Saturday, November 28, 2009

Comic Ratings, Maid Cafe Temples, and Winter Break

Heading back to college tomorrow. ^^ Thanksgiving break at home has been fun- giddily checking out the holiday sales at the mall, decorating the Christmas tree (and having to re-do the lights after finding that the end of the last string wasn't the side that plugs into the outlet > < *headdesk*), making Thanksgiving pumpkin pie...

Anyway, I found two articles that were pretty interesting, but for entirely different reasons. (Found via Icarus Publishing's blog- which may be nsfw-, via Okazu.)

First, this one, because it made me go: o___O; I don't hate maid cafes (I've been to a couple in Akihabara and enjoyed dining in them- really, they're pretty cute if you ignore some of the clientele-, although whenever I brought anybody else along, they were like "wtf?" lol), and if it's keeping this temple in operation, then that's their sad business. kind of feels like seeing an order of Franciscan sisters running a Hooter's joint to keep one of their spirituality centers operating. >_>;; (I really hate to say it, but now I'm actually mildly interested in this temple. I'll have to ask my anime fan pen pal in Japan if he knows about it.)

The other article is "The Myth of All Ages" at Comics 212. I don't have any snarky comments for this one- it's a really well-written article that any manga/comics fan who's interested in the manga/comics industry might be interested in reading.

 Plus, anybody who visits Afterellen already knows this, but this past week AE began streaming Sasameki Koto! (Just like they did with Aoi Hana this past summer.) It's really cool to see Sasameki Koto getting discovered by more viewers. XD Too bad Crunchyroll isn't streaming Railgun also; the plot's getting really tight.

Finally, can't wait for winter break!! I can watch El Cazador and Blue Drop on DVD,

and finish the series that I've put on hiatus, along with watching Fate/stay night.

CANAAN was my first Type-Moon series, and, since I enjoyed the heck out of it, it piqued my interest in TM's other works, hence my interest in Kara no Kyoukai (which I've finished by now- it was awesome XD Edit on 12/05: Whoops, bakabakashii. > < I should say that I finished the movies that are out right now. There's still that one last movie.), and now Fate.

Won't have as much time for posts from now until winter break begins on December 23. Finals aplenty~

BGM- "Chain" by Ohara Sayaka

Thursday, November 26, 2009

Great Manga Gift Guide: 2009

Happy holiday season!! ^^ Since the holiday shopping season has arrived, I'm participating in the Great Manga Gift Guide Project that manga bloggers across the net are doing. Just a list of manga that I think would make nice gifts this holiday season. (And for the heck of it, under each category I'll include one title that I would love to see licensed in English someday, so that it could "fully" be included on this list. :P For this post only, I'm writing the mangaka/manhwagas' names with their given name first.)

