Monday, August 26, 2013

Biomega



Biomega is a cyberpunk manga by Nihei Tsutomu (of Blame! fame) that spanned for 6 volumes. It's original run was between 2004 and 2009, being serialized in Shueisha's Ultra Jump. If you are in the least familiar with Tsutomu-sensei's work, you know that his name is a synonym for action packed, post apocalyptic dystopian scenarios, hence, the content of Biomega won't prove much of a surprise.

I'm just going to go ahead and say it, you need to really be into the kind of work that Nihei Tsutomu puts out to get through this manga. It's not everyone's cup of mutant creatures. Personally, I think I have some sort of masochistic crush on the guy's work because I finish everything I start reading - although at some points stopping seems very appealing.

The year is 3005 and we get to follow the adventures of Toha Heavy Industries' Zouichi Kanoe and his trusty AI, Fuyu Kanoe, as they search for humans that can resist the NS5 infection. Their target is a girl named Yion/Ion Green and with her help they hope to stop the infection from spreading and turning everyone into Drones (zombie-like disfigured creatures).

The story starts out pretty straightforward enough but gets more and more complicated as the pages progress. Unfortunately, the addition of new characters, organisations and sub-plots is not very smooth and can create some confusion. In fact, if you're not careful, you can get to a point where you need to consult outside resources just to try to make some sense of what's going on. In this sense, the storyline's construction is one of the biggest drawbacks of Biomega and - to be fair - most of Nihei's work. The last few chapters are...a let down. I'm not sure what went on when those pages were written but something must have cracked because while I was reading them I wasn't sure whether or not I'm having a bad acid trip. What... what happened? Did Tsutomu forget the pacing of the previous 5 volumes? Did he get a faster deadline than he expected? No idea. I won't go so far as to say that it was totally unsatisfying but it was too weird to be good.
 
There is a little connection to previous work such as Blame!, NOiSE and Net Sphere Engineer, but it's more in the form of same-universe elements being used, rather than a clear connection. Zouichi is a synthetic human, much like Killy. Both of them have a gravitational beam emitter though Zouichi has a motorcycle full of awesomeness. Toha Heavy Industries is briefly mentioned in Blame! but in that setting it had already disappeared and no further details are given. If they were to be connected, I believe that Biomega would be the very first piece of work since it is the only one in which we see an Earth similar to the present. However, I'm not actually sure that the author wanted this to be a prequel or not.

It's no secret that I'm a big fan of Tsutomu's artwork and yet again, he does not disappoint. The city scapes are amazing although perhaps not always as crowded as what we see in The City. But in all honesty, after reading this manga, I have to say that the author's illustration strength is probably character design (one notable exception being Funipero, who's character design gave me a migrane)...And by character design I mean mutation design. Dear Lord, the man can draw disfigurement! The many different types of beings showcased in his works are a testament to the amount of thought that goes into whatever has his name on it.


Compared to Blame!, which came out around 10 years earlier, the weaker aspects of the artwork have improved. I refer especially to the facial design of the humanoid characters. If there were to be a complaint in this department it might be the fact that the style in which the "bad guys" are drawn is a little too similar. A couple of volumes in you'll have some trouble distinguishing between them and this just adds to the confusion. However, I remember thinking something similar back in the day, when I was reading Blame!.

In conclusion, I'd say that this is definitely a niche title. People that don't like or aren't used to the way Nihei Tsutomu's work progresses shouldn't pick it up. If you want to get a teaser, pick up NOiSE and see if you like it. Only when you get through that one alright can you move on to lengthier titles, such as this one.


Until next time, this is L signing off.

Tuesday, April 16, 2013

Psycho-Pass



Hello there, nice to see you again!


After so much manga that has been littering my blog I figured it's about time we have a little chat about an anime. I have just finished watching it a few days ago, at the recommendation of friend.


