Tuesday, December 13, 2011

Blog ending agian

Sorry for the abrupt nature of this post, but the thing is... I'm writing for a monthly publication now.  As  I wish to remain anonymous, I will refrain from telling you which, but it's local, not some fancy Otaku USA or ANN gig. However, I would like to thank my reader(s) and blogger for providing me an opportunity to improve my craft. While the blog may be going down, don't give up hope, Cat Demon Spirits fan(s)! In a year or two, you may see something new on this site. Now, to conclude...
Thank you.

Sunday, December 11, 2011

Review: The Quest for the Missing Girl

One of the greatest problems with Japanese comics today is the  lack of graphic novels. I don’t mean the phrase in a pretentious, “everything-should-be-serious” sort of way, but I’ve found that many recent manga appear almost reluctant to tell a story. Characters have been reduced to types and plot has been marginalized, turning the medium into what can at best be called TV on paper. It’s not that these TV-books are bad, mind you, it’s just that I don’t always want that. Sometimes I want to read a comic with a plot that begins and ends, relatable characters with complex motivations, and maybe even some meaning beneath the surface. A novel told in graphics, if you will. As uncommon as they are, the Japanese graphic novel is not impossible to find. There are many dependable and unique artists with plenty of work in translation who tell stories worth immersing oneself in. One of these artists is Jiro Taniguchi. Best known on these shores for quiet, restrained comics such as A Distant Neighborhood and The Walking Man, both of which are excellent and worth reading, Taniguchi has also done a number of genre stories with an emphasis on action and conflict. The Quest for the Missing Girl is one of these stories.
Twelve years ago, a mountaineer named Shiga declined an offer from his best friend, Sakamoto, to join an expedition to climb a mountain in the Himalayas. Sakamoto died on that expedition, and Shiga, feeling guilt over his friend’s death, has rarely left the mountains since, but vowed that if Sakamoto’s wife and daughter were ever in danger, he would return to the city and protect them. When Sakamoto’s teenage daughter, Megumi, goes missing, Shiga leaves the mountains for Tokyo to find for her. However, Shiga soon discovers that life in the city is more complex than it once was, and the teenage Megumi may not be as innocent as the young girl Shiga knew.
Despite being very different from many of Taniguchi’s other translated work, Quest was actually originally serialized around the same time as titles such as A Distant Neighborhood, and features many familiar themes. In fact, like in A Distant Neighborhood, a central theme of the story is of youth viewed through adult eyes. This theme was presented quite literally in Neighborhood, with the middle-aged protagonist time-traveling back to high school, experiencing his past with new insight. In Quest, the theme is more metaphorical, shown through Shiga’s investigation in Shibuya, the biggest shopping district in Tokyo. The area is crawling with teens, mostly delinquents, going to nightclubs, shopping with “borrowed” money, being “bad”. On the surface, these teenagers are liberated and completely independent of adult authority, perhaps even to a worrisome extent, but in reality these people are confused, lonely, and afraid to look for help. That’s how life is for a teen, and for better or worse, that will never change. This message is conveyed through a number of interesting characters, such as Yoshio, a man whose observations on youth culture inform much of the story, and Maki, a Shibuya frequenter who was Megumi’s best friend and may have unintentionally caused her disappearance. However, one of the most important characters in this story is the missing girl herself. While Megumi makes few actual appearances, her presence is felt throughout the entire narrative. Her personality, the choices she made, and her connections to the other characters are central to the unfolding events. Without the missing girl, there would be no quest.

As much as these reflections on adolescence are intriguing, the most memorable element of the story is its protagonist. While Shiga’s search for Megumi may be the stuff of pulp, his single-minded determination to atone for his guilt over his friends death is genuinely moving, real stuff. As the story progresses, we’re really given a sense of why Sakamoto was such an important person to Shiga, and why Shiga wants to help the people around him. Shiga isn’t superhuman, but a man deticated to being part of something larger than himself. Taniguchi does a fantastic job examining his character over the course of the story, particularly in the gripping final chapter. Many thrillers, both good and bad, build to a climactic metting between the hero and villain, either a conversation, a fight, or both. The important thing is that the two meet, and only one walks away. And while there is a hero and a villain, rather than have them confront each other, Taniguchi crafts a tale of Man Vs. Himself, a tense spectacle of pure motivation. We see Shiga for who he truly is, his hopes, his regrets, his desperation, made physical in beautifully drawn and downright architecturally designed pages as thrilling as the fiercest of battles. Unfortunately, this leaves little room to truly develop the villain as more than a cardboard cutout, but that hardly matters, as the comic already features some extremely powerful graphic storytelling.
Of course, Quest could have easily been a straight-forward exercise in genre, which, in a way, it is. However, Jiro Taniguchi is above that sort of thing. Taniguchi has been a working cartoonist for a good 30 years now, and over those years has refined his style, becoming a genuine auteur of the medium. Taniguchi’s style is very dynamic and realistic, dating him as a member of the Gekiga movement (Gekiga= Dramatic Pictures; a bit like the term “graphic novel”), but at the same time the art has a certain warmth, a “cartoonish” quality, reminiscent of early Osamu Tezuka. These different styles become one under Taniguchi’s penmanship, creating a mood of somber nostalgia. At the same time, the work is never boring; Taniguchi can really draw a fight scene. Often, a scene with two characters sitting and talking in a café will be a tense and exciting read, and action sequences have a hint of brooding and restraint. The world presented in Taniguchi’s work is both consistent and unexpected, and always worth reading.
In conclusion, The Quest for the Missing Girl is an excellent addition to the Taniguchi canon. The comic features many of Taniguchi’s trademark nostalgic themes and styles, but is unique for its portrayal of modern-day urban life. As I alluded to earlier, a handful of characters are poorly fleshed out, but most of the central characters are extremely well-written. The final chapter is especially well-executed, and is easily one of Taniguchi’s finest sequences. For those who found A Distant Neighborhood too culturally specific, The Quest for the Missing Girl is a great introduction to this extremely productive artist’s works.

Monday, November 14, 2011

Review: Omega the Unknown

In the last fifteen years or so, comic books have undergone a bit of a renaissance. We’ve seen Art Speigelman get the Pulitzer, book stores sell manga, and an explosion of talented artists working and finding success in a variety of genres. However, the once prominent super hero genre is slowly dying a painful death. Sure, movie adaptions are box office juggernauts, but how many can say they bothered to give any Iron Man comics even a try after seeing the movie? Nobody, that’s who. See, current cape comics are not written for normal people. These comics are made exclusively for the man-children who grew up with only these heroes for friends, and now continue to follow their lives, just in a kind of creepy way. For every great comic like Runaways, we get 10 things like the recent Redhood and the Outlaws, which has become controversial for its portrayal of female-empowering Teen Titans character Starfire as a bikini-clad nymphomaniac. And indeed, like other modern cape capers, Omega the Unknown is mainly for teens and adults who grew up on capes, and inappropriate for young children. But unlike comics like Outlaws, Omega is a genuine super hero story, a charming, thoughtful tribute to the comics we all grew up with.

