juushika: Drawing of a sleeping orange cat. (Default)
Title: The Second Mango (Mangoverse Book 1)
Author: Shira Glassman
Published: Prizm Books, 2013
Rating: 3 of 5
Page Count: 180
Total Page Count: 220,965
Text Number: 702
Read Because: intrigued by this blurb of the series, ebook borrowed from the Multnomah County Library
Review: A young queen and her new bodyguard go on a quest. It's a difficult plot to introduce because the objective is a moving target, interrupted by backstory reveals and aided by coincidences—and that's not entirely a bad thing: it has a fun, action-adventure feel and a light, sweet tone. The Jewish-influenced worldbuilding is fantastic, and the diversity of the cast is admirable, albeit pretty hamfisted. But the writing isn't great, which shows worst in the dialog and plotting. If progressive fluff and found family is your style, this is a good bet; I found it well-intended but insubstantial.

Title: Shissou Holiday
Author: Otsuichi
Artist: Hiro Kiyohara
Published: Kadokawa Shoten, 2000
Rating: 3 of 5
Page Count: 195
Total Page Count: 221,160
Text Number: 703
Read Because: fan of the author, scanlation read online
Review: A teenager, insecure in her adoptive home life, engineers her own kidnapping. Otsuichi's twist endings are consistently satisfying, even when the reveal is as exposition-heavy as this one, because they have narrative logic and it's enjoyable to catch the foreshadowing. But the real pleasure here is the little things: the relationship between protagonist and supporting character, the atmosphere of the hideout; the art isn't phenomenal but it's adequate, and it successfully depicts those small, intimate touches and uses them to sell the protagonist's character growth, which compensates for flat humor and uneven pacing. This isn't as grim or sad as most Otsuichi—nor is it as profound or memorable as his better work; it's not a must-read. But it's okay.

Title: Anne of the Island (Anne of Green Gables Book 3)
Author: L.M. Montgomery
Published: Gutenberg, 2006 (1915)
Rating: 3 of 5
Page Count: 260
Total Page Count: 221,420
Text Number: 704
Read Because: continuing the series, ebook via Gutenberg (although I own it in paperback somewhere)
Review: Anne attends college and learns to fall in love. For all that this focuses on romance, it's less dated or frustrating than the previous installation—perhaps because the many featured romances are so varied and compassionate. Anne's romantic entanglements are almost overdrawn, but they function as a platform for her character growth, for the quiet conflict between storybook ideals and happy realities, and by pulling double duty they don't overstay their welcome. Her college life goes relatively unexplored, and I wish it were otherwise—Anne's scholastic achievements would help ground the narrative. Daily life with her classmates rises to fill that gap, and performs well; Patty's Place is exactly what one would hope for from this series, charming and gently idealized. I liked this, didn't love it—probably none of the sequels will live up to Anne of Green Gables, but that's an unfair standard to hold them to.
juushika: Screen capture of the Farplane from Final Fantasy X: a surreal landscape of waterfalls and flowers. (Anime/Game)
I recently completed a Gundam Wing rewatch (my, uh, fourth? maybe?). Liveblogging/overlong essays about each piece are here on my Tumblr. tl;dr: I'd forgotten that the politics get quite so muddled in the second half of the show, and I have an increasing appreciation for the exaggerated scale and tone of franchise; female characters are great and I'm so sad that adolescent Juu encountering this story for the first time didn't appreciate that; why was Heero/Trowa not the cornerstone of fandom?; I care about these interpersonal dynamics in all their wealth and variety so much you guys; wait what, they're making more GW??

This time, revisiting GW meant reading the manga that happened to be on hand, which are as follows:

Title: Mobile Suit Gundam Wing: Episode Zero
Author: Katsuyuki Sumisawa
Illustrator: Akira Kanbe
Published: San Francisco: Viz, 2002
Rating: 2 of 5
Page Count: 255
Total Page Count: 189,705
Text Number: 556
Read Because: revisiting Gundam Wing, borrowed from Dee
Review: A manga miniseries that explores the early lives of the five Gundam pilots, as well as the events that directly precede Operation Meteor. Written by Katsuyuki Sumisawa, the writer of the series, this is the most "official" of the Gundam Wing manga; it's still not great. Some of the backstories work, but they as often undermine or merely reiterate aspects of the show. Condensing angsty backstories into 30 pages makes them both rushed and heavyhanded. But the Operation Meteor chapter is fantastic, well-cut and less redundant, not as far reaching but filling in some interesting missing details.

