Wednesday, May 30, 2012

Manga Review: Poor Poor Lips volume 3

This volume of Poor Poor Lips is easily the most satisfying so far.

Yes, Ren's mother Nei erases Nako's debt at the price of Ren returning home and agreeing to marry someone of Nei's choosing. Yes, it is painful to watch Ren resign herself to her homophobic mother's terms for helping Nako.

But the thing is, Ren won't actually have to go through with the marriage. This isn't that type of series. Nako returns Ren's feelings throughout this volume and is willing to undergo as much for Ren as Ren is for her. The "Gift of the Magi" reference early in this volume isn't for nothing.

The rollercoaster ride of highs and lows in this volume are stepping stones to Nako and Ren reaching the end of this series as not only a happy couple, but as stronger people who know their love can survive being put through the wringer.

While the previous volume featured more growth on Ren's part than Nako's, Nako's growth takes the spotlight in this volume as she finally becomes aware of her own feelings (quite happily, refreshingly) and pursues Ren. Nako has always been a warm, likeable character, but a more assertive, self-aware Nako is welcome. :-) Now if only she and Ren were aware of one another's feelings.

As mentioned above, after finding out that Nako's perpetual debt stems from the scam Nako's uncle coerced her into after her parents died, Ren convinces Nei to give Nako the help she needs to end the debt. Nako, who couldn't bring herself to take her uncle- her only remaining family- to court even though he is the reason she has spent years in crushing poverty, is more than willing to swing a frying pan at him after he punches Ren for interfering between him and Nako. (Ren stops Nako from actually hitting him.) Nako, who smiled through years of poverty, breaks down crying over Ren leaving.

After Nako wakes up and finds the farewell note left by Ren, she auditions to be the new maid at Ren's family's home so she can see Ren everyday- with a little help from Watase and Ren's father Akio. In my previous review, I mentioned that Ren's father completely supports Ren. Going beyond that, he becomes a regular Mrs. Bennet when he notices that there's something between Ren and Nako. (Would that make Nei Lady Catherine?)

Ren is thrilled and pained at seeing Nako again everyday- since they can still live together, in a way, but Ren has to force herself to keep a distance. When they lived in Nako's apartment, Ren and Nako slept in the same bed every night. Now, when Nako climbs into bed with Ren when Ren drunkenly hugs her after coming home from a party where her mom tried to set her up with bachelors, Ren panics the next morning and apologizes for "harassing" Nako as her employer. (Nako makes it clear that she doesn't mind.)

It's obvious to everyone in the house that they're in love with each other except them, damn it. Going by this series' pacing so far, I'm sure their realization of each other's feelings will come in the next volume.

What will Nei do when that point comes? For the most part, the antagonistic characters in this series (Nei, Ren's ex- I forget her name- and Furui) have proven themselves to be better- or at least more nuanced- than they first seemed. See: the series showing that Ren's ex wasn't completely at fault in her and Ren's break-up and her giving Ren back the expensive things Ren bought her even though she prized them- even if she gave them back in the jerkiest way possible; and Furui coming to respect Ren for how well she adapted to being poor and getting that her not being interested in men means he shouldn't push his new interest in her. (Sadly, that alone makes him smarter than a lot of guys. It irritates me to note that as exceptional, when it really shouldn't be.) The only antagonist in this series who started as a complete caricature and remained one is Nako's uncle. Antagonistic as she is, Nei isn't a caricature. I'll be shocked if she doesn't evolve.

As DRAMATIC as I've made this volume sound, Goto Hayako's penchant for humor has not dulled in the least. An emotional roller-coaster ride needs its highs as well as its lows, after all.

Story: A
Art: C+
Overall: A

This review covers ALC and JManga's release of this series. The translation of this volume is as good as the previous ones', so no complaints there.

