It’s been a couple of days since I last posted. Long serials always prove difficult for me. At last, here is my post on Patlabor the Movie. Let me tell you off the bat that this movie impressed me. The action sequences are good. The characters were portrayed in a realistic manner: not overly exuberant or cartoony. Also, the plot was very intelligent without becoming boring. (See Sky Crawlers for a very intelligent yet boring film.)
Usually, I try to write a post like this closer to mid-season. A colleague at Beneath the Tangles reminded me that reviews of this season’s shows will be coming soon, so I better collect my thoughts, right? I hope to write another post soon in the next few days on the older series which have taken up part of my leisure.
1) Aoharu x Kikanjuu (aka Aoharu x Machinegun)
Overall, this show has struck me as above average with its fun and unusual characters and absorbing action sequences. The most interesting moment for me thus far **Spoiler Alert** occurs when Midori, whom Aoharu had mistaken for a gentleman ere the Top Gun match, revels in crushing team Toy Gun. He claims that losing in airsoft is worse than dying on the battlefield because one has to live with the humiliation of defeat. Midori says that there is nothing else like being proclaimed dead and not dying. Aoharu and her teammates are crushed by despair, because Midori’s team was the one team they hoped to vanquish.
How are my dear readers enjoying the new anime season? On my side, I’m enjoying all my picks, though one show notably falls short of the rest in quality. At any rate, these kinds of posts tend to run long, so let’s jump right into the anime.
1) Aoharu x Machinegun
Here’s a lighthearted comedy with just enough seriousness to make the plot interesting. The first episode featured our heroine, Hotaru Tachibana, being dragged into an airsoft team after picking a fight with an innocent host, who happens to be her neighbor. The matches thus far have been quite suspenseful. Even though the characters are not terribly original, the anime manages to immerse the viewer in their struggles and keeps the viewer eager to watch each new stage in our heroine’s journey. Another plus is how much it reminds me of my favorite show of last year: Sabagebu!
For some reason, American mob films have never appealed to me; however, I’ve yet to run across a bad yakuza anime. Curiously, of the shows Anime-Planet users recommend to fans of Gangsta!, I’ve seen all except Michiko to Hatchin and have enjoyed the rest. Gangsta! sets itself apart from other yakuza anime in having better world building. Only Gungrave comes close to it in this regard. The heroes fascinate one by how they try to live in a world of violence and exploitation with some honor. The sword vs. gun fights are utterly unrealistic, but most of the fights are very exciting. However, fans who don’t like bloody violence, sexual situations (the show has eschewed explicit sex thus far), or nudity should give Gangsta! a wide berth.
Usually, I have more manga than this to recommend. However, good manga is hard to find. This will be a very short article indeed, but I hope that you’re willing to try out one of the following two recommendations. For a change, I’ve given ratings for content after each review.
This is rather late to be talking about my favorite anime of the past year. But, ’tis better to be late than never. The more careful of my readers already know which 2014 anime excelled all others in action, comedy, and likable characters: Sabagebu! Sabagebu! stands as a five star comedy in a year which featured many good but few great shows. The only other great show which comes to my mind is Shingeki no Bahamut. The show fits in the genres of parody and black comedy. The parody targets 80’s action movies. (The Predator and Mad Max episodes are practically unforgettable.) But, it also poked fun at samurai dramas, as we see in the hunting episode. Amusingly, all the killing and death occurs in the protagonists imaginations–even though certain scenes make one wonder. (Just what happened to all those guys who went down in the helicopter sent to rescue Urara from the ladies’ room? Was there even a helicopter to begin with? Hard to tell sometimes.) The members of the series’ Survival club are all screwballs but inherently likable. Momoka, the blissfully sadistic psychopath of the group, stands out as the most fun to watch and original character of summer 2014.
What a great ending to a rather original series! The last volume of Gunslinger Girl finally found its way to my shelves. For the past couple of years, it’s been the only manga I’ve purchased translated. On returning home, however, I discovered that I had never read the penultimate omnibus! But, unwilling to wait for that book to arrive through Amazon (I don’t recall ever seeing that volume in a bookstore), I read those chapters in an online reader before turning to the last volume.
Despite how boring most people find the anime version of this work, the manga never bored me, and the anime hooked me until the end–even when it got slow. The last three volumes of the manga, which have yet to have an anime version (But, I can still hope), blew me away by their non-stop action. The last three volumes include more gun fights and agonizingly suspenseful situations than the other twelve volumes combined! This even includes the fight between Triela–my favorite character–and Pinocchio, whose arc still stands as my favorite and features in Gunslinger Girl: Il Teatrino.
Part of the fun of Gunslinger Girl is how the cybernetically modified young girls in the service of the Italian government contrast the vision of human beings with cybernetic parts found in Ghost in the Shell. (Nota bene, I have not seen more than a few episodes Ghost in the Shell, but draw the following ideas from two essays in Anime and Philosophy: Wide Eyed Wonder edited by Josef Steiff and Tristan D. Tamplin: “The Making of Killer Cuties” by Christie Barber et al. and “Just a Ghost in the Shell?” by Angus McBlane. That’s a book well worth owning!) Basically, where Ghost in the Shell offers a future where cybernetics allow mankind to overcome human weakness, the heroines of Gunslinger Girl are still weighed down by their humanity as the machines inside them drain away their lifespan. Henrietta, Triela, and the rest still retain the hopes and dreams of girls their age, but are forced to suppress them as they are mere tools of the Social Welfare Agency. The author of this manga, Yu Aida, leaves one with the impression that the bad consequences of modifying human nature might outweigh the benefits.
