Progressing through New Manga

Here’s an article to remedy the dearth of manga reviews on this site.  As you know, manga happens to include some of my favorite light reading–or, if untranslated, not so light, but nevermind that!  And so, I wish to give you my opinion of one incredibly popular and four not so popular manga.

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1) Fairy Tail by Hiro Mashima

First, let me get the hit manga out of the way.  All of my dear readers must be familiar with this manga on some level.  Somehow, I have managed to read 375 chapters of the manga.  (Before anyone worries about me being sucked into a Fairy Tail oblivion, I have decided not to watch more of the anime.  Almost 400 chapters of manga does not need to be supplemented!)  Fairy Tail has taken a dark turn, which might be expected since the villains are honest-to-goodness demons.  One torture scene made me particularly uncomfortable.  When did Fairy Tail become Akame ga Kiru? Well, that’s an exaggeration but conveys the change of mood rather well.

This manga, even if very fanservicey, still stands as one of the greatest works coming out of Japan.  But, what should one expect when the author claims to have been influenced by J. R. R. Tolkien?

The jump shot is still one of my favorite moves.

The jump shot is still one of my favorite moves.

2) Break Shot by Takeshi Maekawa

I’m sure that I passed over this manga at one point.  Probably without good reason.  Anime based on table top games, such as Hikaru no Go and Shion no Ou, count among my favorites and billiards is not too far removed.  However, the more I read the more I discovered why this manga never gained much popularity: the situations become more contrived as the manga goes on.  We almost expect the hero to win in one shot every time.  Unlike in go or shogi (my two favorite games next to chess), there are not too many opportunities for reversals.  A go game might have as much as 320 moves, and the tide can turn as much as three or four times in a nail biting game.  Not so much professional billiards.

So much for a 1987 billiard manga.  The characters are rather likable, and I like how it offers tips on how to play pool; but, the games become atrociously dull.

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3) Breath of Fire – Ryuu no Senshi by Yakumo Hiroshi

Speaking of retro manga, here’s a fantasy series based on video games of the same name.  This is a delightful fantasy romp over the course of six chapters.  Breath of Fire features a standard strong, young hero who is assisted in his quest to defeat an evil goddess by a winged maiden, some therianthropic sidekicks, and a half snake sorceress.  The message is a very simple “one cannot overcome evil with hate,” but I find few things as enjoyable as a decent 90’s fantasy anime or manga.

Hatenkou Yuugi Cover

4) Hatenkou Yuugi, a.k.a. Dazzle by Minari Endou

This is a fun picaresque tale of a young lady–fourteen going on fifteen–whose father kicks her out of the house so that she might see the world.  She quickly befriends a Model 1911 toting albino named Alzeid, who is looking for his father’s killer.  Later, a clownish fighter named Baroqueheat joins the group.  His favorite hobby seems to be teasing Rahzel, but she takes it in stride and delivers beat downs as necessary.  Some of the stories can be pretty dark, and the characters’ banter is at least as humorous as that of Spice and Wolf.

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However, I find that I cannot recommend the manga as much as the anime.  The anime eschews the manga’s Plautine tendency to make the reader laugh every other panel.  That added seriousness better balances the dark elements found in the ten episode anime.  Is a second season of this too much to ask?

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5) Shindere Shoujo to Kodoku na Shinigami by Yuki Shinkiba

The title translates loosely to “The Death-Loving Girl and the Lonely Death God.”  Sounds like a match made in heaven.  Somehow, Shinto and Sherlock Holmes must also be a match made in heaven, because the manga is incredibly fun.  Our Sherlock Holmes character, Nishigami, moves to a small island.  He tries his best not to make friends because those he loves always seem to die.  However, this does not stop a popular girl named Akira from following this baneful course.  She does indeed die, but the island’s god resurrects her, saying that she can resurrect as many times as possible as long as she remains on the island but that she cannot leave it.  A good thing too: for Akira happens to be manga’s most shindere character.

This one is a great deal of fun.  The mysteries are complex and the characters rather charming.  Nishigami has a particularly brilliant head for deduction.  If only I could find chapter 21 somewhere!

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Be an Erza-like Christian This Lent

While reading The Spirit of St. Francis, one particular conversation between St. Francis de Sales and Bishop Jean Pierre Camus, his spiritual son, struck me.  Camus claimed that reading Plutarch and Senaca helped him to aspire to virtue in his younger days.  Whereupon St. Francis de Sales responded that Seneca’s understanding of virtue was quite against Christianity’s understanding of it.  For Seneca, virtue comes from within.  In reality, virtue comes from without through God’s grace and love entering the soul.

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Perhaps Erza of Fairy Tail is most representative of this attitude.  Everyone in the guild looks up Erza for her strength, but we discover in her difficult fight with Azuma on Mavis’ island that she relies on the strength of others.  She can only be so strong because others are there for her.  Shortly after her victory, she helps a member of Fairy Tail (Gray, I think), who comments that he is always being saved.  Whereupon, she responds “me, too” or something like that.

