Brief Review of The Cat Returns

The Cat Returns strikes me as one of the lesser known Studio Ghibli titles.  There was a showing in theaters on Monday as part of Ghibli Fest 2018.  Today is the last day to see The Cat Returns in theaters, and I hope my dear readers are able to take advantage of it if they have the time.  Because no one talks about The Cat Returns, I assumed it was a mediocre film.  What I discovered on Monday was that it’s a splendid movie reminiscent of Alice in Wonderland and better than the Disney film of Lewis Caroll’s famous book.

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Before talking about the film, I must mention how vexatious Fathom Event’s presentation of the movie proved to be.  Having arrived twenty minutes early, I settled down to read some of Dostoyevsky’s short story “The Crocodile.”  It’s a very amusing short story which mocks capitalism and socialism at the same time.  The capitalist character basically lacks compassion for the poor and is overly academic.  The socialist character, who happens to get swallowed by a crocodile early in the short story, does not even live in reality.  This gentleman somehow manages to live after being swallowed by the crocodile and feels that his position, that of one cut off from humanity and in complete darkness, somehow qualifies him to propose new economic and social theories to mankind.  It has to be one of Dostoyevsky’s funniest pieces, and I’d recommend “The Crocodile” to anyone with some spare time.

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No Poor Choices: My Experience with Anime Summer 2015 Thus Far

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.

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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!

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2) Gangsta!

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.

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Manga Reviews for August

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:

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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.

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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.

Want to learn the significance of this bunny?  You'll have to read the manga.

Want to learn the significance of this bunny? You’ll have to read the manga.

So, I’d like to recommend this manga to fans of the anime and those that love action-packed stories.

Don't do it. man!

Don’t do it. man!

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.

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I’d especially recommend the manga to those who hated the ending of School Days.

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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.

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Perfect for the lover of dark fantasy or chivalric tales.

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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.

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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.

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* 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!

My Experience with Anime of Spring 2014 Pt. II

Here I conclude my opinions on the anime I watched from Spring 2014 with my top five shows.  Enjoy!

Black Bullet Enju and Rentaro

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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

Gunka no Blatzar: Historical Fiction Par Excellence

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.

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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).

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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Fantasy, Vikings, and Gunslinging: Manga Reviews!

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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.)

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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.)

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You have no idea how hard it is to find decent pictures of this manga–and by decent, I don’t mean well done!

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.)

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Still Alive and a Little on the Inferno

Well, it has really been a long time since I’ve posted here.  One of my biggest problems being that I tried to write about The Inferno several times and failed.  Writing about The Inferno carries three problems for me: 1) I don’t really understand some passages; 2) certain references are too abstruse for me–especially in the iPhone edition I was using; and 3) I don’t get any particular enjoyment out of reading about hell.  For me, the strong point about The Inferno is the wonderful relationship between Virgil and the narrator–whom most refer to as Dante himself.  It’s wonderful to see how Virgil protects Dante through so many perils, and how Virgil stands up to demons, knowing that nothing can obstruct the will of God that Dante be permitted to examine hell.  I suppose the work might also be a way to meditate on how the vices present in one’s soul may lead one to hell and how to correct them.  On a final note, William Wordsworth translated the work in a beautifully poetic fashion.  I have no desire to write more than that, but I will give the work a second chance to grow on me later on.

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In any case, I hope to enjoy The Purgatorio more. A professor I had, Bradley Birzer, told me that this work was the best part of The Divine Comedy, while The Paradiso was the weakest.  I hope that circlecitadel won’t be too disappointed.