For New Shoujo Readers (although of course, anybody can enjoy them):
  • Love Com (or Lovely Complex) by Aya Nakahara- A romantic comedy that's actually funny, starring a fun lead couple- an exceptionally tall girl and an exceptionally short short boy who are absolutely perfect for one another, but need to get over their height complexes (and the fact that other people find them hysterical when they stand next to each other) before they can get together.
  • Full Moon o Sagashite by Arina Tanemura- the oldest title in this category, but still extremely good. A story about a  12 year-old girl with terminal throat cancer who refuses to have the tumor removed because it would also require her vocal cords to be removed and ruin her dream of becoming a singer. (Even though it means she only has one year to live). She meets two shinigami who give her the ability to become 16 (in order to attend a record company's audition) and realize her dream. It has the potential to be hokey, but it's actually really cute and enjoyable (and despite being more cynical/picky than when I first read it, re-reading it still leaves a smile on my face). Still Tanemura's best title, imo (even though Gentlemen's Alliance is the hot thing right now).
  • Kimi ni Todoke by Karuho Shiina- I didn't really care for it much when I first sampled it, but after sort of...really, really liking the anime (no, not only because of who Sawako's seiyuu is), I tried the manga again and got into it also. It's another romantic dramedy about two teens who need to get together already (with a nice horror movie tie-in), but the story is as much about the lead's personal growth and  development of relationships with other people in general as it is simply about her romance. Just a warm, cute story (the reviewer said, as her heart grew three sizes). Shiina's art can be super-cute also, without being annoying.
  • Fushigi Yuugi Genbu Kaiden by Yuu Watase- take all of the elements that made the original FY enjoyable, replace Miaka with a much better lead, refine Watase's art (which was always lovely), and give the story a darker overtone (darker for people who know how it will ultimately end, based on the original FY; trust isn't light or fluffy), and you have one darned good shoujo fantasy-adventure- with enough sprinkles of humor to keep it from feeling turgid.
  • Title I'd like to see licensed in English: Strawberry Shake Sweet by Shizuru Hayashiya (A hysterically funny romantic comedy with a super cute/adorably cracked couple- an idol and the up-and-coming idol who she's training- and a fun supporting cast.)
For More Experienced Shoujo Readers (or people who want something a little more "mature", and less sparkly):
  • Sand Chronicles by Shinako Ashihara: The story of a girl from the time she's twelve (when she and her divorced mother move back to her mother's hometown and her mother commits suicide) through her maturity into adulthood (after she moves back to Tokyo to live with her father while trying to maintain a long distance relationship with her boyfriend back in her old home). It might not sound terribly special, but the execution is excellent and the protagonist is really likeable. Could really be enjoyed by anyone, but probably will be appreciated a little more by people who can look back on their earlier teen years- as opposed to a more "wish fulfillment"-y high school piece like Ouran or Imadoki, if that makes sense.
  • Antique Bakery by Fumi Yoshinaga- Yoshinaga's an extremely talented mangaka with several  good titles under her belt, but this is still her best gateway title. Four men running a bakery. It sounds simple, but in Yoshinaga's hands, it's executed with humor, charm, and finesse.
  • One Thousand and One Nights by Han SeungHee and Jeon JinSeok- SeungHee's sumptuous art alone is worth checking this title out for. It (very) loosely follows the story of the original 1001 Nights, except that the storyteller is a man in this version (taking his sister's place when she's summoned for the sultan to sleep with her and then execute her), telling numerous stories-within-a-story set in different times and places in antiquity. The metafictional stories and the overarching story (which grows more and more complex) are both extremely well-executed.
  • Nodame Cantabile by Tomoko Minomiya- An excellent, down-to-earth (but still really fun and funny) series about two music students who work towards their respective dreams while falling in love (although one does so, uh, more quickly than the other ^^;).
  •  Rica'tte Kanji by Rica Takashima- I liked this one when I read it pre-college, but liked it more after actually going to college for a year (again with the "read-it-after-you-experience-it-for-maximum-entertainment" factor goes). A cute, funny 1 volume josei story about a women's college student on her own in Tokyo for the first time and entering the Nichoume (gay) dating scene there (and one of the chapters is, wouldn't you know it, a Christmas chapter :) ).
  • Title I want to see licensed in English- Aoi Hana by Takako Shimura (As I've stated before here, an excellent, excellent romantic drama. I will send chocolate and flowers to any company that licenses and releases this one- and of course, I'll buy it.)
 Honorary mention goes to Ai Yazawa's NANA. It's a great story, but I'm not crazy about Viz's English translation.

For Anybody Who Wants A Good Laugh:
  • Sayonara Zetsubou Sensei by Kouji Kumeta- A satire that pokes fun at Japanese society (and non-Japanese society, to some extent), while sprinkling Japanese literary/pop-cultural references throughout. Hysterical, with one of the all-time great comedy leads. XD (Zetsuboushita!!)
  • Yotsuba&! Kiyohiko Azuma- Much less dark than Zetsubou Sensei, but no less excellent. Simply about a quirky kid, her friends, and family living their day-to-day lives. Funny and endearing, which is rare for a comedy.
  • Hayate x Blade by Shizuru Hayashiya- Sword duels, yuri, and heaps of good comedy (heh...Lawson Mask XD), with fun characters. I could read volume after volume of Hayate and Ayana dueling to the top for stars. XD
  • Title I want to see licensed in English- Sasameki Koto by Takashi Ikeda (As I've said here before, a really good romantic comedy.)
For the Horror Fan:
  • Higurashi no Naku Koro ni by Ryukishi07 and Karin Suzuragi- I didn't expect to like the Higurashi franchise as much as I do. But both the anime and manga incarnations of this moe-meets-slasher-horror-meets-mystery, about the secrets buried in the peaceful, rural town of Hinamizawa, are prime examples of horror done right.
  • Uzumaki by Junji Ito- about a high school girl living in a rural town (of course) in which freaky things start going down as a result of the "curse of the spiral." (It makes much more sense when you read it.) Seriously weird and entertaining. (And only 3 volumes!)
  • Title I'd like to see brought over: Franken Fran by Katsuhisa Kigitsu (Funniest horror title I've ever read. :D While still being genuinely good- and more than a little twisted.)
For the young adult who's (ostensibly) still figuring it all out/anybody who's ever been in that position, or for the comics fans who normally isn't into manga but is open to reading one (if the these categories overlap for your giftee, you've hit the jackpot):
  • Solanin by Asano Inio- Freaking excellent. About a young woman working as an OL in Tokyo while living with her musician boyfriend. She quits her job (which she can't stand), and has to figure out what she wants to do with her life. This title could come across as simply self-indulgent navel-gazing but it doesn't; the writing is excellent and the characters ring true. (Plus the two volumes that were released in Japanese have been released in one larger volume in english.) Good for people who don't mind slice-of-life and just want a plain old good story. (Especially starring characters beyond high school.)
  • Title I'd like to see licensed in English: Octave by Haru Akiyama (Through all of the highs, the lows, the good, and the bad, I've really grown attached to this series. This story about a young woman/former idol who moves to Tokyo and begins to find her direction while beginning a relationship with a composer is really excellent and well written. I can see it being read here by the Solanin crowd.)
Some titles that I really want to try also (just because they sound interesting) are Masayuki's Ishikawa's Moyasimon, Tatsumi Yoshihiro's A Drifting Life, Ira Ishida's Akihabara@Deep, Rei Hiroe's Black Lagoon (I've only seen the anime, which kicks ass), Eiji Otsuka's Kurosagi Corpse Delivery Service (how could I not have read this one yet? -_-; It sounds deliciously twisted.), and Toriko Gin's Song of the Hanging Sky.

