Friday, February 22, 2013

Manga Review: Aoi Hana volume 7

Ow, my heart. Ow ow ow, this volume.

A new school year begins, as Fumi, Akira, Kyouko, Mogii, Pon-chan and Yassan enter their senior year and Haruka and Ryouko become second-years.

Orie and Hinako get married, as Orie's little sister Haruka notes. ^_^ Orie comes out to her family, but her parents aren't exactly thrilled. Haruka is still ambivalent about her sister being gay, but towards the end of this volume, we get a lovely, subtle bit of development showing that, when it comes down to it, her big sister is the same big sister she has always loved and she knows it.

Kyouko and Kou fulfill the pattern for childhood friends in this series and become a couple, but not without obstacle- the baggage resulting from Kyouko's family situation. We get the full story on Kyouko's family here, after having only seen hints of it in previous volumes. Shimura handles the issues unique to Kyouko's back story as realistically and sensitively as she has handled everything else in this series- most poignantly, when Kyouko discusses her situation with her mother with Ryouko and admits she'd never spoken to anyone about her family before. 

I've said so elsewhere that I don't envy Shimura writing her characters from the point they've brought her to in this volume. Fumi and Akira both love each other deeply, but while the nature of Fumi's feelings is as clear as day for her, Akira isn't so sure about her own. Akira is being incredibly (arguably overly) accommodating in trying to make things work, while Fumi worries about how much Akira actually wants what she says she does. 

The best thing for Akira to do, imo, is be completely honest about how she feels and let things go from there- but I understand her hesitation up to this point. Responding to someone whose feelings you don't return can be hard, and the person in love with her- who she wants to make things as painless for as possible- is her best friend, so I very much sympathize with her actions, even though they aren't what's best for her or for Fumi.

Most people have their hearts broken. Most people experience unrequited love and failed relationships. Such experiences may make one feel like one's heart is slowly being fed through a meat grinder, but most people learn to pick themselves up and recover. (I know, easier said than done. See: Kyouko's mother.)

I like that this volume affirms that Fumi can and will recover if things don't work out with Akira, however much it may hurt. Fumi isn't who she was when she first met Akira, right after Chizu dumped her, or who she was after Sugimoto broke up with her.

The way Akira is being written so far, either outcome could be written believably. I would like to see things work out between them, because Fumi loves Akira so much and it would certainly take her longer to recover from her than from Sugimoto and Chizu. Not just because she loves Akira more than she loved Sugimoto or Chizu, but because Akira was her best friend before becoming her girlfriend. Hell, Akira was her pillar of support when she recovered from her experiences with Chizu and Sugimoto.

If I had to bet, I would wager that they will ultimately wind up together, although there may be a break-up and/or other rocky patches along the way. The "a girl-meets-girl love story that will set your heart aflutter" tagline that comes with each new chapter of this series certainly helps. But most of all, Fumi and Akira's relationship has been developed for so long that I would be surprised if Shimura had another girl in the cards for Fumi. 

If I'm wrong (I very well could be; there are astute people who disagree with me), Fumi winding up with another girl could work, if it's developed well enough. But right now, I'm rooting for Fumi to end up with Akira.

In short- I trust Shimura to continue to handle both Fumi and Akira's development with sensitivity and realism, and trust her to give Fumi an (organically) happy ending, whether it's Akira who winds up loving Fumi back as much as she deserves or not.

Story: A
Art: A-
Overall: A

This volume's bonus short, "Kawakubo-san's Loves", gives us insight into one of the Fujigaya students who has graduated- and her feelings for different girls and women, ever since her first crush on her pretty kindergarten teacher. It reinforces this volume's theme of learning to recover after heartbreak- multiple times, if need be- in order to find love.

Saturday, February 16, 2013

ARRRR, yuri pirates: Love Flag Girls!! manga review

Takahashi Itsumi's Love Flag Girls!! is, truly, trashy romance manga at its goofiest. For something silly and smutty, this series is a fun pick. ^_^

Queen Beatrice spends all of her time crying over the cross that the dreaded pirate Maria stole from her years ago. This cross is apparently valuable enough to buy a small country. Upon learning that Maria's ship is right in the harbor, within walking distance of Beatrice's castle, Beatrice's daughter Princess Lucia decides to infiltrate Maria's crew and get her mother's cross back.

