Nihongo no Hon #1: Nanatsu no Taizai Volume One

In this series, I have started out with something easy: the first volume of Nanatsu no Taizai in the original language.  The level of the Japanese ranks even below Inuyasha in terms of difficulty.  Inuyasha happens to be the first manga I recommend beginners for testing their ability to read Japanese.  In Nanatsu no Taizai, the only thing remotely amusing about the Japanese is the name of Meliodas’s pet pig, ホーク or hooku–the closest the Japanese can transliterate the English word “hawk.”  However, I had no idea the author was going for “hawk”; instead, I took it as a play on the way one would transliterate the word “pork”–ポーク.  As you can see, the same characters are used, but the latter one has an accent marker to tell you that the character should be read “po” rather than “ho.”

Pardon my desk lamp.

Pardon my desk lamp.

Now, I should give my opinion on the story as one sees in volume one.  Many of my dear readers likely remember my prior remarks on the show, and I shall try to embellish on them here.  Volume one of the manga begins with Elizabeth convincing Meliodas, our hero, to seek the members of his gang, the Seven Deadly Sins, in order to oppose the Holy Knights.  Then, the hero fights a few battles (admittedly well done) against a Holy Knight and some henchmen before he meets Diana of the Seven Deadly Sins and the manga ends on a cliffhanger.  One already sees the common trope of the heroes wearing black while the villains wear white.  This is a fine trope which reminds the audience that they must always look beneath appearances in order to perceive people’s true intentions.  However, one needs to be as skilled in using it these days as Victor Hugo in Les Miserables, Richard Donner in Ladyhawke, or at least Akimine Kamijyo in Samurai Deeper Kyo.  (The last author happened to take the trope too far in Code: Breaker, and the reversals became silly.)  When the reversal of the usual symbolism lacks subtlety, it grates on the viewer.  Then, the concept our heroes going on a journey in order to find lost comrades and to overthrow the organization which has usurped authority in the kingdom has been done many times before.

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But, my dear reader, this is the kind of story I wouldn’t mind watching.  Heck, I absolutely love Akatsuki no Yona, and this show has the same plot–just with more of a mythic aura and a different setting.  But, Akatsuki no Yona has in spades something that Nanatsu no Taizai lacks: likable characters.  Meliodas is an annoying, nonchalant pervert.  Elizabeth is painfully dull.  (Does she fulfill another role besides being the catalyst for the plot?)  Hooku sometimes succeeds at comic relief.  On the other hand, Diane’s enthusiasm for Meliodas amuses me, and other bloggers tell me that the story gets better precisely because other members of the Seven Deadly Sins are more fun to watch.  Yet, how can I continue reading or watching a story in which the three characters at the center of the action vex me so much?

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All the same, I wish that there was more to say about volume one–besides the fact that the mangaka does draw beautifully.  It ends in a cliffhanger, which promises a better volume two.  Oh, well.  I promise to be more enthusiastic about the Nihongo no hon for next month: Silencer by Sho Fumimura.  This manga is not for the faint of heart!  I read Silencer like the way I read Akame ga Kiru: by skipping over the gruesome bits.  Happily, Akame ga Kiru has been less horrific of late, i.e. I don’t feel like I’m watching a scene from the Reign of Terror during the French Revolution.

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The Low Down on Peter Kreeft’s Practical Theology

Having read through one hundred and twelve of the topics in Peter Kreeft’s Practical Theology: Spiritual Direction from St. Thomas Aquinas, an accurate enough opinion of it has formed in my mind.  The book–as anything written on St. Thomas’s theology–is quite dense, so I abandoned my hope of reading through its 366 pages in a month.  I cannot help but admire how Kreeft either draws passages from the Summa Theologica easily applicable to everyday life or shows the relevance of more esoteric theology to living a good life.  The prose and philosophy are both clear and direct, as may be expected from a Thomist.  Besides St. Thomas, Kreeft quotes a wide variety of other Christian thinkers on these topics, especially C. S. Lewis, G. K. Chesterton, and George MacDonald.  He also seems most at home with the ancient philosophers Plato and Aristotle.