Happy holidays!

(Note @ 10:55 p.m.: Noooo, I still can't upload the pics I want here!! The ancient desktop I'm on isn't being cooperative... @_@)

Saturday, November 21, 2009

Winter 2010 Anime Season

Once again, for fun, I'll try to predict the good, the bad, and the ugly for next season. It doesn't look like there will be much new of yuri interest- although Railgun will be airing through the winter season, with its 24 episode run (yay!)-, but there are some promising-looking new shows. Here's the run-down for winter 2010, in alphabetical order:
  • Baka to Test to Shoukanjuu:

     high school students summon chibi versions of themselves to fight one another, drawing battle lines based on who belongs to which class. Even though it's based on a light novel series, it feels like a cheap ero-game adaptation (judging from the trailer), with a bland male lead and an assortment of bishoujo game stereotypes passing for a female cast. Pass.

  • Chu-Bra!!: a series about underwear. It should please its intended audience. Definite pass.

  • Dance in the Vampire Bund:

    SHAFT's newest offering, with Shinbo Akiyuki at the helm (how many series has SHAFT animated without him?). The trailer looks kind of cool, but also potentially creepy (not in a good way). Here's hoping that Shinbo Akiyuki steers this series towards the former, and minimizes the latter. (Otherwise, pass for me.) Two of the characters are being played by Saito Chiwa (Miyako in Sasameki Koto, Senjougahara in Bakemonogatari, Aika in Aria, Chiyo in Strawberry Panic, Mami in Marimite, etc) and Itou Shizuka (Nadie in El Cazador, Rei in Marimite, Hisa in Saki, etc).

  • Durarara!!:

    The plot for this one is difficult to summarize in one to two lines (which is why I'm being lazy and linking to the ANN encyclopedia above). By the original creator and studio behind Baccano! The trailer looks pretty cool (with slick animation), and the plot sounds intriguing. The one negative is that one of the character designs reaaaally bothers me. It's a problem that I've noticed in other series as well- some anime and manga artists really can't draw black characters to save their lives. Tagaki Ayaki (Sumi in Sasameki Koto, Nene in CANAAN, and Ein in Phantom ~Requiem for the Phantom~), Ono Daisuke (Sebastian in Kuroshitsuji, Yukito in Air, Battler in Umineko no Naku Koro ni), Fukuyama Jun (Lelouch in Code Geass, Rikuo in Eve no Jikan, Grell in Kuroshitsuji, Kyou in Saki, Albert in Gankutsuou), and Miyano Mamoru (Tamaki in Ouran, Eiji in Antique Bakery, Light in Death Note, Zero in Vampire Knight) have roles.

  •  Hanamaru Kindergarten:

    A slice-of-life comedy about a group of kindergarteners and their teachers. The art is cute, but it sounds pretty dull. Gainax is animating it, though, so I'll probably still check out an episode. Takagaki Ayaki is also playing one of the characters; nice to see her getting more work.

  • Harukanaru Toki no Naka de 3:

    Like the earlier HaruToki series, about a high school girl being transported to another world, made the priestess of a beast-god (this time it's Hakuryū, the White Dragon), and tasked with saving that world with a bevy of bishonen. What I saw of the original Harukanaru was okay for what it was, despite its plot having been lifted straight from a certain other famous shoujo series. I'll check this one out because Kawakami Tomoko (Utena in Shoujo Kakumei Utena, Athena in Aria, Sayuri in Kanon, and a gajillion other roles- including Akane from the original HaruToki) is playing the lead.

