Friday, April 29, 2011

No review this weekend

I became cocky earlier this semester and thought that I could post one this weekend, I'll post again after this coming week wraps up, when I can enjoy the ambrosial sweetness of summer vacation.

Until then!

Sunday, April 24, 2011

Movie review: Kakera -A Piece of Our Life-

I'm reviewing the R2 DVD release of Kakera. The only noteworthy extras are a 21 minute Q & A session with the director, Ando Momoko, after a screening of her film in the UK, and a 28 minute interview with Ando, just in case you can't get enough of the director who made a shitty adaptation of a good manga. "I usually, actually have a notebook called, like, a dream diary. And because...since I was an art student all the scenes actually come with a picture first, actually as a story, but then I try to patch them together and try to make sense in the story, even though I had to, uh, it had to be based on somebody else's story. So that's how I actually processed the writing." (Emphasis mine.)

Right. So Kakera follows the very, very basic bare bones of Sakurazawa Erica's upbeat romantic drama Love Vibes, which is really worth reading and doesn't deserve to be linked to this god-awful movie.

Kakera is about the "romance" between Haru and Riko, who replace Mako and Mika, respectively, from Love Vibes. Haru, a college student, has a loser boyfriend, but with her perpetually blank expression and the dreary haze she constantly seems to be be wandering in, she isn't much of a catch either. Riko, her love interest, is everything that her manga counterpart, Mika (my favorite in the manga), is not: dull, depressed, and of dubious psychological stability.

A perfect example of how the movie spat on the manga's story and characterization: At one point in Love Vibes, Mako gets invited to a Christmas Eve mixer, and accepts because she's scared of telling her friends that she has a girlfriend, Mika. Mika understands and trusts Mako to not cheat and come back to have Christmas cake together. After outing herself to a guy who's interested in her, Mako excuses herself from the mixer and goes home to see Mika, thinking of how much she loves her and wants to spend Christmas with her. In the movie, Haru goes with some friends to a bar and Riko, who calls her and flips out after learning that there are guys there, shows up at the bar looking like she stepped out of Misery. She pulls Haru away from her friends, and they spend the rest of the evening sitting away from them with Riko grasping Haru's hand, snapping at anyone who approaches.

Not only are all of the characters horribly rewritten (don't get me started on how Shouko was changed), this movie includes pretentious BS symbolism, like Riko's prosthetics job representing the hole in her heart or whatever, and a bottle of tea turning into a two-headed dove.

This movie was such a drag throughout that I didn't care that its ending was completely different from the manga's happy ending. I don't want to watch another minute of Haru and Riko's lives, whether they're together or apart.

Story: A critic's quote on the back of the DVD cover gushes, "A manga adaptation done right- very right." Did he actually read the manga?
Cinematography: Drab, like its characters.
Overall: F

Sunday, April 17, 2011

Magazine review: commons & sense issue 40

Go figure- I like shopping and picking out nice outfits, but I generally don't read fashion magazines. commons & sense isn't challenging that inclination, even with its lesbian-themed issue, which includes a yuri one-shot.

Even though this issue is enormous,

it was a quick read since most of its pages feature photos of (pale, skinny) models wearing high fashion brands- and this magazine, which reads from left to right (aside from the manga, which comes with a how to read manga right to left guide; it's nice that c & s included that, but you'd figure that anyone who buys this magazine would already know how to read manga unflipped), provides English translations of all of its Japanese text.

A lot of the photos feature models acting like the two on the cover- moving next to each other suggestively or feeling each other up, looking more stoned than interested in each other.

Early in the issue, we get the yuri one-shot "Rose Bud" by Tanaka Rin. It's about Hinako, a shy blonde girl who has a crush on Tsukiko-sama (translated as "Lady Tsukiko") the tall, cool girl with long dark hair who everyone at their school admires. Because of an outfit Hinako designed for Tsukiko, she catches Tsukiko's eye. Tsukiko takes her shopping and gives her a make-over, and then they have sex. Now they're a couple and Hinako is cool and popular at school, and tells a shy girl who admires her that she can be beautiful too. (How appropriate for a fashion magazine.)

 A little farther along, there's a short article by Koyanagi Mika titled "New Age Travellers" that compares lesbian movies and hippie movies. It was stupid, but it was followed by a few pages of lesbian (and hippie?) movie screencaps and DVD covers (including Love My LifeThe Color PurpleRoom in RomeWater LiliesKakera, Imagine Me & YouManjiSpider LiliesFridaSaving Face (<3), ToplessLes Filles du BotanisteLesbian Vampire Killers (wtf), Kissing Jessica Stein, and Hu Die), some of which I didn't know about. (Maybe for a good reason?)