Title: Mobile Suit Gundam Wing: Blind Target
Author: Akemi Omode
Illustrator: Sakura Asagi
Rating: 5 of 5
Page Count: 140
Total Page Count: 189,860
Text Number: 558
Read Because: revisiting Gundam Wing, borrowed from Dee
Review: A manga oneshot that occurs between the series and Endless Waltz, Blind Target is a pleasant surprise. The basic premise of reuniting the core cast is repetitive, given the show and movie, but the rest is fantastic. Sakura Asagi's art is faithful and gorgeous; characterization is on point. What benefits this most is its small scale, which constrains the plot to a reasonable interim size and allows for an intimate focus on the relationships between the pilots and how they continue in a time of apparent but imperfect peace. It's interpersonal, thoughtful, and thematically apt—especially the epilogue, which leads directly into Endless Waltz. I loved it.

Title: Mobile Suit Gundam Wing: Ground Zero
Author and Illustrator: Reku Fuyunagi
Rating: 1 of 5
Page Count: 125
Total Page Count: 189,985
Text Number: 559
Read Because: revisiting Gundam Wing, borrowed from Dee
Review: A(nother) manga oneshot that occurs between the series and Endless Waltz; this time, Heero receives a message from someone who has stolen Wing Zero. This is frankly awful. The plot is a contrived mess that defies suspension of disbelief; the tone is comic, caricatured, and ridiculous. Bobblehead art makes everyone look like children. Under that, the themes (what is a soldier in peacetime?) are apt, and the Relena chapter is less awful. But nothing excuses this; give it a miss.
juushika: A black and white photo of an ink pen. (Writing)
Title: Haru wo Daiteita (Embracing Love)
Mangaka: Nitta Youka
Length: 5 volumes read, 15 volumes total
Rating: 2 of 5
Review: When two adult video actors compete for a gay role, they spark something between them; years later, after both have become mainstream actors, they begin a public and taboo romance. Haru wo Daitetia, refreshingly, doesn't engage too many problematic BL tropes (if it's you it's okay is the primary exception), yet manages to hit every other possible BL or romance trope; the pacing becomes tiresome and the emotional register ridiculous as each chapter is another teary crisis and confrontation between the characters—all of which would be averted if they had a single straightforward conversation. The manga has potential: its setting and social ramifications are carefully chosen and at times compelling, and there is an authenticity to the relationship despite the unconvincing drama which surrounds it. I had hope that it might improve with time, once it had exhausted all possible cliché conflicts; it still may. But my patience has worn thin, and I'm not interested in continuing the story. The art begins subpar and improves to a level which is acceptable if unremarkable after a few volumes; fan translations are legitimately horrible; it's unflaggingly pornographic, but the sex feels equally natural as gratuitous. Of what I read, I'd in no way recommend.
juushika: Screen capture of the Farplane from Final Fantasy X: a surreal landscape of waterfalls and flowers. (Anime/Game)
Title: Calling You (Kimi wa Shika Kikoenai)
Author: Otsuichi
Illustrator: Miyako Hasami
Translator: Agnes Yoshida
Published: Los Angeles: Tokyopop, 2007 (2001)
Rating: 4 of 5
Page Count: 183
Total Page Count: 120,584
Text Number: 351
Read Because: read and enjoyed "Calling You" and "Kiz/Kids" as manga, borrowed from the Multnomah County Library
Review: Three short stories united by a theme of supernatural communication and unique relationships. "Calling You", in which a girl invents an imaginary cellphone that one day rings, is the standout: its supernatural element is so unique and simple as to be strangely convincing, which sells the story despite its tendency towards drama. The relationship is deeply affecting, an enviable intimacy between normal, identifiable individuals; its bittersweet progression improves on reread, which is the sign of a good twist ending. "Kiz/Kids", in which a young boy has the ability to transfer injury from another's body onto his own, is unexpectedly morbid, thus contrasting and emphasizing the light—a persistent sense of beauty and hope—that suffuses the collection. Its supernatural elements are direct impetus to character interaction and growth, and the relationship at its heart is compelling. "Flower Song", in which a hospital resident discovers a singing flower with a human face, was the only story new to me (I read the others in manga incarnations). It has a twist ending which suits thematically, but is so large as to steal attention from the rest of the story and ultimately works to its detriment. Otherwise it's the collection's quietest and most metaphoric work, and it's good—but it's a comparative disappointment. The light novel is illustrated by Miyako Hasami, whose additions—while not particularly memorable—are an atmospheric fit. Otsuichi's voice is sparse but originates deep within each character, giving equal preference to action and emotion. As a bonus, Tokyopop's translation and imprint are surprisingly strong. I adore this collection: its theme shines while working to distinguish each story rather than make them blur together, and despite lapses in plot subtly each story has rewarding, affecting emotional complexity. I recommend it wholeheartedly.