Erva vs. Azuma

The guild of the Christian is the Church.  We are all on the same side, whether we are struggling in the Church Militant, undergoing purification in the Church Suffering, or perfect in the Church Triumphant.  It is certain that God distributed His virtues and talents among the faithful to differing degrees: one is more just, another more temperate, another more patient, etc.  Yet, all are made in God’s image and likeness and called to perfect this likeness.  To this end, God both abundantly pours forth His grace and provides models of imitation, especially through Himself in the most divine life of Jesus and through St. Mary’s perfect adherence to God’s will.  It is a common phenomenon that people imagine that they have a virtue after reading or hearing about someone who displays the same virtue.  Rather, they have the model of the virtue which they are on fire to bring to life in the world.  They love the virtuous man and want to become close to them through imitation.  Thus, we are drawn to Jesus and Mary by learning their deeds and trying to imitate them.  In this way, virtue is imposed on us from the outside: we ardently desire to be like someone we know and the grace of God works within us to help us produce this likeness to the virtuous person, which is a likeness to God.

Here's a great Catholic meme.

Here’s a great Catholic meme.

For this purpose, God has established many saints and great men so that we are drawn to virtue.  St. Joseph makes us love obedience, silence, and diligence; St. Anthony of Egypt faith and courage; St. Leo the Great theology and compassion for the poor; St. Ignatius of Loyola nobility of aspiration and obedience to the Church; St. Magnus justice and love of family; the Prophet Moses humility and meekness; St. Bartholomew simplicity and cheerfulness, St. Therese of Lisieux purity and lowliness, and St. Francis de Sales patience and sweetness towards enemies.  God tells us to be like little children.  Little children are always imitating their elders.  In the same way, we should treat the saints as the elders in our guild and imitate them so that we can gain Christ-likeness.  Even virtues which are arduous or not particularly wanted–think of St. Augustine’s understanding of his prayer for chastity really meaning “Make me chaste, Lord, but not yet.”–become sweeter and more desirable when we see them shining in the person of a saint.

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So, perhaps the best way for us to make progress this Lent is to study a saint possessing the virtue we want.  Perhaps the saint struggled with it also, and his conquest of the opposing vice will give us hope of doing the same through God’s grace.  Like Erza does in Fairy Tail, let us form relationships with those in the Church past and present and then tighten these bonds through imitation of the Master.  Do not forget that God loves his saints greatly, and rejoices when we take an interest in them–even telling St. Gertrude that He gives whoever thanks Him for a saint that very saint’s virtues.

Have a happy Lent and most penitential Ash Wednesday, my dear readers!

Fairy Tail and My Tendency to Avoid Long Series

As you know, my dear readers, I like catharsis in an anime.  Somehow catharsis has come to mean a kind of purgation of feeling which is supposed to follow upon watching drama; yet, Aristotle originally meant to mean conciseness in a story, as my Greek professor in college, Dr. Joseph Garnjobst, avers.  One of the surest ways for a series to lack catharsis is for it to stretch on and on.  Series longer than 27 episodes usually lose focus and contain plenty of filler episodes, which cause me to become annoyed and ofttimes drop the series altogether.  For example, without a friend of mine’s rabid love of D. Gray Man, I probably would have been fed up with the overdramatization which occurs around episode 60 and left off there.  In the case of the original Hunter x Hunter, I have less than ten episodes to go, but have somehow not found the opportunity to just sit down and finish off the show.

From stickfigureparadise of deviantart.com

From stickfigureparadise of deviantart.com

But, there have been a few other long series which I have enjoyed: Rurouni Kenshin, InuyashaDeath NoteDragon Ball, and Shijou Saikyou no Deshi Ken’ichi (Kenichi to the English speaking world) come to mind.  Of the big three, the manga drove me away from Naruto after five volumes, Bleach became so dull around episode 100 that I dropped it, and I remember opining to my brother that I would rather watch four episodes of Sailor Moon than one of One Piece.  For those of you who are curious, this would require watching all the television episodes 12 1/3 times–but, I would be more than willing to do than than watch through One Piece once!

Sailor Moon

Yet, a new long series has enthralled me: Fairy Tail.  I have ever been a devotee of fantasy literature, and Fairy Tail, which derives from the pen of the author of Rave Master–a manga I really should get down to reading one day, contains that balance of lighthearted comedy and dire situations which I find most appealing in a story.  The characters, whether the quick tempered Erza, the motion sick prone Natsu, or Gray the exhibitionist, are all very likable.  Of all these, Erza stands out as my favorite.  This is doubtless partly due to her long red hair, beautiful figure, and the ease with which she smites hordes of enemies, but I also can identify with her compassionate nature and unwillingness to open herself up to others.

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And so, I have found a new series with which to while away my leisure time.  Hopefully, it will spawn some excellent editorials for you in the future.  Any other fans of Fairy Tail out there?

Impressions of Dusk Maiden of Amnesia, Fairy Tail, and Samurai Deeper Kyo

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.

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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.

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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.

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