As you can tell by the title the anime I watched is called Psycho-Pass and it's actually very recent, since it started out in October 2012 and ended in March 2013. Written by Gen Urobuchi, Psycho-Pass is set in the distant future and follows the life of the members of Unit One, as part of the Public Safety Bureau's Criminal Investigation Division. It starts out pretty fragmented, with the the team trying to solve various seemingly unrelated crimes, the plot thickening afterwards. I'm going to go with the Wiki plot synopsis on this one for a more detailed but spoiler free look:

"Psycho-Pass is set in a future where it is possible to instantaneously measure a person's mental state, personality, and the probability that a person will commit crimes, all through a device installed on each citizen's body called a Psycho-Pass. When this probability, measured by the "Crime Coefficient" index, is too high in an individual, they are pursued and apprehended—with lethal force, if necessary. The plot focuses on a young adult named Akane Tsunemori who is a new police officer known as Inspector within Unit One of the Public Safety Bureau's Criminal Investigation Division. As an Inspector she hunts criminal alongside a special team of so called latent criminals (people whose crime coefficient is deemed too high, and without chance of recovery) called Enforcers. Both Enforcers and Inspectors use magnum-esque "Dominators", special weapons designed to fire only on those with a higher-than-acceptable Crime Coefficient. During Akane's first investigations, the group learns of a mastermind behind multiple crimes, Shogo Makishima."

I usually don't split the review into episodes or seasons or what-not but this is the first anime that I've really considered doing it. The first episode started out amazing! It was dynamic, engaging, interesting and blood splatter made its way into several scenes. Right up my alley, in other words. BUT...then came the ending of said first episode. After some glorious almost 18 minutes that bore the promise of a delightful anime came an ending so bad I was in physical pain. The entire ending scene sticks out like a sore thumb, as if by some magic the screen writer forgot everything that happened previously. Maybe it was just Kōgami's concussion talking but,  without any warning or explanation, we witness one of the soppiest moments in recent anime history. It comes out of nowhere and it disappears just as fast, leaving one to really question whether they should sit through the next episode.  The voice acting didn't help either. I was really thinking abandoning what looked like a (fast) sinking ship but in the end decided to stick around and I'm not sorry I did. In all honesty, that one slip-up is the only weak moment this anime has. For the rest of the 22 episodes it focuses on the important stuff, never failing to deliver the exciting entertainment and thrill of a good chase, with a side of surprising yet wonderful character (singular) design.

One other thing irked me to no extent: the opening theme for the first 11 episodes was simply horrific. Personally, I am a great fan of amine openings and OST's in general (I became a fan of Monoral after seeing Ergo Proxy! Kiri is a piece of musical gold, as far as I am concerned!) but I couldn't get behind this one. It felt like my ear-drum was getting raped every time the show started and Abnormalize by Ling Tosite Sigure began to play. Things took a turn for the SO much better after the 11th episode when someone decided that Out of Control by Nothing's Carved in Stone would be a more appropriate choice. I don't know who you are but bless your soul! Not only does this new song have a better beat, it's totally in synch with the general mood of the theme and, as a bonus, it has English lyrics that make sense! This may sound silly if you've never heard most Japanese songs that try to make lyrics in English. They get an A for effort but the result is...let's say questionable. I may or may not have danced every time Psycho-Pass started. (My neighbours are probably traumatized by now.)



Among the Unit One characters, no one really stands out, to be perfectly honest. They are for the most part, your standard, run of the mill characters. We've got the innocent and idealistic girl (Akana Tsunemori), stoic and strong type (Shinya Kōgami), happy-go-lucky but skilled (Shūsei Kagari), cold and emotionless girl with a hint of lesbianism (Yayoi Kunizuka), harsh but well intended supervisor (Nobuchika Ginoza) and last but not least, wise old man (Tomomi Masaoka). There are only 2 that really have any character development what-so-ever. I am referring to Nobuchika Ginoza, who comes closest to a realistic character. The kid actually struggles through his internal conflicts and in the end makes the only decision that can keep him sane. I was really rooting for him, throughout the series, despite his very cliché beginning. His is the most believable transformation. Second to his, comes Tsunemori Akane's development which, to be honest, is only making the list because it's the only other development you can get your hands on. But it nowhere nearly as well done as Chika-chan's: it left me with the impression that the author wanted a change but waited to long and was forced to rush it in the end. The end result, as seen in the last few minutes borders on ridiculous but I understand why it was put it. The end completes the circle but starts a new one.

