly tense. These children could die, it's no joke. The Eva units are not involved in the angel attack in Episode 13, and 14 and 15 do not feature the angels at all. Episode 14, "Seele, Throne of Souls/Weaving a Story" serves as an end of part one, with clip show in the first half detailing what has happened so far, the first surreal scene of the series, and a couple of teaser shots of what's to come. And yet, it somehow doesn't feel truly final until episode 15, "Lies and Silence/Those women longed for the touch of others' lips, and thus invited their kisses." (I cannot stand these bulky english titles). The episode focuses on Misato and Kaji's relationship, though Shinji and Asuka share a scene as well, in what may be the final funny scene of NGE (I won't spoil it, it's priceless). At the end of the episode, Kaji is revealed to be a spy, and Misato holds a gun to his head, warning him of the danger he is in. Kaji opens a door to a room that Misato has never seen. Within the dark room is a giant white figure tied to a giant red cross and impaled with a giant spear. Kaji says the creaure is Adam. The first angel. The cause of the Second Impact. At this moment, chapter one is over. No more fun and games. No more monster-of-the-week. No more Penpen. Only instrumentality.

Friday, November 19, 2010

Review: Genkaku Picasso Volume 1 (and Death Note)

Let me make it no secret: I hate Death Note. You can tell me otherwise, but it will not change the fact that the series is absolutely horrible.

Wait, let me revise that.
Let me make it no secret: I love Death Note. You can tell me otherwise, but it will not change the fact that the series is absolutely wonderful.
OK, it's complicated, that there Death Note. I don't particularly mind this, as it's neat to have something this  challenging in Shonen Jump. But wouldn't it be nice for a unique and challenging SJ title to come about where I was 100% certain what my feelings about the series are? Thank you, Usamaru Furuya, for Genkaku Picasso and for answering my fervent prayers.
Genkaku Picasso follows the adventures of Hikari "Picasso" Hamura, an introverted teenage art-prodigy, has been given the odd task of helping people with their troubles with the help of his dead best friend Chiaki (who is now a teeny tiny angel), and his trusty sketchbook and 2B pencil. This is not exactly original (nor is Naruto- take note, manga newbies), but do not expect cliche. For unlike Ohba/Obata, new artists who jumped (no pun intended) straight into determined avoidance of SJ tropes, Furuya is a seasoned professional who got his start in the classic alternative magazine Garo, and uses familiar settings to create an imaginative, intelligent, and enjoyable read. The psychological issues dealt with may be stock, and the story familiar, but the execution most certainly isn't. Populated with surreal imagery that the protagonist needs to interact with just to understand, the artwork emboldens the story in ways that Takeshi Obata could only dream of. One character, Akane (and her sister Kana), parallels THAT character from Death Note, yet rather than being a misogynist cliche, we get a living, breathing, character. The one big problem is a repetitive and annoying running joke where Picasso always gets things wrong, reaching it's peak in "Vision 3: Manba and Kotone", where we go from "That perv!" to "What a nice guy, let's help him!" with little thought, but in the end that's not such a big deal, as the following chapter, "Kana's Maria", very much makes up for the previous' woes.
 Some readers (not that I have any) may be wondering why I have spent so much of this review discussing Death Note, but those who have read Death Note will certainly understand why. Both series have similar ambitions, but Furuya-sensei obviously thinks of his readers in higher regards. Whether challenging us or pandering to us, Tsugumi Ohba and Takeshi Obata treat the readers like sheep, objects that don't know anything about quality but know how to dole out money, Usamamaru Furuya treats his readers with respect and balances that fine line between disposable and original that even the best of artists struggle to achieve.  Thank you, Usamaru Furuya, for Genkaku Picasso and for helping me finally confirm: I hate Death Note. Or, well, Death Note after the third volume... oh, now I'm back to square one.

Sunday, November 14, 2010

Adventures in Scanlation

 A few months ago, out of boredom and a strong desire to read Go Nagai's Devilman (currently unlicensed), I visited a scanlation site (Mangafox) for the first time. For those not in the know, scanlations, or "scanlates" for short, are illegal translations where images of manga from original japanese editions are scanned and then translated for all the internet to see. They are one of the many pains in the current manga industry's ass, yet many scanlation sites continue to upload licensed series on stupid and even baseless claims of better adaption, updates at the same time as Japanese release, and even legitimacy. Anyway, the first chapter of Devilman was pretty good, but I could not focus the whole time reading it. There is already an english edition of Devilman ( an out of print Kodansha Bilingual Edition, but still). There will, I hope, be a new one in the near future. And most importantly, I am currently learning Japanese with shounen level determination to understand the language fluently, and read and translate manga that has yet to be adapted for an american edition. I could not get it out of my head that I was cheating, and it made me feel like dirt. Not even a faux-legal interface could not detract from my unease. And in the end the whole ordeal was pointless, because the first chapter of Devilman only has TWO WORDS OF DIALOGUE. Don't expect me to try that again.