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Though, in regard to Plato, Kreeft often harps on a fallacy in Platonic philosophy: the idea that sin is only caused by ignorance.  Plato believed that if ignorance were removed from a human being completely, he would not sin.  We even see this idea a little in medieval philosophy when St. Bonaventure writes that Christ was like us in everything “except sin and ignorance” (See St. Bonaventure’s Tree of Life).  However, Kreeft remarks that people sin despite knowing that it will make them miserable.  Ignorance of goodness is not the only cause of sin.  As Kreeft points out, we are all a little insane in cleaving to those things which cause us misery.  Eliminating ignorance by doing things like reading philosophy and theology only goes so far: we need grace and the practice of virtue.

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But if sin is insanity, then philosophy and theology do go far in helping us avoid sin through helping us meditate on good and noble things.  (In my opinion, many modern philosophies do much to obscure what man ought to strive for, but ancient and medieval philosophies have more practical value.  But, that’s the subject of another article.)  The usefulness of Kreeft’s book lies in helping us to think about St. Thomas’s presentation of some of the deepest questions to enter the human mind: what is the good?  What is happiness?  What makes for happiness?  What is the relationship between freedom and grace?  Kreeft sets these questions up such that they build upon one another, and our understanding of prior topics is also bettered as we advance through the book.

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I wish to end this review by saying that, even though Kreeft appears to be definitely answering all these deep questions for us, he does not mean for our journey to understand reality to end with his answers.  As Kreeft writes in the epilogue: “The most perfect and finished work on earth is to know that all work on earth is imperfect and unfinished” (366).  All the same, Thomism, with the logical clarity it derives from Aristotle, the humility and learning from St. Augustine, and the sure foundation of Revelation, provides us with an excellent foundation from which to grow in our understanding of the truth.  But, the point of true philosophy is not only to understand reality, but also to live well–that practical side explained so well by St. Thomas!

Thoughts on C. S. Lewis’ The Discarded Image

Here is yet another of the articles I promised as part of my Candlemas Resolutions.  I have only four days to review the theological work and the Japanese one; otherwise, I shall fail to keep my resolutions in the very first month I made them!  And I should send little e-mail to TWWK ere then too.  Vae!  Sunt multa facienda, sed tempus fugit!  

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At any rate, let me get on to C. S. Lewis’ The Discarded Image.  This work marks the last book of Lewis’s published while he still lived.  These two hundred and twenty-three pages refreshed my knowledge of Medieval Model of the universe.  Lewis both delineates the major features of the model and offers details which will please readers more versed in the Middle Ages.  By the way, medievals and yours truly have much in common, and I think that highlighting these similarities as I write about the major points of The Discarded Image will amuse my dear readers.

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A fundamental trait in the medieval psyche is its bookishness.  Lewis is quick to remind us that when we call the Middle Ages the Age of Authority, authority is held not only by the Church but by many other authorities.  The word author derives from the word for authority.  Any classical work to survive the ravages of time and to fall into a medieval scholar’s hands was placed on the level of Gospel truth–unless it conflicted the Gospel, of course.  Lewis writes that the idea that a book could lie would be met by shock during this period of history.  Also, Lewis does a marvelous job listing the major classical authorities for a medieval scholar.  With his Consolation of Philosophy, Boethius seems to have taken first place, and Lewis remarks that even well into modernity it would have been hard to find an educated person who had not read it.

Link to Medieval Otaku: Any time I write about a rather difficult topic, I quote authority.  Those of you with whom I’ve had long discussions with in the comments sections know that I even will point to an authority even when not especially necessary.  I used to frustrate my mentor in the seminary the same way. :)  Also, like the medievals, I am a classicist.

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Because of this reliance on authority, medieval authors preferred to transmit stories rather than devise new ones.  They strove for accuracy rather than originality in a way repugnant to modern sensibilities, but Lewis reminds us that medieval authors often became most original when they tried to convey the facts accurately!  Almost as if they needed to rely on invention so that they could tell things more truly.  Perhaps, the greatest example of the striving for accuracy through close adherence to the authorities of the past is Dante’s Divine Comedy.  What other work relies so heavily on allusions and yet bears such a strong stamp of originality?

