Saturday, April 30, 2011

Upcoming Posts for the Month of May

First of all, if you have discovered this blog via the MMF, welcome! This blog may not be the best on the internet, but feel free to take a look. Longtime readers, I am currently skeptical of your existence! Now's the time to prove it though, through following me, or posting a comment. Anyway, here's what posts you'll be seeing here this month:

5/1: A 2011 prediction comes to fruitition.

5/7-8: NO POSTS (TCAF)

5/14-15: A two-part look at the first installment of Kim Dong Hwa's manwha trilogy, The Color of Earth.

5/21: Spring Season reviews begin! (Deadman Wonderland, Hanasaku Iroha, C: Control, Steins;Gate)

5/22: More on the Spring Season. (My Ordinary Life, Astarotte's Toy, A Bridge to the Starry Skies, We Without Wings)

5/22: Cross Game MMF

5/28: Spring Season reviews conclude. (Sket DANCE, Toriko, Blue Exorcist)

5/29: June posts.

"So Many Cat Demon Spirits! Eeek!"

Monday, April 25, 2011

April MMF: Maison Ikkoku, and the Emotional Core of a Wacky Comedy

SPOILER WARNING! I am writing this under the assumption that most reading have read Maison Ikkoku, so if you have not, you have been warned...

 Ah, the Manga Movable Feast, the only time anyone reads my blog, and sees my own self-deprication. In some ways, I really shouldn't write for this thing, as if I happen to write in a sloppy fashion, my lack of editing will be on display to the whole blog-o-sphere. And yet, I feel an obligation to write this time 'round. This month's MMF is about Rumiko Takahashi. When I started this blog, I wrote three reviews of Takahashi books in a row for what I billed "Rumiko Takahashi Week." When I wrote these, I was not as good at thinking critically as I am now, and looking back on them, I see my writing as a hilariously pretentious, hyperbolic, garbled mess (Ikkoku: human emotion had never been so fully realized in cartoon form!) with criminal overuse of the words "fan" and "best". I feel bad about mistreating the wonderfully zany Rumic World, and this is my attempt to redeem myself, if just a little.

Maison Ikkoku is a comedy. There is no denying that. Rumiko Takahashi writes comedies. Maybe there are some soapy elements to the story of Yusaku Godai's attempts at wooing the beautiful apartment manager Kyoko, but it is first and foremost a comedy. And yet when I first read the series, I took it seriously, too seriously in fact. What it was that made me so invested in a character like Yusaku, who I was originally supposed to pity and/or laugh at? What made Maison Ikkoku so important to me, and to readers in general?

One thing that elevates Maison Ikkoku (which will henceforth by refered to simply as Ikkoku) above the well-meaning fun that comprises her overall catalog is the characters. Takahashi's natural knack for characterization has always been one of her strong points, and in Ikkoku the characters are not only well-defined and interesting, but well-rounded to boot! Not every character is of course, but that's fine. If we saw any other side of Mr. Yotsuya's lecherous lifestyle, would he be as funny? This notwithstanding, many of Ikkoku's major characters are remarkably well fleshed out. For example, Shun Mitaka, Yusaku's rival with a fear of dogs, is initially treated as the "bad" guy whose fear of dogs only serves as a way to give Yusaku a way to "win", but as the series progresses, we realize that he is a far nicer guy than we thought, and deserving of Kyoko's (and the reader's) sympathies. He even got the happy ending he deserved, overcoming his fear of dogs and happily married to a beautiful woman with countless puppies for pets. However, many series have great characters; For example, Naruto. And the heavy emotion resonance the series possesses can't come from the story, which cartwheels from slapstick to sitcom to soap (oh god, THE SOAP!). Did I react like this to Friends? No, because a live-action TV show lacks one thing that a comic book can have, as this one does...