Monday, November 1, 2010

Review: Neon Genesis Evangelion-Part 2-episodes 7 thru 11

This batch of episodes remind me of old Marvel comics. We see these teenagers have exciting sci-fi adventures, but in the end (OMG) they are normal teenagers with normal teenage problems and authentic situations as well as super-powered fun.

Episode Seven, A Human Work, serves as a bit of an epilogue to the first 6 episodes, which as I mentioned before, form a complete story. Shinji and Misato (who gets a much needed character spotlight in this episode) are faced with the challenge to stop the malfunctioning Jet Alone, a nuclear-powered robot created by a rival organization, from going critical and blowing up and stuff. Everything about Jet Alone is cliched; even it's creator looks bland. This plays interestingly in contrast with the organic look of the Evas and Yoshiyuki Sadamoto's unique and iconic character designs. This episode also gives Misato a lot to do, and nice to finally see what really makes this character (who has so far been mostly a fanservice-bot) tick.

Starting with the next episode, the second phase of the series begins with the introduction of the last two main characters, Misato's ex-lover Kaji, and Second Child Asuka Langly Soryu, a red-headed German transfer student (she's in Shinji's class) whose self assured (and somewhat bratty) behavior is the complete opposite of Rei. It is at this point that Shinji really begins to come out of his shell. He and Asuka learn to work together and form an (uneasy) friendship, something that the Shinji we met in episode 1 could never do. A bit of an unofficial love triangle (or even square, if you count the obvious subtext with Misato) between Shinji, Rei, and Asuka begins to form. With Rei, Shinji has a kindred spirit, someone who understands his tortured past. But with Asuka, Shinji can forget that tortured past and enjoy life. There are also some big hints of the later story, that viewers may want to write down, because they will not be repeated.

I noted in my last review my fierce dislike of the English Dub. I would like to make a revision. I have a fierce dislike of the first six episodes of the English Dub. The VA's love of the series really shines through in these episodes, and Spike Spencer's performance as Shinji is downright impressive. However, I'll take Megumi Ogata over Spike Spencer any day, and really feel that the original Japanese actors' performances are so iconic that the dub is unnecessary.

Lastly I would like to mention that Asuka made "Baka" (Idiot) the most commonly used phase in my household for a good long time. Hasshin!

Saturday, October 30, 2010

Music Videos That You Will Like 10/30/10

OK, I know it has been a while (in internet time) and apologize. But wait, why should I? It's not like anyone is reading this. Anyway, here are some music videos you will like.

Another Hadag Nachash video this time from their fantastic new album 6. I like that TV gimmick.

This song by The Roots takes an already meaningful song, and creates a moving and powerful reflection on the imperfections of the world. Also, when they performed this song live on Jimmy Fallon (where they are the in-house band), they actually brought along the lead singer of MoF, so take that Eminem.

So now you have seen how a rap song can be truly beautiful, and now...

good lord. I think I like this.

Happy Halloween.

Saturday, October 23, 2010

Good News/Bad News

Good News
As some may know, I am a huge fan of the ex-doujinshi artist group CLAMP's Shoujo masterpiece Cardcaptor Sakura. It has everything that I want to see in a Shoujo series; There was no attempt to hide the girly intentions of the story, giving the series an impressive emotional honesty, yet also did not take itself all that seriously. Pair this with a strong protagonist and downright gorgeous artwork, and we are left with a thoroughly engrossing series. However, Tokyopop's english edition is out-of-print and I literally could not find the fourth volumeof the 12-volume series. Also, the packaging of the T-pop edition is downright ugly, with confusing numbering, iffy image quality, and a garish attempt to downplay the girlyness, that as I mentioned before, is one of the best things about the series. So would you imagine my surprise when I walked into my local comic store this week and lo and behold, DARK HORSE HAS A NEW OMNIBUS EDITION! It is beautiful. I cried. It seems like the publishers really want to take all my moneys this week, because we also have Cross Game!, a series by Mitsuru Adachi, whose popularity in Shonen Sunday rivals The Great Rumiko Takahashi (who you may have noticed I'm a big fan of), yet has had only ONE out-of-print anthology published in english before.