One thing in particular does stand out in this anime and that is the fact that the best character...is the bad guy, Makishima. He's way out of the league of all the other characters that seem to suffer from a cliché infection, in various degrees. He's what every crime story aficionado wishes to see: a cultured evil genius with a seemingly impeccable logic, quizzical mind, unfaltering moral stance, crushing determination and a fine taste for good literature. Not only is Makishima wonderfully playing the part of the omnipotent puppet master, he does so with ultimate grace and elegance, turning even his murders into works of art, as he carves the necks of his unwilling victims. I find myself quite enraptured with this antagonist. The last episode makes quite the impression, as we get to sneak a peak into his pallet of darker feelings such as despair, discontent, maybe even a little regret. 

I'd say this is definitely something aimed at a more mature audience because it's does get kinda graphic in many points. Also, the more philosophical themes discussed throughout the series (such as what make a criminal) may be lost on a too young audience. Since I'm no longer at an impressionable age, I really have to commend Urobuchi for banning the staff from any and all use of moe. His intention was to make an anime to counter the current anime trends and I think he ended up with some good stuff. The anime actually spun off a manga, that is currently serialized in  Shueisha's Jump Square magazine.

All in all, I think this is a pretty good anime if you are into thriller verging on mild horror kind of stuff. It's action packed, the plot develops at a reasonable speed, it doesn't drag out forever and provides some food for thought. The philosophical questions give Psycho-Pass an overall edge. All in all, that's an enthusiastic YES in my book!







Until next time, this is L signing off. 

P.S. Currently I am half-way done with Biomega and I honestly can barely contain my excitement with it!! So much awesomeness!
 
 

Tuesday, April 9, 2013

I don't like Naruto, Bleach and the likes



Hey guys, how's it going?


Right now I am 4 episodes away from finishing a pretty nifty anime that a friend of mine recommended. As I was doing some research on it, there were a bunch of ads popping up, most of them for VERY popular series like Naruto, Bleach, One Piece so on. And that really got me thinking about the quality of said animes/mangas, which, in all honestly, I'd say isn't sky high. I've been thinking about writing this for some time now but  chose to tip-toe around it, just because they have such a cult following and this is perhaps a touchy subject for anyone that's a hardcore-I'm-not -accepting-any-criticism fan. So today I'm going to lay down some of the reasons why I personally never recommend them to any one, despite having followed them myself for quite some time (I think I made it to somewhere around chapter 300 with both Naruto and Bleach) so all of the following is based on that. I haven't read or see any One Piece but by looking at the number of episodes/chapter I can get the picture.

One of my biggest reproaches is the lack of realism. There's someone in front of a screen right now saying "Are you out of your mind? It's an anime about ninjas/the spirit world/God only knows what other supernatural aspect. DUUUUH of course it's not realistic". Yes, yes, calm down, I'm not talking about that part. I'm referring to the part that IS trying to mimic regular life. At least for the part that I've watched, most of the characters in Naruto should be on at least one anti-depressant, stress relieving pill and regular therapy. With regards to Bleach, the most natural thing Ichigo could have done in...well, episode 2 in the latest, is see a psychiatrist about his early onset dementia. Let's assume for the sake of discussion that this all somehow plays into how strong and unbreakable the characters are. OK, I can deal with it. That still leaves the incredible resilience these characters have - literally nothing can kill them - or if by some chance they do die, something brings them back. If you like a main character, you can bet your most prized possession that nothing is every going to take them out of the running. DEATH NOTE SPOILER BEGINNING That's one of the things I liked about Death Note, L dies. Don't get me wrong, I was devastated, I cringed, I couldn't believe it! And then I realized that I couldn't see how the series would go on without him because I had never EVER seen something like that before. Brilliant move! DEATH NOTE SPOILER END Even more disturbing is the fact that, in case someone dies or has some life altering accident, everybody just goes on their merry way, like nothing happened. No one is shaken up, no one adjusts their actions and God forbid someone show some emotion that is outside of their Character Cook Book description.