  • Hidamari Sketchx☆☆☆:

    More fun with the residents of Hidamari Sou. ^^ I still need to finish the second and third seasons before starting this one, though. @_@ With Goto Yuko (Mikuru in Suzumiya Haruhi no Yuutsu, Tsubael in Blue Drop, Anya in Code Geass) as Hiro, Shintani Ryoko (Aoi in Mai-Hime and Mai-Otome, Jan Puu in Kashimashi, Nami in Sayonara Zetsubou Sensei, Kaori in Saki) as Sae, Sawashiro Miyuki (Canaan in CANAAN, Hagino in Blue Drop, Suruga in Bakemonogatari, Chie in Eve no Jikan, Shinku in Rozen Maiden, Ayane in Kimi ni Todoke, Lag Seeing in Tegami Bachi) as the Landlady, and Kugimiya Rie (Touko in Marimite, Al in FMA, Yuuki in Saki, Shana in Shakugan no Shana) as Chika.

  • Katanagatari:

    About the seventh-generation head of a medieval school of martial arts; he embarks on a journey with his sister to find the last twelve swords forged by a legendary swordsmith. The plot sounds like it could quickly grow banal, but it's based on a light novel series by Ishin Nishio (same guy who wrote the Bakemonogatari light novels) and the art style looks pretty interesting, so it's worth checking out. ^^ Trailers can be viewed here.

  • Ladies versus Butlers:

    about a high school student who enrolls into a prestigious academy, but is placed in the school's servant-training department (ouch). The students there are trained to be maids or butlers, and the protagonist finds himself caught in the bickering between them. Based on the art alone, I was completely ready to pass on this show...but...but...Kawasumi Ayako (Chikane in KnM, Osaka in Azumanga Daioh, Ohno in Genshiken, Saber in Fate/stay night, Nodame in Nodame Cantabile, Matsuri in Ichigo Mashimaro) is playing one of the leads! > < *sob* I'll see how long I last with this one... Oh, and Nakahara Mai (Nagisa in Strawberry Panic, Mai in Mai-Hime and Mai-Otome, Rena in Higurashi no Naku Koro ni, Nagisa in Clannad, Sugimoto Kuri in Aoi Hana), Koshimizu Ami (Kanako in Marimite, Nodoka in Saki, Horo in Spice and Wolf, Tenma in School Rumble), and Kugimiya Rie have roles also.

  • Nodame Cantabile Finale:

    Omg, the final season!!! *squeals* You already know if you want to see it. ^_^ *raises hand* Plus, as always, Kawasumi Ayako❤ plays Nodame as the icing on this delectable (Kasai Kenichi-directed♡ shoot, my mistake, > < NCF is being directed by Kon Chiaki) cake. Trailer found here. (Just click the red circle in the top-left corner.)

  • Ōkamikakushi:

    About a high school boy who moves to a small town in the mountains that is separated into new and old streets by a river. The only person who keeps her distance from him is a member of his class committee, who warns him to "stay away from the old streets." It's based on a new game by Ryukishi07 (of Higurashi and Umineko fame, so automatic must-watch for me XD), with character designs by Peach-Pit. The plot sounds intriguing, although reminiscent of Higurashi. It may not necessarily be good, but it'll almost definitely be weird and entertaining. :) Plus, Kobayashi Yuu (Yumi in Saki, Satoshi in Higurashi, Kanon in Umineko, Setsuna in all of the Negima series), Katou Emiri (Kiyori in Sasameki Koto, Kagami in Lucky Star, Meirin in Kuroshitsuji, Mayoi in Bakemonogatari), and Goto Yuko have roles.

  • Omamori Himari:

    About a high school boy who's protected by a sword-wielding cat girl spirit named Himari. Protected from what, I have no idea. The ANN encyclopedia entry labels this one as a "harem" title, and the promo art point in that direction, so guess more girls will fall for our hapless lead. Koshimizu Ami is playing Himari, but I don't have enough love for her to force myself to watch a crappy show.

  • Rose O'Neill Kewpie:

    a series of 26 episodes, each spanning 5 minutes. Made to celebrate the 100th anniversary of American artist Rose O'Neill's Kewpie doll character. The episodes will be narrated by pop idol and actress Hirosue Ryoko, and models Sasaki Nozomi and Anne. Yeah...I don't get it either. I'll check out an episode (hey, 5 minutes) for the novelty.