Link to Medieval Otaku: I have a similar tendency to praise works which might seem less creative to others because of their excessive borrowing.  I praise Shiki for retelling Beowulf by means of the vampire genre, Kill la Kill would not be so good if had not borrowed ideas from Aeschylus’s Oresteia, and a major part of Arpeggio of Blue Steel‘s greatness lies in its use of the Gospel and Acts of the Apostles.

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The third aspect of the Medieval Model to focus on is its hierarchical structure.  God makes the universe hierarchical by placing each creature on a specific spot on the Great Chain of Being.  In high school, you probably learned about this, but here is the divinely instituted order: non-living things, plants, animals, human beings, angels, and God.  Rational beings have the higher places and irrational beings the lower.  Lewis makes the discussion on the Great Chain of Being more interesting by adding the Longaevi (fairies, elves, sylphs, etc.) to the chain.  The medieval opinion on these beings ranged from them being a third rational species besides men and angels, the ghosts of dead women, those angels who did not choose a side during the War in Heaven and were banished to the earth, to just plain demons.  The last view led to the end of the vitality of fairy tales as may well be imagined.

Link to Medieval Otaku: As a fantasy author, I cannot but add some Longaevi to the stories set in my fantasy world.  I call them yoshen, and they bear a stronger resemblance to the youkai found in Japanese folklore and anime.  Hopefully, you’ll get to read about them when my novel sees the light of day.

Without anime Girls, this article would not be complete. :)

Without anime Girls, this article would not be complete. :)

Before Lewis wraps up the work, he describes many theories held by the medievals on nature–both human nature and the nature of the universe.  Rather than reading another five hundred words of mine, you should pick up the book to learn Lewis’s erudite explanations.  He ends the work by discussing how the prevailing mindset influences the discoveries made in both science and philosophy.  After all, do you think that the theory of evolution could have come about outside of the worldview of the Industrial Revolution?  Do moderns not see nature as working like technology and capitalism?  That’s something to think about!  At any rate, be sure to read this book whether you’re a neophyte or more experienced in the study of the Middle Ages.  The prose is quite fluid and readable to boot–as one might expect from the author of so many beloved stories!

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Medieval’s Manga Recommendations for February

Here is the first article to derive from my Candlemas Resolutions.  You might expect the article on C. S. Lewis’ The Discarded Image soon, which shall meet another of these resolutions.  By the way, comment not only on the manga, but if you feel like there’s a better way for me to write these recommendations.  I’d like to make these posts as interesting as possible now that I’ll be doing them on a monthly basis.

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1) 81 Diver by Shibata Yokusaru

You can read my thoughts on the series in this post.  (Incidentally, it seems like that post influenced D. M. Dutcher to do his own version of Quick Takes.  Click here for his post.)  Unfortunately, a Japanese person uploading 81 Diver was arrested.  If he was the only one, who knows if more chapters shall ever be released.  Actually, looking at the copious numbers of Japanese arrested for this crime is appalling.  Check out all the links under that article too!!!  Almost makes me want to stop reading manga online.  At least, Crunchyroll has a decent selection of legal manga.

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2) Cerberus by Fukui Takami

This stands as the only horror anime on my list.  Certain elements of the manga remind me of Bleach, but it has a darker mood than that popular show.  Evil demons/monsters/youma/youkai/whatever-you-prefer named kuzure (Never heard of them before) are intent on devouring human beings.  Our hero, Kei, and a childhood friend suffer the misfortune of meeting one of these monsters while exploring a grave site.  But, within that graveyard is a grave protector named Yukifusa, with whom Kei makes a contract in order to save the life of his childhood friend.  Now, Kei becomes tasked with the mission of destroying kuzure lest his powers deplete, which will cause his demise.

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I promise that the fanservice is minimal in this manga and about all of it provided by the damsel in distress.

 

Some of the adventures in this manga are quite gut-wrenching, which is helped along by how evil the villains are.  The villainy of the kuzure render it impossible for me to put the manga down until I have seen the fiend receive his just deserts.  Not that the heroes are boring, but I can’t help but feel like I’ve seen these characters before.  All in all, I can’t recommend this title wholeheartedly.  I enjoy the manga, but cannot help but think that many other ones have the same quality though are perhaps not as dark.