Loosely based on an obscure ‘70s Marvel comic of the same name, Omega the Unknown is novelist Jonathan Lethem’s first and only foray into the medium, with art by indie cartoonist Farel Dalrymple. The story centers on Titus Alexander Island, a neurotic fifteen-year-old prodigy who lives with his parents in isolation from the rest of the world. When his family decides to pack up and move to New York, a fatal car crash kills Alexander’s parents and changes everything. Before blacking out, Alex sees something very strange. Impossible even. He wakes up in a hospital in New York a few days later with bizarre Ω-shaped burn marks on his hands. He is then attacked by a group of robots, but is protected by a mysterious caped figure, the titular Omega. While Alexander is trying to adjust to the city and understand the strange events surrounding him, a super hero named The Mink® commercializes his name at the expense of whatever morals he once had. Meanwhile, Omega continues to pursue the robots the attacked Alexander while working at a street vendor in front of Alexander’s school.

As you can tell from the above paragraph, the Omega the Unknown is a very complicated comic. In fact, the above paragraph barely even touches on the 2nd issue of this 10 issue series. In the hands of a less competent writer, Omega would be a confusing, pretentious mess. However, Lethem (and his collaborator on the book, Karl Rusnak) is far from incompetent, and handles the convoluted story with charm and grace. The author smartly takes cues from the book’s title, and leaves much of the plot in Omega the Unknown unexplained. This can sometimes be infuriating to read, but it’s never actually confusing. Unlike many mysterious sci-fi or cape stories, we aren’t being tricked into a poorly planned Swiss cheese of plot holes, as Omega is a story that knows exactly what is happening and why. But rather than explain how everything works to us in boring chunks of text, we are shown what happens, with small hints and visual nods to the reasons for what we see. I imagine that were I to read Steve Gerber’s original, I would discover that many moments in that story are the basis for much of the action in the new Omega, but nonetheless I am certain the surreal vision in this story would remain wildly original. For the first time in ages, I have a superhero comic that doesn’t make me roll my eyes or fall asleep, but allows me to revel in the magic and fantastical nature of the genre.

But as fantastical as it may be, the world presented in Omega is one firmly rooted in reality. Even as spandex-wearing vigilantes are fighting evil alien robots, the real focus of the book is the people, people who live in a real world and sometimes see the worst of it. The adolescent characters in this comic aren’t a whitewashed group of nice-guys a la Archie, and the New York we see is no shining metropolis like the ones seen in most contemporary cape comics. Alexander and his friends are some of the most realistic young adults to appear in a superhero story since Peter Parker first learned of power and responsibility. They’re a diverse, slightly awkward group of individuals who don’t try to be fit any heroic Objectivist expectations, and sometimes make mistakes. A particularly memorable example of the comic’s realism is a subplot involving a chubby kid with glasses named Hugh who is routinely roughed up by a group of bullies led by a punk calling himself Roofie. One day, Alex tries to intervene, and Roofie gives Hugh a gun, leading to a moment neither can ever turn back from. Later, in a moment of unreality called the Nowh-area®, Alex sees Hugh again, and they have a conversation that moved this reviewer to tears. What makes this part of the story such an emotional read is that Hugh and Roofie are not shown as good or evil. Sure, what Roofie did was awful, but there are strong implications that he was a victim of peer pressure. Hugh easily could have been portrayed like many other geeks in popular culture, saints who are simply bullied because they are smart and unique, but he isn’t. He has a tragic flaw. He made the unfortunate choice to accept his unpleasant surroundings, and suffered as a result. It’s a human tragedy within a super-powered adventure that the main characters, and the people reading about them, can learn from.
The story and characters of Omega the Unknown may have stuck with me long after reading, but in any story told in comics, words only tell half the story. The comic also serves as a great showcase for Farel Dalrymple’s incredible artwork. While far from a household name, Dalrymple has proven his awesome talent for visual storytelling in this work. Using a sketchy, almost grimy, but overall mundane style, he captures the feeling of being in New York for the first time, that combination of bewilderment and exhaustion as you try to understand how people accept the place as normal, placing the colorfully dressed supermen on the same level as loudmouthed Brooklynites. Dalrymple is fully aware of how strange and surreal the story being told is, but chooses to ignore it in the telling, letting the reader discover exactly how messed up and bizarre everything really is on his or her own, thus allowing us to savour the oddness longer. Dalrymple also shows great skill at conveying the characters emotion on the page. In one scene, Omega is trapped alone in a giant maze. As he wanders through the maze, the panels get smaller and smaller, while the gutter space (gutters = the empty space between one panel and the next) increases. Through this panelling technique, we are forced to empathize with Omega’s growing desperation and isolation. Dalrymple’s name may never become a household one, but work like this makes his name one that will be fondly remembered by those who can appreciate the craft of cartooning.

Also notable is the work of colorist Paul Hornschemeier. I don’t normally notice color in comics all that much, but Omega has a great color scheme. See, many colorists today rely heavily on computer effects, adding energy blasts, heavy shading, and dark, almost monochrome colors not suggested by the original artwork. This style of coloring renders an artist’s unique traits unrecognizable and standard, turns dynamic sequences into muddy, static ones, and encourages new artists to turn in lazier work. Luckily, Paul Hornschemeier is not your average colorist. Using a palette of bright, eye-popping colors, Hornschemeier actually enhances Dalrymple’s artwork, adding a dynamic, exciting element to an otherwise slow-moving story. One could even say that despite the comic’s less traditional style, Omega the Unknown is one of the most traditional-looking cape comics to come out in years. There is little pretension or grayscale here. The comic simply does what it does and hopes you can appreciate it.

As much as I have enjoyed Omega the Unknown, I can understand that it’s not for everyone. While the mainstream loses its subtlety more and more each day, Omega is a story that dares to refrain from hitting readers over the head with a two-ton plot twist, and maybe even let us figure out some of the nuances on our own time. The unfortunate side effect of this is that readers weaned on Dragon Ball and Crossover Events will may find the comic confusing, or worse, pretentious. However, before condemning Omega into the cursed realm of Not My Thing, I would like you to consider this: Is being smart really the same as being pretentious? Does entertainment really need to be disposable? If you answered yes to both these questions, feel free to return to the episode of Glee you paused to read this, because you have every right to stay in your comfort zone. However, there is a whole world of stories that can (to paraphrase a better critic) excite both your mind and imagination, and if you’re looking for a place to start, I cannot begin to recommend Omega the Unknown enough.

Monday, October 24, 2011

October MMF: The Museum of Terror Volumes 1 and 2 - Tomié

Even in an allegedly enlightened and feminist modern world, people hold “beautiful” women as examples of purity, completely untainted by the world, living as nurturing icons of goodness. Be it in American Barbie dolls or Japanese moé pillows, there is still a market for a nonexistent ideal of good in both physical and mental behavior. However, many people agree that the idea of perfection is just that: an idea, and an unattainable one at that. But what if the ideal woman was real? What if there were a woman who naturally possessed both the perfect body and the perfect soul? In his debut work Tomié, manga-ka Junji Ito answers the question as anyone working in the horror genre would: If there was a perfect woman, she’d be pure evil.