  • Seikon no Qwaser:

    The promo art looks kind of cool, but be forewarned. It's about a high school boy attending an elite school in which students fight one another, and derive power through...breast milk. Based on a manga written by Yoshino Hiroyuki (who wrote the terrible Mai-Otome manga; although to be fair, he did do the series composition for Mai-Hime and Mai-Otome, both of which I love) and drawn by Satou Kenetsu (who did the art for the crappy Mai-Hime and Mai-Otome manga series). Includes Shimizu Ai (Mikoto in Mai-Hime and Mai-Otome, Tamao and Kizuna in Strawberry Panic, Hajime in Saki, Ellis in El Cazador), Hirano Aya (Haruhi in Suzumiya Haruhi no Yuutsu, Konata in Lucky Star, Reira in NANA), Takagaki Ayahi, and...Kawasumi Ayako. I don't want to associate Kawasumi with searing pain, so I'll probably still pass on this.

  • So-Ra-No-Wo-To:

    Set in the future in a land that is in decline as a result of long-lasting war. A 15 year-old girl realizes her dream of signing up for the military, and joins a unit of five that is put in charge of protecting a fortress. Together, the girls "play music that reverberate across the skies over towns without people and seas without fish" (according to the description in an ANN article). It kind of sounds like a dystopian K-ON! (even has similar character designs). lol But I like K-ON!, so it works. :P It could be good. Plus, Kobayashi Yuu has another role in it. A trailer and more promo pics can be seen here.

And that's it. Here's hoping for a good winter anime season! ^^

Wednesday, November 18, 2009

とてもかわいい百合マンガ:Ameiro Kouchakan Kandan vol 1

Wow!! ^__^ My Japanese language professor just made my day. I just found out that she watched the Aoi Hana anime also, and thought it was a "とてもかわいい話" ("very cute story"). She isn't an anime fan (although she has seen some anime- mostly by Studio Ghibli), so I see this as further proof of Aoi Hana's greatness/crossover appeal to non-otaku. Score! And speaking of feel-good yuri stories-

As a romance, Fujieda Miyabi's Ameiro Kouchakan Kandan is as sweet as a sugar cube, and as gentle and relaxing as a cup of lavender tea. It isn't a personal favorite of mine, but definitely good for something heartwarming and simple. (Provided that you don't mind large doses of cute.)

It's a pleasantly straightforward story about a serious, responsible high school student named Sarasa, an airheaded but extremely kind tea shop owner named Seriho, and the slowly developing romance between them. By "slow", I don't mean that it takes them a long time to fall in love with each other (Yuri Hime's quarterly release schedule wouldn't really facilitate that)- Sarasa's head-over-heels for Seriho right off the bat, and she's working at Seriho's Amber Teahouse so she can get closer to her. Seriho clearly loves Sarasa, but doesn't seem to be fully cognizant of her own feelings, or the fact that Sarasa's in love with her. Sarasa's two best friends/regular customers, Haru and Hinoka (my two favorites), are gleefully aware of what's going on, and they enjoy dropping not-so-subtle hints in front of Seriho- even at the risk of incurring Sarasa's wrath. Sarasa eventually becomes so serious about Seriho (especially after Seriho asks Sarasa to stay by her side for the next 50 years or more- this isn't a full-blown love confession, believe it or not) that she changes her college plans and decides to enroll in a culinary academy so she can become a pâtissière and continue to work with Seriho at the Amber Teahouse. Following the main stretch of the volume, there's the Tanabata special in which Sarasa, Seriho, Haru, and Hinoka host a Tanabata event at the Amber Teahouse to save it from bankruptcy, along with a great new bonus chapter featuring a crossover-cameo from Alice Quartet. (Which means more eye candy clothing designs by Fujieda. I'm a sucker for that kind of thing. ^^)

This series is simply...cute. But in a good way. The characters are all likeable (although Seriho's ineptness does irritate me at points), and there isn't anything that I consider offensive. (Nothing remotely "adult" either; if an elementary school kid picked this one up and started skimming it, I wouldn't bat an eye.) There isn't an iota of conflict- the most we get is the threat of the teahouse closing down in the Tanabata special. But it's a Fujieda manga- we know the teahouse is going to remain open. I had to tune out my inner cynic (the one muttering "But you didn't decide to do what you originally thought you wanted to do after you began college, didn't you? How does she know it'll work out? Blahblahblah, nagnagnag....*white noise*") while reading parts of this volume, but it didn't really impact my reading experience. Ameiro Kouchakan Kandan is meant to be an airy, idealistic shoujo romance- and a Fujieda one at that- so I can take a handwave or two.

Like always, Fujieda's art is super-cute. ^^ I like his stylized character designs throughout his different works- although sometimes they cross the line to seeming a little overly simplistic (not counting the chibi scenes). But the art tells the story well (and sometimes beautifully, at key points), with good sequencing.

Again, this isn't a personal favorite, but still recommended for a cute yuri series to read.