Tuesday, May 29, 2012

Thank you, Type-Moon and Urobuchi Gen, for the wonderful that was this week's Fate/Zero episode

If you have watched F/Z's most recent episode and you know why I'm obsessing over this show, you'll know why this episode was like Christmas. (Bless Type-Moon's penchant for creating cool, kick ass women.) Here's this week's recap!

And more fan art:

And a comic from pixiv, translated.
Saber: "I will fully protect you, princess." ("Kimi no subete watashi ga mamoru, koushu" <- This is one of those sentences that sounds awkward if you translate it too literally. "I will protect everything about you"...? "I will protect every part of you"...? "I will protect all of you"...? >_>;)

Irisviel: "Goodness, Saber..." ("Mou Saber tara")

Irisviel: "Me, a princess..." ("Koushu nande...")
Saber: *staaaare* (*jiー*)

Saber: *smirk* (*niya*)

And a gif, for anyone else who finds amusement in the crap drunk people do.

Saturday, May 26, 2012

Anime Review: Rinne no Lagrange season 1

While Prism is the recent dark horse hit of manga for me, Rinne no Lagrange is the recent dark horse hit of anime for me.

Lagrange's first episode didn't do anything for me when I first watched it. I thought, "Okay, so, this is another series about a teenager being recruited by a government agency to pilot a robot to save the world from aliens... Why should I care?" Lagrange's primary lead, Madoka, seemed generically plucky and do-goodery, Lagrange's co-lead, Lan, seemed like an Ayanami Rei clone and Lagrange's promo lead me to believe that the series's other co-lead, Muginami, would just be a busty ditz- Lagrange's Asahina Mikuru, if you will.

A friend who tried it was more charmed than I, so I gave the second episode a shot. And I kind of liked it. The series improved from there, and by the time it wrapped up, I really liked it overall. When I re-watched Lagrange, I liked the opening episodes more (even though they were still Lagrange's weakest) because I could better appreciate what they set up and I knew that the story would get better. But I'm getting ahead of myself.

Kyono Madoka is the sole member of her school's Jersey Club- a jack-of-all-trades who does whatever people need her to do, like save a kid from drowning, play a role in her school's Film Club's latest film, bat in a baseball game, and so on. As gimmicky as the Jersey Club seems, there's a really good reason for why Madoka is so dedicated to it.

An alien princess from the planet Le Garite, named Fin E Ld Si Laffinity (Lan for short), tells Madoka that she needs her to pilot a mech called Vox Aura for a government organization called Novumundus, to defend Madoka's hometown Kamogawa from a mech-piloting alien named Array. Array allies himself with Villagiulio, the deposed prince of De Metrio, a planet that Le Garite once allied with. Our third lead, Muginami, is also one of Villagiulio's followers.

Madoka has the expected "EHHHHH?" reaction when she finds out that Novumundus wants her to keep piloting Vox Aura, but embraces her role when she realizes that she can defend Earth rather than sit helplessly on the sidelines. Lan joins Madoka as the pilot of Vox Rympha, and Muginami switches sides and joins them as the pilot of Vox Ignis.

The aliens in this series are the descendants of Earth's original inhabitants, who fled Earth when civilization supposedly collapsed long ago because of a catastrophe caused by Vox Aura, Vox Rympha and Vox Ignis. Villagiulio's younger sister Yurikano was involved in the same kind of disaster that the Voxes would supposedly trigger. Hence (I assume), Villagiulio wanting to take the Voxes from the Le Garite-allied Earth. Because of what Le Garite told them (and the fact that Villagiulio's approach to trying to get the Voxes is less than diplomatic), Novumundus thinks Villagiulio wants the Voxes so that Earth can't defend itself against him. Lagrange paints Lan's older brother, the ruler of Le Garite, as someone who is used to conquering planets, unlike Villagiulio, so I assume that Le Garite is going to screw over Novumundus in season 2 and Villagiulio's group will be like, "We told you so!"