In Saito Ayako's short story "A Love Song," we meet...well, the protagonist doesn't get a name. She's temporarily living at her aunt's apartment, taking care of her aunt's cats while she's away, with a friend she briefly dated in college, Satoshi. They had sex once when they met again after college, but he's acted so disinterested in doing it again with her (or anyone else) since then, that she wonders if he's gay- he just helps her with housework and cooking. (As an aside, Satoshi points out that she's a fujoshi.) One day a neighbor who she mentally calls "the Goddess" helps her get a bag of trash to the garbage truck after it passes by her building. Later, she sees the Goddess at the local public bath, and they go to the protagonist's apartment since Satoshi's out for the night and have sex. Satoshi sees them in bed the next morning and isn't surprised, and the protagonist makes plans to see the Goddess again. The story ends with, "How I learned I was a bisexual able to go for men or women, the Goddess was a bona fide lesbian, and Satoshi had a fantasy of being held by a woman while he was dressed as one himself all became clear over time. But I'll tell you about that some other time." This story wasn't especially well written, but it wasn't bad either. It was much more readable than the other queer pieces in this magazine.

The last lesbian-related piece is Shinsan Nameko's "There Is Nothing But Good In This Beauty", about how she thinks that all lesbians (according to her description, butches) have beautiful skin based on one visit to a lesbian bar and some American celebrities like Jenny Shimizu and Samantha Ronson. Shinsan writes about why (butchy) lesbians supposedly have such pristine, silky smooth skin, including this gem: "And finally, by seeing one's own own sex as an object of love, women are no longer rivals, and the absence of jealousy and hostility alleviates stress on the skin."

And some more interviews, some other short throwaway articles, some unusual illustrations,

and more photos of expensive fashion, including a shoot by Miu Miu titled "All The Things She Said."

Overall: Could you tell that I didn't like it? lol

Until summer vacation starts on May 7, I'm only writing one post per week.

Sunday, April 10, 2011

One of Ikeda Riyoko's more obscure titles: Claudine...!

A cold, blustery day in early 20th century Paris.

A psychologist waiting in an office for his patient.

The patient, 10 year old Claudine de Montesse, arrives along with Mme Montesse, who worries about her youngest child- specifically, that Claudine "started saying that she was really a boy." The Doctor takes a liking to Claudine, "Both as a patient...and as a person" and they become friends.

It turns out that Claudine is part of a wealthy family that lives on a country estate in Vernon, a little northwest of Paris. A girl named Rosemarie is in love with Claudine, even telling her friends that she and Claudine are an item, but it's one-sided. ("You don't understand at all...a lot of girls may make a fuss over you, but I'm the only one who really understands you." In response, Claudine turns and thinks, "Will I come to look at someone that way one day? If I were to fall in love...I wonder if there would be no escaping it...that I would look at someone with such sadness in my eyes...")

Claudine's family hires a new servant named Maura, and she and Claudine hit it off pretty quickly.

Rosemarie doesn't take Maura seriously at first, but grows jealous when she sees how happy and relaxed Claudine is around her.

She does something spiteful to Maura (Maura doesn't realize that it was intentional), but it winds up bringing Maura and Claudine closer together. Claudine kisses Maura that night. Mme Montesse catches them and sends Maura away. It takes a while, but Claudine begins to move on from Maura and falls in love with a librarian, a beautiful woman named Cecilia.

Claudine eventually kisses Cecilia, but Cecilia slaps Claudine away. It later turns out that Claudine's dad is not only having an affair with Cecilia's brother Louis (which Claudine already knows about), but also Cecilia. (Uh-oh.) Louis finds out and burns down the cabin where M Montesse and Cecilia meet up, with them inside of it. Rosemarie, who's involved in the whole mess, gets her face partially burned in the fire.

To get away from Vernon, Claudine attends a university in Paris and becomes one of the most popular students there. At a party, Claudine meets a ballerina named Sirene and becomes infatuated with with her. They start dating, move in together, and tell people they're "roommates." Things are going fine and dandy for a while.