It begins as a simple tale of comeuppance theater. Tomié is a very cute sixteen-year-old girl who was killed in mysterious circumstances, her body found cut to pieces. However, a few days after “death”, she’s back at school as if nothing happened. Eventually, we discover the truth behind Tomié’s murder, and she gets her revenge. The end. It’s after this opening story that things get really interesting. See, Tomié isn’t merely attractive. “She” is a supernatural force that drives normal people to obsess over her to the point of insanity. She cannot become ugly, so any time an imperfection (such as a lost limb) appears, her beautiful form regenerates in grotesque detail. She travels around Japan, fickly toying with and ruining the lives of once honest men and women, finding a new way to exploit the most base desires of humanity in every chapter.
Tomié, like all of Ito’s work, showcases storytelling that straddles the line between humor and horror, too bizarre to take completely seriously, yet too nauseatingly human to ignore or make light of. In one story, Tomié herself does not appear, but instead a box full of her silky, still growing hair, which after being found is cultivated and worn by plain school girls who want to look pretty, and then die when the hair shoots out of every pore of their skin. In another, pieces of Tomié’s flesh are dumped at the bottom of a waterfall, growing underwater, as suicides among young men mysteriously increase. Quite obviously, this is the stuff of B-movies. The events that transpire are almost always conceptually implausible, making little to no sense when thought about. And yet, Ito manages to craft the stories with such skill that they make emotional sense, told with such a straight face that one cannot even doubt the author’s sincerity. Unlike artists such as the great Kazuo Umezu (an artist to whom Ito is frequently compared) there is little hyperbole in even the most bizarre stories. Drawn in a moody, realistic style, and paced with slow deliberation, the mood of Tomié is that of building dread. It isn’t quite at the level of madness depicted in the later Uzumaki: Spiral Into Terror, a comic about evil spirals, but it deserves credit for some genuinely rewarding and unlikely chills.

 From reading a description, one may be left with the impression that Tomié is a “femme fatale” or “bad girl” type character, a glamorized (and sexualized) depiction of a beautiful, man-hungry woman who ruins the lives of good men, simply taken to the furthest extreme possible. While this is a valid interpretation, and may even be what the author intended, I would argue that Tomié transcends the concept of femme fatale.  To demonstrate, I would like to compare Tomié to a character from Koshun Takami’s controversial Lord-of-the-Flies-meets-Kill-Bill franchise Battle Royale, Mitsuko Souma. Mitsuko uses her sultry body (as well as her trademark scythe) to win “the game,” only to die near the end. For most of the story, Mitsuko is portrayed as either being sexy, evil, or both, but in a later chapter Takami attempts to humanize her with an almost comedically dark flashback sequence. It does not work. Instead of making us think of Mitsuko as a real human being, the ideal of beauty is actually enforced. The reader is manipulated by the horridness of her past into thinking, “If only Mitsuko had never been tainted by those bad men, she’d still be pure. If only she’d met some good people to restore her faith in beauty and goodness, like me.” Unlike Battle Royale,Tomié never falls into this trap. For better or for worse, the very idea of humanizing Tomié has been thrown out the window, because Tomié is not sympathetic, not human, and certainly not a femme fatale. Instead, she is a force of nature, one that destroys lives by toying with the weak, lustful, obsessive side of human nature. We are meant to sympathize not with her, but the people around her and I think that is for the better.

I realize now that I have given the impression that Tomié somehow transcends the format of short horror stories, growing organically from simple vignettes of comeuppance theater into something far more meaningful. It doesn’t. While much of Ito’s manga does edge into unknown territory (or should I say, terror-tory), Tomié stays within the boundaries of genre work. Tomié  is simply a series of self-contained stories with the same central character and themes. Many of the stories are excellent, some are just OK. Having seen what Ito has done in later work such as Uzumaki, this is almost disappointing. There is so much complexity to Tomié and the world she inhabits that is never quite delved into for the sake of format. We never, for example, see Tomié at a moment of true weakness, or in fact, at any level of nuance beyond pure evil. Yet even though Tomié could have been much more, what there is remains impressive. Taking a fascinating premise, Ito crafts stories that follow a deceptively simple template that once repeated enough becomes secondary to the author’s vast imagination. Sometimes we laugh, like in Moromi, the chapter where ground up bits of Tomié are stirred into saké by madmen, sometimes we cry, like in the surprisingly poignant Little Finger; but with the stories in Tomié, and all of Ito’s comics, we also scream. 

Saturday, October 1, 2011

This Month: CDS 2.0 - This Time It's Personal!

"I'll get those Cat Demon Spirits!"

It's almost that time of year, everyone! Everyone's favorite blog to not read (after Colony Drop) returns to the internet, now with better proofreading. Mark your calendars for October 24, because that will be the day the first new post goes LIVE! Yay...

Monday, September 5, 2011

Cat Demon Spirits Returns...ish

As it turns out, the rumors of this blogs closure have been greatly exaggerated. After clearing my head for a bit, I realized that, dangnabbit, I do enjoy writing for this stupid website. However, this is not the same Cat Demon Spirits as before. From now on, reviews will only be posted once or twice a month, to ensure that they are actually well written and interesting for once. The blog will still be updated weekly, with short reviews linkblogs, and other nonsense. (And obviously, no more Japanese Spiderman. For now.) The first new post is currently planned for October in honor of that month's MMF, but may appear  earlier depending on how I react to Sailor Moon and other uncertainties. Till then, please enjoy my Roundhead cartoons to sate your thirst for all things N.

Sunday, August 14, 2011

I'm Done

This blog has been too much work. I am very busy now, and can no longer fully dedicate myself to writing, so I have decided to end Cat Demon Spirits. I will try to do the occasional MMF post, and Roundhead Lives will continue, but otherwise, it's sayonara time. I'm sorry. I'm done.

Saturday, August 13, 2011

JSM@CDS: Strange Tales from the Past - The Cursed Cat Grave

Episode 8: Strange Tales from the Past - The Cursed Cat Grave
MONSTER OF THE WEEK: Cat Demon: No explanation necessary.

The Iron Cross army unearth the bones of a vampiric cat demon from the edo period, and resurrect it as a Machine BEM! Takuya looks like the samurai who killed the demon, and it's out for revenge! Can Spiderman save the day and solve the mystery of the dead cat lady's cat doll? And yes, that is essentially the entire plot.

In some ways, this is the worst episode of the entire series. Aside from the cat demon's flimsy motivatiuon, it's practically plotless, and having seen House, I can safely say that there are better stories with cat demons out there. However, I must give the show some credit. Without it, I would surely not be half as interested in Japan as I am today. The episode introduced me to the, uh, uniqueness of Japanese popular culture. In my mind, it remains a testament to the strangeness of cool Japan, and all the reasons I love it. But is it really that weird? As I rematch it today, I find the flashy evilness of the cat demon oddly commonplace, and the story tacky and uninteresting, but that crazy cat demon is responsible for the person I am today, and for that I am eternally grateful.
NNNNN or 0, take your pick

JSM@CDS: The Ferocious Hit Song! Sing and Dance to the Killer Rock

Episode 7: The Ferocious Hit Song! Sing and Dance to the Killer Rock
MONSTER OF THE WEEK: Sasora: He can: Shoot poison arrows (!), cut stuff with his claws, go BIG.

A group of scientists develop a sensor that can detect the Iron Cross Army. Professor Monster orders that the machine be destroyed, but it is protected by Spiderman himself! But an opportunity presents itself when the hit band BB5 make a pop song about Spiderman, known as the Spiderman Boogie! The Iron Cross Army replaces the band members with evil cyborgs, whose amp makes a painful sound that can only be heard by spiders! Using their influence, The Iron Cross makes Spiderman Boogie the number 1 hit song in Japan, to the point that Takuya can no longer avoid that awful rock music!