School of Seven Bells is my favorite band. SVIIB are Ali Dhezra (lead vocals), Claudia Dhezra (back-up vocals), and Benjamin Curtis (most of the background stuff), and their music has a alluring, mystic sound that has a very unique quality. Well, guess WHAT!?!? Claudia has left the band, and they're now a group of two! (-_-) Sigh...

Tuesday, October 19, 2010

Rumiko Takahashi Week (Part Three): Mermaid Saga

Mermaid Saga By Rumiko Takahashi. Originally published as 人魚シリーズ (Ningyo Series). 4 volumes.
" long."
"Dummy, that's the last thing I want to hear."

 Mermaid Saga is the story of two outcasts, Yuta and Mana, with a bizarre secret: they cannot die. They have eaten the flesh of a mermaid, which will either grant immortality (Yuta is actually 500 years old), or turn the eater of the flesh into a wretched, brutal monstrosity known as a "Lost Soul". Our heroes wish to live a mortal life, and search for the flesh that is also the one cure for immortality. On the way, they encounter people whose lives are also affected by mermaids in various ways, and try to help.

 Despite the recurring main characters, Mermaid Saga is less of a "Saga", than a collection of short stories with a recurring theme- the story has no real ending, nor should there be, yet the conclusion still feels quite final. Without the pressure to tell an ongoing story, Takahashi creates some of her most involving stories ever- and this is the author of Maison Ikkoku! The stories are also somewhat different in tone from what we are used to in Takahashi series. There is no tongue-in-cheek feel to the stories, and in fact, the tone is often horrific. When live mermaids actually show up, which is rarely, do not expect any appearances by Ariel & co.; Mermaids are demons and manipulating femme fatales, as in old sailor lore. The few historical flashbacks, notably a story set in the Edo period in the first volume, are relatively accurate, unlike in Takahashi's most recent series InuYasha, where it might as well be a fantasy world. 

Even more impressive than the series itself is the artwork. Mermaid Saga's magazine serialization started smack in the middle of the serialization of Maison Ikkoku, which as I mentioned earlier this week, was the highlight of Takahashi's entire artistic career. The breathtaking visuals look as if they took hours to create, but it cannot be so, for deadlines in the manga profession are famous for really sucking. In another series, the 4-volume length would make this a light, quick read, but every panel made me brood on the story, as well as the skill and craft put into the final product. If ever I meet someone in need of convincing of the power of graphic storytelling, I will point them right over to Mermaid Saga.

Monday, October 18, 2010

Rumiko Takahashi Week (Part Two): Ranma 1/2

Ranma 1/2 By Rumiko Takehashi. Originally published as らんま½ (Ranma Nibun-no-Ichi). 36 volumes.
Now here is a series designed designed for mass appeal. Akane Tendo, a tomboyish high-schooler, is one day told by her father, the obsessive martial artist Soun Tendo, that she is to be engaged to Ranma Saotome, who will be the heir to the Tendo "Anything-Goes" School of Martial Arts. However! After a poorly thought-out training mission with his idiot father in China, Ranma has been cursed to turn into a woman when splashed by cold water, of all things.

 Despite the what sounds at first like a wet dream (no pun intended) of a plot, the series has a great appeal for  a more general audience- in Japan, the series is more popular among young girls than any other demographic. This is because unlike some series that would focus on boobies and fanservice, Ranma 1/2 focuses on bakas and sillyness (actually, there is a constant stream of bare breasts shown in the series, but they are shown in a very un-sexualized manner-- all part of the joke). Takahashi's sense of humor comes from mining the negative aspects of people, so every character gets a chance to be a complete moron, have horrible luck, or most often, both. The series also possesses the amazing range of being silly, really silly, and silly but epic (such as the "Pantyhose Taro" storyline, easily the highlight of the entire series).

 The stories don't have that much variation; in his Manga: The Complete Guide, Jason Thompson compares Ranma 1/2 to a long-running sitcom. Towards the end of the series, the artwork attains the glossy, screentoned appearance that is seen in InuYasha and Rin-Ne. I do not particularly like this style as it lacks a certain "homemade" quality that I used to enjoy. However, watching the artwork evolve into the slick modern appearance is actually kinda fun. It should also be added that Takahashi draws a rad Henohenomoheji, and even with flipped artwork it really shines though.