Story: B
Art: B
Overall: B

And as far as the drama CD:
Like the "Pink Princess" CD that came with Yuri Hime volume 16, the "White Engage" drama CD that came with the LE (the one in which Sarasa and Seriho get engaged, with a cameo from Otome-iro Stay Tune's Mana-chan-sensei and Shiko) was cute to listen to. I loved the yuri meta-references- one reason I like Otome-iro Stay Tune. The DCD is basically more of what we're used to from the manga (terribly insightful, I know ^^;), so it would get a B also. The voice acting was done very well, although...despite Tamura Yukari giving a solid performance as Mana-chan-sensei, I'm not much of a fan of her voice.

Oh...and just to be really dorky get into "White Engage" more, I made Earl Grey milk tea and heated a slice of cinnamon coffee cake (fresh from Starbucks) to have while listening to it.

BGM- "Ceui" by Centefolia

Sunday, November 15, 2009

A New Fun-Project: First Cosplay

One of the things that I like doing (being a list freak) is creating arbitrary lists of "things to do within so-and-so period of time." Parasailing, kickboxing (hello, next semester), skiing, parachuting, visiting so-and-so place, flying an airplane, getting closure on an old conflict, climbing a mountain (not just any mountain, like the small one near my college; something I can brag about), attending Comiket, etc. As much of an anime geek as I am, I haven't tried cosplay, but I've always wanted to do it eventually.

So, while it isn't remotely like parasailing or mountain climbing, I'm pretty stoked about doing my first cosplay this summer at Miami's Yasumicon. My best friend is also working on her first cosplay (as Bakemonogatari's Senjougahara, complete with stapler), so hopefully we can both attend Yasumicon cosplaying as slightly incredibly cracked fictional characters.

The character who I chose will be easy to do. I picked her because A) I like her, B) she has a distinctive enough look, and C) I don't need a wig- I really don't want to mess with that sort of thing. (For example:

Fushigi Yuugi's Miaka would only satisfy requirements B and C,

and Strawberry Shake Sweet's Julia would only satisfy requisites A and C- as much as I love SSS.)

But I'll leave my cosplay choice as a surprise until the con. Just because. :P

BGM- "Sprinter" by Kalafina

Friday, November 13, 2009

Kurogane Pukapukatai vol 1: Best WWII Parody Yuri Manga Ever

Sorry about the recent scarcity of posts. > <; It's been a busy(er than usual) week this past week. (Although my free time yesterday evening was spent enjoying the free food bounties of my college's Julia Child Day >_>;- I mean, the chocolate was right there...saying "Eat me, my puppet Katherine. Just pick up a skewer. That's it.")  And nothing says "yay, no work this evening!!! Hahahahahahaha!!! XD" quite like being able to read a good old-fashioned yuri screwball action-comedy, like Kurihashi Shinsuke's Kurogane Pukapukatai.  (Well, I can think of other things...but let's just run with it. ^_^)

Kurogane Pukapukatai is about a Japanese commerce raider called the "Unebi" that is manned by an all-female crew (aside from the elderly male captain, who merely sits in the ship's bridge while adorably sipping his tea, a la Kuroshitsuji's Tanaka). The Unebi mostly clashes with the British navy as a result of its intent to eliminate British cargo ships transporting goods between Britain and its colonies. The historical setting is well-realized (complete with Kurihashi's lovingly detailed, yet never detracting, descriptions of the ships and submarines), considering the massive handwave of having women in military leadership positions in WWII- or serving in the military, period-, but all one really needs to know is that, aside from the Unebi's Gunnery Officer Obama (yes), the female cast is quite gay. The sword-toting Executive Officer of the Unebi, Mamiya, is smitten with her thickheaded yet highly competent Commander Kuki (who favors guns), who once saved her from drowning (which of course, means mouth-to-mouth resuscitation)- as a result, Mamiya also acts as Kuki's bodyguard. A pilot who does reconnaissance missions for the Unebi, named Kurushima Kiku (nicknamed "Chibikuru"), and her flying partner Nojima Atsuko (nicknamed "Atchan") are close, but somewhat more ambiguous; they could simply be friends, but they could also easily be seen as more. The Unebi has a run-in with the "Cutlass", a British destroyer commanded by Captain Ann, whose wandering eye for women (including Kiku) sometimes lands her (and an unwitting Kiku) in trouble with her cutlass-wielding girlfriend, Commander Mary. Fortunately, the Unebi has an ally in Nina Stortebeker, the Captain of a German U-boat who also likes Kiku and women in general. Towards the end, a member of Nina's crew named Elsa appears to be interested in her (with Nina reciprocating), but Nina transfers Elsa to the Unebi as a result of the Gestapo beginning to shadow her. (Elsa's Jewish.)

