Some Articles Percolating in My Mind

Last week felt very busy with the Three Day Quote challenge and slew of award nominations which were passed to me.  Thanks to all who read, commented, and accepted my nominations and to those who nominated yours truly!  Now, I feel like I need to collect my thoughts and write down the topics which are swirling in my mind.

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You might remember my Candlemas Resolutions from earlier this year.  Sadly, three months is all it took to break these.  For October, I intend to renew three of these resolutions, and to stop giving manga recommendations–or at least in that format–for a couple of reasons.  First, other bloggers do a better job of creating concise manga reviews.  Second, recommending manga requires one to constantly expand one’s consumption of them.  This bites into the time I could be studying foreign languages or reading more worthwhile things–very bad for a writer and aspiring novelist.

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So are moe girls looking over your shoulder as you write.

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Nihongo no Hon #3: Rurouni Kenshin Volume 23

The twenty-third volume of Rurouni Kenshin forms part of the Jinchuu Arc and distinguishes itself for its two duels: Saito vs. Yatsume (Literally, “eight eyes,” but typing it out in English makes it look like “the damn guy.” xD) and Kenshin vs. Enishi.  Yatsume is one of the assassins who originally tried to kill Kenshin in the trap set for him by the Tokugawa gov’t during the last days of the Shogunate, but Yatsume fled after Kenshin thrust a wakizashi through his hand.  He felt disappointed not to fight Kenshin first, but you can be certain that Saito was more than a match for him–a very exciting duel indeed.  We learn about the origins of both Yatsume and Enishi’s prowess; though, I could not help but feel underwhelmed with the “pirate martial arts” of which Enishi boasts.  After all, English pirates beat Wakou in one famous encounter.  Perhaps, George Silver’s English martial arts is superior to both Watou-jutsu and Hitenmitsurugi-ryu?  Anyway, you can tell that I’m annoyed with this made up martial art.  Let me continue with the article.

Saito, the most awesome character in manga, levels insults almost as well as Alucard.

Saito, the most awesome character in manga, levels insults almost as well as Alucard.

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Nihongo no Hon #2: Silencer Vol. 1

There is only one problem with buying manga from Kinokuniya in New York City: the plastic wrappers sealing the book make each purchase of an unknown manga a risk.  The description on the back cover still strikes me as hard to read.  Actually, I only understand “…her beloved gun will today also silently fan [lit. blow] a flame.”  The the artwork on the cover shows a beautifully drawn woman and a well-detailed M1991 with a silencer.  On that day, I was in the mood for a manga featuring a femme fatale.  Perhaps, Silencer by Shou Fumimura could be another Noir?

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Medieval’s Manga Recommendations for February

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

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1) 81 Diver by Shibata Yokusaru

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

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2) Cerberus by Fukui Takami

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

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Gunslinger Girl Ends with a Bang!

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.

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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.

A picture of Triela.  The modifications to her body prevent shots to the arms from being disabling.

A picture of Triela. The modifications to her body prevent shots to the arms from being disabling.

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.

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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!

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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.

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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!

Akana ga Kiru: Love Makes the World Go Round

Well, my dear readers, Akane ga Kiru happens to be the latest manga to capture my imagination.  However, the villains are downright fiends.  Some of the atrocities they commit make it easier to think of them as demons or monsters than human beings.  The violence often reaches the level of Hellsing (and the artwork of Akame ga Kiru is incredibly reminiscent of that work) and occasionally the level of the Berserk manga (don’t read that for Pete’s sake!); so, I only recommend it to the thickest skinned of my readers.  I find myself skipping pages and examining each page for foreshadowing of the gruesome so that I can avoid scenes reminiscent of the worst passages of Terry Goodkind’s novels.

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Then, why read Akame ga Kiru?  Any lover of dark stories will tell you that one reads dark stories for the light contained therein.  The surrounding darkness makes the light seem that much more precious and lovable.  If dark stories contain no light, they fall to the level of trash or poison—the product of a diabolical or melancholy imagination.

Speaking of diabolical, the attitude of treating people as cattle is pretty much rampant among the upper class of this society,

Speaking of diabolical, the attitude of treating people as cattle is pretty much rampant among the upper class of this society,

The point of light which seems most precious because it shines most precariously is romantic love in Esdese, our heroes’ greatest opponent.  Objectively speaking, she’s a vile sadist, but I cannot help but be fascinated by her–nay, she’s actually my favorite character right now.  Her desire to fall in love separates her from the majority of the villains.  And who else should she fall for but the hero?  During a tournament instigated by her to find the sixth member of her Jaeger team, Tatsumi steals her heart, and she drags him from the field in a manner reminiscent of a caveman claiming a bride.  They pass the night debating philosophy–Aristotle vs. Nietzsche, you might say.  Like Thrasymachus of Plato’s Republic, she claims that Tatsumi’s notion of justice derives from weak people: the strong only need to act to their own advantage.  All the while, Tatsumi tries to convince her to defect from the Empire and join the Rebel side without admitting that he has already joined the Empire’s most infamous enemy: Night Raid.