The struggles of the heroines to make the most of their limited lives create some very deep characters and engross the reader in their fates. Few mangaka do characterization so well! This, along with the great action of the final volumes, almost caused me finish the remaining chapters in a single sitting. Indeed, they would have had not something important torn me away from them! I might also add that Yu Aida is incredibly literate and well-versed in Western culture. Gunslinger Girl contains allusions to the Bible, Thomas Macaulay, Beethoven, and others. Few manga combine action with learning so well!
Rather than give a lengthy introduction, permit me to launch into these manga reviews/recommendations which I had promised back in June without further ado:
1) Coppelion by Tomonori Inoue
I don’t think I’ve yet reviewed this manga, the first story arc of which is now animated. For those of you unfamiliar with Coppelion, there has been a nuclear disaster in Tokyo. The radiation is so bad that the Japanese government has stopped sending in rescue teams to help anyone who may have survived. But as of the start of the manga, they have developed genetically engineered clones called Coppelions who are immune to radiation for this purpose. Our heroes are three of these Coppelions, Ibara, Aoi, and Taeko. In Tokyo, they discover that not everyone wishes to be rescued and that some of their sisters start to run amok.
As fun as the first story arc of the manga was, the second one is even more exciting. Most of you are not familiar with Akihiro Ito’s Geobreeders, but both mangaka have their love of action sequences and great fights in common–as well as a similar lighthearted feel. The action only gets more wild in the second half. Plus, there is much more political intrigue.
So, I’d like to recommend this manga to fans of the anime and those that love action-packed stories.
2) Ore ga Doutei Sutetara Shinu Ken ni Tsuite by Mario Morita
This is a rather odd story for me to pick up, as may be seen from the title: “About How I Die if I Lose My Virginity.” But, this story about time travel, escaping death, and sexual morality had me hooked for its twenty-two chapters. It does have a fascinating concept: a playboy realizes too late the harm he causes by his Don Juan lifestyle until his friend murders him. However, he’s given a second chance to go down to the past in order to prevent being killed in the present. He discovers the easiest way to prevent his death is by remaining chaste, which leads to both hilarity and deep observations on the pitfalls of promiscuity. The ecchi and sex have a point in the context of this story, but my dear readers may wish to avoid it all the same.
I’d especially recommend the manga to those who hated the ending of School Days.
3) Rolan the Forgotten King by Yoshino Takumi
This fantasy is dark–not as dark as Akame ga Kiru, but very dark all the same. The story concerns a mercenary in dark clothing who saves a damsel threatened with marriage to a heartless tyrant. (I’m a romantic, if you haven’t been able to peg me as one yet.) This leads to a series of adventures where our mercenary and bodyguard hero, Rolan, seeks the help of a Mazoku* in making his and Etoile’s escape. After he makes the Mazoku’s acquaintance, it is discovered that he’s the reincarnation of their king. This leads to Etoile and Rolan’s return with several great battles and combat. Some of the characters and situations are fanservicey, but the manga does not go overboard.
Perfect for the lover of dark fantasy or chivalric tales.
4) Toraneko Folklore by Azuma Mayumi
This stands as a apparition/demon-slaying manga; but, it has a good sense of humor and a punkish feel. The protagonist, Nogi Touto, in particular is mistaken for a punk; though, he is a nice guy of the strong, silent type. While transferring to a new school, a friend gives him a charm and he befriends two loners. One of whom is interested in the supernatural. This friend leads Touto into his first confrontation with an apparition, where he discovers that his charm can transform into a powerful goblin woman. (The translators call her a goblin, and I have no better name for the therianthropic creature she is.) The fights in this manga often rely as much on the characters’ smarts as their strength.
This manga on several levels is quite average. If, like me, you enjoy monster-slaying stories with a sense of humor, you’ll like this one.
* Mazoku is translated as demons; but Mazoku are not Akuma, which is the Japanese term for what Westerners calls demons or devils. Mazoku may be malevolent, but they might also be halfway decent like Xellos in Slayers or rather decent like certain of Maoyu‘s characters. I also prefer keeping Youkai as Youkai. It’s so hard to find the Western equivalents for the creatures of Japanese folklore!
Here I conclude my opinions on the anime I watched from Spring 2014 with my top five shows. Enjoy!
5. Black Bullet – ★★★½
One might characterize this show as having all one would wish for in a shonen anime: plenty of action and brushes with death. It also had many things one could make fun of: examples may be seen here and here. The Joker-like villain was a great foe for Rentaro, though I must confess to disliking our hero. Rentaro’s a little inconsistent. Shooting someone’s finger off in revenge for cruelty and stabbing someone for threatening to run? Fine. Killing a parricidal brother whose actions caused the death of thousands more? O immane facinus! In Rentaro’s defense, he might have been more disturbed by Kisara’s conviction that she needs to become evil in order to defeat evil. She should familiarize herself with Jesus’ sermon on a house divided against itself. But, I have an article on that scene in the works.
This show has everything an otaku needs: great action sequences, anime lines, likable characters, and a harem with girls fitting any taste. Worthwhile for any fan of action also.
4. Soredemo Sekai ga Utsukushii – ★★★★
I almost feel generous in giving Soredemo Sekai ga Utsukushii four stars, but it had two of the strongest characters this season. (Thanks again to Lee Relph for recommending it to me.) Of the shows I’ve seen, I can’t find a stronger female character than Nike or a stronger male character than Livius. Normally, I don’t watch romantic shows, but this one had a good dose of court intrigue to make things more exciting. Nevertheless, the salient features of the show stand as the love between Nike and Livius and the many tribulations they endure for the sake of their love. The show also has some great humor.
Whether one likes comedy or romance, one should not pass this show up.