Turns out Maria disappeared without telling anyone where she was headed, and her ship is now being captained by her daughter Eliana. Contrary to what she'd always been told about pirates, Lucia finds that Eliana's (all-female, very gay) crew is quite welcoming and laid-back (aside from Eliana's rather serious first mate Isabella, who is in love with Maria), and Eliana herself is a goofy flirt.

You'll be shocked to know that Lucia reciprocates Eliana's attraction, and she and Eliana fall in love. As I mentioned before- because this is not only a Yuri Hime series, but a YH series that was serialized as a cellphone comic instead of in Yuri Hime magazine- there's some pretty explicit sex.

Just as Lucia starts getting acclimated to pirate life, Beatrice sends out the navy to attack Eliana's ship. Lucia returns to the palace to reason with Beatrice, but Beatrice sees it as a betrayal and has her jailed.

Eliana saves Lucia and slaps Beatrice, telling her off for letting her obsession with the cross warp her view as much as it has. But Beatrice's real obsession isn't with the cross- it's with Maria. Maria and Beatrice were a couple once, but Maria left Beatrice because, as a princess and a pirate, how could they be together?

Lucia and Eliana escape back to Eliana's ship, but Beatrice's troops quickly corner them again.

Won't spoil how (although it shouldn't really be surprising), but we get a happy ending. =)

I enjoyed the heck out of this series, but I don't want to make you think it's more sweeping and epic than it is. It's a humorous, anachronistic, alternate world take on the historical pirate adventure genre with lots and lots of yuri. ^_^ Even the battles aren't taken that seriously- mostly thanks to Eliana. Eliana and Lucia's involvement with each other is initially contrived (and, briefly- to the point that I admittedly forgot it until someone else mentioned it- has some questionable consent interaction early on), but they grew on me and I came to like them as a couple (e.g. their argument about which one of them is cuter) and found it easy to root for them. (Not that there was ever a question that this story would end happily.) I also enjoy the fact that, even living in a late 17th century Spain (best as I can tell)-influenced setting, the characters live in a world where being in a gay relationship isn't an issue at all- and like that, however cheerfully stupid it is, LFG has a setting and plot that's different from most yuri.

In short, recommended if you're looking for a frothy, bawdy, smile-inducing yuri romance.

Art: B-
Story: Fun trash.
Overall: B

Speaking of yuri manga, for anyone who hasn't seen it, here's a fake pulp magazine cover Erica from Okazu made that I thought was funny/painfully true.

And if you want a good lesbian romance novel with a pirate adventure theme, I recommend The Sublime and Spirited Voyage of Original Sin by Colette Moody. It's about a pirate captain's daughter and the seamstress who sticks with her after helping tend to her wounded crew after an attack on her ship. It isn't as light as Love Flag Girls!!, but it's a lot of fun also.

Sunday, February 10, 2013

Anime Review: Mouretsu Pirates

Before I first watched this show (writing this review after re-watching it), I didn't have high hopes for it- it was, after all, adapted from a light novel series called Mini-Skirt Pirates. I tried the first episode and found it free of service, starring well-written female characters. I felt like the sky had opened, a haze of golden light surrounding me as angel choruses sang. It was so... utterly unlike what I expected. I really prefer to re-watch two cour shows before reviewing them, if I liked them enough- but another purpose for re-watching this show was to see if I would feel any differently about it, already knowing what it's like going into it.

Anyway, the actual show takes place well into the future, when mankind has colonized space. Our protagonist, a high schooler named Katou Marika, lives on a planet that is part of the frontier alliance that gained independence from the Galactic Empire a hundred years prior. Key to the frontier alliance's independence was the help of "pirates"- really licensed privateers- who fought on its behalf. Since the war of independence, the frontier alliance's pirates have been able to continue operating legally by renewing their letters of marquee.

Marika, told that her dad died years ago, has always lived with her mom. One day she learns that her father was a pirate captain who only recently died, leaving his space ship, the Bentenmaru, to her. It also turns out Marika's mom Ririka used to be a famous space pirate in her own right. (Btw, if Mouretsu Pirates ever gets a spin-off series focusing on Ririka's days pirating as Blaster Ririka, I will absolutely watch it. Even as a non-pirate, she's awesome.)

Refreshingly, Marika isn't pressured into inheriting her father's position as captain of the Bentenmaru. (You know how it usually is in anime. "Teenager! You must take on this new responsibility, or ______!") She can do it if she wants to, and if she doesn't, it's fine. But she decides that she does want to, so she starts easing into her duties as captain with help from the Bentenmaru's crew members. Even though pirating, in Mouretsu's setting, is a field traditionally dominated by men, no trouble is made because of Marika's gender- it's her age and her need to juggle high school with her captain duties that causes most of her stumbling blocks. (She could drop out of high school to work full-time sooner but, understandably, doesn't want to.) But she's a good learner and proves to be a capable thinker and leader, so she ends up owning her new role.