In line with my previous complaint about the resilience of the main characters, there seems to be an inexhaustible resource of emergency spells, jitsu, technique, mana, magic or divine intervention to make sure that things go the right way. You know what I'm talking about: the three day intensive and very dangerous training session that might kill them but never does. It's the easiest way to provide a cliff hanger (if we can really call it  that since we all actually know how it ends). But wouldn't this be a good opportunity to whack some characters in the head and replace them? You know, spawning new twists and turns in the story while provoking some well though out and realistic character development, all at the same time. One can only hope...

Character development - assuming that it does happen - takes ages. Seriously, I'm growing a beard waiting for someone to change, either for the better or worse. If it's a secondary character we're talking about, well they might have a fighting chance of having some personality dynamism however the lead rarely chances. I'm pretty sure Ichigo hasn't changed in all of the chapters I've read. He's always singlehandedly driven by the need and desire to get "stronger" in order to defeat whatever antagonist is antagonizing everyone in the current arc.

Which brings us to the repetitive nature of most long running works in the anime and manga industry. I can fully understand that it's very hard to keep things unbelievably interesting and innovating for a long time. And let's be honest, as long as there are still a lot of fans making your trouble worth while, why would you stop the story there? Why not let it go on? This is how the "tournament" anime/manga come about. There really is no foreseeable end  and each arc (usually encompassed into a season or at most two) follows the same pattern: everything is fine and then some new "challenge" appears, precious thing or person is threatened and/or stolen, main character(s) must gain new abilities to protect precious thing/person, they defeat the bad guy, the end.  It's fun the first few times around but by the 4th arc you can use as little as 10% of your brain and see where it's going.

The cliches just really get me after a while and they are one of my pet peeves. Cliches are OK if we're talking about a short 13-26 episodes but when you're on the 200+ it's down right insulting to watch it go on. And I'm talking about characters as well as situations and how they're handled. We all know the run of the mill types of characters you can see: strong stoic but at the beginning maybe a little hesitant male lead, helpful sidekick, helpless girl helplessly in love with male lead (not enough love interest for it to actually go anywhere but enough to keep the 4 girls in the audience hoping for a new development and give rise to ....er.. questionable doujinshi), quirky fellow with happy-go-lucky appearance but with some deep serious side (why doesn't this guy ever get the girl? I'd root for him!), very skilled and powerful exiled mentor who will only mentor the lead, powerful person/mentor that helps lead but ultimately might have an (evil) ulterior motive,  powerful person/mentor that acts like a jerk towards lead but ultimately has good intentions, so on and so forth. 

Now for the concession point! I'll admit that I am not in the target demographic for most of these shows so it's pretty much a no brainer that they don't do it  for me. Still, if I would have to pick one to follow again I think I'd chose to catch up to D.Gray-man (Kanda, I LOVE YOU!! *squeee*). As far as I know it's currently on hiatus but it was the most promising out of all of them. Also, just to clarify something, these tournament style pieces can be for both boys and girls. It's just that I haven't seen one in recent times that is for girls and never ends. Still, for example Tsubasa Reservoir Chronicle, of which I am a moderate fan, take a while to get deeper into the character development. I think it sort of pays off to stick to the end but it DOES end. 