3. Tonari no Seki-kun – ★★★★
This was the most popular short comedy during both this season and the last one. Its gags are sure to provoke vehement guffaws, and the show contains some likable characters–especially Yokoi. The way entire episodes are narrated from one point of view, usually Yokoi’s, also make this work unique. Yokoi’s voice actress, Kana Hanazawa, does a brilliant job of narration–whether it be her thoughts on Seki’s bizarre games or her own outlandish fantasies.
Though there might not be that much to this show besides the comedy, I highly recommend it.
2. Knights of Sidonia – ★★★★
Much better than the manga. This is a particularly dark story where the characters die in great frequency. One gets the impression that no one is safe, which reminds me of how the makers of the old TV series Combat! would place the characters’ pictures on a dartboard to decide who would kick the bucket in certain episodes. I thought that Knights of Sidonia had a slow start, which nicely described the atmosphere of Sidonia and humanity’s present existence. The CG worked perfectly in this high technology setting with backgrounds reminiscent of steam punk anime. The ending was just about perfect. Unlike the series mentioned before, this suffered from having somewhat uninteresting characters though the plot and pacing were excellent. If the characters–especially the main character–were less bland, I could easily see this show as being worthy of a full five stars.
Definitely a great dark, sci-fi, which I would watch again.
1. Hitsugi no Chaika – ★★★★
I loved that the story was set in the world of Scrapped Princess. Ichiro Sakaki has his usually deft touch with characters, action, and humor. This show is much darker than Scrapped Princess, and one can see influences from Strait Jacket, a prior work of Sakaki’s. (That OVA is not for the faint of heart.) I must compare this show to Scrapped Princess in that the same kind of trio forms up and soldiers are again seeking to capture a princess; however, it delves more into themes of identity, loyalty, and humanity than justice, trust, and family.
If anything is keeping the show from the higher ratings, it lies in the story not being complete. Otherwise, it’s a great anime.
Now, I need to figure out what I ought to watch for the summer season–besides Barakamon, Zankyo no Terror, Akame ga Kiru, and Psycho-Pass.
It’s been a while since I’ve reviewed manga, hasn’t it? However, I have been reading a bunch of them and even finished a few. I’m dividing my thoughts and recommendations on these manga into two parts. Here’s the first five of them with five more to follow.
1) Denpa Kyoushi (“Electric Wave Teacher” in English) by Takeshi Azuma
This manga is a fun comedy. Essentially, our hero, Junichiro Kagami, starts as a NEET with an anime blog, which has just become the top anime blog on the internet. (I sympathize with this kind of character a lot.) Despite some initial resistance, his sister, Suzune, forces him to undertake a job as a part-time teacher–despite the negative effect it will have on his anime blog’s ratings. Thus we follow his adventures as a high school teacher, his interior struggle with that part of him which wishes to resume a NEET lifestyle, and other forces which try to induce him to use his scientific knowledge for other organizations.
Basically, this manga is Great Teacher Onizuka with an anime otaku instead of a former gangster as the main character. Like Onizuka, he runs into troubled teenagers and helps them to believe in themselves–whether it be a girl who’s embarrassed of her anime girl voice or a punk who believes himself to be unlovable. The humor is not quite outrageous as GTO, though he does pull things like teaching his students through video games or forcing a straight-laced girl to work at a maid cafe. The characters are all pretty likable, and Kagami himself stands as a unique protagonist: the unashamed otaku teacher. I highly recommend this series to people seeking a good comedy and some inspiring stories.
2) Code-Ex by Ichiro Sakaki, illustrated by Yumiko Harao
This manga is related to the Code-E manga and Mission-E anime. Both derive from the pen of Ichiro Sakaki. I love his Scrapped Princess, Strait Jacket, and–the latest of his works to be animated–Coffin Princess Chaika. Despite my love for these last three shows, I stopped watching Code-E after a few episodes because the plot moves at a slow pace. Reading this short manga has inspired me to return to watch Code-E as soon as I find the time for it.
The plot of Code-Ex revolves around the plight of a young man sent to live with a martial arts practitioner named Saihashi. She is already training Ebihara, the protagonist of Code-E, to control her power of emitting electromagnetic waves. Her powers become unleashed whenever Ebihara loses her cool, which makes this training necessary. But the boy, Katsuki, has a different problem: his nerve signals at random moments shut down, leaving him paralyzed for a time. Unfortunately for Katsuki, an unscrupulous scientist realizes that his problem is related to the Type-E phenomenon whereby women, like Ebihara, are able to emit strong electronic signals. He wants to use an unwilling Katsuki in a perilous experiment to create a male Type-E.
The manga offers the likable characters we usually find in Ichiro Sakaki’s works. It’s a exciting and brief manga of only twelve chapters with which to while away a rainy day.
3) Dogs: Bullets and Carnage by Mira Shirow
The anime version far outshines the manga. A friend advised me to watch Dogs: Stray Dogs Howl in the Dark, and I found that to be fun four episode OVA. However, the anime made the right choice in limiting it to four episodes: though the stories are fun and exciting, they lack depth. In the manga, the only character who still retained my interest after fifteen chapters was the swordswoman, which wasn’t enough to keep me reading.
The action is set in a city rife with criminal activity. Our heroes are all connected to the underworld somehow, except the swordswoman. Instead, she’s looking for the killer who murdered her parents after having been raised by an assassin. Each story examines a character’s history and how their history has impacted what they’re doing now. Trust me: watch the anime, don’t read the manga unless you’re a dyed-in-the-wool fan of yakuza manga.