Sunday, October 17, 2010

Rumiko Takahashi Week (Part One): Maison Ikkoku

Last week, I (finally) finished Mermaid Saga and Ranma 1/2, so to celebrate, I have decided to do Takahashi-themed reveiws this week, in which I will discuss these two series,  as well as Maison Ikkoku, her best known Seinen series, and also her best series (sorry, InuYasha fans), as well as some other goodies. For those not in the know about Takahashi, go wiki it because I am a reviewer, not a historian, sorry. Today, we will begin with...

Maison Ikkoku By Rumiko Takahashi. Originally published as めぞん一刻 (Mezon Ikkoku). 15 volumes.
"I, Yusaku Godai... am IN LOVE with Kyoko Otonashi!!"
Maison Ikkoku is the story of Godai, a luckless college student (or, well, he's TRYING to get into college) living at the titular run-down apartment. The other, boozier tenants bug him constantly ("Hey, Flunkout!"), but this is the last thing on his mind, for Godai has fallen for the beautiful apartment manager Kyoko Otonashi. However there are many complications. Kyoko is mourning her dead husband, Soichiro. Godai feels/is incompetent. Another man, Mitaka, is vying for Kyoko's affections. Godai has somehow picked up a girlfriend, and does not have the heart to break up with her. The list goes on and on. Can Godai overcome his many obstacles and live a happy life with Kyoko?

OK, opinion time! Rumiko Takahashi has done a lot for the Shonen/Seinen Romantic Comedy genre, from Urusei Yatsura (the first harem manga) to Ranma 1/2 (which introduced gender-bender humor to Shonen), but Maison Ikkoku is very unusual creature, for though it begins as a very over-the-top comedy (and a fantastic one at that), it slowly transitions into a genuine drama, and at around volume 10, the story becomes (nearly) no laughing matter. This may be hyperbole, but when I first read Ikkoku I believed human emotion had never been so fully realized in cartoon form.

 Like the story, the art also evolves and matures through the series' 7-year run, from the exaggerated anatomy that defined Takahashi's early works, to a strong, human look that may be the high-point of her entire artistic career. The lack of fanservice is also a nice change of pace.

 I recently convinced (well, forced) my dad to read Maison Ikkoku, and is now almost done volume nine. He says he enjoys the silly nature of the series. I look forward to his reaction to volume 10.

Friday, October 15, 2010

Encounter: Geeks According to Nerds

It was a couple of months ago at a certain party at a certain chinese restaurant that I encountered The Geek. The Geek had a worried, fretful expression that seemed to be the only face he ever wore. Suddenly, The Geek looked to me and mumbled, "Do you read Manga?" in a tone normally reserved for questions of sexual orientation. "Yes," I responded, "I read lots of Manga," for I do. The Geek's face suddenly lit up, but not very much as that would distill his fretful expression that had obviously taken years to perfect. He asked me, "Do you read Naruto?"I had to think for a second; should I tell him of how I prefer the original manga over the anime, or how I was kind of getting sick of the endless volumes? How Kakashi is the only character who really holds my interest anymore, and how he now has but a minor role? All I say to him, however is, "Yeah." The Geek's aforementioned fretful demeanor suddenly vanished, replaced by a warm smile, suggesting many joys and sorrows shared only with the boy ninja as he said in a melancholy tone "It's so good." But the somber grin was gone as suddenly as it had came, as he asked me, "Do you watch Death Note?" I did not, but his preference of the series would bring me to read all 12 volumes, and then regret reading all 12 volumes, but I do not know the future, nor am I a Shinigami who might know something about the series, so I, on that day a couple of months ago at a certain party at a certain chinese restaurant with The Geek asking me about Death Note, I said "No." The Geek continued to question me as an interrogator would question a suspect, and now asked me if I was a regular viewer of Family Guy. "No,  but I've watched an episode or two before," I exclaimed. The Geek seemed unaware of the "No" part and asked me, "Do you know Stewie?" Of course I did. He then proceeded to mumble out an entire episode of the show (something about Stewie, time travel, and a Chinese guy who says something silly) as if discussing the bible, and remarked, "Isn't that funny..." And then our food was served so The Geek and I began to eat at a certain chinese restaurant at a certain party a few months ago.

It was an encounter.

Monday, October 11, 2010

Music Videos That You Will Like 10/12/10

 This is not a very original idea for a blog post, and this may not be a regular feature. However, I plan to feature music videos from rather obscure bands, so this will be a fun experiment to see if this sort of thing can work on this blog.

 Hadag Nachash (The Fish Snake) are an Israeli hip-hop band, whose political lyrics (thank you, hebrew-speaking friends) and very hip beat have made them a personal favorite, and this vid is inarguably slick. And there are robots! Politics and robots are two of my favorite things in the whole wide world, FYI.