Review posted here on Amazon.com.
juushika: A black and white photo of an ink pen. (Writing)
That moment when one of the largest emotional apexes thus far in that manga you're reading looks like:

I'm doing okay; I would be doing better if I hadn't been triggered by a couple of discussions of mental illness, but that's okay too. I had here some venting about my responses to that sort of stimuli, but I don't want to dwell or repeat myself so let's move on to:

While in hide-under-the-covers mode, I'm binging on media, specifically more unusually intimate relationships with a side of the easily consumable—better yet, the taboo/guilty pleasure nature of the former, plus the fact that it's basically id-fic for me, tends to lead to the latter. If there was anything I took away from Forbidden it was "I do love me summa that," so I added some more incest stories to my to read pile. Incest is the easiest way to find taboo/unusually intimate relationships in mainstream media; it's hard to keyword search other unusual character dynamics and other "taboo" relationship types, like polyamory or homosexuality, either aren't or at least shouldn't be treated as unusual.

Along that line, I just finished reading Koi Kaze, which I swear looks fine on every page but the one above.

Title: Koi Kazi (Love Wind)
Mangaka: Yoshida Motoi
Length: 5 volumes
Rating: 4 of 5
27-year-old Koshiro meets a girl under a sakura tree and spends an impromptu, romantic day with her in the park—and then learns that she's Nanoka, his 15-year-old sister who has come to live with him and his father while she attends school in Tokyo. Kaze Koi is a surprisingly sensitive handling of sibling incest; it avoids fetishistic pitfalls and is mindful of the reader's discomfort, pushing boundaries without going too far, avoiding easy answers but still suffusing its story with hope or, at least, love. Koshiro is a particular gem, keenly flawed but sympathetic. While the art wavers just on the safe side of competent, which sometimes saps beauty from the most romantic moments (Nanoka in particular suffers), the story shines: not flawless, with a slow start and a scattered ending, and not always subtle, but rendered with sensitivity and heart. Recommended.

That's the short form. In more depth, in which spoilers abound:

Seinen romances, least of all seinen taboo romances, are a hit and miss business at best: they're often surfeited with male gaze and every awful trope of Japanese fetishism, including the sort of bulbous curvy female character which I find triggering for completely different reasons. Thus Koi Kaze was a pleasant surprise: an age difference without reeking of lolita fetishism, an adolescent female character not defined by breasts, brother/sister incest that flirts with but doesn't rely on sibling complexes; in many ways Koshiro is still a stereotypical seinen protagonist, but heavy emphasis is placed on his weakness and vulnerability and Nanoka somehow becomes the stable figure in their relationship.

The art suffers Puella Magi Madoka Magica-syndrome. big heads and round shapes and sometimes everyone starts to look the same; as such it's hard to fall in love with Nanoka when Koshiro does, because the beauty he purports to see isn't visible on the page. (Ironically, Koshiro is often drawn surprisingly well.) This translation also falters at the beginning, bogged down by stilted language.

The average hetero relationship bores me because I've seen it all before, and what it all is is often problematic; an unusually intimate one, emphasis on the unusual, has the potential to break from that—so it's a bit disappointing to see this one try to meet a number of hetero benchmarks (what about getting married? what about having babies?). On the whole, however, it's incest handled with such sensitivity—not naivety, as Koshiro is an intensely physical creature, large and hairy and sometimes horny, despite his emotional vulnerability—and honestly to succumb to convention. Nor does it diffuse its subject, either by revealing that there's no blood relation or that the siblings don't feel related: family bonding is almost as important as the romantic relationship. As stated it has its flaws, but I was consisted pleased with Koi Kaze, glad I found it and that I read it.

Aaaaand I've been watching Supernatural season 7, in between Netflix's technical difficulties (the dialog track was missing for a while; yes, really). In case you were wondering, 7.15. "Repo Man" fulfills this trope—not with much depth, as per usual (if you're not Dean, Sam, or functionally a family member, then neither they nor the show has much time for your emotions), but:

Proto-serial killer becomes full-fledged serial killer when possessed, and after an exorcism will do anything to get his demon back? that's some beautiful co-dependency and unusual identities within and expressions of a relationship; it alone could be a much bigger story, and I wish it were.

...Thus making up for the fact that the episode itself felt out of place in season 7, which has been a rocky season so far: the nature of the Big Bad makes it difficult to fit them into a progressive plot arc, but there's too many major events with major supporting characters to lead well into monster-of-the-week episodes, making those feel disconnected and irrelevant. I like what's happening with those supporting characters, and this is some of my favorite Sam and Dean (between PTSD and a reasonable sense of betrayal, their suffering finally reeks less of manpain and is actually a reaction to things that happened to them, bless). But somehow I was expecting something more like the children of Echidna from the Leviathan, more colorful and diverse, less conspiracy-theory.

Hiding under blankets but still full of thoughtful criticism—so basically: same old, same old.
juushika: Screen capture of the Farplane from Final Fantasy X: a surreal landscape of waterfalls and flowers. (Anime/Game)
I read Hamada Shouko's Yume no Kodomo, and you should read it too.