4) Mushibugyo and Jouju Senjin!! Mushibugyo
A random commentator recommended this one to me, explaining that it was a fun samurai manga with minimal fanservice. The fanservice was not what I call minimal, but the manga is great fun! I placed both titles above, because Mushibugyo seems to be the pilot manga for Jouju Senjin!! Mushibugyo. They both start in the same way with a few differences as regards to the details, but that is all. One sees Mushibugyo‘s eight chapters again in the ongoing Jouju Senjin!!
The manga is set in Edo era Japan, but enormous bugs called–without much imagination–Mushi terrorize the populace of the capital city. The five members of Mushibugyo are in charge of exterminating the bugs. The last member to be recruited is Jinbee, who rapidly rises in the estimation of the other members of the group through his zeal. Jinbee’s naivete stands out, but his overzealous simplemindedness make him a fun character. All the characters appear rather unique and likable, and the action’s great. Give this historical fantasy a shot.
It seems like no matter how busy one is, there is always time for manga. Also, one occasionally finds that rather little known titles are quite good. As such, a large assortment of manga finds itself on my reading list. The only problem with manga is that they are the madeleines of fiction: if one’s brain is not sufficiently satisfied with heavier works, no amount of manga is going to fill one up. I suspect that one day I shall only read manga in Japanese–as I am currently doing for Busou Renkin, which counts as my second favorite manga from Nobuhiro Watsuki, the author of Rurouni Kenshin.
Be that as it may, I would like to suggest these eight manga to enliven your new year. Some are a little old, but you may not have stumbled upon them. Without further ado. here is my list of short reviews:
The title translates to “Winter Fireworks” and relates a romance between a washed up actress and a boxer trying to come out of retirement. They meet at Gon’s gym, where the heroine, Maki, shall learn a thing or two about boxing. Their relationship starts off rocky, as Gon whacks Maki on the head with a slipper for coming into the gym with her boots on and smoking therein. They gradually are drawn to one another as they learn to respect each other’s work and to feel comfortable around each other. This manga lasts a mere 9 chapters, making this touching and humorous manga a good way to pass the time on a lazy afternoon.
2) Zippy Ziggy written by Kim Un-jung and illustrated by Hwang Seung-man
This manwha stands completed at 86 chapters. Korean comics can often be about as interesting as manga if not more. This comic features a true anti-hero whose motto is that it is better to seem good than to be good. (Please, no one follow that logic!) However, this starts to change after he starts falling for a girl who moves in next door and she discovers that he is not the perfect student he makes others think that he is. In return for keeping his dark side a secret, he must train in her mother’s dojo, which becomes necessary anyway after all the enemies he rapidly makes. The heroine hopes that the martial arts can excise the vices from his personality. (The Japanese belief that martial arts can perfect the soul might be seen from such schools as Aikido, whose syllables, despite the kanji’s meaning of “Way of Harmonious Energy,” could also be understood as “Way of Eternal Love”–as any die-hard Aikidoka could tell you.) This rather fanservicey and somewhat standard shonen manwha separates itself from the pack in the quirkiness of the humor and often outrageous antics of the anti-hero.
3) Tripeace by Maru Tomoyuki
Before I begin this review, let it be known that I dropped this one. I included it here, however, because the manga does not appear objectively bad–just not my cup of tea. At any rate, it concerns an immortal human being, who joins a peculiar organization with the goal of finding a way to end war. Somehow, cross dressing gives him extra courage in battle and makes him more liked by one particular female in the organization, who believes the male and female versions of the protagonist to be two separate persons. The battles are suitably outrageous and the protagonist often uses his wits or good luck in order to save the day. Some of you might like it–some.
4) Tonari no Seki-kun by Morishige Takuma
This high school comedy has a very Calvin and Hobbes like feel to it in that one wonders whether the action does not all derive from the overactive imagination of the heroine and narrator Yokoi, who sits next to the eccentric Seki-kun in class. Seki-kun is always playing some random game rather than paying attention in class. He brings in mechs to form a robot family, has chess pieces face off against shogi pieces, and follows his over-active imagination wherever it leads him. These games always become ridiculous and Yokoi interferes in them occasionally. This one was recommended to me by Sean Bishop, the author of The Freeloader, who had learned about it from his writer. And am I glad that he recommended it! Read this one for a good laugh.
5) Seishun For-get by Mikabe Sesuna
Why the hyphen? I have no idea. This stands as a rather short romantic comedy at only 20 chapters. It concerns the struggles of Natsuki to make the girl he has fallen for remember him. You see, after saving his life and hearing Natsuki’s proposal that they become girlfriend and boyfriend, she readily agrees; however–like the heroine of Ef – A Tale of Memories, she cannot remember anything which happened the previous day. The constant struggle of Natsuki to make Hinata remember him and the reversal which occurs in the second half of the manga make this a very fun and hilarious read.
6) Psycho Busters written by Aoki Yuya and illustrated by Nao Akinari
This numbers among standard shonen fare, but, for all that, it’s very entertaining to read. (Perhaps why some mangaka produce nothing but standard shonen manga.) A high school student named Kakeru is impressed into a group of psychics by a pretty girl for whom he falls. This happens while his family is away vacationing or working overseas–conveniently fitting in two weeks and 32 chapters of manga. Among the psychics, he discovers that he happens to have the most powerful psychic ability, which is integral to him saving the world from destruction. Yep, this manga is as standard as they come, but the characters are very likable and the plot well orchestrated.
7) The Breaker: New Waves written by Jeon Geuk-jin and illustrated by Park Jin-hwan
Another somewhat standard shonen, but the intrigues of the martial arts’ world adds an extra dose of fun. Basically, a young man who had been training under a famous master leaves martial arts because his ki center gets destroyed. But, the Sun-woo clan discovers him to be the heir to the leadership of their clan, thrusting him back into the world of martial arts. This forces him to undergo martial arts training despite his broken ki center if he wants to survive. A hot-headed young lady named Jinie is assigned as his bodyguard both at and outside of school, which stands as a very entertaining relationship. The series excels at the fights and contains a moderate level of fanservice made better by the artist’s skill in describing the contours of a woman’s body. Anyway, I highly recommend this one.