Btw, "Novumundus" is a corruption of "Novus mundus," which means "New world" in Latin. It's probably a nod to Evangelion- the series that has influenced Lagrange's director, Satou Tasuo, more than any other anime series by far- as well as foreshadowing part of the the plot in season 2. Maybe the Voxes, subverting the legend about them, will cause the world to be reborn or made new again in some way- not necessarily the depressingly literal "everyone dies and becomes primoridial soup" Evangelion way. (Lagrange has too much warmth and faith in humanity to pull something like that.) We'll just have to wait and see.

Despite my plot-heavy description of this series, this season of Lagrange is more character-centric than plot-centric in execution. And that works. It pleasantly reminds me of the first half of Mai Hime, in how it focuses on getting to know the characters and building their relationships while laying down the groundwork for what will probably be a darker, more plot-heavy second half of the story.

While the mech action scenes are well done and the plot is written competently (it all makes sense, and the writers manage to get in a lot of world-building without resorting to info-dumping), Lagrange's tendency to not take itself too seriously (e.g. how pro wrestling influences Madoka's fighting style) and its characters are what sold this season for me. Lan was more emotive and down-to-earth than she seemed to be at first, Muginami turned out to be a conniving jerk with a heart of gold who just uses her ditzy facade to fool people, and Madoka grew on me for her gung-ho impulsiveness and the "selfish" side of her desire to be friends with Lan and Muginami. In the forum, Cryssoberyl observed that Langrange's opening theme song's title "Try Unite!" captures the heart of season one- Madoka, Lan, and Muginami coming together as friends despite their respective screw ups and opposing backgrounds.

The season ends with Madoka, Lan, and Muginami separated. Some fans found the final episode anticlimactic. It would be if this were Lagrange's only season. It did a good job setting the story up for season 2. It resolved one plot thread and dangled some new ones for the viewers, and it made me want to see what would happen next. As it should. If I hadn't known about the final episode's opening scene before watching it, I may have been annoyed by it. I thought it was a clever way for Lagrange's director to acknowledge that he knows what yuri fans are thinking when they watch this show. There is definitely intentional subtext in this show- mostly between Madoka and Lan. I especially doubt Lan would kick Madoka out of bed.

Lagrange takes place in the seaside city of Kamogawa because Kamogawa funded part of Lagrange's production. They got their money's worth, because everything about Lagrange looks good and its setting is appropriately atmospheric. Nissan designed the mechs, but you can't tell that from watching the show. The mechs look as good as everything else; they just don't betray their sponsorship origin, unlike, say, the flying staffs ridden by the characters in the Subaru-sponsored Houkago no Pleiades.

Anyway, Lagrange is chock full o' concepts that anime fans have already seen. But this series manages to toss a bunch of mech genre tropes that have been done to death into a blender and produce a tasty smoothie.

Story: B
Art: B+
Overall: B+

This series is streaming on VizAnime.

Monday, May 21, 2012

This week on Fate/Zero: Everybody's dying, but the suit is back

Just so you know that I'm a person with her priorities in order. :-) Here's this week's recap! And a few more fan art pics.

Thursday, May 17, 2012

Manga Review: Poor Poor Lips volume 2

Poor Poor Lips charmed me from its first volume (reviewed here), and its second is even better. In this volume, Poor Poor Lips' story evolves from a sitcom-esque concept, meandering through a series of character-driven slice-of-life situations, to a plot with a conflict that provides a great catalyst for the characters to grow. Such growth is welcome because it causes Ren and Nako to switch roles, forcing Ren to realize how much class privilege she's had and learn more about the real world. I've always loved Ren, but I couldn't see her and Nako realistically working as a couple- as equals- without this development on Ren's part.

Ren invites Nako on an overnight trip to a gemstone expo. Ren (as expected) splurges on their hotel and meals, causing Nako to worry that she won't be able to enjoy her regular life anymore. Nako asks Ren not to spoil her...and it snowballs into a big misunderstanding but they make up, of course.

