Sunday, February 27, 2011

List: 5 Manga For People Who Don't Read Manga

I have many friends who don't read manga. Some are put off by the stylized artwork. Others are scared off by 50+ volume gargantuan series like Naruto. Still others are confused by the right to left page orientation. I am always game to evangelize my favorite medium, so here are 5 manga, in no particular order, for the non-fans reading this to go run to a store or library and read right now.

Antique Bakery by Fumi Yoshinaga

This delicious comedy by Fumi Yoshinaga is only 4 volumes long, and features only slightly stylized artwork, making this a fantastic gateway drug. However, it's the characters that make this series worthy of your purchase; I could spend god know how long just reading about their daily lives.

Phoenix by Osamu Tezuka

 My first experience reading manga was the second volume of this beautiful, mind blowing series of interconnected stories by manga god Osamu Tezuka. The stories see-saw from philosophical historical fiction to experimental science fiction, but all stories center on the Phoenix, the mythical bird of fire whose blood grants immortality. Aside from being amazing, the artwork is carefully flipped by translator, and is only 11 volumes long, making this series new reader friendly. The second volume features an article about Tezuka, a short afterword by the manga god himself, and an interview with the translator Fred Schodt, who also happens to be one of the most important scholars in the manga community, and knew Tezuka personally.

Lone Wolf and Cub by Kazuo Koike and Goseki Kojima

This pulp-tastic yet delicately beautiful saga of a father and son's feud with the Yagyu clan in Edo Japan holds an important place in american comic books- that cover is not by Goseki Kojima, but by Frank Miller (Sin City, 300, The Dark Knight Returns), whose work was heavily influence by Lone Wolf and Cub. Dark Horse's english adaption is very good, the artwork is flipped with care, and the realistic artwork will be appreciated by those with more western sensibilities.

Love Roma by Minoru Toyoda

I have spoken on the greatness of Love Roma on this blog before, but allow me to repeat. It's short. It's unique. It will charm your socks off. There are some cultural in jokes here and there, but the translation notes are of the highest caliber, and overall, this series can be enjoyed by anyone.

Clover by CLAMP

Admittedly, Clover is not a good first book for everyone, but if you happen to enjoy gorgeous artwork and were scared off by the big foreheads of Dragon Ball Z, this is the manga for you. Plot wise, Clover isn't quite revolutionary, but Clover's real strength lies in the lavish artwork, some of CLAMP lead artist Mokona's very best, which is saying something. Also, the new Dark Horse edition is 1 volume long, making this an easy purchase.

Saturday, February 26, 2011

Review: Neon Genesis Evangelion-Part 6-End of Evangeliion

 I have waited a long time to write this review. To be honest, I've been putting it off, despite the fact that End of Evangelion is probably my favorite anime ever. You see, to me Evangelion represents a very delicate time in my life, a year where I didn't really know who I was anymore. I tried lying to myself, but then I found Evangelion and began to face my reality.

 End of Evangelion opens with what is likely one of the most controversial anime scenes of all time. What happens in this scene could be chalked up to an attempt at being edgy, however this is not the case at all. This scene not only represents a powerful metaphor for the idolization of anime heroines by needy fans, but is an important character moment for Shinji. This is the moment he finally goes completely insular, a last moment of regrettable decisions before deciding to stop making decisions. This is when the world begins to end.

At this point, the plot will stop making sense to the casual viewer. This would normally strike me as bad storytelling, but there is a plot there, and the events of the film work perfectly well on a primal level. Shinji stopped caring, and the world ended. Everyone died. This mood of absolute terror is amplified by the top-notch designs, namely of the eerily pleased appearance of the mass produced Evas, creepy religious iconography, and disturbingly human movements of the Eva Units, provided by Production IG, who would later collaborate with GAINAX again for FLCL.


The second half of the movie abandons the complex plot completely for a long, surreal conversation between Shinji and Rei (or maybe it was Yui) about the fate of humanity. Unlike the confusing slog that was the TV ending, these moments are incredibly involving, perhaps because there is a story to connect this conversation to. Certain things that the characters say are very enlightening, not only to the story, but to reality in general, as if the camera suddenly shifted from the movie to the theater (which, in fact, actually happens at one point).

In the final shots of the movie, two survivors remain standing by a red sea. One briefly tries to kill the other, but cannot bring himself to. The other says, "I feel terrible." However, is this ending truly tragic? Both characters were assumed to be either dead or traumatized beyond comprehension, but here they are,  two fully functional human beings, accepting reality and possibly moving on. That is the message of Evangelion.