8) Youkai Apato no Yuuga na Nichijou by Kouduki Hinowa and illustrated by Waka Miyama
(As a side note, will someone please explain to me how a Japanese person can have the syllable “du” in his name? I checked three websites to see whether this was a mistake, but they spelled it the same way each time.)
This one falls into your introspective supernatural category. (Something about ghosts seems to make the Japanese reflective.) Inaba, a college student eager to be liberated from his foster family, has the misfortune of having his dorm burn down. This would mean that he would have to commute from home and the loss of liberty if he cannot find some place with an affordable rent. He finds an apartment for 25,000 yen per mensem; however, the catch is that the apartment is haunted–very haunted indeed. Fortunately, most of the ghosts are rather cool. The kinds of stories here range from sentimental to spooky to action packed. Most have a vein of humor running through them and are very enjoyable.
It’s about time that I post another anime article on this site. My dear readers might know that historical fiction stands as one of my favorite genres. Hence, Alexandre Dumas is my favorite author, and Rurouni Kenshin stands as my favorite anime. So, I found myself delighted to discover such a detail-oriented, beautifully drawn, and character driven manga as Gunka no Baltzar. The last quality is always a huge plus for me, and I hope that someone turns Michitsune Nakajima’s riveting manga into an anime in the near future.
The story is set in a fictional 19th century Europe where the countries are renamed, but parallels are easy to draw. For example, I am certain that Weißen (it’s so much fun to use the German double s) is Prussia, Baselland Bavaria, and the Ezreich Republic the Austro-Hungarian Empire. Weißen is competing with the Ezreich Republic for an alliance with Baselland, which introduces much intrigue into the plot. The countrie’s two princes represent the factions, with the King being influenced by a criminal mastermind and Ezreichian diplomat and the titular character, Bernd Baltzar, holding the ear of the second prince. The king wishes to keep the status quo, while the second prince, even though he loves the traditions of Baselland, wishes to modernize. Both want to ensure that Baselland remains autonomous. All these factors create a thrilling atmosphere of realpolitik, which is actually similar to the Bakumatsu period of Japanese history (1853-1867).
Baltzar is initially sent Baselland in order to become an adviser for their military academy as a friendly gesture by Weißen. Initially, he tries to befriend certain students, introduce modern theories of warfare, and eliminate certain barbaric practices at the military academy, such as whipping students for poor performance. Attempting to reform this last practice brings him into conflict with the second prince, whom he did not know was an instructor at the academy. But, Baltzar’s courage and resourcefulness lead to Baltzar becoming the prince’s right hand man and makes him a player in Baselland’s politics.
Overall, one becomes impressed with Baltzar’s sense of justice, personal ambition, and strong patriotism even as he sincerely tries to help the second prince–in ways that benefit Weißen too. Some people might find him using tragedies to his advantage and manipulation of people despicable, but he possesses great courage, being not at all afraid to risk his personal safety. He is also a very loyal toward his students and believes in them. No other male character since Sesshomaru has struck me as being so dynamic and multifaceted. He does remind one a little of Lelouch; yet, the fact that he’s less sneaky and more loyal to his comrades means that people who disliked Lelouch will probably be quite taken with Baltzar.
The students of the military academy tend to be quite interesting themselves. The most interesting of whom happens to be the sharpshooter, Marcel Janssen. This was the cadet being whipped when Baltzar insulted the second prince for his barbarity. This kid has some real guts, and the occasions where he shows his courage happen to be some of the highest points in the manga.
The people of Baselland’s resistance to militarism and industrialism makes for many of the conflicts in the story. They nearly riot when Baltzar demands that artillery cadets actually fire cannons for practice! All civic disturbance in the country come from opposition to these two movements, and, in a rather twisted fashion, the military academy must deal with them rather than the regular army. Their main enemy happens to be a group of terrorists supported by the aforementioned criminal mastermind having the king’s ear.
Anyway, Gunka no Baltzar‘s first 17 chapters proved to be true page turners, and I hope that it rapidly gains in popularity.
Remember how I promised that other half of manga reviews a very long time ago? Here they are! My promise of that time and the one made just a few hours ago doubly bound me to write these reviews, and I hope that they shall be to your pleasure. If not, may you enjoy your displeasure.
The titles which I propose to review are Genshiken, Kurenai, Sengoku Youko, and Hanako to Guuwa no Tera. The last one is a horror manga which I highly enjoyed. Horror stands as one of my least favorite genres nowadays. In the past, I used to get a kick out of watching Hammer Films’ Dracula films and werewolf movies of all sorts. It was fun commenting on how the movie makers would mess with the lore attached to these creatures. I loved the Gothic style of the vampire genre, and the fright of a big bad wolf coming at one with your only hope being a well placed silver bullet. Now, horror movies are overly gory, and I find myself less intrigued by them.
Hanako to Guuwa no Tera by Sakae Esuno attracted me from the start because they melded horror with the private eye genre. Our hero runs an agency dedicated to ridding the world of harmful “allegories.” These allegories are based in Japanese folklore or the fads of popular culture. The interesting thing about the monsters here are that they derive from people’s unbalanced states of mind. The detective, Daisuke Asou, has collected a couple of allegories in his line of work, some of which give him power. One, named Hanako, acts as his information gatherer. Our story begins when Kanae Hiranuma seeks Asou’s help in ridding an allegory which has been haunting her: the axe man under the bed. For this reason, she has not been able to sleep in days and is petrified to stay in her own room. Doesn’t it sound childish? This haunting begins a long, happy relationship for the two of them.