What I allude to here is artwork and panel orientation. Takahashi's artwork has had some serious ups and downs over the course of her career, from its lovable but messy origins to the polished but over screen-toned look of Inuyasha and Rinne, but the artwork in Ikkoku is Takahashi at her strongest. While beginning with that early Takahashi vibe in both story and artwork, the art matures to a certain "hand-drawn" quality. The above two cover images serve as a good example of this. Through these covers, we are shown Kyoko through Yusaku's eyes, a naturally beautiful woman worth the world. This skill is shown in the interior art as well. Chapter 47: The Kissing Scene (in Vol. 5, BTW) is an emotional roller coaster, beginning with a clearly humorous scene where Akemi, drunk, kisses both Yusaku and Kyoko, and moves toward its conclusion, one of my favorite manga sequences of all time, in which only the characters' mouths can be seen.
Maison Ikkoku Manga (v.5, ch.4, p.29)
[Click to view next page or press next or back buttons]
And yet, the emotional gravity of Ikkoku does not come from the artwork, but from what has been called Rumiko Takahashi's greatest failure as a cartoonist. Readers of any of Takahashi's series should know by now that Takahashi does not plan her stories in advance at all beyond the premise. In other Rumik series such as Inuyasha and Ranma 1/2, this caused (for Inu) pacing issues and (for Ranma) lame conclusions. But Ikkoku did not suffer from this, but rather benefited immensely. Without the constraint of "knowing" where the story would go, Takahashi is free to change the direction of the plot and mess with reader's expectations with ease. Like the characters in the story, the author rarely seems fully aware of what will happen next, and because of this, neither does the reader. Unlike many romantic comedies (including Ikkoku, in its anime version), the core romance's success is not set in stone, and there are times when it looks like Yusaku will move on, or Kyoko will reject him, and that would just be life. Kozue is a nice girl anyway, and Yusaku could always end up with her. Of course, he does end up with Kyoko, but by that point, it feels like a genuine victory rather than an inevitable Finale.

Of course, lack of planning can't always be a good thing. For one thing, there's Nozomu, a brief "Mary Sue”, and comedic foil to Mr. Yotsuya, who proceeds to become even less than a Mary Sue, but a complete non-character. And then there is the unfortunate case of Kozue Nanao. Kozue is a bit of a Mary Sue herself, who through sheer niceness, becomes Yusaku’s girlfriend, in a relationship that Yusaku wants to end but can never bring himself too. Like Knives in Scott Pilgrim, a series influenced by Takahashi, Kozue is just too nice for her own good as Yusaku has no feelings for her and cannot end their relationship. However, when the end of the series comes, this is never dealt with. Instead Kozue is proposed to by a man who is unseen in the series. In the final chapter there is a page even showing Kozue saying that she is happy with mystery man, her hubby. It would seem thus that on the subject of Kozue, Yusaku and Takahashi are of the same mind. What do you mean, one might ask. No, that’s too pretentious. What’s the dope yo? you might ask. What the dope not what the dope is. I’ll be pretentious. What I mean is that both seem to think that Kozue is too kindly to hurt. However, by doing this we loose any character development that could have evolved and simply get a “Mary Sue.”

Once again, I must repeat that Maison Ikkoku is a comedy, but not a comedy like Ranma 1/2. Through the lens of humor and drama, we are shown a real world populated by real people with real emotions. Don't take it too seriously, but do keep in mind that Ikkoku is more than just a comedy: it's a smart comedy.

Saturday, April 23, 2011

List: Ten Anime For People Who Do Not Watch Anime


This madcap rock n' roll OVA adventure features just about everything good about anime. It features gorgeous animation (courtesy of GAINAX and Production I.G.), first-rate humor, Inception-level surrealism, interesting characters, and a solid story to boot. The dub emulates the original japanese almost exactly, down to the last a-re. The performances suffer from this a bit at first, but about 5 minutes into the first episode, the voice actors get really into the story, leading to a faithful adaption completely equal to what came before. FLCL can be found streaming subtitled in its entirety on Funimation.


While I prefer the manga, the One Piece anime is a perfect hook for a new fan for the lack of that "IT GETS GOOD AT Vol. 9" mentality that comes with the manga, and a glorious Saturday morning cartoon feel that makes the show great for casual watching, despite the daunting 500+ episode count. The Funimation dub (avoid the 4kids version) perfectly reproduces that Loony Tunes aesthetic, and even dubs the theme song! One Piece is streaming in both formats on Funimation, with new subbed episodes weekly.