It's blatantly dated and starts out with awful art and worse translation, and it'll seem familiar if BL manga is your thing: teenager with his heart on his sleeve, reclusive mid-twenties writer with a bad attitude, inevitable love, background emphasis on the arts. But this is what Gravitation might of been had Gravitation been any good, and it's fantastic. The characters are well-rounded, even when you least expect it: female characters not only exist but are wonderful (how rare is this in BL manga? very rare); apparent villains gain depth, and one of them becomes an awesome character. The lovers manages to hit a dozen tropes, but never lose their authenticity: Youji is a naive teen, but undergoes significant character growth without losing his identity or defying belief; Ren's mercurial emotions have predictable causes and reach predictable extremes, but he's always convincing and is neither a stagnant adult nor a vulnerable victim; the relationship between them is the relationship between a teenager and a young adult: imbalanced, problematic, but not inaccessible.

It's idealized of course, because you never doubt that everything will work out okay, but this is still a story about that work and isn't that rare. Falling in love isn't an epiphany but a process. Entering a relationship may be accompanied by titles and landmarks—partner, sex—but is not defined by them alone. Relationships must be maintained, because they are forever evolving. A relationship between two people changes the people within it, and continues to change them as that relationship continues to change; conversely, personal growth impacts a shared relationship.

In a way, you can't fault an early BL manga for its clichés, because at that point it was more likely defining them than interacting with them—not that Yume no Kodomo is first generation: it's not (it's second generation, really, but here I'm getting from point). But even where it flirts with danger (a bit of stalker-apologism that brushes too close to "rape is love"), Yume no Kodomo does what may be the best you can with a straight trope or cliché: engage it because it's probably attractive/popular/existent for a reason, but explore it fully, rather than relying on that superficial appeal. The manga's not perfect, either as a story or as an exploration of those tropes—but it is a pleasure. As a bonus, the art even becomes acceptable by the end, and those background artistic themes serve a purpose, giving explicit and often affecting voice to the emotional arcs of the cast—both the lovers and, surprisingly, some of the supporting characters, because in this story almost everyone is given the chance to grow.

That's the long form. The short form is:

Title: Yume no Kodomo (Children of Dreams)
Mangaka: Hamada Shouko
Length: 6 volumes
Rating: 4+ of 5
When his beloved sister goes abroad, 17-year-old Youji moves in with her friend Ren, an unlikable and bitter mid-twenties writer. But as they live together, and Youji discovers who Ren really is, he beings to fall in love. Familiar, dated, but authentically good, Yume no Kodomo is old-school BL that engages a number of overly familiar tropes with startling authenticity. Occasionally improbable, always idealized, but pure at heart, it becomes a truly affecting and enjoyable manga. Supporting-characters shine, and the central love story is an earnest success. Its early art is horrible, but the style develops as volumes progress; the available translations are shady, but I've seen worse. I was sorry to see this story end, and I recommend it.
juushika: A black and white photo of an ink pen. (Writing)
Allow me to trascribe and edit a chat with Express in lieu of/in order to create a real post.

Tonight, I rewatched and reread a good chunk of Ai no Kotodama (Words of Devotion). The manga by KONNO Keiko is English language licensed but, yes, you can read it here; the film can be streamed in pieces here.

Ai no Kotodama walks that careful line between the miscommunication plots which I hate and the why-people-communicate-and-how plots which push all my good buttons: what motivates our relationships and our communication, for good and ill. That's especially true if you know the full story via the manga, but even as a standalone film—despite low production values and sketchy subtitles—it's not perfect but it's beautiful. I'd even say the film handles its part of the story better—it's a tad less confusing.

Two guys in high school stumble into a sexual relationship when they discover they're attracted to one another; two years later they're in college and living together, but they haven't come out as a couple—even, really, to each other. One is emotionally repressed, both have internalized homophobia, and neither has been able to communicate their intense romantic feelings. But a visit from a high school friend sparks jealousy which enables them to start working their shit out and acknowledge their relationship. The story isn't delivered in order—it begins with them at college, and only the manga flashes back to high school; either way, when spelled out like that it sounds like fairly traditional BL tripe.

But what Ai no Kotodama actually is is an intense look at how and why we define relationships and how those definition change communication within relationships, and the danger of emotional and social repression. It's also a bit humorous and titillating, and it flirts with that will they/won't they thing that makes established relationships seem boring and first time stories so intense—much like the vast majority of BL manga, of course. Unlike the vast majority of BL manga, however, Ai no Kotodama is self-aware.