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Esdese seems pretty cute until you get to know her.

During a hunting exercise, he escapes her grasp.  She tells the Jaegers that they do not need to offer Tatsumi mercy should they meet him in combat; yet, she still pines for him.  She even refuses the evil Prime Minister’s offer to find a similar man for her.

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Why should this be significant?  Even bad people love others.  That’s natural, isn’t it?  But, love is intimately bound with happiness, the chief end of human beings.  If love were not so bound with happiness, the family would not be the chief unit of society.  The most effective governments try to foster the health of the family through fostering peace and justice.  Essentially, Esdese, by desiring love, also wishes for the flourishing of peace and justice unless she wants a sham love–the mere indulgence of her feelings.  If she opts for true love, she must become the enemy of her current employers.  (Oh, what a beautiful moment that would be!)  The rampant cruelty and injustice infecting the country hardly fosters the creation of happy households.

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But, many things war against her defection: her vicious character first and foremost.  Her subordinates are incredibly loyal to her because she shows them affection; however, her show of affection is motivated by the desire to make them good subordinates, i. e. tools.  Aristotle claimed that the wicked can only have friendships of utility, and all of Esdese’s relationships belong to that category.  Her relationship with Tatsumi stands as the sole exception, but if she begins to view her relationship with Tatsumi according to usefulness or pleasure, that will shatter her ability to find real love, where the beloved is loved for his own sake.  Then again, the heroines have taken a shine to Tatsumi, and he could easily break Esdese’s heart by choosing one of them over her.  At which point, Esdese might forsake love altogether.  Thirdly, the Japanese concept of karma would certainly deny Esdese the right to real happiness.  The manga takes a grimly realistic view of humanity.  I’d have to say that Dostoyevsky’s underground man had a greater chance at salvation than Esdese.

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In the meantime, I shall follow with rapt attention Esdese’s standing on the fence.  Shall she fall on the side she naturally leans towards and snuff out the little bit of light in her soul?  Or shall amor, with all its demands, sacrifices, and true joys, truly omnia vincit?

Medieval Otaku now Has Sponsors

Hello, my dear readers, this blog has come a long way.  Three businesses have approached me within the last few months to advertise for them.  (Maybe four, actually.)  You can see two of them under the Sponsors section, and you might see the third one soon.  At any rate, it behooves me to tell you a little about those two.

MYPIC Japan was the first to ask me to place a link to their website.  (You have no idea of the thrill it gave me to see that someone in Kagoshima, Japan was interested in this blog!)  It has several beautiful anime drawings, mostly of people.  One can actually have a picture made to order by one of their artists.  In the interest of full disclosure, I receive a 5% commission on anything someone buys through clicking the link.

Not an example of MYPIC art, by the way.

Not an example of MYPIC art, by the way. But I would say that their art is about as good.

In the case of the Manga Collectionary, they have offered to advertise this blog on Facebook.  They offer a wide range of manga and anime related products at good prices.  I’m rather impressed with this site, and hope to peruse it more thoroughly in the future.

I’m rather proud of the strides this site has made since its beginning on April 5, 2012.  I could never have persevered without the encouragement provided by the blogging community, and would just like to extend my thanks to all of you.  Domo Arigato Gozaimasu!

Of the cast, I'd say that Kurama is the only one who doesn't look out of place in a tuxedo.

Of the cast, I’d say that Kurama is the only one who doesn’t look out of place in a tuxedo.

Freezing in Bali: How the Anime Falls short of the Manga

Hisashiburi desu ne, my dear readers?  After too long of a rest from writing, some commentary on Freezing: Vibration offers good warm up before I tackle more difficult articles.  I especially wish to write my article on Kouichi Mashimo’s Girls with Guns Trilogy (Noir, Madlax, and El Cazador de la Bruja).  (To tell you the truth, I did not know that this trilogy bore that nickname until this morning.)  Anyway, the present article will express how the anime handled Satellizer and Kazuya’s adventure in Bali, which spans episodes 5-7.

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These episodes number among the most painful and dark one can watch; though, as is often the case with such tales, the story is quite powerful.  After the Chevalier organization succeeds in disgracing the Mably family in revenge for Elizabeth Mably whistleblowing on the reckless way this organization handled the E-Pandora project, Satellizer sets a course for Bali in order to enlist the aid of the El Bridget family against the Chavalier Organization.  Her half-sister, Violet, runs a resort in this area.  Unfortunately, Satellizer also meets her half-brother, Louis, at this resort.  The meeting is unfortunate because Louis sees Satellizer more as a lover than as a sister, and acts on this desire in a most churlish manner.

