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: 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 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.