Man, someone writing this show must really hate rock 'n' roll, or love BB5, I can't decide. Regardless, this is a very good episode. The concept is more than a little ludicrous, but is played almost completely straight, to very satisfying results. The song is pretty catchy, and the lyrics are almost as silly as the episode itself, which is saying something. The idea of an evil pop song resonated with me a lot, as it should for anyone with even OK taste in music, and now whenever I hear Bieber or Gaga's latest at a supermarket, I curse Professor Monster under my breath. The only real bone I have to pick with the episode is the Machine BEM's role in the story. While Sasora has plenty to do here, the Leopardon fight falls totally flat, as at this point Toei ran out of money and started using stock footage for the battles. This continues for the remaining 35 episodes of the series. Oh well.

JSM@CDS: The Experimental Labs of Horror! Evil Professor Monster

Episode 6: The Experimental Labs of Horror! Evil Professor Monster
MONSTER OF THE WEEK: Machine BEM Robacular: He can: Smell stuff, go BIG.

Yosuke, a childhood friend of Takuya's, went missing on a rock-climbing trip six months ago and is believed dead. So when Yosuke's girlfriend, Junko, tells Takuya he's returned, it comes as quite a shock. As it turns out, Yosuke was used in cruel experiments by the Iron Cross Army, where he saw many people killed on a whim and barely escaped. The Iron Cross Army plans to kill Yosuke because of his knowledge, and only Spiderman can save him!

After the fluff of the previous episode, this installment is shockingly dark. Within the first two minutes, two innocent people have been shot before our eyes. It seems as if Toei wanted to prove they could go for more nuanced storytelling. For the first time, The Iron Cross Army don't just seem evil, but evil. Any kiddie show super villain can steal some missiles, but killing people to resurrect them, experiment on them, and kill them again? Dang. Even Spiderman seems a bit grim here. Towards the end, he even pulls out a gun! If it weren't for the fact that this is a tv show for kids by the folks who brought you Power Rangers, this would have been less Adam West, and more Frank Miller. Kudos to whoever had the guts to write this into the series.

JSM@CDS: Thundering Machine GP7! An Oath of Brothers

Episode 5: Thundering Machine GP7! An Oath of Brothers
MONSTER OF THE WEEK: Machine BEM Chojinju: He can: Do Machine BEM stuff (I think?), go BIG.

The Iron Cross Army has stolen missiles and plans to use them on Japan! When one kid, Ichiro, sees them transporting the missiles to their base, Amazoness orders an EVIL truck to hit him. Takuya saves him, but in order to do so, gives his Planet Spider blood for a transfusion. What effect will it have on the boy? Can Spiderman stop both the missiles and the EVIL truck? Hop in the Spider Machine GP7 to find out!

Remember last week when I mentioned some of the episodes give the Machine BEMs no reason to appear other than to explode at the hands of Leopardon? This is one of them. Chojinchu has no use in the episode other than to die in honor of the laws of tokusatsu. He is completely tacked on and unnecessary, much like the entire episode. Its bland fluff for kids, and Ichiro is a terrible character. No, scratch that, he's not even a character! He is a Mary Sue, through and through, there so kids can imagine that they could get saved by Spiderman and become his best friend forever. And no, it doesn't matter at all that he has a tragic past, that's just how Mary Sues work. And yet, the episode has some saving graces. There are some really fantastic character moments and little jokes early on, such as a bizarre scene with Takuya and Hitomi (you'll know what I mean), and some truly winning shtick with Takuya's sister (Izumi Oyama). Minister indeed! There is also some really cool sh*t with cars. If watching the GP7 jump over a truck and then blow it up, feel free to skip this episode. Otherwise, dang, that's pretty rad.

Sunday, August 7, 2011

JSM@CDS: The Deadly Mer-Man! The Silver Thread of Miracles

Episode 4: The Deadly Mer-Man! The Silver Thread of Miracles
MONSTER OF THE WEEK: Machine BEM Mer-Man: He can: slash things with arm blades, breathe underwater, kill Spiderman (or can he?...), go BIG.

Professor Monster has designed a program called the "Spiderman Book of Fate" with precise instructions for how to kill Spiderman. When Takuya sees a notice of a Spiderman funeral in the newspaper, he becomes susupicious an Iron Cross Army plot. Meanwhile, a fish-like Machine BEM wreaks havoc. Can Spiderman beat fate? Will he be able to escape Professor Monster's plot? And most importantly, what do Takuya's bizarre dreams mean?

This is a very significant episode of the series. Though, like every episode, it stands completely on its own, it is the episode where Spiderman meets Professor Monster and Amazoness in person for the first time, and is one of the best episodes of the entire show. One thing that makes the episode great is the Machine BEM's constant involvement in the story. Many episodes give the BEMs minor roles,  often not even appearing until the last five minutes so Spiderman can get in his robot to blow it up, but this is not one of them. Mer-Man appears prominently throughout the entire episode, and is shown as a true thread to Spiderman, rather than another sacrifice to the Sword Vigor ritual. There's also a lot of drama. As I mentioned before, Spiderman meets Professor Monster and Amazoness for the first time here, and the scene is suitably foreboding, as Monster appears here at his most powerful. There's lot of tension here in the Spiderman Book of Fate plotline, as for once it is not clearly telegraphed from the beginning that he will win. In fact, he comes very close to dying, and only survives through a combination of perserverance and coincidence. In conclusion, many episodes of Supaidaaman can be skipped without impacting one's enjoyment of the series, but not episode 4. It is a shining example of the best Toei has to offer. Watch this one at all costs.

JSM@CDS: Phantom Thief 001 Vs. Spiderman

Episode 3: Phantom 001 Vs. Spiderman
MONSTER OF THE WEEK: Machine BEM Genyouchu: He can: Shoot blinding light beams (at night), hypnotize people, go BIG.

In this episode, we learn why it is wrong to steal. It is wrong to steal because if you do, you might get arrested and cry, and then get kidnapped by a bug dude and be hypnotized. When the Phantom Thief "001" (Ishinomori reference?) is caught at last, the dreaded Iron Cross abducts him from the coppers and has their bug eyed Machine BEM Genyouchu brainwash him into believing he is Spiderman. When this Spiderman continues to steal, Takuya his alerted to the Iron Cross Army's latest threat...

There's not so much to say about this episode, really. Its one of the show's most self contained episodes (and this show is really self contained), with a cool bad guy, a great big robot fight, and a nice moral to top it off. The most I can say is that then episode is a lot of fun (as always) and will be enjoyed by fans of silver age comics, namely those Jules Shwartz DC comics where some really weird cases are resolved with some random fact about lime. And a really, really epic fight at the end BTW.

JSM@CDS: A Strange World! A Man Who Follows His Destiny!

Episode 2: A Strange World! A Man Who Follows His Destiny!
MONSTER OF THE WEEK: Machine BEM Soutoukin: He Can: Create powerful blasts of wind (TEEHEE), Turn from a brain-thingie into a grasshopper-thingie, go BIG.

So a train is flipped over by a sudden unexpected burst of wind (heh heh...), killing and injuring many. One survivor claims to have seen something strange outside the train before the accident. Something not human. A giant floating brain with lasers, obviously. Takuya/Spiderman becomes suspicious of the Iron Cross Army having a part in the mysterious circumstances, and investigates with his photographer girlfriend Hitomi (Rika Miura). Plus, big robot action.