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Okay, the preceding remark stands as a gross understatement.  As children, Louis had taken to molesting her and resumes his evil ways at the hotel.  From these experiences in her childhood and early adolescence, Satellizer developed a fear of being touched, from which she earned her nickname at West Genetics of “the Untouchable Queen.”  These three episodes show Satellizer’s struggle to break free of his hold and perform an admirably good job of demonstrating the psychology of both the victim and the fiend.  I especially like the anime’s use of chains to show the hold that Louis has on her.

Oh, I might just mention here that Holly actual has character in the manga, which is completely absent in the anime.

Oh, I might just mention here that Holly actual has character in the manga, which is completely absent in the anime.

As much as these episodes covered that aspect of the story, they portrayed the events quite well.  However, this came at the price of Kazuya and Violet’s character development, and the final victory over Louis seems rushed and less believable than in the manga.  The manga makes Violet a much more developed character.  In particular, she was the person who initially discovered Louis’s harassment of Satellizer and caused her to be sent away from the family house.  At the present time, since Louis, ostensibly at least, has a girlfriend and plenty of time has passed, Violet hoped that Satellizer might reconcile with Louis.

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And the characterization of Kazuya was miserable, as it rather has been for most of the second season.  Two scenes where Kazuya stands up to Louis made me practically cheer when I read them, but appeared trite when watched.  I doubt that this is entirely because I knew what would happen.  Kazuya has been relegated to the role of an air headed harem hero–a Tenchi, if you will.  His character has greater value than that!  The first season of the anime did a much better job in characterizing him.  After all, Kazuya drives most of Satellizer’s changes for the better.  If not for Kazuya, she would still remain the fearful, cold, and diffident character of season one.

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So, I still enjoyed the episodes, but the brevity which which the anime dealt with the story–perhaps that this kind of story could not be narrated as well through the medium of anime–diminished its excellence.  As I said, the interior struggle of Satellizer and the psychology of the victim and the perpetrator were portrayed rather well.  But, they achieved this at the price of not developing the other characters and excising most of the back story, which lent more pathos to the manga’s version.  So, this arc in the anime was okay, but chapters 39-50 were superb.

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Ookami no Kuchi: How to Infuriate your Readers in 2 Chapters or Less

While browsing through my manga app, I ran across a manga titled Ookami no Kuchi: Wolfsmund.  At first, I was delighted to find that it was a manga based in 14th century Switzerland and that the artwork was quite brilliant.  However, it was disconcerting that it began with an execution of a Swiss freedom fighter; yet, stories that begin darkly often feature stronger struggles and make a happy ending more compelling.  So, I decided to read the first and then the second chapter.

Emperor Charlemagne Holding Sword

The first chapter was pretty grim.  A knight tried to smuggle the executed freedom fighter’s daughter across the border, because the tyrannical lord wished to execute his entire family.  Goaded by a claim I found on Baka Updates saying: “The author pulls no punches to show us just how brutal and inhuman the Middle Ages really were,” I must point out certain flaws in the manga on this point.  First off, it would be incredible for a medieval king to wish to wipe out a family’s womenfolk.  Most would not even make a serious attempt to kill all the men as long as they no longer posed a threat.  Exile and imprisonment were much preferred means of punishment until around the time of the Protestant Reformation, where the masses of people executed on both sides for heresy seems to have dulled people’s qualms about capital punishment.

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Anyway, the daughter disguises herself but she and the knight end up being discovered by the noble running a checkpoint known as Wolfsmund (Wolf’s maw).  The knight is killed by crossbowmen and the lady  executed on a chopping block.  Medievals never executed women unless they were found guilty of witchcraft.  The attitude of a 19th century American on the topic of hanging a woman differed not in the least with the attitude of a medieval man on the subject.  But, in this manga’s favor, I must note that the style of fighting employed by the knights, which uses the hilt and pommel as well as the blade, is very accurate–even if finishing one’s opponent off, which the lady’s knight was compelled to do, was not.

Knight and Lady

Anyway, having been depressed by these events, I pressed on to the next chapter, wherein it is revealed that the freedom fighters are making great progress in ousting the tyrant ruling over them.  A pair of lovers is separated because the woman, a very capable fighter herself, is given a mission to pass beyond Wolfsmund to transport back money from a Florentine bank.  Need I say that a woman traveling alone is unheard of in the Middle Ages?  Especially in the disguise of an old woman?  That’s a very easy way to arose suspicion!  Better would have been to disguise herself along with a compatriot as nuns.  As it turns out, the poor girl is discovered by a trick the nobleman plays on her and thrown into the dungeon.