Marika does part of her training alongside someone who's in a similar position- Chiaki, the daughter of another pirate captain. Chiaki is prickly, but does warm up to and develop a soft spot for Marika. Guess who I ship Marika with? ^_^

In addition to Chiaki and the Bentenmaru's crew, you have Marika's friends from school- mostly other girls who belong to her school's Yacht Club, which is basically the best club ever. (Its members learn how to pilot spacecraft.) The Yacht Club members play a major role when Marika's crew is required to be quarantined for a month after falling ill and she needs to carry out at least one pirating mission during that time to keep her letter of marquee from expiring. During that span of episodes, we get our two episode yuri arc, which I hyperventilated over when the first part of it aired. Jenny and Lynn ftw. ^__^

The first arc of this series after the first two introductory episodes, the three episode cyber warfare arc, is slow. Things pick up with Marika's first real pirating mission, which introduces would-be Yacht Club member Princess Gruier Serenity, whose character design is a neat homage to Sailor Moon's Usagi.

The pirating missions continue, interspersed with Marika's school life, in a fairly easygoing manner that I know won't appeal to everyone. And I get it- I initially expected the show to develop at a more breakneck pace after Marika started pirating, and did feel that, after the cyber warfare arc, it got a little slow between Marika's missions (exempting the Nebula Cup storyline, which was great)- but for what Mouretsu Pirates is actually going for (feel-good fun), it works for me, especially since this series has such a charming cast.

Conversely, some people who were fine with the pacing of most of the show didn't care for the slight change of mood- and more noticeable quickening of pace- in the final arc. Which I understand, although I enjoyed the final arc- and really enjoyed its resolution. In the final arc, Marika and the other pirates have to deal with a Galactic Empire ship that's taking them out ship by ship. This series resolves the pirate-hunting storyline well enough to not make the wait for the upcoming Mouretsu Pirates movie painful, but leaves enough dangling (like the reveal about Marika's father) to make me look forward to the movie. It also, quite wonderfully, affirms that Jenny and Lynn will still be together in college, after Lynn graduates.

In short, this is a fun show with a strong cast, including a very likeable female lead, some smartly written sci-fi (I like that the characters rely on strategy as much as- if not more than- sheer firepower to achieve what they want), and a lack of male gazey-ness. And yuri! Highly recommended.

Story: B+
Art: B
Overall: B+

Mouretsu Pirates is available streaming on Crunchyroll.

Saturday, February 2, 2013

Shows I've Tried From the Current Season, and a Load of Psycho-Pass Yuri Fan Art

A month into the new season, I've tried five of the newly airing shows, not counting the shorts I reviewed in my season preview. I've reviewed each of them below.

Kotoura-san (4 episodes watched):
The surprise of the season. Kotoura-san looked like it would be a light as air 4-koma adaptation about a girl with ESP and her friends in her school's ESP club. But its first ten minutes, showing Kotoura-san's background, felt like the equivalent of being repeatedly punched in the gut. When she was a little kid, Kotoura's tendency to talk about what she heard other people thinking out loud (like her friends' crushes and her parents' affairs) caused her friends to avoid her and her parents to abandon her with her grandfather.

On top of that, she found an abandoned kitten that she fed outside (Not sure why she couldn't just keep it?), but a neighbor decided it was a pest and had it taken to a shelter. The part about her parents and friends made her effectively sympathetic, but the kitten part was overkill. Like we wouldn't get why she entered high school afraid that everyone she loves will leave her without the kitten being taken away? Manipulative though those first ten minutes were, they worked on me, and I wanted to see Kotoura make friends with her classmate Manabe and the members of the ESP club, Yuriko and Daichi. (Manabe, Yuriko and Daichi aren't espers, but they embrace Kotoura's ability instead of being like, "Eek! Monster!")

The primary antagonist in these episodes is some girl who likes Manabe and resents the feelings that crop up between him and Kotoura. She has Kotoura bullied, and when that doesn't work, she has some guys who train at her family's dojo beat up Manabe because... I'm not sure what she hoped to achieve from that.