When Ren's mom Nei asks Ren to visit home so she can set Ren up with a man, Ren asks Nako to pretend to be her girlfriend. Nei is more likely to leave Ren alone for a while if she's seeing someone than if she's single.

Nako successfully convinces Nei that she is Ren's girlfriend- and learns first-hand how homophobic she is. We also learn how Ren first came out. In one priceless moment, Nei mentions that Ren was a player at the all-girls' high school she attended. (Ren's like, "Urk!" while Nako gives her an "Oh, really?" look.) Like Sasameki Koto's Ikeda Takashi, Poor Poor Lips' Goto Hayako has a great knack for using humor to keep really uncomfortable issues (like homophobia) from being too painful, without making light of how much they suck. Lesbian characters who are out to their parents are REALLY rare in manga. I'm glad that type of coming out plays a major role in this series, and that it's handled really well. Thankfully, Ren's dad, who appears in volume 3, doesn't care that Ren is gay, so we get more than one type of "being out to one's parents" narrative in this series.

After Ren and Nako visit Nei, Nei finds out about Nako's debt. Nei tells Nako that even though she doesn't accept Ren's sexual orientation, she cares about Ren and won't let anyone leech off her. She tries to bribe Nako to stay away from Ren, and when Ren confronts her about it, she cuts Ren off. Nako lets Ren stay with her, and they get jobs at Furui's bakery since he's the only person who will hire them both.

As I mentioned above, Ren goes through some needed growth in this volume. Even Furui (who, although slappable when he says anything about Ren's sexual orientation, has a point about her being sheltered) comes to respect her for her new work ethic. By the end of this volume it's clear that Nako returns Ren's feelings, so, all things considered, this volume ends on a pretty upbeat note.

This review covers JManga and ALC Publishing's release of Poor Poor Lips volume 2. The translation is still excellent (even the puns are handled well), so no complaints there.

Story: A-
Art: C+
Overall: A-

As great as this volume is, volume 3 is better still.

Annnnd, unrelated, but I'm graduating this Sunday!! ^__^

Tuesday, May 15, 2012

This week's Fate/Zero recap: Making soup from stones like never before

Saber and Irisviel aren't even in the most recent two episodes of Fate/Zero. (Day sums it up nicely with, "Is this shit done yet?") Nevertheless, Lily and I have given recapping the latest episode a shot. Day isn't able to recap this week, just as I didn't last week, because I had finals. Day does provide some fun commentary framing my and Lily's contributions, though. Here is last week's post. And here's a fan art of some of the Servants getting wasted, since it kind of fits my recap this week.

Sunday, May 13, 2012

Manga Review: Prism volume 1

Prism is a dark horse hit for me. Its initial premise is eye-rolling, but once its real story kicks, in it turns out to be a lovely, very realistic look at two girls in love.

As a kid, Prism's protagonist Megumi spent half a day at the beach with a boy named Hikaru. She developed a crush on him, but never had any contact with him after that. All the way through middle school, she never fell for anyone else because she remained head-over-heels for Hikaru. The eye-rolling notion for me is that someone would stay hung up for that long on someone they spent half a day with as a kid. It would be more believable if, say, they had been childhood friends and separated when one of them moved. I can easily see a little girl who presents as a boy having a crush on (and sharing a kiss with) a girl she likes. (Btw, the creator of the excellent Naissance des Pieuvres- released in English as Water Lilies- recently created a movie with a similar premise. I haven't seen it yet.) Moving on...

Now starting her first year of high school, Megumi swears that she's over Hikaru and is going to find new love. After she walks to school with her friend Erika, a girl who she doesn't know walks up to her and hugs her.