As I mentioned last week, Giant Robot anime is awesome. While not the "first" or "best" Giant Robot anime, the Gundam franchise has defined the genre for decades. The original is a little dated, but in that lies its charm, as well as a way to justify Yoshiyuki Tomino's sloppy storytelling. The show is currently only available here in dub, but the dub is good, and a subbed edition is due out on DVD later this year. The whole thing (save one mysteriously absent episode mid-series) is streaming dubbed via Crunchyroll.


This fun new film from Mamoru Hosoda and Madhouse features a one-two punch of flashy fight scenes and involving family drama. It could be better, but it is very good. When I saw this movie, I was reminded of the recent Scott Pilgrim movie. Edgar Wright described the film as a "fightsical", like a musical, but instead of breaking into song at an important moment, the characters break into fights. Summer Wars is similar in this way, but without the strong emphasis on fight scenes that often detracted from the main plot of SP. Kids will enjoy Summer Wars, though they may not understand everything. The dub by Funimation (who, as you can tell by this article, are a big presence in R1 anime) is stellar, highly watchable, and easy to understand despite many culturally specific moments. Not streaming.


Satoshi Kon is an amazing director. His movies can be dark, whimsical, cutting edge, sophisticated, or entertaining, and usually all of these at the same time. Perfect Blue is easily the scariest movie I've ever watched. Few movies will ever be able to the whimsical grace of Millenium Actress. Tokyo Godfathers is an incredibly fun film to watch, and makes the Christmas spirit actually seem genuine for once. And Paprika captured all those emotions and combined them into a gorgeous, elaborate love letter to cinema. Several of these movies have been dubbed, but the only professional-standard dubs (i.e. not by some office workers at Manga UK) are Paprika, and his TV series Paranoia Agent, unseen by this reviewer. Anyway, his works are very Japanese, so I strongly suggest watching them subtitled.
Not streaming.


I've always found it hard to believe that Mamoru Oshii's cyberpunk masterpiece Ghost In The Shell was so successful in America. While the fact that it inspired The Matrix certainly generated a lot of attention, I can only think of one reason Ghost in the Shell could be so popular: America has a lot of hipsters. Based on the vastly inferior manga by Masamune Shirow, Ghost in the Shell is set in a hypothetical future world where most people have had their bodies replaced with cyborg technology, and are linked in cyberspace. Motoko Kusanagi and the rest of the Section 9, a covert operations division of the Japanese Police, are tasked with finding the "Puppet Master", a mysterious entity hacking into peoples bodies. Throughout the movie, elaborate philosophical questions are raised about humanity and technology. If you have ignored anime in the past because it was not "serious" art, be sure to take a look at Ghost in the Shell. And for those who don't like Japanese voices, the dub is very good. Streaming dubbed on Netflix.


Hayao Miyazaki is the most widely recognized anime director outside of fan circles, and for a good reason: His movies are amazing! Castle in the Sky was his first feature film created as a Studio Ghibli production, and possibly his best. This is old school escapism at its best: The young hero. The mysterious girl. The dastardly villain. The lost kingdom. The epic adventure. All of this and more in this amazing movie! Castle in the Sky was adapted into english by none other than John Lasseter of Pixar fame and produced by Disney, featuring A-list actors such as Mark Hamill and Mandy Patinkin. Not streaming, obviously.


Funky, jazzy, and slick, Cowboy Bebop was the first anime many people watched, and the all-time favorite of many more. In a future where space is so heavily colonized that no government can even hope to manage crime, hopeful bounty hunters dreaming of wealth pursue criminals across the stars. This is the story of the bounty hunters on the ship Bebop, and their various adventures. Though the concept sounds straightforward, Series Director Shinichiro Watanabe and Composer Yoko Kanno infuse the story with a distinctive style incorporating elements of western, film noir, jazz, and, of course, bebop. The show was dubbed, though it's much better in Japanese. Not streaming.


Based on the very good manga by Hiromu Arakawa, the Full Metal Alchemist anime takes the manga's story of two brothers searching for the philosopher's stone in a wildly divergent direction. Featuring great animation from BONES and even better world building than in the manga, FMA is great for new fans and jaded mangaphiles alike. While I never liked any of the dub (except for the movie), it has been hailed by many as one of the best of its kind. Streaming in both formats on Funimation.