Anyway, after Manabe is hospitalized, Kotoura transfers out of their school, rationalizing that knowing her has caused everyone she loves pain. So Manabe, Yuriko and Daichi decide to find her and get her to come back.

Like I said, this show surprised me by making me want to see what would happen to Kotoura, however ham-handed it was at points in handling its themes. (Like the crab scene in episode 4.)

Unfortunately, in episode 4, the show introduced one of the most disgusting gags I have ever had the displeasure of seeing. Kotoura's grandfather, the one family member who didn't abandon her, is incestuously obsessed with her and has no compunction about telling her so. Kotoura-san plays this for comedy. Vomit. Episode 4 settles the show's conflicts and Kotoura's issues to the point that it feels like the final episode. Disgusting grandfather aside, that's fine by me since I was starting to get tired of the show anyway. But- eww, vomit, the grandfather. For a show that seemed to have its heart in the right place regarding Kotoura (the "being alienated and bullied for having ESP" aspect could read as an allegory for being alienated and bullied for being different in other ways, which is what I liked about it), the grandfather thing was a complete whiplash. Ugh.

Love Live! School Idol Project (1 episode watched):
Honoka, seen above, finds out her school is going to close after its current first-year class graduates because its enrollment has dwindled. She finds out that another school in the area's enrollment has shot up because some of its students have become hit idols. Honoka decides to become an idol to save her school, and gets her best friends Umi and Kotori to join her.

I won't lie... This episode bored me. I liked that it doesn't have any fan service, but I didn't feel anything while watching it, except when Honoka danced into traffic during her musical number, blissfully unaware of the cars missing her by mere centimeters. That amused me.

Maoyuu Maou Yuusha (3 episodes watched):
In a medieval-influenced fantasy world, our Hero breaks into the Demon King's castle to slay him, and finds that he's actually a queen- and one who wants to end the war between demons and humans. It turns out that a lot of powerful people on the human side have an interest in prolonging the war. The Demon King (no, these characters never get names) and the Hero team up to realize the Demon King's dream. First step, introducing the agricultural revolution to change the rules of human side's economy. ...Well, the Demon King introduces it anyway. She just sort of brings the Hero along because she is infatuated with him, for some reason I can't fathom.

I tried the first few chapters of the Maoyuu manga after trying the anime, and liked what I read of it more. The Demon King has a stronger personality in it (e.g. she emphasizes her intelligence and skill at handling finances, rather than her chastity, when she proposes to the Hero) and the Hero... well, he isn't the utter sop he is in the anime, making them feel more believable and less otaku wishfulfillment-y as a couple than their anime counterparts. The manga isn't high art- it still has its problems and obvious wish fulfillment elements (and the Head Maid still deserves a punch in the gut), but the ratio of them to what I liked was good enough that I still found it what I read of it entertaining. I'm not sure I'll stick with it, given everything else I'm reading and watching, but I'd definitely recommend it over the Maoyuu anime if you're curious about the franchise.

Tamako Market (4 episodes watched):
A mixed bag so far. Mainly because of Dera, the show's talking bird character. I didn't like the peeping gag in the first episode, but it wasn't a dealbreaker for me- although I understand how it could be for someone. That aside, I didn't think Dera was that funny (although he had a couple amusing interactions with the other characters), but didn't mind his presence to the point of quitting the show either. He just seemed like a gimmick to set Tamako Market apart from the gajillion other slice-of-life shows starring high schoolers out there, and I hoped that, once the "OMG wackiness" of his introduction was past, the show would focus more on the other characters, who are all likeable.

The second episode focuses more on Tamako and her friends Midori and Kanna as they celebrate Valentine's Day. Amusingly, Tamako just sees the holiday as a marketing opportunity for her family's mochi shop, and Kanna (whose family does carpentry) wants to make a chocolate house, just because she likes building things. The most romantic aspect of this episode turns out to be Midori, who is in love with Tamako. Tamako is, of course, oblivious, and just as unrecognizing of the feelings her friend Mochizou has for her. (His feelings are played more for comedy, and he, realistically, doesn't hide them as well as Midori does.)

Neither Midori nor Mochizou are aware of the other's feelings for Tamako, and... well, given how Tamako is being written, I don't see her getting romantically involved with anyone during this series' run. What surprised me about this episode was its blatantly gay-supportive message. I knew that it was there before watching, but was still surprised by its execution. Kanna tells Midori, "Anyone can love whoever they want," even though Midori never told her about her feelings for Tamako. Makes me wonder if Kanna knows. lol If I were Midori, I certainly would. If Kanna doesn't, then as great as the episode's message is, its execution of that message wouldn't make much sense (Who says something like that to a friend completely out of the blue?) and be kind of after school special-y.