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3) El Alamein no Shinden by Hoshino Yukinobu

This comic series contains various fables set in WWII.  I encourage everyone to read the first chapter, which is about a U.S. submarine which foils Hitler’s attempt to invade England during the Battle of Britain.  It’s awesome.  The rest of the stories strike me as disappointing–especially the chapter saying Pearl Harbor was revenge for U.S. sailors pillaging the Japanese countryside during the Meiji Era.  That’s taking too many liberties there!

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4) Koe no Katachi (aka A Silent Voice) by Yoshitoki Oima

This title was recommended to me by none other than Sean Bishop, the creator of The Freeloader.  Does he know how to pick great manga!  I found myself amazed at how well Oima was able to get inside the heads of high schoolers in order to create realistic and relatable characters.  Only a genius could have us liking characters whose faults are so much more prominent than their virtues!

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The story follows a deaf girl’s entrance into a regular elementary school, which leads to this girl being bullied for her hearing disability.  The protagonist, Ishida, happens to be the ringleader in bullying Nishimiya until his deeds get out of hand.  Then, his fellow classmates turn on him and begin to bully him.  He loses all his friends and becomes a thoroughgoing misanthrope.  After elementary school, he decides that he needs to apologize to Nishimiya for his misdeeds, which actually leads to them forming a happy relationship and both becoming more human.

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Do I generally read stories like that?  That I found such a story compelling should tell you how highly I recommend this manga!

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5) Koko ga Uwasa no El Palacio by Aoyagi Takao

One one hand, the premise for this story is strange: an amnesiac guys gets taken in by some female professional wrestlers.  Since they have no idea who he is or where he comes from, the head of the gym, Ouka, both names him and makes him their servant and referee.  With this series, the fanservice crosses the line into ecchi territory–probably about the same or slightly worse than Wanna be the Strongest in the World.  (N.B. I’m basing this off of what I saw in the preview of that anime.)  Despite the strangeness of the plot and excessive fanservice, the characters are quite likable and some moments have me guffawing uncontrollably.  I especially liked Ouka’s attempt to become classified as a good guy instead of a heel by pro-wrestling fans, which failed miserably.

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A mediocre manga to be sure; but if any of what I wrote strikes you as interesting, give Koko ga Uwasa no El Palacio a shot.

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6) Onikirimaru-den by Kei Kusunoki

Here’s a violent Sengoku-jidai manga for you!  It concerns the wanderings of a demon slayer who wields the only sword capable of bringing down oni.  The series reflects the Japanese penchant for character studies and can be quite dark.  I don’t know what to think of this one yet and might drop it.

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7) Tate no Yuusha no Nariagari by Aneko Yusagi and art by Aiya Kyu

Here’s a simple way to tug on Medieval Otaku’s heartstrings: in your manga, include a little girl who must completely rely upon a big brother or older fellow.  Works almost every time.  My predilection must have to do with the fact that my sister is ten years younger than me.  The identification is perfect.

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Be that as it may, this is an excellent comic with a lot of heart.  Based on a light novel, our hero is sucked into a fantasy world where he becomes the shield hero.  The other three heroes summoned to this world look down on him for his offensive incapacity.  Not only that, but an adventurer who joins him under false pretenses accuses him of rape, which leads to the loss of his reputation and ostracism.  The only member of his party becomes the demi-human slave he buys on the black market.  (Did I mention that this story can get quite dark?)  Will things ever look up for our hero?

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This story alternates between sweet, comic, and depressingly black.  I highly recommend it to fans of fantasy.

May some of these manga interest my dear readers!

“Looking down with Malicious Intent”: How a Remark in Spice and Wolf Volume Six has Irked me

Those of you looking for an enjoyable light novel need look no further than Spice and Wolf by Isuna Hasekura.  The translation put out by Yen Press reads quite easily and still manages to have a lot of character.  In particular, one of anime’s most beloved characters, Holo, can be read in all her sly wisdom, cunning repartee, archaic usage, culinary enthusiasm, and love of liquor.  Besides Holo, the other characters, especially the protagonist, feel compelling.  I cannot but love how the medieval setting reminds one of the Baltic Crusades and how Hasekura attempts to create a merchant hero who adheres to the code of contract law.  (Very interesting and unusual.)  Also, the novels cover more adventures than the anime ever will.