Eden of The East may be a non-anime fan's best option on this list, and it is only a year old. Akira Takizawa's journey to find his lost memories has more than a whiff of Bourne Identity-style thriller, but at its heart, the story is as much about Akira as it is about his friend Saki Morimi, and their relationship provides the series' emotional core.  Indeed, this show feels far less like director Kenji Kamiyama's previous series, a TV spin-off of Ghost in the Shell, and more like character designer Chika Umino's josei manga/anime, Honey and Clover. The series is heavily flawed in places, but for the most part, Kamiyama's attempts at telling a fresh story pay off big time. For the dub, Funimation turns out a solid production as always. Streams have been taken down (oh well).

Saturday, April 16, 2011

Review: Mobile Police Patlabor OVA

I love big robots. Giant Robot Anime is simply the best anime for watching with friends, with its high production standards, techno-drool mecha, and plain cool robot fights. But the my favourite part of the giant robot genre will always be the characters. Many can be bland blank-slate heroguys,  but for every Amuro Ray there is a Char the Red Comet. The reasons behind piloting the big robot are interesting, with range from military obsession (Char, Moblie Suit Gundam) to serious psychological turmoil (Shinji, Neon Genesis Evangelion). In Mobile Police Patlabor, a stellar 7-episode Original Video Anime from Mamoru Oshii (Ghost in the Shell, Urusei Yatsura) and HEADGEAR, piloting robots is just a job, and the people take center stage.

In a near future where big robots called "Labors" are used by the government for public convenience, Labors are sometimes stolen and used for crime. To prevent such crime, a new police force armed with "Patrol" Labors (Pat-labors) is formed. However, within the show the Labors make few appearances; the focus is the new recruits: Noa Izumi, a tomboyish girl (note her character design; while not as convention killing as Motoko in Ghost in the Shell, she looks fairly un-girly) obsessed with Labors to the point that in the opening credits she sings a love song to her "Alphonse", Asuma Shinohara, who joined the group as a confused attempt to rebel against his family's Labor-producing company, the gentle giant Hiromi Yamazaki, the easily angered Isao Ohta, and the badass American chick Kanuka Clancy.
The show tends heavily towards humor, an not-quite-sophisticated mix of character comedy, political satire (emphasis on political- this is an Oshii production after all), and madness a la Rumiko Takahashi. And this is not to belittle the big robot action; while big fight scenes are rare, the ones that do appear are capital E epic. The mecha designs by Yutaka Izubuchi are super cool, and their movements are remarkably human. Benefiting from the lack of time constraints and spread-thin budgets of TV anime, Patlabor's animation is first rate, with fluid motion, bold camera angles, and nary a motionless sequence. This adds up to explosive humor and kinetic fight scenes unlike just about anything that predates it.

Despite this, there is a major flaw to Patlabor, though it is not the fault of the show itself. It was amateur hour at Central Park Media when they localized Patlabor, with a flat out ugly cover design, and a monotone train wreck of a dub. Were they even trying? Sources say no. The show is fine subbed though, and the DVD menu looks pretty good for the time it was released.

When Patlabor was originally released in Japan, it was popular enough to spawn two critically acclaimed movies (three, counting a side story movie), a TV series, and a two more OVA's, according to Wikipedia. However, it did not do so well here. It never really had a chance, due to the botched dub and lack of the hyper violence needed to do well here at the time. Despite this, the entire series is available on DVD, found easily online, and often seen at used and rental stores. If you see this OVA, buy it quick. You will not regret it.

Saturday, April 9, 2011

Review: Brave Story

Time for a change of pace. Normally, I use this blog as a place to discuss Contemporary Japanese comics and animation. But today I will discuss something totally different. A Contemporary Japanese... BOOK! With words! Perhaps that is not all that different in reality, but in any case, let's begin breaking down Brave Story, an epic 814-page YA novel by Miyuki Miyabe.