BL is rooted in heteronormativity and homophobia, however ironic that is: there are assigned pseudo-gender rolls (top and bottom), and tropes like rape is love, and objectification and titillation and general clichés—and, of course, gay fetishization. (See my massively navel-gazy and TL;DR thoughts about reading Friendly Hostility and writing Ghost & Aaron for further ramble on related topics.) But Ai no Kotodama grays a lot of those things. Gender/sex rolls get fucked with: the stereotypical-to-BL top is implied to bottom, but sex roles are never defined and there's no indication that they're fixed (to think! people might assume multiple roles, or roles might have more than one meaning! just like real life!) The will they/won't they is actually a yes they are—there's development within the relationship, but it is an established long term relationship, which is a pretty big deal in its own right. And in the manga in particular, and thus functioning as backstory for the film, the beginning of their sexual relationship is unusual for the genre: they both begin in heterosexual relationships, both seem to fall somewhere on a queer spectrum but their sexualities are never labeled outright, adolescent experimentation isn't just a plot point but rather an important part of sexual development, and love isn't the obligatory conclusion to a sexual encounter.

It's not a collection of tropes; instead, it's a really well developed story and a strong piece of commentary on other collected tropes, the fact of which makes it an even better story.

And then I said to Express: oh god sorry you do not care half this much but man apparently I have Thoughts. But Ai no Kotodama warrants them, and if you've read this far and still give a shit, then why don't you go check it out for yourself?
juushika: A black and white photo of an ink pen. (Writing)
Cleaning up my overgrown notes document, I found a few more of these. So here we go: reviews of two manga and two BL manga. If you've added me since the last time I did one of these, surprise! sometimes I review porn.

Title: Kimi ni Shika Kikoenai (Nobody Can Hear Me but You)
Author: Otsuichi
Illustrator: Kiyohara Hiro
Length: 1 volume, 4 chapters
Rating: 4+ of 5
Timid, social-misfit Ryo is so isolated that she doesn't even own a cellphone. In her loneliness she dreams up the perfect cellphone, but one day her fantasy seems to become reality—her imaginary phone rings. Kimi ni Shika Kikoenai is, in a word, beautiful. It's brief, and sometimes lacks complexity, but these critiques are minor in scope of the story's gentle, melancholy beauty. A unique and surprisingly smart plot, lovely character interactions, and a strong conclusion make for an absorbing, emotionally-driven story; the art is clean and deceptively simple, adding to the atmosphere of subdued authenticity. Although imperfect, this is a story to remain in the memory and the heart. I recommend it.

Title: Goth
Author: Otsuichi
Illustrator: Ooiwa Kenji
Length: 1 volume, 5 chapters
Rating: 4 of 5
Classmates Kamiyama Itsuki and Morino Yoru become friends through their shared, unusual fascination with death, a fascination which allows them to solve murder cases which occur around them. But Kamiyama has no interest in bringing these murderers to justice—instead, his only desire is to discover the perfect way for Morino to die. Despite its title, slight unrefinement, and the fact that it could easily slip into either cheap horror or Addams Family-styled humor, Goth is deadpan, morbid, and unexpectedly subdued. The plot sometimes leave subtlety to be desired, but the unusual characters are wonderful (I cannot overstate my love of the protagonist) and the deceptively simple art, a perfect companion to Otsuichi's stories, sets the tone and hides some secrets. Visual violence balances psychological intensity to make Goth an intriguing and surprisingly intelligent volume which, despite its faults, captures the imagination. Recommended.

+2 BL reviews. )
juushika: Photograph of a row of books on a library shelf. (Books Once More)
I've been reading a ton of manga and barely reviewing a fraction of it, a combination which still leads to a few reviews piling up unshared. Same old warnings apply: these manga contain explicit sex and may contain BDSM, rape, or student/adult relationships. So to begin:

6 various BL manga reviews. )

3 Minase Masara BL manga reviews. )

And finally, 1 straight/hentai manga review. )
juushika: Photograph of a row of books on a library shelf. (Books Once More)
After reading Mukizu ja Irarenee (find the review here), I said that I would run off to read more of the mangaka's work. In fact, what I ended up doing was rereading Mikuzu ja Irarenee, and I'll be damned if it isn't even better the second time around. So after that I did go and read more by the same author. Not just more: almost everything I could find. Since there's so much, I'm splitting these reviews into their own post; since a number of the volumes have sequels, I'm posting them out of alphabetical order (in fact, they're posted in the order which I read them). Same old warnings here: these manga contain explicit sex and may contain BDSM, rape, or student/adult relationships. Here are my thoughts on Sadahiro's oeuvre:

11 reviews of BL manga by Sadahiro Mika. )

When I sat down to read more of Sadahiro's work I started with Buddy System and Angnus Dei, which were such disappointments after Mukizu ja Irarenne that I assumed that Sadahiro's older work was still developing (and therefore not as good) whereas her more recent volumes were more mature and better done. My love for Haito Diamond threw that theory out, of course. Now, I believe that Sadahiro has considerable talent, but her talent shines best in her longer, more serious works. Sadahiro's not shy about drawing porn—which is wonderful, don't get me wrong, but sometimes floods out necessary, realistic character and story. She tends towards overly dramatic plots, a potential drawback in all of her work but particularly detrimental in her short works, where all that drama leaves no room for realism. But when she is able to balance these aspects with realism, Sadahiro's work is astounding. In her love of porn and drama, she draws incredible sex scene and has all sorts of fascinating and delight dark, troubled characters and relationships. As an added bonus, most of her characters interchange uke and seme roles—a real scarcity in BL manga, sad to say.