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From which, she herself manages to escape, only to be cornered atop a wall and killed by a thrown sword.  Now, the broadsword, unlike the katana, was never intended to be thrown.  The weight is balanced too close at the hilt.  The first throw does hit the girl hilt first, which is the most likely way it would land; while the second pierces her back–a blow only possible through incredible good luck.  Then, her corpse is displayed on a wheel–I did not turn the next page to see exactly how they displayed her corpse, but it must not have been pleasant.  At any rate, though male enemies’ corpses were sometimes displayed and mutilated during the Middle Ages; I doubt that a woman’s corpse ever suffered the same fate.  Despite popular opinion, medievals were not barbarians, and I suspect such an action would have brought the censure of the Church.

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At this point, I got the picture that the manga would consist of failed attempts upon the gate and the cruelty inflicted on the trespassers by the nobleman in charge of it.  No enduring protagonist had emerged yet, with the exception of the female owner of an inn (women owning inns was probably not uncommon at the time), who seems unable to help the good guys.  And so, I put down this novel which concerned itself more with exploring human suffering than telling a good story.

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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Where’s the Anime Gone?

Some of you may be wondering whether I still watch anime or if I have become disenchanted with modern anime and started to focus solely on manga, like xxxHolicWing of Chronical Holic.  May she find reasons to get excited about anime again, since I have always enjoyed reading her articles–though I admit having to catch up.  Fear not, my dear readers!  I have a tidy list of shows which I happen to be watching on and off.  You may expect some reviews in the near future.  Also, a few more for manga: Bartender, Break Blade, Fuyu Hanabi, Guardian Dog, Gunka no Balzer, and Hinekure Shisho no Mikaiketsu Jikenroku have caught my attention in particular.  I might have reviewed Break Blade already though.  I’ll check later.

My favorite current manga for its dynamic characters, period detail, and political intrigue.

My favorite current manga for its dynamic characters, period detail, and political intrigue.

At any rate, Girls und Panzer and Future Diary provided excellent entertainment with the later raising some interesting moral questions.  I rather enjoyed both, though I admit to Future Diary being somewhat of an acquired taste.  At least, the points where I disagree with it furnish apt material for editorials.  Unfortunately, I can’t write anything else about Girls und Panzer besides what people have already written: it’s a unique show which excels at action.  Watch it!

Who knew that a show combining high school girls and tanks could be so fantastic?

Who knew that a show combining high school girls and tanks could be so fantastic?

Having been intrigued by a review of Dusk Maiden of Amnesia written by Marlin-sama of Ashita no Anime, searching for a good comedy yesterday finally led me to watch it.  Three episodes into the show, the comedy has remained spectacular, the fanservice not over the top, and the overall tone wonderfully touching.  So, you can expect an article from me on the show in the future.  On a friend’s recommendation, I have started to watch the Break Blade movies.  As a fan of the manga, I was happy to see that they have kept the story faithful to the original story and that the animation is quite stunning.  Then, there are a couple of other shows which bloggers’ articles have led me to watch: Charles of Beneath the Tangles recommended Kotoura-san, and John Samuel of Pirates of the Burley Griffin’s series of articles on Bodacious Space Pirates drew me to watching that show.

Another surprisingly good show led by high school girls, the ambassadors of Japanese culture.

Another surprisingly good show led by high school girls, the ambassadors of Japanese culture.

Then, there are a few others which I’m currently enjoying: Gintama, Hunter x Hunter, Inuyasha: the Final Act, Psycho-pass, and Ys.  Gintama rates highly among comedies, as its six season run attests.  It’s a rather frenetic show, going everywhere from high-class, dramatic series of episodes to episodes of low-brow toilet humor.  Sometimes I wonder whether a different show has insidiously taken Gintama‘s place.  I’m watching the original Hunter x Hunter, and just can’t seem to find the time to finish it.  If I did, I’d probably turn to the remake, which has received a lot of good press.  Inuyasha: the Final Act shows remarkable improvement from the original show in regard to animation quality, and I can’t wait to see the demise of Naraku in color.  Psycho-pass has frequently horrified me by the bloodiness of the crimes, and, in the last episode I watched, outraged me with the scene showing a brutal murder in a crowd with the onlookers merely spectating.  Yet, it offers an interesting view of human nature alongside its utopian society.  I should pen an article for it pretty soon.  Lastly, the fantasy Ys deserves a very harsh, mocking review.  It proves that not every anime from the 90’s is as good as I’d like it to be.  The characters’ actions are so artificial that it makes me feel like I’m watching video game cut scenes!