Despite the surprisingly poignant ending, Kurogane Pukapukatai is a silly screwball comedy through and through. Lowbrow, slapstick humor abounds, and the setting is largely an excuse to see women shooting, slicing, and blowing things up. And hitting on or flirting with each other. It works for me. :) There isn't really any character development, and hardly any character depth (plus, Kurihashi doesn't seem to have any particular direction in mind for the story), but I don't care as long as said characters continue to entertain.

The art isn't Mokona Apapa-stellar, but it's solid and serves the story well, especially during the action and comedy scenes.

Light as air (despite the ship and submarine trivia), but recommended for something fun, action-y, and yuri-packed that's different from the usual. ^^

Story: B
Art: B
Overall: B

Saturday, November 7, 2009

Yuri Manga: To Aru Kagaku no Railgun volume 1

The "teen psychic" niche has been done to death in manga- but while Kamachi Kazama and Fuyukawa Motoi's Railgun manga isn't revolutionary, it's a fun, fresh take on a stale concept- with 1/2 cup snappy writing, 1/2 cup likeable characters, 3 1/4 tbs well-executed action, and a dollop of yuri. (No substitutes.)

Like the anime, the manga centers around Misaka Mikoto, the third highest-ranking level 5 psychic in Academy City, wielding the same electricity-manipulating super-powers. (Including her signature railgun.) She's still best friends/roommates with Shirai Kuroko, a Level 4 teleporter and über-competent member of the law-enforcement group known as Judgement who thinks that Mikoto is the hottest thing since fire was discovered. While Uiharu is still a Level 1 working as part of Judgement and Saten is still her skirt-flipping bff (and a Level 0), they don't play as major a role in the manga as they do in the anime. I especially miss Saten being a major player (there are a few other small changes to her character, like her immediate idolization of Mikoto, and being clearly interested almost from the outset in the Level Upper). Volume 1 mostly follows Mikoto, Kuroko, Uiharu, and (to a lesser extent) Saten's involvement in cases being handled by Judgement, from the mundane (Mikoto's frantic search for a girl's backpack that she mistakenly thinks has a bomb in it) to the major (a terrorist planting bombs throughout Academy City to target members of Judgement). By the end of the volume, Mikoto and Kuroko have figured out that a rumored device called the "Level Upper", which can ostensibly boost one's psychic ability, is the probable cause of several psychics displaying a higher level of power than Academy City's data indicates they should. Plus, Index's Touma gets a larger share of time than he has in the anime, and Kiyama Harumi hardly appears at all. (Tear.)

This volume zipped by pretty quickly as I read it. It was simply fun light reading- and that's all that it needed to be. While some of the aspects that didn't carry over to the anime seem negative in retrospect, I didn't really notice them as I actually read. It's kind of interesting to note the differences between the anime and manga versions of the same story, however- the anime has not only downplayed Touma's screen time and increased Saten and Kiyama's, it has more of a padded out slice-of-life "Judgement-case-of-the-week" feel than the manga. The anime spotlights the yuri more frequently, but from the beginning, the yuri in the manga seems to be more smoothly integrated. (Dispersed more evenly throughout instead of "Look!! An all-yuri episode with no plot!! Now an episode with a plot (of sorts) and hardly any yuri!!") I also liked Kuroko's way of expressing her feelings for Mikoto early on better- like wrapping a blanket over Mikoto after she falls asleep out of exhaustion, as opposed to panty-stealing. (Although my favorite yuri moment in this volume is probably the ice cream scene.) The anime also ramped up the sex appeal a little more (the "Undressing Woman" anybody?), but both versions are pretty low on fan service. (Subsequently, I imagined this silly little dialogue in my head-

Mikoto- Wow, I'm getting my own manga!
Kuroko- But of course. You're too good to remain a side character, Onee-sama.
Mikoto- Oh, hey look, it's going to be in Dengeki Daioh!
Kuroko- ...
Mikoto- I should really keep the shorts on, shouldn't I?
Kuroko- You know your audience well, Onee-sama. But there's no need to go that far...
Mikoto- No- now I'm certain there is.)

The art is good, with appealing character designs. The action scenes are where the art really shines (although the layout and use of angles throughout the manga are both done very well), but the ordinary conversation scenes could really use more background detail at times. One detail that put a damper on the ending of the volume for me was the character design for one background character- you'll know who if you read the final chapter of volume 1; a jarring error in an otherwise well-presented series. Fuyukawa's biggest strength is the energy in his artwork and his spot-on timing, coupled with Kamachi's snappy dialogue. (This works beautifully in the scenes featuring Kuroko or Mikoto giving their opponents a verbal and physical smackdown.)