The girl introduces herself in class as Hikaru. ^_^ Hikaru and Megumi hit it off as friends, but Hikaru's gender reveal makes Megumi wonder about the kiss they shared as kids in a new light. When Megumi jokes to Hikaru that her crush was always hopeless since Hikaru's really a girl, Hikaru laughs it off, but it's obvious that she is hurt. She drops some hints that she is gay and interested in Megumi, but Megumi doesn't connect the dots until Hikaru kisses her when they are alone.

Hikaru passes the kiss off as a joke, but Megumi knows that Hikaru is lying and eventually figures out that she likes Hikaru the same way. I want to send Prism's author flowers for making Megumi and Hikaru become a couple by the end of chapter 2 without making the story feel rushed. I also love that the next two chapters focus on Megumi coming out to her friends, who support her and Hikaru. And! Megumi's friend Erika is only bothered by the idea of Megumi not telling her about her relationship. Adding icing to the cake, Megumi has the best teacher ever- laid-back, alcohol-swigging Ogachin, who gives Megumi some solid advice about coming out and her relationship with Hikaru, since Ogachin is bisexual and has dated women before. We also get a brief chapter focusing on Megumi's friends Erika and Hirose, following her coming out to them. Folks who are familiar with Japanese lesbian magazines will appreciate the appearance of an issue of Carmilla, which Hirose covertly buys. (Carmilla actually has terrible content. lol Hirose needs to look up Anise.)

This volume also includes two chapters highlighting Hikaru and Megumi's families. Megumi meets Hikaru's three brothers when she visits Hikaru's house for dinner and a sleepover. (Hikaru's parents are usually away on business trips.) Hikaru isn't out to her family yet, but the way that her brothers are written, it's clear we are meant to believe that they would be cool with her sexual orientation. When Hikaru visits Megumi's house for a sleepover, Megumi's little sister figures out who the "Hikaru" who she keeps hearing Megumi having lovey-dovey phone conversations with is. Her reaction is great- she wonders what Hikaru sees in her sister. She doesn't tell Megumi that she knows, but she still hopes they stay happy together.

So yeah, I'm loving this series. It especially takes off for me after Hikaru and Megumi become a couple. They have great chemistry, and their interaction together- whether they're kissing or talking or whatever- feels real. As I've already mentioned, I really like that they reveal their feelings to each other early on and that they come out to some of the people they know shortly after that. So far, everyone in this series is likeable and pretty realistic. Megumi and her friends act like...well, a believable group of friends, light snarkiness and all. Megumi and Hikaru's interaction with their siblings also rings true- as nearly as I can tell as an only child. lol I especially like how Hikaru's brothers rib poor Hikaru in front of Megumi. But of course, the real reason we're reading is Hikaru and Megumi, who go together like cookies and cream.

If you're looking for realistic yuri, yuri that doesn't shy from bringing up sexual identity, or yuri series starring leads who become a couple early on, I highly recommend Prism.

And I'm really looking forward to seeing volume 2 published, since it will be 100% composed of Megumi and Hikaru as a couple. ^_^

Story: B+
Art: Starts at a B+, moves into A- territory. The characters' facial expressions and hair are especially well-rendered.
Overall: A-

Friday, May 4, 2012

My pile o' things to review

For anyone curious, here's the backlog of things that are already out that I'm going to put the top priority on reviewing after I start my post-school year posting.

Blue Friend volume 2 (I previously wrote about Blue Friend here.)
Kuchibiru Tameiki Sakurairo volumes 1 and 2 (I reviewed the original KTS collection published by Yuri Hime here.) Volume 1 reviewed here. Volume 2 reviewed here.
Passionate Friendship: The Aesthetics of Girls' Culture in Japan since it seems relevant to yuri's roots.
Pieta volume 2 (Volume 1 reviewed here.) Volume 2 reviewed here.
Poor Poor Lips volumes 2 and 3 (Volume 1 reviewed here.) Volume 2 reviewed here. Volume 3 reviewed here.
Prism volume 1 Reviewed here.
The second half of Red Garden (First half reviewed here.) Second half reviewed here.
Rinne no Lagrange season1 Reviewed here.
The huge Strawberry Panic! light novel omnibus thing-a-ma-jig Reviewed here, here and here.
Wandering Son volume 2 (Volume 1 reviewed here.) Volume 2 reviewed here.

