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.