This story really shines in the way the author delineates relationship between the characters. This draws one into all the struggles which they endure against allegories, and the wide variety of opponents keeps the reader turning pages. This manga has ended in 2010, and consists of just nineteen chapters. The manga also really shines in creating a likable couple. Too many series have rather annoying couples, which make one wish that the author had not bothered with a love interest. But, Kanae is quite capable, and there is the right amount of tension between the two to make for an interesting dynamic. I recommend this better than average manga to you horror fans out there.
Now to review the most problematic manga for me: Genshiken. As many of you know, this manga focuses on the otaku lifestyle of the club members of a club known as Genshiken, which means Society for the Study of Modern Visual Porn–I mean, Culture. My biggest problem with this manga must lie in that I am not otaku enough to relate to any of the characters. As a matter of fact, Saki is my favorite character, and she only joined Genshiken so that she could hang out with her lover, Kousaka. I can’t help but feel sorry for her in that Saki must endure the porn and ero-game loving ways of her partner. Now, this makes for great comedy, but a guy has absolutely no excuse for using pornography if he has a lover. After all, is not having the thing better than a mere vicarious experience? Anyway, Saki herself brought up this complaint. She has the patience of a saint when it comes to dealing with the idiosyncrasies of her boyfriend. (Not that I approve of sex before marriage, but such relationships at least offer the chance of leading to marriage, while pornography is engaging in an empty activity.)
At any rate, a college freshman named Sasahara is brought into the group and enmeshed into their otaku lifestyle of ero-games, anime, conventions, porn, and video games. The story often succeeds in being hilarious; but there are too many problems of identification for me, and their preoccupation with porn irritates me. So, I won’t be getting the second omnibus volume.
Kurenai is a real joy for me to read. The fights are very well done, and the humor driven off of the harem situation is most amusing. Women can’t seem to help falling for the strong, modest, reliable Shinkuro. But, the author presents us with some very likable characters, even if some characters are rather stock–heck, all of them might be stock characters to tell you the truth; but, that only speaks to how well the humor and plot are executed. This show also uses a favorite trope of mine: a young man is in charge of taking care of girl much younger than himself. (Perhaps the reason for my predilection lies in that I have a sister 10 years younger than myself, so identification is easy.)
Shinkuro works as a dispute mediator–more like a dispute finisher considering most disputes are ended with his fists–for a capable, mysterious woman named Benika. At the start of the manga, we already know that he’s been taking care of Murasaki, a young girl from a powerful, incestuous family. You see, she’s been destined to marry his older half-brother. She warms up to Shinkuro because of his gentle and strong nature. However, her family comes after her, and Shinkuro must display all his martial skill to finally free Murasaki from this fate. Then, the action turns toward a criminal syndicate, which decides to make Shinkuro himself a target.
Besides the fights, this manga excels in delineating the relationships between the characters, i.e. Shinkuro and his ever expanding harem. The manga manages to balance the romance and slice of life chapters very well with the action packed ones, which means that the reader is never bored. Everything works to keep the reader turning pages, and I look forward to each new chapter of this ongoing manga.
Lastly, I was fortunate to find the manga Sengoku Youko. This is another ongoing manga, but it’s set in fuedal Japan as a historical fantasy. This manga is a very character driven work, the fights and the plots are rather simplistic. The characterization goes a long way to make up for these flaws though. I must comment that the setting feels much like Inuyasha: youkai and samurai are juxtaposed to each other during the Sengoku Era. Also, traveling is a major part the action, and the side characters all display prejudices of some kind or another, human-hating youkai or youkai-hating men.
Our heroes, Jinka, Tama, and Shinsuke, meet while the first two were on a bandit hunt. Tama unsuccessfully tries to convince the bandits that they are leading an immoral life. At which point, Jinka, a hanyou, is forced to beat them all down. Jinka has a strong prejudice toward human beings, while Tama, a fox youkai, believes humans and youkai must be judged on an individual basis. Their adventures lead to them picking up one more party member and discovering an insidious plot by Tama’s mom and her human lover. This is a great manga for light reading, especially if you liked Inuyasha.
I hope that you enjoyed these reviews. Pressing work will deter me from blogging for at least a week.
Here’s some reviews of the manga I’ve been reading recently. The first part will contain three manga and the second part, which will be written this weekend, three more. All of them may be recommended without exception–unless you can’t endure fanservice. Then, I won’t recommend Zero-In to you.
The manga Superior and its second part Superior Cross were delightful to read. This series had great fights and the plot some nice twists. Yet, the most appealing things about this fantasy are how the mangaka, Ichtys, works in a Christian worldview, how likable and dynamic the characters are, and the often gut-wrenching situations in which the characters find themselves.
Of particular interest is the Demon Queen, Sheila. She starts off as a rather bloodthirsty, callous, ruthless character with a sense of humor. After running into Hero, who has a strong sense of justice and made a vow not to kill anyone with the sole exception of the Demon Queen (He’s like Kenshin Himura, but less cool), Sheila falls in love with him, managing to keep her identity in the dark. This allows her to tag along with Hero and his company.
This series is rife with Christian symbolism and theology. They quote Scripture on a few occasions. That neither humans nor monsters are ontologically good or evil indicates that all rational creatures possess free will. At the same time, several characters confess to having a wounded nature (very Catholic there)–particularly Sheila in the very powerful ending to this series. One scene basically shouts the concept of doffing the old man and putting on the new. If Christian manga are of interest to you, you can’t let this one go without reading it.