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Oh, and I have also been watching Shin Sekai Yori.  That sums up my anime watching history over the past few months.  Look forward to some nice reviews!

Long Awaited Manga Reviews

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.

Picture of good ol' Revy.

Picture of good ol’ Revy.

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.

Christopher Lee as Dracula

Christopher Lee as Dracula

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.

Don't worry.  It's available in English.

Don’t worry. It’s available in English.

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.

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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.)

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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.

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Even bald men deserve to be loved.

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.)

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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I hope that you enjoyed these reviews.  Pressing work will deter me from blogging for at least a week.

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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The End of Samurai Deeper Kyo: All About Heart

The extent to which the Samurai Deeeper Kyo manga has captivated me is well known to my dear readers from my last article on the subject.  I must say that no manga ending in recent memory has quite satisfied me as much for all the time and effort that went into reading it–I’ll likely take up this 308 chapter manga again!  Unlike so many series, one can see that the author had a clear ending in mind.  This prevented the series from wandering due to a lack of focus prevalent in so many manga.  (One Piece, Bleach, Naruto, I’m pointing at you!)  The ending in particular, for all its catering to the fans, possessed many interesting themes running through it: so much so, that I doubt having completely understood it.

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Anyway, let me begin my only slighly spoilerific discussion of the manga–with the exception of the last paragraph, anyway, which contains the biggest spoiler in the work.  One of the most interesting facets of the manga is the clever use of Christian imagery–the cross in particular.  The use of such symbols tends to make the Christian otaku/anime junkie (whichever you prefer) a little nervous considering  the Japanese inclination to scatter random Christian symbols throughout their works.  However, one perceives a purpose to the use of this symbol throughout SDK.  The fanservice and downright roguish characters rather obscure this, but one see how the themes of love, self-sacrifice, and suffering out of love run through this manga–more so as one approaches the end.  (This is not apparent in the anime and must be considered the reason for its lackluster performance.)  I almost wish to label Demon Eyes Kyo a Christ figure, but his lack of decency causes me to hesitate–someone else may make the connection if they like.  Interestingly, this manga is one of those which refuses to paint black black or white white: one must carefully consider the person or matter at hand before labeling anything.

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The ways Kyo approximates Christ lies in his strong loyalty toward his “servants.”  Kyo himself tends to take up the lion’s share of combat unless one of his friends absolutely insists or he finds himself too weak for fighting.  At which point, he refuses to lend his companion a helping hand–no matter how poorly the fight turns out for that guy.  In order to refer this quality to Christ, let us remind ourselves that, although we cannot do anything without God’s grace, He sometimes wishes us to triumph in situations where He appears absent and in agonies which require all our effort–though, it is not really we who conquer, but Christ in us.  This affords an opportunity for growth–if Christ pulled us out of all our difficulties by overwhelming force, we could neither develop the virtues of fortitude, faith, hope, and love, nor nor understand how weak we are in ourselves.

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Then, one is struck by how much mercy and compassion the protagonists show toward their fallen foes: by the end, only one enemy, who appears to lack any kind of empathy or compassion, is willfully killed–nevermind, one other person of a similar caste met the same fate.  Often, our heroes will mourn over the deaths of certain foes or convert their foes into allies in their quest to bring down the infamous Mibu clan–thus, showing the triumph of charity and a good-will.

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The main villain, the Aka no Ou or Crimson King, is deluded rather than truly evil.  He wishes to create a paradise free from suffering through the means of a violent conflict.  But suffering, at least in the current version of reality, is inseparable from love.  On the more humanist side, Schopenhauer claimed that compassion derives from us suffering and therefore being able to understand the sufferings of others.  And indeed, people who have kept themselves from suffering are often those least able to empathize with others.  Our Lord, the Man of Sorrows, revealed the fullness of his love during His Sacred Passion.  We even see an essential transformation in Kyo: as the manga progresses and Kyo suffers more with the other characters, his love increases toward them, and he risks himself more for them.

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But, the very end contains a striking symbol of love (the whopping spoiler to which I refer): the treasure which the Mibu had been closely guarding was the Crimson King’s heart, which he had removed from his body.  Kyo’s final victory over the Crimson King convinced the king to place his heart back in his chest.  Not only is his treasure a heart, but it has a cross engraved upon it.  This displays the truth that some things cannot be understood save through the heart, especially a heart that has suffered.  So, the Crimson King is persuaded to abandon his idea of a painless Utopia, since a Utopia as he envisions would be a loveless place–perhaps, even because people would not be able to suffer.  And the cross upon the Crimson King’s heart cannot but recall the Sorrowful and Sacred Heart of Jesus, which comprehends all things.