Another thing I should point out is that there's nothing wrong with the fact that you might find these shows enjoyable. If you like it, keep watching it. If you don't like it, stop watching it. It's that simple. But let's not sit here and pretend it's  anime/manga gold just because it has a lot of fans. Twilight and Fifty Shades of Grey are very popular and they're not exactly what I would call good literature. Same standards apply.


Those were my 2 cents on the matter. I'd love to know what you think, regardless of whether it's an eloquent exposition of a well thought out argument or a simple "I just like it". 



Until next time, this is L signing off.

Sunday, November 18, 2012

Another




Hey there, how's it hanging?



Ever since I finished reading Homunculus I've been on the hunt for a new manga to read and a few days ago I finally settled on something. The decision wasn't really a very clear cut one since I was oscillating between a longer read that could be potentially awesome or a quicky.  Needless to say I was pretty happy to find a promising short little something, and that is what we're going to chat about today.

The series is called Another and it's written by Ayatsuji Yukito (whom we know by association because he is married to Ono Fuyumi of Shiki and The Twleve Kingdoms fame) and illustrated by Kiyohara Hiro. As I mentioned before it's not that long, only goes for 4 volumes. Initially it got serialized in Young Ace and the publisher is Kadokawa. 

Everything starts out pretty promising to be honest. We got a new transfer student moving to his mother's home town, having a lung problem in tow. And he finds the weird state of affairs at his school. Something went awry 26 years ago when a very popular girl died. Her classmates, instead of moving on, kept on pretending she was still with them. Even the teachers went along with it. Fine and dandy until the graduation day, when she appeared in the graduating photograph.  I can't say too much without spoiling it for you guys but don't you just wanna read it now? I know I was hooked at the summary!

So basically we got a pretty nice cookbook of thriller, mystery, supernatural, all sprinkled with a little horror. On average I'd say it has a better plot that a lot of series in this genre. Ayatsuji-sensei really pulled some tricks out of the rabbit hat to keep things interesting and unforeseen. Looking back, I realise that there are some hints as to the ending that are leaked during the series however I didn't really catch them, so to speak. Probably this is due to the fact that I was reading it pretty late at night and I'm naturally not the sharpest spoon in the drawer. 

The atmosphere is usually the one of the most important aspects of a good horror story - good being the operative word here. Since it started out with a creepy setting, secrets and mystery around every corner and a supernatural angle, we're obviously not short of potential here! Unfortunately, this series really fails to deliver the appropriate intensity of thrills that - I at least - need in order to call it great. It was nice and a good read but it didn't really have me on the edge of my seat. There are a few upsides to this. Firstly, if you're someone who's not that into horror but want to switch it up a little from the usual fluffy stuff, then this is great! Secondly if you want to get a friend into this genre, Another will do just fine. Enough to incite curiosity, not enough to scare the scrawny away.

I do have a minor grievance to file with regards to the characters. The author really tries to make them whole and make the audience to connect with them but in just 4 volumes attempting to do miracles is a mistake. In this desperate attempt to fit as much as possible in, there are some issues with how the scenes are written/drawn. The most blatant is the fact that you oscillate between seeing just the main characters and no one else, to scenes where they are suddenly around their classmates. Really? Where were the others hiding the last few panels? I doubt the school toilet is big enough to house 20 students at once. Continuity wise, I have read a few posts of people saying that they had to re-read a few chapters to truly get what was going on and I can sincerely say I get where they are coming from. You can fill the gaps as you go but maybe you shouldn't have to, eh?

The are is really pretty and ... I think modern would be the correct word. Panels flow pretty nicely, characters are easily recognisable and their hair is so awesome. I have a minor weakness for the way Kiyohara does the hair!! If I could change something about the art, maybe I'd go with Fujisaki Ryu instead. He's the guy that illustrated Shiki and I think his art fits so well with everything! Probably speaking for everyone when I say this, art can really make or break a series and while the current choice isn't bad, we have seen more appropriate things out there.