Volume 1 of the Railgun manga isn't brilliant, but still enjoyable and worth checking out.

Story: B
Art: B
Overall: B

As an aside, this panel especially amused me-

Oh, Mikoto and Kuroko, how much you have yet to learn. :P (What would Mikoto x Kuroko be nicknamed, anyway? Mikoko? Kuroto? Railoporter? Telegun?)

BGM- "Idea" by Wizard

Monday, November 2, 2009

Yuri Manga: Girl Friends volume 3

Presenting the first Yuri no Boke review typed up on a public computer! (Yay...? ^^;) My baby Macbook is getting repaired by my college's technical services right now, so for the next few days I'll be using my college's library/Campus Center computers. I already miss the warm glow of that plastic screen, illuminating my room when the overhead light flickers off...the merry hum of the hard drive...the familiar rectangular silhouette on my desk that greets me when I return from class/wherever-else...

*rereads the paragraph above*...but maybe this temporary separation is for the best. But enough of my drama-

I hate to say this, but I'm not as in love with Girl Friends as I was when I reviewed volumes 1 and 2 several months ago, even though this volume is, arguably, the best volume compiled so far.

Like volume 2, volume 3 of Girl Friends begins and ends with a kiss. We've had Mari kiss Akko while she was asleep (squeal-inducing and cute in manga, but not something that I would necessarily approve of in real life; go figure <-- Note from 11/14/2010: My sensitivity here comes from actually having been kissed by a friend who thought I was asleep when I was only trying to fall asleep when she was sleeping over; still being a closeted kid in denial, I thought that I didn't return her feelings, so I pretended to remain asleep and felt awkward about it afterward; ironically, I recently realized that I did like her back then, in-so-far as I could), Mari cry while kissing Akko on a suitably rainy afternoon, and Akko kiss Mari in a karaoke joint with Perfume's "Chocolate Disco" playing in the background. (I approve. It's a very catchy song. :) ) Morinaga Milk just may have set a new record for the highest number of kisses to happen between two characters without anything constructive happening as a result. (Although judging from the latest chapter of GF, the seemingly endless Cycle of Unresolved Sexual Tension may be about to draw to a close- here's hoping that the story continues for a good long while after Mari and Akko have finally started dating.)

In volume 3, the story switches over to Akko's point-of-view in the aftermath of Mari kissing her before unwillingly going on a date with Harada. Akko spends several chapters processing her feelings before concluding that she's in love with Mari also. Unfortunately, since Mari is hell-bent on maintaining the status quo, she passes off the kiss as a poorly-executed joke. Mari and Akko's friendship seems to be the same as ever on the surface (they're still talking about beauty products with their schoolmates), but the emotional gap between them as a result of their miscommunicated feelings is growing wider- and only "gotta-catch-'em-all" playgirl Sugi seems to notice. The end of this volume resolves the Mari-gets-a-boyfriend/substitute-Akko arc in a pleasantly mature way. Since this isn't Moonlight Flowers or Love Slave, Mari's boyfriend reacts with grace and dignity, and a suspiciously happy Akko (her poorly concealed reaction to the break-up was my second-favorite moment in this volume) takes Mari to a karaoke joint to cheer her up. (While Sugi and Tamamin take care of Harada- in the sense that a pair of lions might take care of an antelope separated from its herd.) At the karaoke joint, Akko confronts Mari about the earlier kiss, and confesses her own feelings before kissing Mari. The end- for this volume. ^^

Another entertaining tankoubon. :) There wasn't anything that really bugged me about this volume, but it didn't leave as much of an impression as I expected it would when I re-read it. The characters are likeable...but quite frankly, Mari's beginning to bother me a little. While Morinaga had the chutzpah to put Mari through the emotional paper shredder in volume 2, it doesn't seem like she's changed much as a result. It would actually be a little more interesting (to me) to see Mari get angry or give some indication of an ugly or truly flawed side, instead of only being happy/sad. As she is now, I like her, but find her a little bit distant and 2-dimensional. Akko's perspective of events is, refreshingly, less angst-ridden than Mari's. (Mari's perspective of her love for Akko in volume 2 is very well written, but Akko's relatively lighthearted attitude in volume 3 provides a welcome foil.) Still..."What should I do about these feelings!!" is growing a little stale at this point, and Mari needs to pick a fight or something. (Kidding- it just feels like Morinaga is playing it too safe with her character and story development.)

I didn't find the chapters in this volume as sublime as I once did, but it's still entertaining (and it has the funniest/strangest extra side story so far). Here's hoping that future volumes will resolve my qualms with this series, and make me fall in love with it again.

Story: B-
Art: B+
Overall: B-