Friday, February 25, 2011

Turning Japanese: Inception x Paprika

Last night, I had an idea for a new feature for this blog. I had noticed a vast number of American books, movies, and comics have taken inspiration from manga and anime. It makes me happy to see that several very prolific talents would take interest in anime and manga; however, it bothers me how few people are aware of their connections to J-cool culture. So, I have decided to make a new column dedicated to enlightening those unaware of a movie's otaku roots.

Movie: Inception (Christopher Nolan)
Anime: Paprika (Satoshi Kon)
What Makes Them Similar: Both movies' plots center on a machine that allows people to enter dreams.
Proof of Inspiration: The character of Ariadne, the architect, was reportedly inspired by Paprika's titular character.
Is Inception a Rip-off: No. Despite the noticeably similar premise, the execution is very different. While Paprika had a winsome, emotionally charged narrative, Inception was a sterile, often cold experience. I would compare this to the relationship between Ghost in the Shell and The Matrix (which I will certainly discuss at a later date), except that both of those movies were emotionally cold. Both movies and directors come from a very similar intellectual place, but the final products of each are remarkably unique, a fine example of how a good creative mind can take an identical concept to a very, very different place.

Wednesday, February 23, 2011

Now on DVD: Summer Wars, FLCL

Hi there, I just wanted to let you know that the fantastic feature film Summer Wars and the mindblowng GAINAX/IG offering FLCL are now out on DVD! I mention this because I actually plan to buy them, a rarity for me as I normally take advantage of my awesome library for anime offerings. While FLCL probably doesn't need my help (this is its third R1 release), but I am ready to plug Summer Wars at every opportunity, as Summer Wars is probably the best anime I have seen in a long time, and has the potential to bring anime back to the mainstream. Sadly, it did not get nominated for an Oscar, but if we all buy a copy, Summer Wars could still become the helping hand the anime industry has been looking for. Funimation has already reported on their blog that Summer Wars has done incredibly well, but why don't we all pitch in to make it do better, okay? And do be sure to watch FLCL by any (legal) means possible, because it is one of those rare shows that is fully realized from beginning to end.
Summer Wars on
Summer Wars on
Summer Wars on

Monday, February 21, 2011

Debatable: Have we gone too hard on moe?

Don't Google search your name ever again.

 I think I first heard about moe (the genre, to be specific), it was in an article in Jason Thompson's Manga the Complete Guide (which, by the way, is a great read that I would readily suggest to anyone new to the obsession). Anyway, if I remember correctly, the article was on the so-called "lolicon" (self explanitory, I think) boom of the '90s and the Myazaki serial murders that brought the trend to an end. Moe (pronounced like Mo-AY) was noted as a minor side trend that involved the same style of the Loli trend, but in much more innocent situations meant to give the (generally male) reader "protective" feelings. Lately, it has exploded from a side note into a fandom of it's own, and became so huge and dangerous to the world (isn't that ironic?) that legal action had to be taken (this is kind of sad, as everyone, even the moe-makers, should have freedom of speech, but it was also inevitable). However, have we been right to bully this once-innocent genre, or should we have been focusing our attention on the cruel businessmen who took advantage of a passing interest to sell out and strip bare our precious innocence?

You don't like me when I'm angry.

But wait, hadn't we all agreed that all moe was gross exploitation of young girls. First, the girls in moe are not necessarily young. The moe "look" is a stylized look, like that "manga style" they used to always market, with some popular tropes. Calling moe "little" would be the same as calling any other artstyle "little".  I hate to bring up Oreimo here (which, btw, I hated for its siscon undertones and half-formed characters, nothing else), but in that show, Kirino is shown enjoying video games obviously created for male otaku. Now, let's imagine if this happened in reality. Unlikely yes, but not as illogical as one would have thought. The reason for this is, moe (and j-cool artwork in general) is not designed to look like any real person in existence, let alone little girls. Remember, Kirino may have been 14 (?), but she could have easily been 40, or 4, or 18, or 80, or 8. Also (gasp!) she is not American. She just looks like it to us silly foreigners.

Who could hate a face like that?

Our problem with moe is actually rather silly. First of all, the previous appearance of the style before moe was a thing was in children's shows. This put off many people before they even took a look at the stuff. Also, that horrid incedent in the '90s only skewered people's perception even worse. The thing is, it wasn't only the non-consumers who were confused this time. Dumb otaku and dumber production studios decided as always that what the people want is harem, so we get a ton of stuff like this year's Dragon Crisis! and the form gets perverted However, it is not all perversion. There is one shining example, a popular one at that, which shows to me that moe does not have to be what it is today:

You knew this was coming, didn't you.