But Claudine loses Sirene in a way that makes Maura being sent away look downright pleasant. Long story short, Claudine commits suicide after speaking with the Doctor one last time. We see Rosemarie visiting Claudine's grave, and the Doctor narrates that no man could love a woman as deeply as Claudine did and, "At any rate, I was unable to save a wonderful friend from a tragic end."

Cheerful story, isn't it? While it is tragic, with characters who are more articulate and mature than the norm, a messy web of relationships, and a lovingly drawn historical setting, it still has its own appeal. Even though it is depressing, there are many moments of beauty and even a little humor sprinkled in, especially during Maura's arc. I actually thought of her as Claudine's true love instead of Sirene.

Claudine is an interesting protagonist, in appearing to be strong while really being very vulnerable to being elated (or hurt) by love. Most of the characters appear to be larger than life in one sense, while being vulnerable or deeply flawed in another sense- especially when it comes to impulsiveness.

And obviously, this came out when there was hardly any yuri or transgender-themed manga out. (There isn't even much transgender-themed manga out today, unless you count the gajillion Ranma-like "guy turns into a hot girl, hijinx ensue"-type stories.)

If you can look past the tragedy and appreciate the numerous good things about Claudine, or you're in the mood for something tragic that's good, it's worth reading.

Story: B
Art: A-
Overall: B

NOTE: My reading of Claudine...! has shifted in a significant way, and you should read about it here. Even though I wouldn't recommend it as a yuri title and it is tragic, it is still a damn good lgbtq title.

Saturday, April 9, 2011

Some First Impressions for Spring

This is just a string of commentary on the new spring shows I've checked out so far.

A Channel
Boring. One of the the girls, Tooru, has an obvious (to me) crush on her best friend Run, but it's kept just ambiguous enough that it won't threaten DVD sales.

Battle Girls - Time Paradox:
Also- Toyoguchi Megumi as Nobunaga.

Dororon Enma-kun Meeramera:
As a goofy, slightly off-kilter (duh, it's Nagai Go) kids' show about hunting monsters, it was entertaining. Don't see myself following it, though.

Hanasaku Iroha:
Hanasaku Iroha didn't surprise me as far as the quality of its artistry and writing, but it definitely surprised me with its tone and its protagonist, who isn't the Mizunashi Akari-like bundle of sugary innocence I expected. Some people might consider her a brat (I could list my own, nastier behavior as a 16 year old) and balk at certain aspects of the plot (yes, her grandma is a bitch), but I'm glad this show decided to go for a darker, more dramatic tone than most shows with similar promo. It could easily become unwatchable in a number of ways, but I'm hoping for some rewarding character growth on Ohana's (and the other characters') part. (Going from the OP, we can count on it.)

Kämpfer für die Liebe
Phew... Kämpfer isn't pretending to have a plot anymore. To buy a new bra, female-Natsuru takes a part-time job at a bunny girl hostess club, along with Akane. Male-Natsuru agrees to go to a mixer at the same club, hoping that the Sakura who only exists in his head will attend. While Natsuru experiences the mixer from hell, Sakura spends some quality time with her harem. As expected, Akane, Shizuku, and Mikoto come onto Natsuru at the mixer. Business as usual.

My Ordinary Life:
This was okay. Nary a hint of yuri, but funnier than its main competitor, A Channel. (I actually laughed out loud at the food-saving gag.)

Sekai Ichi Hatsukoi - World's Greatest First Love:
A cute start to the early stages of what looks to be a sweet romance between a shoujo manga editor and his new boss/editor-in-chief- with some entertaining industry commentary, even in the next episode preview.

An interesting head-trip series, reminiscent of Lain. It's already better than Chaos;Head by virtue of having a lead who doesn't irritate the heck out of me. I really hope this series doesn't go with the "it was all in his HEAD! Isn't your mind blown by that?" plot device as a resolution. (That type of resolution usually feels like a cheap cop-out, although it can work in some stories- naturally, I won't say which ones.)

Tiger & Bunny:
I'll quote what I said last Sunday on Twitter: "Tiger & Bunny = interesting, with a clever premise. Really wish the one gay guy hadn't been written the way that he was, though."

We, Without Wings - Ore-tachi ni Tsubasa ha Nai:
Why did I watch this? Worst thing so far this season. (Follow this show, and you can get not one, not two, but THREE crappy individual dating sim storylines in ONE show! The guy with a harem, the guy who hangs out at a maid café, and the guy who loiters around a shopping area at night.)