There are a two related projects out there: is a manga prequel called Another 0 and the anime version, which covers all the volumes as far as I have read. Haven't really watched or read anything else, to be honest so I can't say much about them.


In conclusion, you can pick it up with confidence that it won't really be crap but don't expect any miracles either. 


On a different topic...

I'm not really sure what I'm going to read next. I've been wanting to read the Fullmetal Alchemist manga for some time now just because I loved the anime so much and then do a dual post on both versions. It is pretty long so, given my current schedule, it would take a long time. But there's no decision to be had right now and maybe I can find something else that's longer than a one shot but shorter than...I dunno. I guess the current cut off value would be somewhere around 12 volumes.



Until next time, this is L signing off.

Tuesday, October 23, 2012

Homunculus



Hey guys! How's it going? Hope you are fine and ready to read a bit about a manga.

I want to bring to your attention Homunculus by Yamamoto Hideo. To be perfectly honest, I just picked it up because it showed up in every single recommendation I ever got from Baka-Updates Manga (good resource, by the way). Since all the other manga like it I found particularly enjoyable it seemed like a natural choice. Now, I usually don't like works that span over a long number of volumes and this is pretty lengthy as far as I am concerned: 15 volumes. So it's a nice surprise that it's actually decent throughout all of them! But, as I have mentioned before, I don't usually recommend looking at things with too many volumes. Heh, despite this fact I suppose I am doing the exact opposite, with this one and Hana Kimi being presented one after another, and Hana Yori Dango on my to-review list.

I'm going to go with the Baka summary on this: "Trepanation is the procedure of drilling a hole in the skull. It is said to increase the blood circulation and improve pressure inside the skull. It is also said to bring out a person's sixth sense, the ability to use ESP, see ghosts, move objects with one's mind. This is speculative fiction based on the concept of trepanation." Yeah, that's all you get going in. Not a lot but enough to hint towards paranormal/mystery vibe. Well, I can give you some more hints and say that it's more of a psychological thriller with mystical (but not over the top) elements, a drama most definitely aimed at a more mature audience.

Usually I'm pretty clear on my stand vis-a-vis a manga and I can honestly say this is the first one that I am on the fence on - but in a good way. Mostly, after reading, I either like it, hate it or think it's not worth picking up. In the case of Homunculus there are some few reservations in recommending it wholeheartedly. While I still think it's really good, there are a bunch of WTF moments, not to mention the ending, all of which combined leave me wanting a little bit more, feeling just a little bit of dissatisfaction (or perhaps it's sadness? ). To its defense, I did read it over an inexcusably long period of time, a fact which I am sure contributed to my opinion.

The best approach might be just starting to read it and if you're not at least curious to see where it goes after 2 volumes then it means it's not for you. This manga is going to take you on an emotional roller coaster! You'll go from intrigue, suspicion, anticipation to fright, disgust and in the end wonder - sprinkled with a little sadness - as the light bulb turns on and you realize what it was all about in the last few pages. But it means you have to stick with it to really get the experience.

As to the content, it's pretty well thought out and nicely executed, with only minor flaws coming to mind. If I'd have to pin point a theme I guess the obvious choice is human nature and the distortions cause by our choices. Or, to be more specific, the search for our choices. The extent to which people will go to obtain what they deem valuable, just to realize it wasn't valuable at all, is presented in a really convincing way. Of course, the whole thing is covered in a veil of mystery and paranormal but it does not take away from the depth of the story in anyway.

Characters usually make or break the story and in this case they more than make it. They are intriguing, mysterious and go through various amounts of changes. The main character is...well, a little out there. More weird than quirky, to be honest, but he makes for the perfect means of exploring human nature. Let's not lie to ourselves, we're all a little out there. A nice thing is that it's not only the main characters that get all the attention, it's also the secondary ones! In fact, you can say that you get used to seeing secondary characters going through a lot of development and this just adds to the increasing pace at the end. 