The episode stands on its own, but dedicated viewers are in for a treat. We get an expanded origin of Garia, Takuya's alien spider guru, that suitably expands and deepens (well, if you can call a show like this "deep") his background story to resounding effect. Some details are unnecessary and even harmful to the story's integrity (do we really need to know that 400 = 20 in spiderman years?), but in the best cases adds a lot to the story. The crowning achievement of the sequence would be the Garia vs. Professor Monster fight, which, aside from being awesome, gives us some insight into why Monster fears and hates Spiderman so much.

It should also be noted that this episode also probably has one of the best fight scenes of the entire series. Having seen the repetitive stock footage that comprises much of the series, it was a breath of fresh air to see this earlier, better budgeted episode. You have been warned.

JSM@CDS: The Time For Revenge Has Come! Attack The Iron Cross Army!!

Episode 1: The Time For Revenge Has Come! Attack The Iron Cross Army!!
MONSTER OF THE WEEK: Machine BEM Bokunryu: He can: Smash stuff, be a dinosaur, kill Prof. Yamashiro, go BIG.

The first episode of Japanese Spiderman sets up the premise immediately and without a lick of subtlety. Within minutes, the alien spaceship known as Marveller has been psychically crash-landed. Before the ad break, madcap cyclist Takuya Yamashiro's astro-archeologist (?) father looks for said Marveller, and is killed by Professor Monster's robot dinosaur. And after a brief tussle with the bird-like agents of the Iron Cross Army, Takuya meets Garia, the spaceman from the planet Spider, who seeks revenge on the Iron Cross for his planet's destruction, and gives Takuya "the SPIDER EXTRACT!" (plus Marveller/Leopardon) and then becomes a Spider. Cue ad break. After the break it's time for some wacky hero adventure, a la Adam West!

And when I say Adam West, I mean Adam West. The show is goofy, dated, thinly plotted, and completely enthralling. However, the show goes one step ahead of the Batman show, with thorough disrespect for its source material. Whereas Batman worked slavishly to replicate the comics of the time down to the Pows and Bams, Supaidaaman completely ignores its origins, and in my humble opinion, benefits from it. A burglar? Why not a dinosaur instead? Power and responsibility? Try BLOWING UP A DINOSAUR WITH A FREAKING ROBOT SWORD! It may be laziness on the part of the writers and staff, but the ignorance makes the show feel genuinely fresh. I had fun watching this premier episode of Spiderman, I can't imagine anyone who wouldn't, and in the end, that's all that matters.

Saturday, August 6, 2011

JSM@CDS: An Introduction to Supaidaaman

Welcome to Japanese Spider Man at Cat Demon Spirits! For two whole months, I will be blogging nonstop about the japanese live-action tokusatsu (special effects) adaption of Marvel Comics' most famous superhero.

When I started reading comics, I (like pretty much everyone else) devoured the super hero genre. I mostly read Marvel, and there was no comic book hero I liked better than Spider-Man. I didn't just read Spider-Man, I absorbed Spider-Man. I'm not sure how well I'd remember everything as well at this point, but at the time, I could tell you in excruciating detail all every "fact" there was about the spider-verse. Anyway, as a former diehard superhero fan, I can tell you one important fact about super heros: Every super hero is two characters: on one hand you have the costumed hero, the powers, personality, gimmicks, etc. set up by what can sometimes be half a century continuity. Then you have the CHARACTER. The man behind the mask and the world he inhabits, a character that can be changed and interpreted in different ways by any artist, half a century of continuity be damned.

Which is why, sometimes, Spider-Man gets to have a giant robot.

Japanese Spider-Man (Supaidaaman) is a tokusatsu TV show created for Toei's Super Sentai series (actually the second one ever made, and even predates The Power Rangers!) starring Shinji Todo as Spider-Man, and aired on what is now TV Tokyo. The show takes rather massive liberties with the classic Spider-Man storyline, replacing Peter Parker with Takuya Yamashiro, a motorcyclist who seeks revenge (no power/responsibility dynamic here) for the deaths of his father (Fuyuki Murakami) as well as the space alien Garia (Toshiaki Nishizawa, who gives Spider-Man his powers as well as sage advice) at the hands of the evil *cough-Dr. Doom-cough* Professor Monster (Mitsuo Ando) , Amazoness (Yukie Kagawa), and their world-domination plotting Iron Cross Army. In each episode, Takuya/Spiderman encounters some dastardly plot that the Iron Cross Army has cooked up, usually involving their rubber-suit monsters-of-the-week known as Machine BEM (voiced by Shozo Iizuka, Hisako Kyoda, and Shin Aomori, generally appearing in the last five minutes). When the Machine BEM grow big, Spiderman calls upon his transforming ship The Marveller (that's right, MARVELLER), which morphs into a big robot called Leopardon and then the robot blows up the monster. Oh yea.

About three years ago Marvel started putting up episodes of Japanese Spiderman on their official website, around the same time I started reading manga (Okay, I admit it, I'm a bit of a noob). At the time I was mostly reading classics like Phoenix, but for me, Japanese Spiderman was a revelation. It was strange, unique, and by far the most fun I'd had with Spider-Man in ages. It made me want to know what kind of culture could create a show like this, and, well... look at me now! Welcome to JSM@CDS.

Sunday, July 31, 2011

Upcoming Posts for the Month of August and September


8/6: An Introduction to Supaiidaman

8/7: Eps. 1-4

8/13: Eps. 5-8 *THE CAT DEMON EPISODE*

8/14: Eps. 9-12

8/20: Eps. 13-16

8/21: Eps. 17-20

8/27: Eps. 21-24

8/28: Eps. 25-28

9/3: Eps. 29-32

9/10: Eps. 33-36

9/17: Eps. 37-40

9/24: Eps. 41 & 0

"Stupid Cat Demon!"

Saturday, July 23, 2011

Review: Peepo Choo

*WARNING! Coarse language in this review! Probably some spoilers too!*
The Insult Humor genre is a staple of cartoons. Gross, immature, irreverent parodies of real life date back at least to Mad Magazine, a periodical I and at least one of my readers have fond memories of reading every month, and the tradition can be found continuing in web comics such as Penny Arcade and animated series like South Park. One of the most unarguably impressive modern additions to this classic staple of the medium of caricature is Peepo Choo, american artist Felipe Smith's bitter three-volume "fuck you" to Japan, America, and everything in between.

The manga is basically about people who put trust in the idea that a better place for them conveniently exists on the other side of the world, somewhere over the rainbow if you will, and what happens when they go there (hint: it ain't pretty). Milton is a self-proclaimed otaku living in Chicago, who watches an anime called Peepo Choo from a magical fairy land called Japan where everyone cosplays and buys Peepo merch in Akihabara. Well, lucky for Milton, the owner of his local comic shop (one of those shitty ones with "Game" in the store name) has business with Yakuza, so he's just won a free trip to JAPAN!!! Accompanied by Jody, an employee at said comic store who hates comics and went along in hopes of losing his virginity (he also has the single best line in the first volume), Milton makes a harsh discovery upon landing in Tokyo - Japan is no different from America! No-one cosplaying in the streets! Drunken salarymen! The Peepo-Speak he learned in preparation for the trip wasn't normal Japanese! And after meeting a real otaku, Miki, and her jaded English-speaking friend Reiko, Milton learned the cruelest truth of all: Peepo Choo was never popular in Japan! Running parallel to Milton's horrible wake up call a young Yakuza calling himself Rockstar raises hell on the streets in imitation of an obscure american TV show.