School of Seven Bells (or SVIIB, as the fans like to say) are a really amazing band. With their mystic vibe and layered sound, the Brooklyn group quickly became my favorite band OF ALL TIME. This video is pretty good, and basically sums up everything good (or bad! As I said, niche music) about SVIIB's music.

The South African band (notice a theme here) Freshlyground produced this video with the parody news site ZA News, and watching Zolani party with Zappiro-designed (have fun Wiki-ing) puppet versions of Zuma (and his wives), Mugabe, Mandela, and others is an absolute joy!

Surfer Blood are really rad rock band, who, and I say this having seen them live, are really just some dudes. This video is quite weird (I wonder who thought having the band dressed as Disney characters being mean was a good idea?), but I like weird, and one would be hard pressed to say that it is not inspired.

Happy viewer-ing!

Sunday, October 10, 2010

Review: Neon Genesis Evangelion-Part 1-episodes 1 thru 6

To begin my blog I figured I'd start with a fairly basic review, and Neon Genesis Evangelion is perhaps as good a place to start as any. When I first watched Evangelion, it ruled my life; I visited the fan sites, discussed the show with anyone who would listen, made bad jokes about a certain scene (you know which), and pondered the hidden meanings of every other scene. The first 6 episodes form a bit of an introductory chapter, and are also the easiest to remember of the entire TV series. They begin in a surprisingly mainstream manner in contrast to the series' eventual legacy, yet broke many of the "rules" of the Giant Robot genre at the time (I'll elaborate in a bit).
 The plot is ingeniously simple, or at least was: The year is 2015, 15 years after The Second Impact destroyed the polar ice caps and changed the world. Shinji Ikari, a neurotic teenager, is the third child. He is to pilot The Eva- a mysterious giant robot that may or may not actually be alive- to fight the mysterious angels, monsters that had a hand in the cataclysmic events of The Second Impact, for the once again mysterious Nerv, an agency run by his abusive- and mysterious- father Gendo, a plain-clothes Darth Vader. He is accompanied by Rei, the second child, an emotionless girl who may be even more neurotic than he is, and Misato, Shinji's commander/roommate.
 Many things made the show different at the time- rather than a brave hero, Shinji was essentially being repeatedly traumatized, Rei was a total opposite of the average anime-girl type, and, as I mentioned before, THE MYSTERY! Conspiracy plots in mainstream anime were no new thing, but never has it been so fully realized; Gendo hides his secrets quite efficiently, and the angels are no cackling villains, but silent destroyers that can be genuinely creepy (I mean, when Rameil The Cube Angel popped up, I did laugh, but those two episodes ended up pretty epic).
 However, that isn't so big by todays standards. Numerous Eva knock-offs have since popped up (one such knock-off, Rahxephon, had a character named Reika. I mean, really. ReiKA?), and wimpy heroes and robot-like heroines have become the norm. However, Eva is still superior, even in these early, less surreal episodes. This can be proved with just one scene. Rei needs a new access card or something (this isn't all that important), and Shinji is told to go to her apartment and give her said access card. When he goes to her apartment, she does not answer the door, but it is unlocked, so Shinji lets himself in. He sees a pair of old glasses sitting on a shelf. He examines the glasses, and then suddenly Rei steps into the room SHE'S BEEN SHOWERING SHE'S NAKED OH NO!!! At this point I expected a typical fan-service scenes in which the hero gets embarrassed and the anime-girl gets upset o-ho-ho. But Rei seems to not even notice, even when Shinji falls on her chest in typical anime fashion, but does get a bit upset when she sees Shinji looking at the old pair of glasses. This scene has a scary, surreal quality to it that we will come to expect from Evangelion, as well as a significant amount of character development.
It should be mentioned that the english dub is horrible (so. many. monotone. performances.), so be sure to watch the show in original japanese. This portion of Evangelion is very early in the series, and two of the main characters haven't even appeared yet. However, this is one of the few parts of the series where it is OK to watch with family. Hasshin!

Saturday, October 9, 2010


I have created this blog as an opportunity to rant about anything from Manga and Anime to Alternative Music to Canadian Politics (or maybe just manga and anime). I named this blog after a memorable episode of Japanese Spider-Man, in which Spider-Man encounters a Cat Demon, resurrected in the form of a Machine Bem by the dreaded Professor Monster and the Iron Cross Army! Japanese Spider-Man had a big part in my initiation into Japanese Pop Culture fandom, and is currently streaming on Anyway, shall we begin?