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So, do you know of any Christ figure in anime or any anime which uses Christian figures well, my dear readers?

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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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Happy All Saints Day & National Blog Posting Month

Happy All Saint’s Day!  I hope that all you Catholics went to church today.  The Feast of All Souls is celebrated tomorrow, so I encourage everyone to remember their departed friends and relatives or the holy souls in purgatory generally on that day.  Even if you believe your loved ones are in heaven by now, prayers for the dead are never wasted: if one prays for a soul already in heaven, the Church on earth benefits.  This is also a simple way to perform a work of mercy.

Anyway, I’ve been very neglectful in posting for the past while, but I recently got a message about it being National Blog Posting Month; so I’m going to turn over a new leaf.  Each and every day will have some sort of post for the entire month–no matter how short of an article.  There have been a few ideas for posts churning in my brain, though I have not found the time.  Here are some examples:

1.  The relationship of Kiba and Cheza as symbolic of the bond between Jesus and Mary

2.  A review of No. 6

3.  A post about St. Leo the Great before his feast day on November 10th

4.  A review of The Adventures of Tom Sawyer, which I’m reading for the first time

5.  A review or more thoughts on Weighted and Wanting by George MacDonald

6.  A review of Humanity Has Declined (two episodes to go)

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

8.  Some information about Baltimore

9.  A Report of the Eucharist Congress held by the Diocese of Trenton at the Garden State Arts Center (where you may learn interesting facts about the blogger in addition to the Congress)

10.  Reviews of certain teas and beers

So, this ought to be an interesting month on this blog, provided that I can write the five substantial papers also due this month.

A Little Review of The Freeloader

It’s been a while, hasn’t it, dear readers?  Classwork and all the activities which happen at my university have kept me away from writing for a while, but take solace that you are not the only ones with whom I’ve lost touch: my family rarely hears from me, my friends from college never do, and one of my pet cats still looks longingly out of the window as it awaits my return.  But, this article will at least reach those who are in the first two groups–my cat will have to wait until I visit home next weekend.

As some of you may have noticed, the artist whose comic I marked at the Baltimore Comic Con, Sean Bishop, commented on my article and kindly offered to give me a free signed edition of his work.  (I tell you, as surreal as it was for him to see his work blogged about, it was even more so to see one of my writings produce an effect in the physical world.)  His generosity even extended to him sending two posters–one in color and the other in black and white–of his Rurouni Kenshin drawing, which may be seen in the prior blog post.  Both of these are exquisite to behold; though, I find myself gravitating to the one in black and white, which no doubt shows to how full an extent I have immersed myself in Japanese culture.  As I promised him, here’s a little review of his work.

The story concerns a criminal with a $50,000 dollar bounty on her head, who finds herself forced to cooperate with a lowly bounty hunter in order to work off her debt to society.  This female misfit, named Ms. Aegea (An interesting name.  Make me wonder whether I’m supposed to compare the character to Queen Aegea of the Amazons or King Aegeus of the Athenians–but that’s just my classical mind at work), was captured by the bounty hunter for staying in a park past curfew–this bounty hunter had no idea of the bounty.  Judging from the scenes which show them working together, the two make a great pair.  We’ve yet to learn the bounty hunter’s proper name.  Since he makes Ms. Aegea pay for everything, she just calls him “freeloader.”  The bounty hunter pair, in which we have one rather gung-ho character and another who is laid back, reminds me of Black Cat.  I’m expecting some interesting things from the story.  I’m especially curious what the freeloader’s background is, which will probably be revealed along with his name.

One of my favorite series.

This style of drawing seems to be a pleasant mixture of the kind found in Japanese-style manga and American Sunday Comics.  This allows the characters to be very expressive, increasing certain scenes’ comedic impact.  However, one does wish that the backgrounds held more detail, but the characters draw in the reader’s attention sufficiently to render this defect negligible.

Yet, this comic book has one flaw which makes me almost prompts me to break out into Juvenalian indignation.  That Mr. Bishop realizes also it makes my complaint more justified: he committed the great and nearly unforgivable sin of making this comic too brief.  I want to know what happens next!  In particular, the final scene abruptly ends with a dark figure bombing a mailing facility as the freeloader says “That guy just…jaywalked across the street!”  The desire to know how this scene continues practically makes the reader want to scream!

Another infamous bomber. If you haven’t seen Full Metal Panic Fumoffu, you really need to.

So, Mr. Bishop is writing a wonderful comic, which I encourage everyone to either buy or eagerly wait for its page length to increase before getting it.

My First Foray into a Con

Sorry that this articles is a little delayed, dear readers. My memory of events may be slightly fuzzy, but there’s enough left for me to write an amusing account of this trip. The dearth of anime paraphernalia disappointed me a little, and I felt somewhat lost among the various American comic books—but, I still enjoyed the convention.