Monday, April 4, 2011

Manga Review: Love My Life

About time I did a Yamaji Ebine review. In the early 2000's Yamaji published three single volume yuri stories- Love My Life (2001), Indigo Blue (2002), and Free Soul (2004)- that starred adults and addressed lesbian identity in an unambiguous manner that's still rare today. She also published a tankoubon called Sweet Lovin' Baby in 2003, half composed of yuri one-shots, half non-yuri. In a nutshell, the main relationship in Free Soul could be described as "Will they get together?" ("get together" = "have a relationship", not "have no-strings-attached sex"), with Indigo Blue as, "Will they stay together?", and Love My Life, the most mellow (and famous) of the three, as, "They're definitely together- now what?"

Izumiya Ichiko is an upbeat 18 year old university student who is studying to become an English-to-Japanese translator, like her dad. Her mom, a designer, died 7 years earlier. She's in a serious relationship with her girlfriend Joujima Eri, who is studying to become a lawyer.

Ichiko comes out to her dad by introducing Eri to him as her girlfriend. When she's alone with him later, he tells her that he's gay too, and so was her mom. (Amusingly, she has the exact same stupefied look on her face when her dad comes out to her as he had when she came out to him.) While this is a shock to Ichiko (in a "Wait, my parents weren't really in love? I didn't know about this massive chunk of their identity?" sense), Eri, who isn't out to her family and has a homophobic, sexist father, reminds her that she's lucky.

The rest of the story takes a slice-of-life approach, as Ichiko attends school with her friend Take-chan, who's gay too, meets her dad's boyfriend and the woman her mom was in a relationship with and thinks about where her and Eri's future will go. The biggest threat pops up when Eri can't see her in person for a while because of her studies. But yes, it ends happily. ^_^ (I love the big reveal about Eri towards the end.)

Love My Life, like any good realistic story, has characters who feel like they could be real. (All pleasantly real, in this case- aside from Eri's dad, who shows up briefly.) Not only Ichiko's relationship with Eri, but her relationships with the other important people in her life (her dad and Take-chan) are richly developed and heart-warming. The story doesn't shy away from drama, but it isn't heavy-handed. (And it has some incredibly memorable lines. For example, "Human beings are very complicated...The one you love isn't necessarily the one who manages to emancipate you." <- About Ichiko's parents' relationship.) The point is that, whatever problems Ichiko might have, she really does love her life. 

While most people who come out don't find out that their parents are actually gay, it gives a great twist to the coming out story in LML. I'd like to see more yuri stories in which the protagonist comes out to her family- or is in the aftermath of coming to her family-, especially since the prospect of coming out to one's close family is usually the most intimidating. The only other examples I can think of are in Free Soul, "More Rica'tte Kanji!?" in Yuri Monogatari 4, "My Sister's Wedding" in Tadeno Eriko's Works, and Ushio in Sasameki Koto. But I'm veering off track.

If you haven't tried Love My Life, it's a must-read- a great pick if you want something that's realistic and smile-inducing at the same time.

Story: A
Art: A
Overall: A

Saturday, April 2, 2011


Is this yuri? No, but it's K-ON, so I am writing about it. (Btw, Fujieda Miyabi's a big fan. On his ustream channel, where he has done drawings live for his "ooh"-ing and "ahh"-ing fans, he has been known to sing along to music, including K-ON's. It's pretty great.) <- There's your yuri connection. lol Anyway....

This episode was a great set-up for the upcoming movie.

It's the summer before graduation. Yui, Mugi, Ritsu, and Mio decide to go on a post-graduation trip and invite Azusa along, but Mugi's the only one with a passport. They look at travel guides and talk about where to go- and of course, their different choices reflect their personalities. (But Mio, honey, England isn't the birthplace of rock 'n roll.)

Ui gives Yui a book on self-defense, prompting a self-defense practice scene that was kind of...adorable. XD (Mostly for how much Mugi got into being a perp.)

They also try to practice communicating in terrible English, then via charades, which was the funniest scene in this OVA. Second place goes to Yui and Ritsu messing with Mio when she tries to take a passport photo.

Of course they get their passports (and take a cute group shot with them) and, even though they still don't know where they're going, we'll find out when the movie previews roll out. ;-) And they promise to go on another trip with Azusa after she graduates. And because this is K-ON, they eat (and talk about) food constantly. (You could make a group drinking game out of it. The folks who like K-ON would have even more fun while watching it, and the folks who don't can numb their disinterest with alcohol- everybody wins.)

Super-cute episode. XD Can't wait for the movie!!!