The third episode focuses on Shiori, a shy girl who wants to befriend Tamako. This episode is easily the worst. Dera spends a LOT of time narrating to us and talking to Shiori. It feels more like his episode than hers.

The fourth episode focuses on Tamako's little sister Anko, as she tries to skip the annual festival her family's mochi shop participates in to visit a museum with the boy she likes and some other kids. She isn't able to make it because Kaoru, the local flower shop lady (who is trans, without anyone else seeming to care or it being treated like something wacky), asks her for help with getting some of the local kids ready to walk in the festival's procession. One of the kids wants Anko to stay to watch the procession, so Anko winds up doing for a little girl what her now-deceased mother did for her when she was little. Luckily for Anko, the boy she likes visits her after the festival finishes- but really, the point is Anko's relationship with her mother, and it's very sweet. Annnd then Dera tells us some aphorism I don't remember. He's keeps talking about love and spring in this show in (I think intentionally) generic terms, and I just tune him out when he does.

Again, I do like most of the characters- but Dera is wearing on me more and more, especially after episode 3. Here's hoping he doesn't take over any more episodes, because this is a charming show otherwise.

Vivired Operation (1 episode watched):
I tried this just to give an opinion on it, since a lot of people are being like "OMG yuri" about it.

In keeping with its being helmed by the same guy who directed Strike Witches, Vivired Operation shows us its protagonist's butt before showing us her face. That isn't alienating at all.

This show's first episode does its darndest to remind folks of Strike Witches, from its plucky protagonist rescuing a cat from a tree at school (that's the point when I stopped watching episode 1 of Strike Witches) to the aliens who makes quick work of the Japanese Self-Defense Forces. Cue Vivired's protagonist finding out from her mad scientist grandfather (who transfers his consciousness into a ferret's body so this show has its talking animal mascot) that she can transform into a magical girl-esque fighter. She saves her blue-haired friend from dying, and her grandpa tells her that she and her friend need to dock in order to save the world. Take away the icky service elements (i.e. make it more like Girls Und Panzer in that respect- Girls Und Panzer didn't have Strike Witches' director, but its premise and the character designers working on it helped it benefit from SW's popularity, and what I saw of it wasn't servicey, and it was still a hit right off the bat when it aired), and I might think this is an okay show. As it is, this episode made me feel like I needed a shower.

Also, I've finished season one of AKB0048. I really enjoyed it, but now knowing what AKB48's management requires the actual AKB48 idols to do to keep their jobs (more on that here and here), I'm feeling uncomfortable about supporting this series. I'm not going to support the AKB48 brand by watching the second season's legal stream on Crunchyroll. I'm just dropping it.

On a more upbeat note, I found a really sweet (pun intended) example of coming out online this past week- click here and here for it. Also, I backed a coming out-themed animated short film called "Arrival" on Kickstarter. It looks great and I would love to see it made, so... well, click here if you want to learn more about it.

Finally, have some Psycho-Pass fan art! I'm still hooked, and champing at the bit to see what will happen. It looks like the next episode will bring us to Shinya and Makishima's confrontation, where episode 1 started. I wonder what the remaining episodes will consist of, but am optimistic that the writers have a solid game plan.

Anyway, fan art!

I like how they're kind of shaped like a heart together. ^^ (Going by the pic's tags, that was done intentionally.)
Source: Anh's Tumblr, ☆ミperfect day

The pic below isn't a slash pic, but I thought it was amusing. (Alas, I'm more of a Kagari than an Akane when I drink.)
Source: Hanifah's Tumblr, (screams externally)

Back to the delicious Yayoi x Shion- or KuKara, as Japanese fans have dubbed them by combining their surnames. ^^
Source: うめの's Pixiv.

Shion: *fondle* Whooo am I?
Yayoi: Shion.
Shion: *grope grope* Correct. ♡
Kagari: Kunicchi and Sensei sure are having fun. How nice...
Kagari: Gino-san! Whooo am I? ♡ *squeeze!!* *grope*
Gino: Ka... Kagari... *tremble*
Kagari: Fantastic! Correc...
Gino: *whack*

Source for the comic and the pic above it: Yumemizawa's Pixiv.

Source: 和哉's Pixiv.

The following batch of pics isn't as worksafe, so I'm putting it under the cut below.