Sadahiro strikes this balance most often in her longer, more complex, more serious efforts. In all my reading, Mukizu ja Irarenee remains my favorite—stripped of soap opera-ready settings, this story of three fairly normal youths is realistic, complex, twisted—and beautifully rendered. My other favorites are Haito Diamond, Under Grand Hotel, and Pathos, in that order. These series are somewhat more dramatic, but they retain Sadahiro's strengths and are intense, enjoyable reads. In all, Sadahiro's work was sometimes disappointing but more often harmless and, at best, truly wonderful. She was a great mangaka to discover.

Yeah, I'm a dork.
juushika: Photograph of a row of books on a library shelf. (Books Once More)
So I've been reading manga again, and as we know I'm not like to let anything pass by unreviewed. But I've been reading pretty much strictly boys love manga. I'm reviewing them anyway, in part for my own records—and yeah, I'm pretty sure that reviewing porn makes me a little weird—but keep in mind that all of these manga contain explicit homosexual content, and be warned that they may contain student/teacher relationships, dubious consent/rape, shota, or guro. So if these are of no use or interest to you, pass them by! Because I've read so many, I'll split them in half: recommended and not recommended. Due to the nature of these manga, I'll put it all under LJ cuts.

Recommended: 7 manga. )

Not Recommended: 7 manga. )
juushika: Photograph of a row of books on a library shelf. (Books Once More)
Title: Fall In Love Like A Comic
Mangaka: Yagami Chitose
Chapter Count: 8
Rating: 2 of 5
Rena is a normal high school girl, but none of her classmates know that she's also a part-time shoujo mangaka—until she drops her latest draft in front of the school idol, Tomoya. Now Rena has the chance to fall in love just like her manga characters, but how will it affect her art and her life?

Shallow and trite in every way: undeveloped characters, predictable plot, unbelievable romance, irritating humor, unremarkable bubbly shoujo art style. This is every other shoujo romance, boiled down to a very general and very bland pulp. Simply put, don't bother with this manga. I finished the main story, but still couldn't bring myself to complete the bonus chapters. There's no redeeming content here.

Title: Uzumaki
Mangaka: Ito Junji
Chapter Count: 20
Rating: 4 of 5
Kurozu-cho is a small Japanese town cursed by spirals—a symbol that appears in flora and fauna, in the city, and finally in the residents. The narrator Kirie describes the city's strange metamorphosis as the city is sucked deeper and deeper into the spiral.

Suspend all disbelief—anything is possible here. From seashells to human snails, the spiral is everywhere and corrupts everything, and the progressions of that spiral makes for an increasingly bizarre manga. It's twisted, disturbing, and attention-catching, and so quite fascinating, but Uzumaki never quite reveals its secrets. There's a story but in the end there's just not enough meaning, so I came away feeling a bit unsatisfied. Nonetheless, this unique series did capture my imagination, and I recommend it.

Title: You're My Girlfriend
Mangaka: Minami Maki
Chapter Count: 4
Rating: 3 of 5
15-year-old Hatsune grew up with five brothers, and now she has no girlfriends and a bad habit of being rude. When forced to join the school's Maiden's Club, she meets Kirie, an only son from a family of daughters, who teaches her a bit about manners and friendship.

A promising but ultimately disappointing manga. The art, with a few exceptions, is a lovely shoujo style; the character interactions have surprising poignancy. But the characters themselves have flaws which, however humorous, however much they direct the plot, are simply too exaggerated to be believable. The manga sacrifices nuance for humor, and suffers for it. A quick read with some good moments, but on the whole forgettable.
juushika: A black and white photo of an ink pen. (Writing)
Title: Cat Street
Mangaka: Yoko Kamio
Chapter Count: 35
Rating 4+ of 5
Keito Aoyama was once a child star but has since become a complete social recluse. When fate leads her to a school named El Liston, free to high school students with social issues, Keito has the opportunity to make friends, fall in love, and reclaim her life.

A social recluse, a high school dropout, an introverted geek, and a gothic lolita—all of these stray cats have different reasons to attend El Liston, but their unlikely friendship helps them recover from past traumas to grasp the greatness of their own potential. It's a story very similar to my beloved X-Day, and though the series begins stronger than it ends and much of the plot is predictable, this is still an enjoyable, enheartening manga which is pleasantly counter-culture and anti-stereotype. I recommend it.