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However much fun these novels are, they never fail to needle me a little.  The tales are written from an atheist’s perspective, which varies from disdain to curiosity in regards to monotheism as practiced by the Church.  This Church is reminiscent of the medieval Catholic Church, but their theologies don’t square perfectly.  One of my favorite pot shots has to be Holo’s “The universe is too big for it to have been created by a single god.”  How limiting the word kami must be on the Japanese theological imagination!

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But, the present pot shot in question has to do with the idea of God looking down on us maliciously.  Quid stultum!  There is no malice in God!  God possesses a supreme goodwill towards His creatures, which may easily be perceived by the fact that man, the most God-like thing in creation, finds his greatest joys in love: loving family, friends, country, other people, and God.  Do you think a malicious God would create beings who find their greatest happiness and joy in loving and serving others?  No!  How easy it is to perceive that God loves us and is Love Himself by looking at our nature and the world God created!  No doubt, Mr. Hasekura would be surprised to know that God loves how Hasekura exercises his talent more than Hasekura’s thousands of fans across the world!

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“But, does not God punish us for our sins?  Is He not wrathful because of our transgressions?  Might not this be called malice?”  Does a father’s anger toward his children bear the stamp of malice or goodwill?  The father’s anger bears the stamp of goodwill because he wishes for the bad behavior of his children to be replaced with good behavior.  He does not want vicious children but virtuous ones.  God our Father truly treats us as a good father does his children.  A father is more willing to scold his children than strike them.  It is only the child who shows no proof of repentance who needs to fear the rod.  We are scolded when our sins drive us to prayer, Scripture, or other works of repentance.  We are struck when we refuse to be scolded and run away from God.  But, God shows no malice in striking us, but His goodwill.

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After all, how often do our evil habits tend toward a worse sin?  A million venial sins may not add up to a mortal sin, but habitual venial sin has often brought people to grave sin when left unchecked.  Suppose we suffer an embarrassment, affliction, or physical harm through God’s will because of our vices.  These occasions often serve for us as a reminder to pursue virtue and abandon vice.

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My main point is that even that quality of God which is most likely to be misunderstood as malice, God’s anger, actually proceeds from a good will.  We do things which make us love ourselves, others, and God less.  God is good enough to strike us with the rod when we give no head to the lead of His staff.  But, perhaps we should see precious little of God’s wrath if we were simply more ready to be taught–whether by the Bible, holy inspirations, philosophy, or good examples–or sought His mercy and presence more sincerely in confession or the Eucharist.  Perhaps then, we might escape all punishment, just as good and wise children who accuse themselves to their parents whenever they commit a fault often do!

Laughing into the Abyss: the Role of Laughter in Ashita no Joe

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The desire to write another article on Ashita no Joe has chaffed me for a long time.  Considering that Ashita no Joe contains as many themes as Hamlet or King Lear, I have no fear that I shall exhaust the topics I can use for my upcoming column on Beneath the Tangles.  Before I get into the idea of laughing into the abyss, watch the following clip–it’s short.

Frightening and insane, isn’t it?  About thirty percent of all the laughter in Ashita no Joe partakes of some insanity, another thirty percent strikes the ears as pathetic, and much of the rest is derisive.  The laughter is not happy because few of the main characters are.  Our heroes struggle against nihilism after obstacle after obstacle is placed in their attempt to realize a truly human life.  Before the eyes of Joe Yabuki, whose heart has taken a glacial hardness, and before the eyes of Danpei Tange, whose everyday life revolves around draining saké bottles, there lies a great and unfathomable abyss.  These two heroes start out at rock bottom.  The very uselessness of their lives renders Danpei’s laughter pathetic and imbues Joe’s with scorn.

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At least, they can still laugh.  It’s only when laughter has perished in the soul that darkness can encompass it.  Laughter is the music of the soul.  No matter how bent and forlorn, this music evinces a heart and soul which still wishes for meaning.  When staring at the abyss, why not laugh into it?

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One imagines an abyss as something great and terrible.  But, it is not great in the same way that a mountain is great.  An abyss is a great nothing.  A grain of sand has more meaning than the whole of it.  The grain is; the abyss is not.  This is especially true if we take the abyss to be the seeming meaninglessness of one’s life during difficult times.  Like Joe and Danpei, we occasionally run into times of our lives when we feel devoid of purpose–that we are no good to anyone or to ourselves.  The only thing to do when the abyss threatens is to laugh into it, scoff at its very nothingness, and keep fighting.