A friend of mine drove me over in his car. I count it fortunate that he intended to become a comic artist at one time in his life. He actually spent a semester at college for the study of art. Among the comics he described to me, Valiant comics seemed to offer the most interesting stories. (The one concerning the Visigoth invasion of Rome in which aliens help the Romans in defeating the Visigoths particularly caught my attention.) With this tenuous background, I hoped to be able to navigate the convention to a certain extent.

When we arrived in Baltimore, we were chagrined to find that parking cost seven dollars an hour at both of the parking garages we found—at least, for the first two hours of parking. I was hoping that the Old Bay garage, being owned by a prosperous company, would be cheaper than the other one. And this was true after the first two hours, but we still wound up paying $17 for three hours of parking. After this experience, I began to understand how Dante could place usurers in hell.

Although I understood that my friend was unable to purchase a ticket online because he was uncertain whether he would be able to attend the convention, buying a ticket here turned into an adventure in itself. You see, even though I had a ticket myself, I did not desire to explore the convention floor on my own. (Another friend of mine was down there, but I possessed doubts whether I should find him among the throng of people.) So, I waited on line with my friend—at which decision, one of the staff marked on how good a friend I was. The magnanimous quality of my decision finally impressed itself on me after I waited forty-five minutes on line! (I believe I told some people that the wait was one hour and twenty minutes, but I’m convinced that this is an exaggeration. At least, I hope and pray that is an exaggeration, but it sure felt that long at the time.)

But, standing on line had certain benefits: several interesting cosplayers passed by, we discussed comics and anime some more, and Stan Lee himself passed right next to us! I think that might have been worth the price of admission alone. It has been several years since I found myself so close to a celebrity—unless Catholic bishops count as celebrities anyway. So, I enjoyed seeing the man responsible for Spider Man, the Hulk, the X-men, and others, even if I could not afford the ticket to attend the special panel he headed.

After our friend and I were squared away, we on a short round of the booths, specifically looking for #1805, which contained the illustrious Scott Snyder. (My friend informed me that he was a very down-to-earth guy and everything, but one had to wait on line for over an hour before seeing him!) In this short round, I felt rather lost: very little anime or manga in sight besides the copies of Usagi Yojimbo. (Nevermind: I thought that this counted as a manga, but it seems to have been created in America. At least, it made me feel a little less lost.)

Due to my excellent navigation skills, we soon found the exorbitantly long line leading to Scott Snyder. Fortunately, my other friend was on a nearby line to another famous comic artist. So, I chatted with him for a little. He had purchased a poster of Batman from the aforementioned Scott Snyder, and I could not but marvel at the fineness of the detail. Rarely have I seen the musculature of a strong man’s back portrayed so perfectly.

This friend, being unable to guide me himself due to having to attend a previous engagement after getting some more signatures, realized that the thought of waiting on any of these lines was repugnant to me—especially after waiting on line for the ticket, so he directed me to the part of the con which contained the anime. The thought that somewhere there existed some anime products which I had missed delighted me. I hastened to search the area where he directed me only to find that I had been there previously, and, like everywhere else, it rather lacked the presence of anime. During my search, I did see a booth containing stuffed anime dolls, but I’m not into that element of the fandom. (I did consider purchasing a Kirara doll for my sister, though.) Anime was so lacking that the sight of a Naruto shirt made me happy—the only time that has happened.

I did enjoy seeing the variety of American comics. Somehow, I could never get into American comics, yet the artwork has always fascinated me with its attention to detail. There were also plenty of comics from which I had to turn my eyes. Among these, however, there was one comic which caught my eye: Freeloader by Sean Bishop. A strong urge to speak with this gentleman came over me, but my Nakajima nature prevented me. After looking this gentleman and his work up, I realized how silly I was: he’s a Rurouni Kenshin fan, from New Jersey, and his story contains two disparate bounty hunters who are forced to work together. I rather enjoy the humor that derives from such scenarios. If only I had spoken to him! I might have actually purchased a comic from the Comic Con.

Also drawn by Sean Bishop.

At some point, I consumed some food and sat around until my friend finally obtained an audience with the renowned Scott Snyder. At which point he returned to show me a poster stand were I found several anime posters. On our way there, I saw someone cosplaying as Yoko from Tengen Toppa Gureen Lagaan. She did a great job, but one doesn’t have to work very hard on putting together that costume. 🙂 So, posters of Trigun, Hetalia, and Neon Genesis Evangelion are now offering something more interesting to look at than my room’s white walls. In return, I showed him the booth selling stuffed anime characters, where he contemplated buying someone a joke gift. At this point, we were thoroughly exhausted by the convention and returned to our dormitory.