The artwork is, by and large, anatomically correct. All of the characters are highly individualistic and there's no way you're going to be put in the situation of having to rely on hairstyle to guess who is in the panel. The backgrounds are too shabby either. The city scape has enough detail to make it interesting but not overwhelming and there aren't any out of place things that I can recall. Interiors are nicely decorated, some with great attention to detail.
 
Homunculus is probably going to be one of those pieces of work that will remain very modern, even 30 years from now. I refrain from calling it timeless, but it has all the qualities necessary to be contemporary for a long time due to the fact that people don't change, the struggles the protagonists go through will always apply, it's written in such a way to entice at least one read and, let's face it, it's a pretty good overall piece of work! 


Until next time, this is L signing off.

Monday, August 27, 2012

Hanazakari no Kimitachi e (Hana Kimi)



Hello everyone!


Today I want to draw your attention to a series which ranks in as one of my personal favorites, one of the few manga that I have read more than once. Even more surprisingly, it's actually a shoujo manga - I know I've been on a streak of these lately.

Originally it ran in Hana to Yume, a flagship magazine for anything aimed at girls, and it had a quite remarkable run:  from September 1996 until August 2004. Collected into volumes, it spans for 23 of them. This is actually another exception: by and large, I'd say what has too many volumes isn't worth reading because it means that the author never had a clear plot or idea. Instead, they just string you along with somewhat of the same formula. That's why I'll never EVER recommend something like (and here comes the hate) Naruto (61 volumes and counting), Bleach (55 volumes and counting) and I'm even squinting my eyes at D.Gray-man. Don't get me wrong, I actually read a fair share of these, but somewhere around chapter 400 it was getting pretty evident it wasn't going anywhere. Back to our shoujo. 

It is definitely enjoys a great deal of popularity, being adapted into not one, not two, but 4 TV series! Two are actually made in Japan: the first one is the only one I'm going to recommend. It sticks close to the original and the cast is to die for!! They had some great casting going on! A few of the names include Oguri Shun, Horikita Maki, Ikuta Toma, Mizushima Hiro, Shirota Yu and the list could go on. Anyone who watches J-drama will recognize these names as some of the most popular actors. The other adaptations, from Taiwan and Korea respectively, are seriously lacking in many aspects - maybe it's a matter of personal taste but that's how I feel.

The story centers around Mizuki, a girl that comes all the way from the US in order to enroll in an all-boys school so she can be close to the person she loves, Sano. Obviously, she has to conceal the fact that she's a girl and things get complicated when she has to share a room with no other than Sano. 

The action is actually pretty lengthy, as you can imagine in 23 volumes and there's no shortage of characters. In fact, the number of characters that are presented and singled out is quite impressive. One would imagine the author, Hisaya Nakajo, may have encountered some sorts of logistics problems when keeping track of all her characters. The overall tone I'd say it's pretty spunky - as a side note, I'd like to congratulate whomever made the choice of opening theme on the TV adaptation because it conveys exactly the type of atmosphere one can expect to find within the series.

The characters may seem a bit stereotypical but there's enough personal growth to make them believable. Also, I'd say they play their part very well and are on average quite lovable. 

As far as the art goes, some panels do seem rather empty, which is a nice way of saying that they have no background. But really, there is one thing worth mentioning: it is more enjoyable to see the evolution of art. Since the manga was illustrated over almost 10 years, you can see a very obvious evolution of the style in which the characters are drawn.


OK. So you're probably thinking: why the hell should I read this? It's gonna be filled with cliches! Yes and no. Yes, you should definitely read it and no, it's not going to be filled only with cliches. I'd say this is one of the first manga I've ever read and definitely the first gender-bender - on this point, it was pure luck to pick it up so early. Hisaya Nakajo's Hana Kimi is what anyone would call a classic or shoujo manga and in fact, I'd go out on a limb and say that it definitely became an industry standard. You know how sometimes you read something and think "This is so textbook!!"? Hana Kimi IS the textbook! Or, to be more precise "Hana Kimi IS ONE OF THE textbooks!". That's why a lot of newer products that come out of the manga industry seem pretty boring once you've gone over the classics. But in the end, I think that's what's probably going to help you single out the really good ones from the sea of average.