Yotsuba&! is an impressive comedy manga about a adopted little girl with a positive outlook on life exploring her new neighborhood. It has not one ounce of perversion, yet does everything a moe is supposed to do in the first place- give the reader protective, or more accurately parental, feelings about a totally awesome little girl. A while ago I was talking to a (female) non-manga fan friend of mine on Facebook. I asked her if she was reading anything, and then suddenly, she broke into a rave about Yotsuba, demanding to know if I had read it. Look at that. Well written, popular on a mainstream level (rare for any manga), and... moe. I rest my case.


What have we learned today? We have learned that moe does not need our scorn or our pity, but rather our help. We the fans NEED to tell production companies what we want, and in the end, what we want is not one or two styles to exist or not, but high quality product that we can embrace, no matter what it is. In short, we need both more and less moe, we need productions with heart, and those could be anything. In the words of Haruhi, "I'm not intrested in normal humans.If any of you are aliens, future men, otherworlders, or espers, please come see me."

Sunday, February 13, 2011

Manga Industry 2011: Five Predictions

Looking towards the future.

 Recently, Zac Bertschy declared on ANNcast that the manga industry is the anime industry two years earlier. If this is the case, then this year will be a very difficult year for english manga, as the current structure will implode, and publishers will scramble to find a new business model before it's too late. Warning shots were fired last year with the closure of CMX manga (closely mirroring the collapse of Geneon Entertainment) and, more shockingly, the major layoffs and budget cuts of industry giant Viz Media. This is a major year of change, and here are 5 things I think will happen:

1: Vertical becomes the new industry giant

This is incredibly obvious, as the once-underdog company Vertical was the only manga company last year to report major profits, but it deserves note. Once upon a time, I thought that Vertical's artsy format, small number of titles, and emphasis on classics barred them from being major, but in reality, this is what will save the company from the coming downturn. Their small roster of titles means each and every one of them gets a huge marketing push, and what I had previously interpreted as a focus on "classics" and an"arty" format was really a important skill at presenting their material for a larger audience. And these skills will protect Vertical from financial trouble while licencing major titles from across the spectrum of very different manga titles, from Chi's Sweet Home to Lychee Light Club.

2: Tokyopop dies

The fact of the matter is, T-Pop has been publishing too much, and the only big hit they've had outside of the out of print CLAMP titles now published by Dark Horse was Fruits Basket, a title that may very well be eventually forgotten in a sea of already read that. Well, Hetalia is pretty huge, but the series is basically a ton of internet memes, and it's origins as a web comic make it ripe for scanlation. Also, let's face it, anyone who's ever bought a volume of Karakuri Odette can tell you that their marketing sucks, (Hot robot? I think not!) a bad sign when it will soon be a fight to get people interested in your titles.

3: Naruto to fall from grace, One Piece to replace it

The Naruto franchise has been going on too long to sustain itself. This is not meant to demean the title, nor do I think it will ever disappear. What I mean is, there is no way this one title can sustain an entire industry anymore, not even if it teams up in sales with Bleach. But there is one that can. I am of course referring to One Piece, once a side note, but now a record breaking example in sales figures, popularity from reviewers and the public alike, and volume numbers (61 and counting). I don't know if it's level of phenomenon can ever match what it is right now in Japan, especially with this being the first english attempt at starting up the franchise, but it could potentially be the industry's savior.

4: Viz restructures

Viz is doing too much. It hurts to say this, as Viz's various imprints are all great, but they will have to cut down, or otherwise face a big backlash in the near future. At risk are the non-manga New People Films and Haikasoru Books imprints, not to mention the already unprofitable Signature imprint. Fans- show your love for your favorite line before it disappears!

5: Shonen Jump goes online

With the (relative) success of Yen+ Online and the death of print magazines, SJ taking an online initiative is probably the biggest no-brainer of everything on this list. Who knows- maybe it could stop the Naruto-Bleach-One Piece scans once and for all. No, wait, it won't, but oh well.

Zyword of the Week episode 6: Narutoriginality

That's a lot of dudes.
I like Naruto, okay? It's very well written. I even enjoy the "Shippuden" arc, even though it's obvious that the series has lost steam at this point. But you know what I don't like about Naruto? How everyone seems to think it is the most original series ever. Because it isn't.

For example, take the nine-tailed fox demon. Wow! That's so random! Nothing like this has ever been done before... oh, wait.