Smith uses his story as a launch pad for violent criticisms of everything popular culture, generally expressed in the most insulting way possible. Gone is the lie of the relatable, friendly misfits we've come to know and love though franchises as varied as Glee or Densha Otoko. Gone is the "cool" Japan fed to us by jerks like Stu "DJ Milky" Levy and Danny Choo. Redeeming qualities are all but absent in this world of cruel fact. Want to live the dream in Akihabara and meet all the cool cosplayers? Too bad, because Japan and America are exactly the same when it comes to treatment of geeks! Want to make friends by learning another language? Too bad, because all the american boys think you're a slut! Wanna get the sexy asian girl and be rid of your virginity at last? Too bad, because no-one takes gaijin seriously in Japan! The brilliance of Peepo Choo is that rather than settle for mere righteous anger (not that there isn't plenty), Felipe Smith actually turns the bitter material into successful comedy, frequently pointing out the absurdity of our own delusions. A good example of this humor is in the second volume, where we are shown how Peepo Choo became popular in america. At Wizard World Chicago, the bombastic CEO of a manga/anime company called Japa-Tastic (basically Tokyopop) convinces a crowd of confused teenagers to buy lots of copies of the manga through waxing poetic on Japan, a country where a nerd’s “wildest dreams were a reality.” He then goes offstage, takes off his gaudy costume and reveals himself as the greedy corporate super villain he really is, gloating about how easy it is to fool otaku. MUAHAHAHA! Get it? It’s funny because it’s true. These nods to brutal reality within a thoroughly unreal story is one of the many things make Choo so great.

One of the other things that makes Peepo Choo work is the art. While Smith’s style is incredibly crude, it effectively manages the difficult feat of telling us everything we need to know about the story in the most humorously exaggerated manner possible, with liberal application of dynamic panel structures, bold speed lines, and even some mild surrealism. In the world of Peepo Choo, no-one is ever happy, sad, or mad; they are ecstatic, depressed, or enraged. But it’s not just posturing - Smith uses his over-the-top style to add to a well-thought out story with interesting characters, rather than distracting from their absence.

However, sometimes Peepo Choo goes too far. As great a comic as it is, it’s riddled with problems like a yakuza riddled with bullets. It’s not that I mind shock value, mind you. I did not mind that Rockstar was killing people, or that Jody’s immature fantasies were almost always illustrated. Stuff like that did bring both shock and value to the story in interesting ways, not to mention surrealism. But I draw the line at pointless shock value. This side of the story manifests itself in the yakuza subplot, especially in the first volume. The most blatant example is Gill, the man-mountain of an assassin who also happens to own the comic store in Chicago. Though carrying a lot of the plot twists, it seems Smith never found the time to give Gill a real personality, aside from his habit of getting aroused by graphic violence. There’s some attempt to fix this in the third and final volume, but by then, it’s too late. The damage has already been done, and roughly a third of the whole series has been dedicated to useless “look at what I can show” posturing.

Despite the manga’s angry exterior, Peepo Choo is definitely a story told with the characters in mind. Though the first two volumes do a very good job hiding it, the third volume brings a lot of character-focused, maybe even coming-of-age storytelling that I could connect with and relate to from my own experiences. I have never been to Japan, but learned the easy way about the reality of what japanese comics really are from the convenience of knowing smart people and reading smart writing on my favorite topic. However, Milton never got that. He got a crappy comics store where he met people who knew about as much accurate information about Japan as a nine year old knows about sex, and was dumped into a world he thought he understood but in fact ever knew a thing about. But in the end, he does make friends, and despite his disillusionment still manages to work up the courage to cosplay and be an otaku, not because of any country, but because of who he is and what he wants to do.

Saturday, July 16, 2011

Review: Evangelion 1.11: You Are (Not) Alone

Evangelion 1.11: You Can (Not) Advance is the first installment of a trilogy of feature film continuing/remaking (a little vague so far) the controversial Evangelion anime franchise for a new generation of sweaty otaku. It's been over a decade since Hideaki Anno concluded the original Neon Genesis Evangelion with the unforgettable magnum opus that was End of Evangelion, and basically went awol from the anime industry. Now he returns not only to his most famous creation, but to anime in general, with his fancy new Studio Khara as screenwriter and supervising director (the films are co-directed by Kazuya Tsurumaki, the assistant director of the original NGE series and director of FLCL). Surely we'll be seeing some amazing new twists on the classic... right?
Well, maybe in the second movie, but in this one, not so much. The film is basically a complete rehash of the first six episodes of NGE with a better budget, tighter pacing, and less music. The few changes made don't really make much sense on their own (Why are they calling the Adam creature Lilith already? In fact, what's it even doing here?) and make little difference. The good news is that 1.11 is just as good as the original episodes, and makes a very good introduction for new fans. However, for the crowd of diehard fans who have watched the original series multiple times and devote long, thoughtful essays to the topic (i.e. me), there isn't really that much to see.
TV Show
And yet, the movie deserves some credit where credit's due. Though most of the film looks pretty much the same as the show, there are several noticeable fixes and updates to the animation, and they are AWESOME. The highlight of these updates is the Cube Angel fight. From episode 6 ("Rei II"), the Cube Angel fight (anyone else notice that it's actually an octahedron?) is the climax of the series' opening arc, as Shinji does battle with a disturbingly logical (and geometric) angel in Unit 01, and becomes closer to Rei, who risks her life to save Shinji. Rei II remains one of my favorite episodes from the original series, but I was always a tad bothered by the Cube Angel (*cough-octahedron-cough*). I loved the idea of such a stoic nemesis, but the execution was disappointing, funny even! In 1.11, though, the Cube angel finally becomes truly menacing. The new computer animation gives the angel a more active appearance, morphing into various shapes (like the one above) while still retaining the stoic mood of the original. The intensity of the battle has also been considerably increased, creating a palpable mood of despair. To be frank, the cube angel is now not only an octahedron, but a badass octahedron.
Another high point of the film comes courtesy of the good folks at Funimation Entertainment, who have put together an excellent dub. Unlike the original dub, an unfortunately over-the-top mishmash of needless enthusiasm in an occasionally very subtle show, ADR Mike McFarland has put a lot of care and respect into capturing the mood of Evangelion. The better performances include Brina Palencia as Rei Ayanami, and someone's cameo as Kaoru in the final scene of the film. Whoever you are, I can't find your name on the ANN database, but YOU, sir, are a great Kaoru. The one flaw with the dub is recasting Spike Spencer as Shinji Ikari. It makes sense, as Spencer's work as Shinji in the first dub is fairly iconic, but the problem is he's getting a little old for the role. Now, perhaps you could say the same about Ogata Megumi, but she's the better VA, any way you slice it. You can hear how much Spencer strains to make that trademark whimper very clearly, and it kind of gets annoying after awhile. I think he would have been better off voicing Gendou Ikari, which would add to the implication that the two Ikaris aren't so different. If a redub of the original ever happens (not necessary here), I wouldn't mind seeing that.
So in the end, we have an okay film kicking off the remake of one of the best anime of all time. Having seen the second installment, I can say the Rebuild does add some new texture to the Evangelion story, but don't expect it in this one. As disappointing as the film is, it makes a great introduction to the new viewers who don't necessarily want to watch 26 episodes and an hour and a half long film to "get" the new version, will be enjoyed by old fans who like to babble minutiae details of how that lines were a bit thicker and the shading was different in the original. Second time's the charm, though. Seriously.

