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!