That's right, nine-tails there is a classic part of japanese mythology. It's appearance in manga is about as unique as space aliens in american comics. You see, Naruto is riddled with age old cliches like swiss cheese is riddled with holes. I do not enjoy Naruto for it's originality, but for the strong writing, alike to the way Super Hero fans enjoy a comic book by Brian Michael Bendis. It's not for the new stuff, but for the old feeling new again. Because of this, I hope Naruto ends soon, because it's getting old again, making it lose the point.

Saturday, February 12, 2011

Review: Two By Furuya

Genkaku Picasso Volume 2

"Hold still and let me draw you!"

Everything I said about the last volume continues to be true in this one. The series could be a lot better, but Usamaru Furuya's natural knack for bizarre imagery (remember, this guy got his start in Garo) continues to shine through in fascinating ways.

The definite highlight from an artistic perspective is probably "Vision 5: Ota's Girlfriend." Suigura's childhood friend Ota has been bragging about his girlfriend, and Suigura is getting jealous. As Hikari's arm is starting to rot again, so once again dives into the psychological world of his sketch book to help out Suigura...'s childhood friend Ota?!? Ota's mental turmoil is a wonder to look at, literally a twisting Rubik's Cube of photos, texts, and blog posts. The other stories in the volume (there are only three, but they're long ones) are less psychedelic, but are well done, gripping entertainment, and cover such topical issues as self-hating nerds, gender identity, and disillusionment.

The artwork is impressive; for example, the otherwise paint-by-numbers "Vision 7: Hishida's Holy War" was given that extra emotional oomph by the expressive foreshadowing and a quirky pop-up book sequence. Also, in "Vision 6: Kotone and Arengurion" and "Vision 8: Borise World and Moe", Furuya shows an amazing skill at aping the artwork of others to create an interesting affect: he can even ape the apers (AKA doujinshi artists)!

However, the big draw for shilling out another ten bucks would likely be Hikari himself and his gloriously wimpish personality. He may be helping others, but all he REALLY wants to do is to sit back, chew his nails, and draw some good-looking muscles. On top of that, Furuya has smartly made it plausible that none of Hikari's adventures happened, and that he's just rationalizing his anti-social behavior that now rampant through his life, which is not an easy task to pull off. I suspect that in the final chapter, the one in need of help will be him.

Short Cuts Volume 1

a highlight.

 For the most part, fanservice-heavy comedy does not work. The underlying problem is that nearly every single one of these seems to think that nudity itself is bloody hilarious, while really, it is completely unrealistic to think shoving boobies in a flat protagonist's face will make anyone really laugh. Short Cuts solves this problem by using the rampant sexuality as an excuse to be absolutely demented.

Reminiscent of modern American cartoons like Family Guy and South Park in tone, Short Cuts is a series of brief gags (or "cuts", as the comic calls them) with minimal continuity, and a focus on superficial "ko-gal" teenage girls, the men who long for them, and the ruin of society in general.

Short Cuts is not great; the globs of FS and occasional cultural in-joke make things very hit-and-miss. But, when things get funny, they get hilarious. This is definitely aided by the rapid-fire nature of the "cuts", which keep the jokes from getting stale. Also, Furuya's formidable skill at graphic narrative shines through at many moments, particularly in one brilliant gag about stalkers. On the other hand, I found the interview with the author more interesting than the book itself. I hope I can find the second and final volume of this out of print series soon, because I can't wait for more.

Tuesday, February 1, 2011

My Favorite Manga: Love Roma

God, am I a sucker for stories like this. Slice-of-life romance, particularly of the Seinen and Josei kind (not that I have anything against Shoujo, and if a Shonen slice-of-lifer that isn't by Mitsuru Adachi exists, please tell me now) is possibly the very best kind of manga, and this book was my first brush with these. I also happen to be partial to horror and psycho-thriller. The grouping together of these two genres may seem random at first, but take a look at what was popular in american comics (besides super hero) before the Comics Code stunk up the room: ROMANCE AND HORROR. As most manga fans would like to think of manga as the road not taken in American comics, it makes perfect sense that such once omnipresent genres would find a strong place in our Japan-centric communities. But that is not what I am here to discuss. I am here to tell you about my favorite manga, Love Roma, by Minoru Toyoda.

Hoshino, an overly honest teenage boy, is in love with Negishi, a cute girl in class 2. The manga opens with Hoshino bluntly admiting his feelings to Negishi, in a very funny scene that sets the mood for the rest of the five-volume series. After some time (by some, I mean less than a chapter), Negishi and Hoshino are going out, exploring the ups, downs, and inbetweens of being young and in love. Every chapter shows the two making a new discovery about life and sharing it with another, in witty, charming everyday adventures.