Title: Death Note
Mangaka: Ohba Tsugumi and Obata Takeshi
Chapter Count: 110
Rating: 5 of 5
Light Yagami is a brilliant but bored student—until he discovers a Death Note. He can kill any person just by writing their name in the notebook, and so Light vows to use the Note to rid the world of evil.

But that's just how it begins. When the police become aware of the rising death rate, legendary detective L pits himself against Light in a lengthy battle of wits. Psychological, analytical, and convoluted, Death Note is an unusual manga—one that grabs your attention with violence but holds it with complex machinations. The series drags in the second half and all the female characters are irritating, but on the whole it's a wonderfully original, unusual, and intelligent manga which will keep you guessing until the end. I recommend it.

(Having finally read Death Note, I'm honestly not sure why it's so popular. Don't get me wrong, I enjoyed it—but it wasn't what I expected. There are quirky, intense male characters in opposing roles, sure, but there's also a distinct lack of fan service and it's far more intelligent and convoluted than your average manga. So don't let its popularity deceive you: this isn't a predictable, average series by any means.)

Title: Dogs and sequel Dogs: Hardcore Twins
Mangaka: Shirow Miwa
Chapter Count: 6 and 1
Rating: 4 of 5 and 2 of 5
Sometime in the future in a dystopic world, an cast of assassins, genetic mutants, and other oddities struggle to make their way in the world and slay the demons of their pasts. Without little overarching plot, this volume and brief sequel introduce these characters.

Violent, bold, and stylized (and a bit of welcome eye candy), but with exaggerated characters and no overarching plot, Dogs is a visual delight with little substance. Read it with just those expectations, and you won't be disappointed. It's a fun romp, if somewhat unbelievable, and serves as a promising introduction to a full series. I recommend it. Skip the one chapter sequel Hardcore Twins, however—like Dogs it has little plot, but it's too cutesy and funny to be equally intriguing.
juushika: Screen capture of the Farplane from Final Fantasy X: a surreal landscape of waterfalls and flowers. (Anime/Game)
Guess what I've been doing these last few days. No really: guess. (I'll keep these short, since some of them are one-shot manga. More to come, no doubt. All are read on One Manga, which is a wonderful website.)

Title: Alive!
Mangaka: Tsutomu Takahashi
Chapter Count: 10
Rating: 2 of 5
Yashiro Tenshuu is on death row for the murder of five people, but he is pardoned by a secret government organization after he agrees to become their test subject in an experiment to control a supernatural evil being.

Alive! has an interesting concept, or perhaps too many—a killer's story, a psychological experiment, a demonic possession, all in a single volume. It's attention-grabbing and creates a dark, tense atmosphere, but it's too much for one story. The elements are crammed together and the plot isn't convincing, and so this ramshackle manga ultimately fails. But it's a short read, and the protagonist is a willing murderer for all the best reasons—a strange contradiction which makes him fascinating. I wished for better, but there are worst wastes of time.

Title: Bitter Virgin
Mangaka: Kusunoki Kei
Chapter Count: 32
Rating: 4 of 5
Suwa Daisuke is the ladies man of his small high school, but he has no interest in shy Aikawa Hinako until he overhears her dark confession: she was raped by her stepfather and gave birth to a baby boy. Suwa's sudden concern for Aikawa leads him to fall in love with her—but how can he confess his love to a girl who is terrified of men?

The manga begins with an interesting premise but little more: skilled but unremarkable art and writing, undeveloped main characters, an unimportant and irritating supporting cast, and slow pacing. But as it continues, it improves: increased character development, swifter pacing, and emotional appeal eventually create an enjoyable, poignant story. It lacks nuance, but Bitter Virgin is an unusual love story—of love not despite but rather because of past trauma—which is ultimately worthwhile. This isn't the best I've ever read, but I tentatively recommend it.

Title: Boy's Next Door
Mangaka: Kaori Yuki
Chapter Count: 3
Rating: 4+ of 5
Adrian is a teacher by day and a serial killer by night, until Lawrence, a young male prostitute, discovers his secret. Lawrence promises not to reveal Adrian if Adrian helps Lawrence escape his pimp—so beginning a romance that may heal both of their violent pasts.

This violent, twisted, unusual romance comes from the author of Angel Sanctuary and features the same busy-but-beautiful art style. Only a volume long, it's a short story—but never simple. The characters have backgrounds to defy logic, but their love is surprisingly believable. The manga isn't quite long enough for detail and realism (especially given the unbelievable premise), but its intriguing concepts and emotional appeal make it quite satisfying. I recommend it.
juushika: Screen capture of the Farplane from Final Fantasy X: a surreal landscape of waterfalls and flowers. (Anime/Game)
Chobits: the manga, the anime, and the series in general.