 

Simplicity and Identification in You’re Under Arrest

About one year ago, I discovered You’re Under Arrest, a very amusing series by Kousuke Fujishima who is also famed for Ah! My Goddess!  It excels in showing spectacular car chases, amusing plots, likeable characters, comedy, and even has a very believable and nice–though frustrating at times–romance for those of you who care about that facet of storytelling.  (Okay, I’ll admit that I’m sometimes a sucker for that too.)  This TV series began with a four episode OVA, which became popular enough to warrant a series.  However, I consider the OVAs to be the weakest episodes of the first season, to which the OVA was attached, with the exception of the OVAs having better animation quality.  But, the comedy and the plots of You’re Under Arrest only improved from there.

On the other hand, the second season started pretty strong.  Saori’s entering into Bokuto Station with a ton of youthful rigor made for some splendid comedy as our heroes and their comrades tried to restrain her high ideals.  Saori is eventually relegated to a desk job.  (By the way, if you’re presently seeking the next animated masterpiece, don’t watch You’re Under Arrest.  This show is best for those who wish to enjoy some light comedy without being bombarded by fanservice.)  Everything was proceeding as normal until the series introduced a love triangle and showed Kobayakawa distancing herself from her partner Tsujimoto.  Usually, more conflict increases the value of a show, but a show needs to know what kind of conflict is suitable for it.

In the case of a show like You’re Under Arrest, interpersonal conflict among friends and dark, internal struggles ruin the work.  Instead of the lighthearted fun and likeable characters for which the viewers watch the show, we see Kobayakawa become steadily more detestable as passion draws her closer to a mechanic aged thirty-something and his daughter(a nice guy, but one should avoid unequal relationships in general).  This causes extreme suffering for her long time love interest, Nakajima, and leads to her getting into a serious fight with Tsujimoto, even slapping her at one point.

Now, in a certain book on novel writing (The Art & Craft of Novel Writing by Oakley Hall, I think), the author commented on how he hated simple characters.  They’re boring, uninteresting, and more like children than adults.  How is an adult supposed to relate to them?  No doubt, Kousuke Fujishima thought like this when he decided to introduce these difficulties: that these struggles would result in the story becoming more interesting.  The case is rather that this stands as one of the dullest, saddest five episodes stretches in the history of anime.  I felt that several of the episodes past the middles of the second season were weak, but these were downright depressing!

If one thinks about it, much of the “complexity” we see in adults derives from sin.  Adults wish to improve their situation in life and feel envy toward those who are above them either in terms of their position or of wealth; they have difficulty remaining faithful to one person because they think that indulging their lusts would be more pleasurable; they constantly want more stuff; they do not trust God and so suffer from many phobias and constantly fear being injured.  Shall I go on?  All these things make for complex characters, and several good stories have been made where plot centers on the main character overcoming his defects; but who would not prefer to be simple?

The simple man considers his station in life sufficient unless a true need arises, he does not bear ill will toward his superiors, he treasures his relationships, and fears nothing.  If there is anything in his character which strikes others as an idiosyncrasy, he does not consider it as a cause for pride.  Again, who would not rather be this person?  Ah, such perfection is rarely achieved!

Which reminds me, one of the chief reasons a viewer likes or dislikes a story lies in whether he can identify with the characters.  Interestingly, this identification occurs either because a character’s personality approximates the viewer’s or the viewer would like to become similar to that character.  In the former case, we cheer the hero on, hoping for him to overcome all the obstacles.  Sorrowing when he fails or rejoicing when he succeeds as if we ourselves rise or fall with him.  In the latter, we see a model for us to attain.  Seeing the greatness of this character, we are on fire to attain his virtues.  The point of having the two kinds is so that one can see both the goal and how miserable it is to be away from the goal!  The first spurs us by its beauty and the latter by revulsion.

To tie this back into You’re Under Arrest, Nakajima seems very much like myself.  Even though he knows how to respond to matters well when it concerns his job, he procrastinates and is terribly unsure of himself when it comes to his human relationships.  But, at the same time, he has a degree of reflection which usually prevents him from hurting other people–at least, by commission.  Nakajima needs to learn more from Tsujimoto, who simply sizes up problems and does whatever she thinks is right.  An example of simplicity very much worth following!

To wrap up with a more practical matter, I just need to decide whether I should go on to the third season.  Considering that most of the characters are women, the first two seasons showed remarkable restraint when it came to fanservice, but this did increase over the course of the second.  Does anyone have any opinions concerning how tolerable the third season is?  Also, the episodes plots tended to be subpar in the second season.  Does the third season offer an improvement in this area?  Comments please!  Especially if this article brought you some intellectual delight!