If you are even remotely into shoujo, this is a must read.

Hope I made the case convincing enough.



Until next time, this is L signing off.

Wednesday, July 18, 2012

Mononoke



Well hello there!

Let's take some time aside and talk a little bit about a piece of work called Mononoke. In fact, this may very well be one of those very rare posts where I'm going to talk about both the manga AND the anime. 

The storyline overlaps for some part, however the manga only has one of the anime's 5 story arcs, namely the last one. From what I've read online, the manga and last arc of the anime are basically the same as the original story, thought I can't really vouch for this myself as I've not watched it. All the arcs are something you should enjoy by yourself so no spoilers from me.

The story is actually a spin-off of an (anime) anthology of supernatural horror stories that came out in 2006 and called Ayakashi: Samurai Horror Tales. The main character is the apothecary or medicine seller that makes an  appearance in the "Bakeneko" arc of the original story. He travels with a big wooden chest on his back, much like Ginko in Mushishi. His true purpose is to hunt and slay mononoke, a form of ayakashi (harmful spirit brought to our world by the strong sorrowful feelings of humans). Before he can whip his very beautiful sword out and fight the beast, 3 things must be revealed: the shape of the mononoke (Katachi), the truth behind its appearance, i.e. the events that made it possible for it to come forth (Makoto) and reason for it being there (Kotowari). While the katachi is usually guessed by the Medicine Seller, the other two have to be coerced out of the very unwilling participants and future victims of the beast.

First of all, I'd like to talk a bit about the illustrations that we can find in the manga. The first, very conspicuous thing that hits you from the first page is the amount of detail. The whole two volumes are filled with lavish patterns and intricate detail on...pretty much everything. Since the action takes place during the time of the Shogun, we get to see a lot of beautiful kimonos but also traditional Japanese interiors. No fabric present in the house or on the characters went without a great deal of though in its design. Another thing to remark is how well the patterns are chosen - to the point that they are an extension of the character's personality. The faces have not gone ignored, either. They are an almost tell tale sign of what lies beneath the skin - the bad guys look the part. The action scenes are very dynamic and aren't too crowded by sound effects, while the clever use of contrast delivers just the right amount of drama and mystery. Personally, I like it a lot, it makes me feel that the illustrator (Ninagawa Yaeko) respects the fans. One thing I don't like is the fact that, at times, the sheer amount of detail overwhelms the panels, making them seem way too small to encompass both the story and the art. The rights on the manga I think belong to Square Enix, and to be frank I commend them for the choice!

Moving on the the illustrations in the anime, they definitely do not fall short of the manga. In fact, you can picture the manga in motion and that's exactly what the anime delivers....except with brighter, more eccentric colors. I have nothing but words of praise for it! You can expect great directing and use of perspective, interesting choices of representing movement, topped off with a wild yet surprisingly pleasing color pallet. The anime ran on Fuji TV's program noitaminA, block which I have to say, contains quite a few good titles.

Then again, I have to admit that the thing I like most about this piece of work is the atmosphere. You can feel the tension and the fright without seeing excessive use of blood or body parts, though you all know I am partial to a good murder story. Also, an interesting thing is the blatant discrepancy between pacing. For the medicine seller, time seems to be passing rather slowly but for most other participants it seems alert. This is probably due to the discrepancy of their feelings: the guilty parties are being unsettled and consumed by their conscious, their hate, fear and sorrow.

All in all I really recommend this title if you like atmospheric thrillers with a hint of supernatural and a little murder on the side.


Until next time, this is L signing off.