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After all, which is greater?  The abyss which tells us our lives are meaningless or the infinite God who grants us life everyday?  By living with an eye cast on God, God can fulfill His Will in us even if we do not see the point of the struggle.  One day, we shall realize that this struggle was worth more than those times of security when we saw the fruits of our efforts.  As St. Pio of Pietrelcina said: “The most beautiful creed is the one prompted from your lips in the dark, the sacrifice, the pain…”  Which words of Christ strike us more forcibly than the seven last words he spoke upon the Cross of Calvary?

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For all Joe’s faults, he has the virtue of perseverance: to keep whistling, laughing, and fighting even as darkness threatens to destroy all his dreams.  As happens in our own lives, his laughter takes on a more cheerful quality as he perceives that his past pains and suffering meant something.  After all, what is more worth laughing at than the idea that our lives are meaningless as long as the abyss of nihilism is opposed by the infinite abyss of God’s Mercy–the only abyss which truly has being?

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medievalotaku:

This sounds like an interesting manga. I might have to try it out–especially since it’s reminiscent of Azumanga Daioh.

Originally posted on Contemporary Japanese Literature:

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Title: Nickelodeon
Japanese Title: ニッケルオデオン (Nikkeruodeon)
Artist: Dowman Sayman (道満 清明)
Publisher: Shōgakukan (小学館)
Publication Dates: 11/2010 – 10/2014
Volumes: 3 (赤・緑・青)

I sometimes feel as if I’ve spent the past ten years of my life trying to find another Azumanga Daioh: a set of girl-centric stories that are weird and funny and touching without being male gazey. I love Azumanga Daioh‘s cute artwork and bizarre situations and perfect ratio of dark to sweet humor. Having read my way across a large swath of its many, many imitators, I’ve come to the conclusion that Azumanga Daioh is one of a kind. But I’ve found something close, yet different – and just as enjoyable.

Dowman Sayman’s Nickelodeon series is, on the surface, nothing like Azumanga Daioh. Each of the manga’s stand-alone stories is exactly eight pages long; and, aside from a few inconsequential crossover references, they…

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Paradise Lost

Originally posted on Black Strawberry:

In a previous post, I discussed watching older anime series rather than focusing on currently running series. When I first started with this blog, I tended to blog about finished shows. Somewhere along the way, I started blogging about series that were currently running. I cannot remember why there was this switch. But I’ve decided to go back to my blogging roots and the first show I’ve started on is Wolf’s Rain. It originally ran from January 6, 2003 – July 29, 2003. I was watching anime during this time but I hadn’t gone hardcore. My anime watching consisted of what was on Adult Swim at the time.

Image from: WhiteSpiritWolf Image from: WhiteSpiritWolf

Wolf’s Rain was produced by Bones Studio, created by Keiko Nobumoto and directed by Tensai Okamura. I tend to not read the descriptions or summaries of a completed anime before I watch it to avoid spoilers. So I…

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The Comeback Kid; Introducing Tomorrow’s Joe

medievalotaku:

Here’s an awesome post on Ashita no Joe. I hope to write some good posts on the series myself in the future. Has to be one of the best shows I’ve ever watched.

Originally posted on Isn't It Electrifying?:

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This is how the legend begins: a man wearing a grey coat, his red hat shading his face. Behind him stands the Tokyo Tower, in front the seemingly infinite slums of the city. Tokyo’s outskirts are a wasteland, its dust and grime staining his clothing. This man is truly alone, an enigma, but as he crosses the bridge into the slums he whistles a familiar tune.

So begins Ashita no Joe, one of the most beloved comics ever drawn. You know the sports manga drill: average boy is introduced to a sport by a friend or role model. Boy encounters rival, takes him on and just barely wins/loses. After strenuous training, boy enters tournament and fights opponent after opponent, each with a story of his own. Repeat strenuous training. Rival appears again, boy fights rival, the results are dramatic. Repeat for as many volumes of manga, or episodes of anime, as…

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