Wednesday, July 13, 2011

Roundhead LIVES!

Just so you know, I have started a new blog called Roundhead Lives. It's a semi-daily cartoon following the life of a man with a round...wait for it...head. You can find it at the following URL: http://roundheadlives.blogspot.com/ Make sure to not just type "Roundhead," because that appears to be a Christian blog. Unless you're religious. Then, do what you want. #Roundheadlives

Sunday, July 10, 2011

Summer Streaming Season Part One: The Shallow End

(Disclaimer: I have never seen Blood: The Last Vampire, and judge this show on its own merits)
Meet Saya! She is very nice, but also clumsy! Hello Saya! Watch her 1) pray 2) go to school 3) be kind to animals 4) fall on her face 5) sing a song 6) BEAT THE LIVING SH*T OUT OF A MONSTER 7) the end!
So concludes the first episode of Blood:C, a disappointingly fluffy addition to the popular Blood franchise created by the artist collective CLAMP (Cardcaptor Sakura, Clover) and Production IG (Ghost in the Shell, FLCL). As you can probably tell, the plot's about as deep as the shallow end of an inflatable pool, but B:C (why can't this show have dinosaurs?) does have some good points aesthetically. As always, Mokona's designs are F***ING GORGEOUS, and IG's animation is incredible, though not quite at FLCL level. It should also be mentioned that Nana Mizuki has a really pretty singing voice. I want one of her CDs! In short, this is basically 24 minutes of talented people doing nothing. But it's watchable nothing, so it's at least worth a boredom look, if nothing else. NNN (out of a possible 5 Ns)
Blood: C (AKA: Before: Common Era) is streaming on NicoNico

Uta no Prince-Sama
There is exactly one great character in Uta no Prince Sama, a reverse harem set at a music (read: J-Pop) boarding school. His name is Shining Saotome, the academy's incredibly rad and impeccably dressed headmaster. Were this show just about Mr. Saotome and his madcap antics, this would be the best anime of the year by default. Sadly, we only get about two minutes of his shtick, and we're back to stock characters, bland cliches, and annoying J-Pop.
Haruka is a...girl. She likes music. That's basically all we know about her. She's a viewer stand-in though, so it doesn't really matter, does it. She attends the Saotome Academy, a prestigious boarding school where good little children get to do J-Pop with their favorite idols! Haruka then meets a bunch of bishonen heartthrobs, each with their own distinctive gimmick, who semi-fawn over her and do J-Pop! Then they do J-Pop! Plus: Dark past. If you thought High School Musical was a work of art, you'll love Prince-Sama. Otherwise, there are only two minutes of the show you need to watch. I think you can guess. NN
Uta no Prince-Sama (AKA: Uta no POS-Singers) is streaming on NicoNico
A Dark Rabbit has Seven Lives
So.... A six-year-old moe vampire Himea sucks six-year-old boy Taito's... blood. Nine years later, fifteen-year-old silver-haired ulgyboy Taito has forgotten everything, and Himea, who still has the body of a six-year-old, sits around naked somewhere. Meanwhile, a random evil dude named Gekkou sits around being evil while his furry friend makes sex sounds. Then furry gets thirsty. Then furry nearly gets hit by a convenient car, but is saved by...Taito! And his head fell off, because that always happens when a car hits you. But then he's still alive, which reminds me of this. Then Tight-O remember Himea, Hime grows boobs, Tightie Whities runs a bit in a remakably poorly animated sequence (I believe there are exactly 3 frames). Then they meet again at last. Then Evil Gecko kills Himea! Oh noes!
My god is this show bad. It's uncontrollably ugly, preposterously perverted, completely cliched, sickeningly sloppy, and just plain old unwatchable. That last sentence probably took more effort to write then the whole episode. I can't imagine who this anime is for, and I do not want to know. The very act of imagining someone liking this makes me feel like vomiting. Good luck sitting through this turkey, my friends, or better yet, don't. 0
A Dark Rabbit has Seven Lives (AKA: I Put All the Effort into the Title) is streaming on NicoNico

Twin Angel: Twinkle Paradise
Haruka and Aoi, two normal high school girls from a world where looking 4 is normal for high schoolers, are secretly Twin Angel, two magical girl phantom thieves (who don't steal anything) who fight crimes such as vegetable robbery, stealing the magic tiara, and turning people into cats(?). They're also sometimes helped by Misty Knight *cough-Tuxedo Mask-cough*, a tall dark handsome mystery man with a mask... and a tuxedo.... Can they stop the bad guys? Will their secret identities be safe? And most importantly, aren't they adorable? AWWWW....
Twin Angel: Twinkle Paradise takes from the shallow end of the inflatable pool to a drop of spit on the ground. The show is a downright insult to the viewer's intelligence, even though said viewers are mostly three years old. I can't imagine any of this content being of any interest to anyone not three, and even an infant would rather watch something else! Did I mention the show is also mildly perverted? It should come as little shock, as the series is based on a pachinko game (a medium which brought us such classics as Rio - Rainbow Gate), but STILL! I should note that I am not referring to the transformation sequence - that is a staple of the Magical Girl genre, and it should be expected. But really, COME ON. Jiggling breasts? Cat girls on all fours? What the hell are you thinking!? If you are going to make a show for toddlers MAKE IT FOR TODDLERS. Idiots. Negative -N-N-N
Twin Angel: Twinkle Paradise (AKA: I Cannot Believe I Just Typed That) is streaming on NicoNico

Saturday, July 9, 2011

An Open Letter to Ed Chavez: 6 Manga Vertical Should Licence

Dear Ed Chavez and Vertical Inc,
I see that you were taking suggestions for manga licenses on your twitter (are you still doing that?), which is really nice. I thought I would put a few suggestions on my own twitter, but you know what? 140 characters is not enough for the Cat Demon Spirits. So, here are 6 manga that you and Vertical should take a look at:

Plastic Girl Usamaru Furuya
One of Usamaru Furuya's more interesting creations, Plastic Girl is a comic created through unusual mediums such as stained glass, and (apparently) features Furuya's usual quirky surrealistic imagery; in one scene, a girl gives birth to a teddy bear. I'm not totally sure who published this manga, as it isn't even listed on wikipedia (my main resource; I learned of Plastic Girl at the recent TCAF), but I have the impression that Vertical wants to publish more Furuya, and I think this would be a good place to start, even if it has to be a $40 art book.

Jungle Emperor (aka Kimba the White Lion) Osamu Tezuka, Kodansha
It's be hard to think of Vertical without thinking of Tezuka. The publisher has brought over the some of Manga God's most famous creations, works such as Dororo, Buddha, Ode to Kirihito, and (later this year) Princess Knight. It will be a long time before I won't be able to think of an unlicensed Tezuka gem, but one of the most obvious is Jungle Emperor, the classic story of a little cub named Leo and his struggle to become king of the beasts. The series is already moderately known among western audiences (though overshadowed by the success of Astro Boy) for its animated adaption that was brought to the US under the name Kimba the White Lion, and may have even inspired for The Lion King! And besides, it's Tezuka, so do I really have to say anything?