Of course, I'll review Mouretsu Pirates after it finishes airing. And Fate/Zero, after its second season wraps up. I've already written so much about F/Z (i.e. episodic recaps) that I'll probably just review both seasons together. There's also Jormungand and Saki Achiga-hen. Even though I reviewed the first two seasons of Queen's Blade, I'm going to throw in the towel for QB: Rebellion. Rebellion's first two episodes felt like the anime equivalent of a bullet to the head. From what I've seen, Rebellion has less of what I liked about the first two seasons (an all-adult fighting female cast- aside from Ymir and Nowa, who hardly appeared; and characters who I would ship hard if they were in a less crappy series, like Tomoe and Shizuka) and ramps up what I disliked (in the form of service that either has a really sadistic edge, like the part with the dragon fighter, or is "ewww"-inducing, like the octopus gag). But I know, Queen's Blade has always been tasteless crap and I'm not remotely who the folks writing QB have in mind as their audience.

I do still plan on trying Yuruyuri season 2 and Horizon season 2 this summer. I don't expect Yuruyuri to improve, but I actually have some hope for Horizon. Why? Because: A) Malga (one half of Horizon's lesbian couple, who really deserve their own series) will supposedly play a much greater role in season 2 than she did in season 1; B) Toori (Horizon's male lead) got together with the girl he worships at the end of season 1 and, hopefully, won't be "comedically" groping random women before being punched away anymore (this is what irritated me most about season 1- sexual harassment presented in a "Har, that scamp! Boys will be boys!" way); C) the first season covered the prologue to the Horizon novels' main storyline, so who knows, the "real" plot could be better; and D) most of season 1 of Nanoha sucked, but I came to love Nanoha because of its later seasons. (See: my current icon.) I'm open to liking Horizon's second season, even though I understand why someone wouldn't be.

Tuesday, May 1, 2012

Crack List: My Dream Version of The Tale of Genji

I know that I just posted that I am not doing any more posts. But the professor for my class on The Tale of Genji and The Pillow Book gave us students a fun assignment for our last class- who would we cast to play several of the characters in The Tale of Genji if we made a movie adaptation of it?

I decided to create a Takarazuka/lesbian version. And I decided to share it here. ^_^ (Just pretend that all of my choices can act.)

Tomu Ranju (the Top Star in the Takarazuka show I saw last summer) as Genji
I may own a clear file featuring this image. ^_^ (Found it in the Takarazuka shop in Tokyo.)

Ueno Juri (Ruka in Last Friends) as To no Chuujo

Utada Hikaru (my favorite singer) as Fujitsubo

Tanaka Rie (a talented and hot seiyuu) as Aoi

Imajuku Asami (Eri in the Love My Life movie, to the left in the screencap below) as Utsusemi

Sakamoto Maaya (a squee-worthy seiyuu) as Rokujou Haven

Ichinose Ayaka (an out lesbian AV idol and the only out Japanese lesbian celebrity I can think of, interviewed here) as Yuugao

Noto Mamiko (another squee-worthy seiyuu) as Suetsumuhana

Kawasumi Ayako (yet another squee-worthy seiyuu) as Hanachirusato

And finally, Mizuki Nana (yup, another seiyuu I like) as Murasaki (As long as I'm making this my ideal adaptation of Genji, Genji and Murasaki meet and get together when Murasaki's an adult in my movie.)

Agree? Disagree? Other characters you'd cast? If you feel like chiming in, feel free.

Update: My professor and classmates got a kick out of my list, which I showed in Word document form on a projection screen. Turns out my professor's a Takarazuka fan too. lol