Vinland Saga is a favorite of mine. (The image in the header gives that away.) Unfortunately, they release chapters at a snail’s pace. The drawing style feels more like Prince Valiant than manga, even though there are certain characters who definitely have a manga-ish appearance. All the weapons, armor, and backgrounds are beautifully done. (Maybe that’s why it takes so long for the mangaka to write chapters.) The characters range from being lovable to despicable. Overall, the story is quite compelling, even though certain parts can be too drawn out, especially around chapter 80. Until around chapter 54, the manga is a true page turner, and the pace slows down a bit afterward.
The first section of the comic deals with the antagonism between Askeladd and our hero, Thorfinn. Askeladd leads a company of Vikings on raids, Thorfinn included, and is the one responsible for the death of Thorfinn’s father. In exchange for good conduct on the battlefield, Thorfinn is allowed to duel Askeladd and try to avenge his father. The comics take a very interesting plunge into history when this company is assigned to guard Prince Canute, the man who would become king of Denmark and Britain, during a war with Britain. Askeladd and Thorfinn must protect their charge against all enemies, hostes et inimici. (Forgive my indulgence in Latin. Hostes = enemy of one’s country. Inimici = personal enemies.)
This series stands out among manga for a variety of reasons. It shows a very interesting conflict between Christians and Pagans–reminiscent of Tokugawa period Japan. Some of its views of Christianity are inaccurate (a corpse is not the highest symbol of Christian charity!), but it shows this religion in a favorable light, especially when compared to Viking paganism. I also enjoy how historically accurate and unusual the characters all are for manga–as a matter of fact, some characters relate much more to figures found in sagas than those in Japanese manga. Though, I am disappointed with what the mangaka did to King Canute’s character–even though it makes the story more compelling. (Canute was a good guy from everything I’ve read.)
Here’s a fanservicey, action-packed shounen for you: Zero-In. Again, we have a series with very likable characters and the cool and absorbing action draws in the reader. It feels a little like Gunsmith Cats: an almost perfectly entertaining series if you can ignore the scenes of nudity, especially a few which go further than that. Zero-In concerns a privately owned Japanese police company called Minkei. Our two main characters are the experienced and powerful Mikuru and her love interest, Kou. (I cannot see Kou as much of a lead, but this series falls in the harem genre.) The plots tend to be episodic, and many interesting characters are met along the way. Overall, this manga excels in providing the reader with great fun–if only they would translate the chapters faster! (I’m very close to reading it raw, which I find a bit time consuming these days.)
So, here are just some initial impression of a few manga. I would be able to go deeper into Samurai Deeper Kyo, having read around 26 volumes of it, were it not for the fact that I read this manga on and off. Whenever the volume of work increases or I get distracted by other series, this often gets pushed to the side. I’m not precisely sure why, it’s an extraordinarily well done. Perhaps my scruples about fanservice get in the way, which I’m happy to report has been greatly toned down at the point I’ve presently reached. How well all the other elements work in the manga indicates that it doesn’t really need it, which the mangaka, Akimine Kamijyo, seems to have realized by now.
First, let’s take Fairy Tail. Most people consider this one of the best manga currently out, but I find it too lighthearted. (I know, this is coming from a guy who enjoyed Slayers, Ruin Explorers, and Those Who Hunt Elves.) The problem is probably in my mood rather than in the work itself. Otherwise, the characters are very enjoyable–even if on the goofy side and not terribly complex. It kind of felt like reading One Piece, even though I found the characters in Fairy Tail more enjoyable. In any case, I’ve decided not to pursue this manga further.
Dusk Maiden of Amnesia (a.k.a. Tasogare Otome x Amunejia) has a rather interesting style of art, and one can tell that the mangaka desires to investigate the depths of the human psyche. Both of these things work in its favor; however, the characters don’t interest me too much. The boy with the capacity to see ghosts is rather bland. The ghost whom he sees, a high school aged young girl, shows the quality of being deeply pained but outwardly bubbly, a kind of character type which I’m usually drawn to. But, she’s not interesting enough to make me desire to read more. For an alternate opinion concerning the anime version, please see Marlin-sama’s excellent article.
Some of you may have seen the animated version of Samurai Deeper Kyo, which is rather mediocre. Conversely, the manga does not have annoying monsters called Kenyou and excels the anime in practically every level–except for the level of fanservice. By its deficiency, the anime is better in this regard.
The most striking feature of this manga is the terrible pride most of the characters possess. The all desire to be the strongest and look down upon any weakness. At the same time, many of them conceal a soft side which reveals itself when they show compassion to certain people–opponents even in some cases. Kyo seems to be the most hard-bitten of them all, but even he has a profound respect for others’ pride and a great fondness for Yuya, the bounty hunter who initially tries to bring him in. Then, one tosses in the original plot and spectacular, cerebral, and gut-wrenching duels in order to make this a true classic.
Here’s an anime which I want to recommend to old and young. This show contains many elements which most anime fans and even their parents may appreciate. (For those anime fans living with their parents, these kinds of shows are good to know. Who knows what sort of ideas may run through your dear father and mother’s heads if you’re never willing to share what you watch?) The characters tend to be older than the teenage heroes filling most anime, which allows older audiences to identify with them better. Our heroine, Balsa, is a twenty-seven year old wandering bodyguard who wishes to expiate the deaths of eight men by saving eight others without killing anyone in the process. True, the idea of a hero refusing to kill has been done before in many series, like Trigun, Rurouni Kenshin, Grenadier, Black Cat, and Trinity Blood; however, this trope usually makes a show more interesting–with the exception of Trinity Blood, where Abel’s aversion to killing comes out of nowhere. (I remember thinking to myself: “Didn’t you just crush some vampire’s heart a few episodes ago?” And yes, the resolution not to kill even renders Grenadier more interesting, but don’t expect me to recommend it to you!) Balsa becomes involved with the Crown Prince of the New Yogo Empire, Prince Chagum, when she saves him from drowning in a spectacular rescue. Chagum’s mother, one of the emperor’s consorts, brings her into the palace under the pretext of thanking Balsa by proving a sumptuous dinner and luxurious accommodations. Which reminds me of my favorite quote from the series: “If you have money, life ends up being the same no matter where you go. However, if you don’t have money, you learn to live your life according to where you are.”