Although it's been some years in the making, I am a huge fan of CLAMP, the creators of Cardcaptor Sakura, Magic Knights Rayearth, and numerous other manga. Chobits is one of my favorite series, but with a male protagonist and as part of the seinen genre, Chobits is different from their usual work. It is also contains more mature content, including references to sex and masturbation, than their usual series. Hideki, the protagonist, is a repeat student studying to retake college entrance exams in Tokyo. Raised on a farm, he is new to the city; he is also a mediocre student, poor, and technologically illiterate. When he finds a beautiful abandoned persocom (the powerful humanoid personal computers of the future) his life changes: Chii, the persocom, has no memory of her past, knows nothing, and appears to run without an operating system. As Hideki lives with and teaches her, it becomes increasingly apparent that Chii is immensely powerful—she may even me a Chobit, persocoms of legend who are, supposedly, capable of independent thought and true emotions. The mysteries around Chii only grow and Hideki and his friends investigate; meanwhile, Chii acts as if she is in love with Hideki and he begins to have unusual, strong feelings for her.

I just finished watching the anime, and I recently reread the manga, so I have some opinions to offer on both and on Chobits as a whole. In general, I absolutely recommend Chobits in any form. It may be a change of pace for CLAMP, but the series is still skillfully done. Characterization is strong throughout, and even minor characters have their own stories and command interest. Love is the subject that CLAMP knows best, and it is a theme throughout the series as Hideki begins to have feelings for Chii and those around him to come to terms with their feelings for friends, family, teachers, lovers, and even persocoms. Interpersonal relationships really are the highlight of the series, the manga in particular: they are emotional, thought-provoking, sweet, romantic, and adorable. The science fiction is secondary to the relationships but still interesting: how the persocoms work and what they can do, but more importantly why they were created and why they look like humans. The final resolution to the series is satisfying, explaining away all confusion without sacrificing characters or personal interest. All in all, the series is enjoyable and skillfully done.

That said, most of the above applies best to the manga, while the anime focuses more on humor, science, and filler. The manga is truly wonderful, one of the best series by CLAMP. I reread it often and enjoy it a lot. The anime pales in comparison, and while not bad in and of itself it is nowhere near as skillful or as enjoyable as the manga. The manga art is detailed, in particular the Gothic Lolita dresses that Chii and her sister wear, and more realistic than most of CLAMP's work, with round eyes, clean lines, and fairly average, normal proportions—some of the detail is, obviously, lost in the transition to anime, but the general style is preserved. While there is humor in the manga, much of it sexual or based on Chii's innocent, uneducated personality, it is minimal and unexaggerated—in the anime, humor is overemphasized, takes up more of the show, and is a much more slapstick and annoying. There is absolutely no filler in the manga, and it instead takes its time with the characters, exploring personalities, glimpsing back stories, and gradually leading up to some sort of love story (platonic, familial, and otherwise). The anime, however, was released alongside the manga and so there are a number of filler episodes between manga publications. Not all of the filler is bad, but is slows the story and leaves less time for the characters and relationships in the long run.

Perhaps the biggest difference between manga and anime is this filler: while the manga moves slowly and steadily through characters, plots, and relationships, the anime alternates between plot episodes (Hideki finds Chii, Chii is kidnapped, etc), relationship episodes (Shimbo and Sensei, Minoru and Yuziki, etc), and filler episodes (recharging persocoms, the trip to the beach, etc). The division of plot, relationship, and filler makes the anime choppy and a bit boring (especially midway through, when there are a number of filler episodes in a row), but the filler provides some interesting insight into persocoms. Hideki, who knows nothing about persocoms or technology, remains largely illiterate throughout the manga and so we never learn how persocoms work, how they recharge, what they can be exposed to, or really anything else scientific or technical. The anime tackles some of these issues in its filler episodes, revealing that persocoms are solar powered and resistant to saltwater (but require some maintenance), for example. For a true Chobits fan, these side details and explanations can be an interesting addition to the Chobits universe. While not as fulfilling as the steady, skillful combination of plot and relationship in the manga, the anime can be a fun side note and minor addition to the series.

In the end, I really do recommend Chobits. It is an interesting change from the sort of work that CLAMP usually produces, a fascinating study of love, and truly a beautiful, adorable, enjoyable series. The manga is much better than the anime: it flows smoothly, builds up to its conclusion very well, and combines serious issues, humor, and romance very evenly. The anime has its moments but functions best as a lighthearted and science-fiction-focused addition to the manga—be aware that the humor is a lot more prevalent and annoying in the anime. There are 8 volumes to the manga and it was released by Tokyopop (in the originally unflopped version with Japanese sound effects and minimal editing). The anime covers 27 episodes, including two summary episodes and one special OVA episode, and is currently available on YouTube through Keiichi Anime Forever.


juushika: Drawing of a sleeping orange cat. (Default)

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