The book centers on 5th Grader Wataru Mitani, whose parents are getting a divorce. Upset by this, Wataru wishes to change his fate, and (already 200 pages in) discovers Vision, a land "created by the imaginations of people in the real world", where he becomes a Traveler to reach the appropriately named Tower of Destiny to meet the Wonderful Wizard, er, I mean, Goddess, who will grant him one wish. Along the way, he makes new friends, such as the strong willed lizard man Kee Keema, as well as enemies, such as Mitsuru, who had been friends with our heroguy back in the real world before going to Vision. As Wataru's journey becomes more dire, he is forced to question his own beliefs, and learn to be brave. Will he reach the Tower of destiny? And if he does, what will he ask of the Goddess?

If you (like me) purchase the book because of the unique-looking cover art, just so you know, you have been duped! As you can tell from the above description, Brave Story is not titled Original Story for a reason, with obvious influences from all corners of contemporary culture, particularly ones that the YA demographic apparently like. However, lack of originality regardless, the book is very well written. Miyabe's previous novels are not YA fiction, but mostly crime and mystery novels, including the novel that served as the rough basis for Satoshi Kon's dark thriller Perfect Blue. Possibly because of this fact, the scenes in the real world are crisply realized, giving Wataru's story much more emotional resonance. In fact, a fresh take on an oft-told story is not at all unwelcome! It's a fun read for an audience that doesn't necessarily always want originality, with good emotional resonance for those who do.

However, there is one problem with the book which, unlike the whole originality thing, cannot be overlooked. You see, this book is too darn long. And when I say long, I don't refer to the page length, which at 814 pages, makes the book a genuine brick(apparently it was originally published in Japan as two volumes). By long, I mean the book MEANDERS. One could easily cut at least 100 pages from the book taking out unnecessary or even redundant descriptions and details, such as a scene early in the book, in which two whole pages are dedicated to a history of Wataru's allowance(?), and several completely pointless wrinkles to the plot, such as Vision appearing different for everyone, despite that never mattering. While I am sympathetic to the fact that the book, like everything else Kadokawa Shoten publishes, was first serialized, that is no excuse for all this excess content.

And yet, despite these flaws, Brave Story is a spectacularly involving read. I finished all 814 of those pages in just two weeks, due to the fact that I was glued to the pages at all times. It made walking around a little awkward. I would suggest it to just about anyone I know, provided they had the patience. Also, it has a moral! I like stories with morals...

Saturday, April 2, 2011

Zyword of the Weeek Episode 8: Akira Goes Sparkly In Worrysome Hollywood Remake

So, Warner Brothers is making an Akira movie. That's not bad news. If it's a hit, the anime/manga industry may get a lot of good press. But, recent news has made me cringe. The choices for the teenaged Asian lead roles are all Caucasian grown-ups, such as Mr. Shiny himself, Robert Patterson, and will be set in Manhattan. I understand the need to bend the plot for US audiences, but this is ridiculous! First of all the main characters' names are KANEDA and TETSUO. I just get this feeling that the logic at hand is "It's set in the future, so they have STRAAAAAANGE NAAAAAMES", and it makes me want to puke. One cannot even argue that "they look white", because Katsuhiro Otomo's realistic artwork makes the very mistaken thought impossible. Let's take a look at previous anime/manga adaptions that played it safe in similar manners in the past:
  • Dragon Ball Evolution: Ingored the source material. Nobody liked it. Box office flop.
  • Astro Boy: Pretended to be WALL*E. All viewers indifferent. Box office flop.
  • The Last Airbender: Not anime, but rooted in anime and asian history. M. Night Shyamalan didn't know this, and cast caucasians. Movie stunk. Box office hit.
 Note that the only one that was a hit had a big following in the Kids Who Will Like Anything department. Also note that all three are big names in anime, just like Akira, so relying on name-recognition won't work. Don't make this mistake again, Hollywood! Sometimes, you should think of the fans as human beings rather than numbers and demographics. Try it, it might work! has started a virtual petition via Facebook from now till July 20 to stop Warner Bros' whitewashing of Akira. As I write this, 6897 people (UPDATE: Numbers now surpass 19 000), including myself, have joined the cause. Feel free to join as well.