In the middle of the night, Balsa is summoned before Chagum’s mother. (In this political system, it feels a stretch to call her an empress.) His mother begs Balsa to take Chagum away with her and to guard him from assassins. You see, dear readers, Prince Chagum is an embarrassment to the state due to him carrying about a water spirit inside of him; so, his own father, the emperor, is sending assassins after him who are trying to make his death look like an accident in order to prevent the dynasty from losing face and possibly causing civil unrest. Balsa thinks that she has no choice but to accept; however, she consoles herself with the fact that this mission will atone for her eighth life. After burning down the prince’s quarters to delay pursuit, she exits the palace with Prince Chagum in what will be a long bodyguard assignment.
Seirei no Moribito‘s plot ranges from slow, character building episodes involving the maturing of Prince Chagum and gathering information about Chagum’s spirit to moments of extreme danger and action as Chagum’s pursuers clash with Balsa. So, while the heroine’s spear does remain sheathed much of the time, the viewer never lapses into boredom: either we are kept at the edge of our seats by imminent danger and spear-play or we enjoy the interaction of the characters, who are incredibly likeable. Perhaps because Moribito derives from a series of light novels, the world of this series is remarkably detailed and enjoyable to learn about: the culture, myths, imperial customs, and the interaction between the spirit world (Nayug) with the ordinary world add interest without bogging down the viewer in too many details.
Further, the series has a distinct intellectual appeal due to the maturity of the characters and its use of parallelism. The characters all seem very real, as if some of the people we know were somehow transported into a fantasy setting. However, they have to work in a world where honor and strict social morays influences everything they do. At the same time, Moribito resists the temptation to over-psychoanalyze. Concerning parallelism, character’s roles and their actions are constantly being juxtaposed by the plot: we compare Balsa to Chagum’s mother, Balsa to the man who raised her, Balsa’s father to Chagum’s mother, Chagum to the young Balsa, etc. This serves to render the plot and the characters that much deeper.
This show also features some great animation. The backgrounds portraying forests, mountains, and the world of Nayug can be particularly breathtaking. Character animation stands above average, while the use of CGI is limited to large troop movements and other large bodies of people, which stands out as the weakest part of the animation. Fortunately, the animators do not employ CGI enough to detract from the overall effect of the splendid animation.
Overall, the only anime fan to whom this series would not appeal is the kind who thrives on action. The action sequences, though awesome, are fewer than one would find in a standard action/adventure anime. If you cannot stand seeing characters’ weapons sheathed, by all means watch Jubei-chan II. (This little mentioned show has some of the best sword fights ever animated, while at the same time having some of the blandest characters, most failed attempts at comedy, and weakest plot of any series. But, the fights are worth the agony of sitting through the other stuff.) So, take the time to enjoy this show, and, if possible, ask your parents to watch it with you–you just might convince them that anime’s not completely weird.
While scrolling through the list of anime coming out this season, it struck me that only two shows appeared worthwhile: Jormungand and the second season of Fate/Zero. I noticed that the quality of anime has been falling since 2007, but there’s never been a season in which the number of shows which elicited some interest from me was limited to two. (Certain other shows aroused some interest, but not for the right reasons.) Of course, you’re welcome to point out any shows you find interesting. Being proved wrong about this season would please me to no end. Having seen the first two episodes, here are my thoughts about Jormungand.
This show feels similar to Black Lagoon, but Jormungand includes more comedy, less foul language, a dearth of interesting characters, and will in nowise measure up to that classic unless a wonderful transformation occurs in episode three. Having said that, the show’s still very entertaining. The plot concerns the adventures of an arms dealer and her henchmen. This arms dealer, Koko Hekmatyar, recruited a child soldier named Jonah as her newest bodyguard. Jonah has a hatred for weapons and weapons dealers, yet he relies on them at the same time. He joined Koko in order to find the arms dealer who was responsible for his family’s death.
Having said that, Jonah and all the other characters appear to be nonentities compared to the vivacious Koko. From her personality, which is fierce, calculating, and excitable by turns, to her Chinese warrioresque eyebrows she completely steals the show. The way her eyebrows detract from her femininity is only negated by the talent of her voice actress, Shizuka Ito, and the many tantrums in which this character indulges. One wonders whether the other characters will come alive when compared to her. Indeed, only the lesbian, Valmet, has a registerable personality among her henchmen. We forget that Jonah’s supposed to be the hero or even of any importance until he starts on of his little narrative digressions. I must say, a bit character who appears in two scenes during the second episode in which he refers to Koko as a “lucky girl” has as much or more personality than her bodyguards.
Yet, this show has some great action sequences. Combined with the uniqueness of Koko, this is enough to make me want to watch more. Now, we need to see if the animators are capable of giving the other characters depth or if a main story will develop, which I expect to be chock full of conflict and some spectacular action. Otherwise, your time would be much better spent watching Black Lagoon, unless the cursing would deter you. Oh! One more similarity between the two shows: Koko is rather reminiscent of Balalaika, except that the former is less sinister.