Devilman Go Nagai, Kodansha
Go Nagai is one of Japan's most famous mangaka, a pioneer of the shonen genre, creator of such untranslated classics as Cutey Honey, Shameless School, Mazinger Z, and of course, Devilman. Nagai's psychedelic magnum opus, Devilman is the story of an apocalyptic world infested with demons, hippies, and destruction. There have been several attempts to bring Devilman to the english market, but sadly, not counting the rare Kodansha Bilingual Edition, all have failed. Devilman (and, in fact, any other Nagai) makes a lot of sense for Vertical to publish, for its edgy, barrier-breaking content, mainstream hit potential, and famous (in Japan) but poorly represented (here) creator.

Makto-Chan Kazuo Umezu, Shogakukan
The Drifting Classroom may have shown the world the primal terror of Kazuo Umezu's imagination, but there's one side to him the english language still has yet to see: his sense of humor. Makoto-Chan is Kazz's most famous foray into gag manga, stars a kindergartner named, well, Makoto-chan, who gets into all sorts of third grade humor-type trouble. I personally have a strong tolerance for gag comics like this so long as they are unique and crafted with skill, and Umezu's manga tend to be both. Umezu's work seems to have been an influence on Usamaru Furuya, so it does make sense for Vertical to publish a work like Makoto-Chan (though maybe Fourteen would make more sense? Please license that too, please!). Anyway, it's dumb fun, and who needs an excuse for more dumb fun?

Hataraki Man Moyoko Anno, Kodansha
There have been plenty of bloggers decrying the underrepresented awesomeness of Josei manga lately, so I figure it makes sense to mention one here. Though serialized in the seinen magazine Morning, Hataraki Man is undeniably josei, a romantic comedy about a workaholic Office Lady (the japanese title translates as Hardworking Man) whose devotion to her job is rivaled only by her boyfriend's. Moyoko Anno is one of Japan's most famous contemporary josei artists, and also created Happy Mania (which received critical acclaim here from its Tokyopop localization) and the popular shojo manga Sugar Sugar Rune. (She is also married to Hideaki Anno, the man behind Evangelion! Not that it matters...) Anyway, Vertical has had much success bringing previously niche genres like seinen to english readers, so I'd love to see the same happen with josei, and Hataraki Man would be a good place to start.

Tomodachi 100 Nin Dekiru Kana/I Wonder if I can Make 100 Friends? Minoru Toyoda, Kodansha
Love Roma is my favorite manga. It's a sweet, simple, slice-of-life story that I can't talk about without my words turning into gibberish about how good it is. (I'll try to re-write my  review of it at some point, though) As you can imagine, I'd love to see more manga by Minoru Toyoda, the manga's artist, in english, and 100 Friends seems to be the most notable of his other series, as sweet as Love Roma, but with a sci-fi twist. According to ANN,
The science fiction story centers on a grade school teacher who stumbles into an alternate world on the day his wife-to-be would be born. According to the magazine's advertising blurb, "the fate of humanity rests on an important vow."
 Sounds cute, right? I think this manga would look very good as a Vertical title. Despite being the publisher of "edgy" manga like Peepo Choo and Lychee, Vertical has put out some of what I would call the best cute manga of all time. Twin Spica. Chi's Sweet Home. Couldn't you imagine something by Toyoda sitting next to those? It would be fantastic!

Thank you for (hopefully) reading my open letter to you, Mr. Chavez. I sincerely hope you and Vertical can make my dream reading list a reality, and thank you for publishing so many wonderful Japanese books and manga already! We all appreciate it.

PS: While you're at it, please also license Doraeman.

Sunday, July 3, 2011

Review: GEN Issue 1

[Note: Images from Genmanga.com and are (c) Gen Manga Entertainment Inc.]

GEN Manga is an intriguing new self-published online anthology magazine of translated original works by Japan's top dojinshi artists. The (free) first issue features four very different stories by members of the so-called "Tokyo Underground." As you can imagine, I absolutely HAD to take a look; I am always looking for a different look at contemporary Japan, and when said look happens to come in panels (and for free/next-to-nothing), all the better! While not exactly AX for the internet, GEN is a fine look at the good fans who love and love to work in their medium of choice, and has a lot of potential. I wish the magazine's staff luck in culturing a fantastic magazine. Now, here are 4 bite-sized reviews of the first 42 pages of each story in the publication.

WOLF Chapter 1 by Nakamura Shige
Story: Naoto seeks heads to the big city in search of his absent father, a professional boxer, and befriends Shota, a nice kid with dreams of becoming a sumo wrestler in this charming sports manga.
My Thoughts: One word: Eh. This is a really nice story with lovable characters, simple, vintage-style artwork, but not a lot of ambition. There's not really anything that compelling going on in this story, but on the upside, there aren't really any big problems with it. Just plain old, straightforward GOOD. Wolf is the kind of comic made for anthology format; alongside another, stronger series, it can just be itself and leave a big smile on the reader's face, if not anything more.
Later Chapters Should: Give Shota a bigger role. His constant optimism is a big part of what makes this manga shine.

VS ALIENS Chapter 1 by Suzuki Yu
Story: One day, normal kid Kitaro is confronted by Aya, your standard eccentric girl type with glasses, claiming that Sana, the cutest girl in the school, is an ALIEN! Wacky hijinks ensue.
My Thoughts: VS Aliens is a really entertaining comic. Basically K-On with UFOs (UF-On?), this issue's chapter is formulaic mush at its best: similar enough to everything else, but including some special qualities that make it unique. Of course, it makes no sense that this appears in a magazine that calls itself "underground," but whatever. VS Aliens is a fun read, and I wouldn't be shocked if Suzuki ends up being a major mainstream mangaka (say 10 times fast) in the near future.
Future Chapters Should: Build on the sci-fi. Am I the only person who wants to see cute anime-style girls beat the crap out of space dudes? I think not!

KAMEN Chapter 1 by Mihara Gunya
Story: A man wakes up with a mask. He tries to take it off. Then the mask tells him that he will die if he takes it off. Meanwhile, a group of soldiers with a caravan carrying prisoners spot him and take him as an enemy.
My Thoughts: I can't really say that much, as not a hell of a lot happens in this chapter, but Kamen could be the strongest feature in GEN at this point. The comic employs a leisurely pace in what could easily become a fantasy epic, drawing the reader in without showing or telling us much, but hinting at enough to give the feeling that the story will go interesting places. Gunya also deserves credit for some incredible artwork, reminiscent of series such as Vagabond, and on a whole other level compared to the rest.
Future Chapters Should: Show us a bit more, but slowly. This is a great comic so far, and I can't wait to see what happens next!

SOULS: Empty Shell Chapter 1 by Arisa Karino

Story: A mystery woman comes to take the soul of a young woman named Harue, who is abused by her controlling mother.
My Thoughts: Souls is the exact worst possible kind of fan comic. Within the first two pages alone, we are given hackwork purple prose (Cry rain...cry for me...), and ugly, chunky artwork, with screen tone splattered all over the pages like gooey phlegm. The story seems to be going for a melancholy traveller-type tone like Mushishi on Mermaid Saga, which I don't mind, but to do a story like that, you need to be able to tell a coherent story, a skill this artist seems to not possess.
Future Chapters The Artist Should: Get a mentor of some sort. Karino is not talentless, but really needs someone to help her (or him? GEN doesn't have any author bios) focus said talent better.