As you can imagine, this book really made me swoon. I was dragged along in the character's romance heart skipping along the way. Accompanied by this blushing and swooning is first-rate humor. The combination of believable characters and unlikely-yet-familiar scenarios creates a light, fun mood certain to give any reader a little chuckle. And speaking of believable characters, Toyoda has a very interesting way of setting up his cast. They each have only one trait, but their personalities are fleshed out in a remarkably human way to reflect said traits. Accenting all this is quirky, indie-style artwork that just keeps getting better with each chapter.

However, the series is not perfect. A common shortcoming of slice-of-life storytelling, the plot can get really repetitive. The stories have a very specific structure, and there's not exactly much room for dramatic tension. But Toyoda knew when to stop, and at only 5 volumes, Love Roma is a perfect length.

Recently Del Rey Manga, the company who published Love Roma in english, have (essentially) folded/rebranded itself Kodansha USA, meaning that this title may soon be out of print. Whoever is reading this, go snatch up a copy of this beautiful title while you still can. Everyone should read this.

Winter Streaming Season: Thoughts, part 3

Kore Wa Zombie Desu Ka?

Is this a Zombie?

There are two schools of moe. One is to be as perverted as humanly possible, the other is to compensate for the disgustingness of the niche fetish by showing off truly bizarre humor and random J-WTFs. I suspect that the latter will have more longevity, as otaku without moe tendencies (that includes me) have enjoyed these series in the past (need I mention Haruhi Suzumiya?), and the otaku-fetish-of-the-month could easily be swapped out for another. Zombie is of this latter class, and despite not being half as awesome as the title suggests, there is plenty to love here.
This show has a plot, but rather than explain it, I will instead transcribe the the engrish from the opening credits. Aikawa Ayumu. He is... Zombie. She is... Masou Shoujo (untranslated pun on mahou shoujo, "Magical Girl"). She is.... Necromancer. She is... Vampire Ninja. She is... ????. I think you get the picture. However, the first episode was actually hilarious, with lots of great magical-girl parody, chainsaws, and a Mutant Lobster. However, like many zany-moe series (including the fantasic Haruhi), a good number of the jokes fall flat, with the silly potential of a ninja that is also a vampire being criminally unexplored. However, the lobster was more than enough to get me hooked, so this may very well be a fun ride. Now, here's what the commenters on Crunchyroll had to say:

Epic. Killer. Lobster.
a sudden hunger for seafood...

Dragon Crisis


Okay, for a single moment I thought this could turn out decent. The show's opening credits were great, and the beginning, things looked like it would be a big dumb action show, which is not necessarily a bad thing when it's free. But then the show revealed it's true nature, a class one moe of insidious nature. Okay, so viewer fill-in high school dude Ryuji gets recruted by his busty second cousin (shades of incest?) Eriko to get something-or-other from evil mafia (okay, I know this is a Japanese show so they're yakuza but WHAAAATEVER), which is cool I guess. Then it turns out that the thingie is actually a little girl-oh sorry, a dragon that LOOKS like a little girl, which is even worse- that  spends the entire rest of the episode screaming "RYUUUUUJI!!!" and clinging to him, with and without clothes. Do I even need to say how awful that is? Oh well, I guess it's nice that this is the only show like this this year. Now, here's what the commenters on Crunchyroll had to say:

um lmao a girl comes out of a case
So her big plan was too rob a bunch of mob like guys with a cane that produced butterflies?
i can't tell the difference between anybody


Kill 'em all. No, wait! Don't ACTUALLY kill 'em all!

OK, let me be the first to create an acronym for otaku product featuring sexy women dying. Let's see... how about... kawaii-guro? Or maybe moe-guro? GUMOE! Now then, I know that this is formatted as a formal review of Freezing, but I don't wan't to write that. It's too upsetting. So instead I'm going to intellectualize on a point that this show has made me want to talk about. After moe, what's next? Don't think that moe is a unique thing. The otaku market has romanticized watered-down versions of niche fetishes for a long time now; before moe it was maids, and before maids it was furrys. Freezing, with it's panty-shots of corpses and blood-splattered magical girls, suggests that the future is in darkness, a huge departure from the protective feelings and warm fuzzies of moe. However, a more likely replacement would likely be the pseudo-incest siscon, as the concept has, like moe, already been buzzing around in otaku communities for a while, and many of last season's moe shows (Oreimo, anyone?) had siscon elements as well. Fortunately, as nobody with actual siblings like siscon, if that is the new trend, it will be a lot smaller than moe, and besides, publishers have wised up about the dangerous side effects of such trends. I hope.