Wednesday, May 28, 2014

I reviewed Lumberjanes!

These past couple months, I have been reading an incredibly fun new comic book series called Lumberjanes that you might have heard of. Okazu's Erica kindly invited me to do a guest review about it when I gushed about issue 2 on Twitter, so I did so and it is here! If you like weird, goofy, highly enjoyable stories, you will probably agree with my reasons for enjoying it!

Sunday, May 25, 2014

Retro Review: Oniisama E (Dear Brother) episode 7

Another day, another instance of Nanako's teacher being useless and Mariko trying to protect Nanako while Aya is an asshole about Nanako's Sorority membership- this time by throwing her a note and leaving a package full of razors in Nanako's desk.
While wondering why she's being bullied when she never did anything to cause it, Nanako wanders into the school clock tower. In one of the best scenes from this episode, she sees the wall going up the stairs scrawled with messages from years of students who went there to mull over their own problems. The point of this scene is great in its own right, and it also reminds me a little of a sort of hidden alcove I found where students left messages about their hopes at my college.
This episode is already getting pretty Gothic what with the sadness and the wandering in the clock tower lit only by stained glass, but it gets moreso when Nanako investigates a noise in the attic (is it too obvious to wonder if Ikeda Riyoko had Jane Eyre in mind for this scene?) and finds Rei being her Byronic self and chilling with a cigarette.
And, um, this.
And these.
And a silhouette that looks like Fukiko where the knives are stuck.
Naturally Nanako is like "wtf." She hands Rei the knives and Rei throws one at the silhouette's heart area again. Nanako plainly asks Rei if the silhouette is based on Fukiko and Rei answers yes, but when Nanako asks why, Rei just starts quoting "It rains in my heart" ("Il pleure dans mon coeur") by the French poet Paul Verlaine (this is an Ikeda Riyoko series, so of course the reference is French) and leaves.

Nanako wonders what is going on between Rei and Fukiko, as well as about the origin of Rei's nickname, Saint-Juste.

On the commute to school the next day, Nanako and Tomoko are in the same train car, and Nanako earnestly asks Tomoko if she can call her that evening. Tomoko completely ignores her, and I kind of want to punch her for not wondering by now if Mariko manipulated her perspective at all.  Especially given this.

Some conversation between Mariko and Nanako about Nanako going to the library and Mariko picking some cloth for their home economics projects, and then a part with Rei and Fukiko that visually references the clock tower scene, what with the stained glass and the smoking again.
That look isn't sadistic at all.
Poor Rei.

As much as I like Rei, flaming weirdo that she is, Kaoru is a jovial breath of fresh air. She runs into Nanako in the library, helps her find what she needs to learn about Rei's nickname, and they talk about reading and Kaoru's friendship with Rei. And there's a great flashback to how Kaoru and Rei became friends. Rei smiles in it, also! The only person we've seen Rei earnestly smile at so far has been Kaoru. I'm not sure why I never romance-shipped them instead of friendshipping them.

Like Youko dragging Sachiko into the Yamayurikai, Kaoru drafted Rei into the basketball club because she seemed happier when she participated in it. Kaoru admits that as close as she and Rei are, even she doesn't fully understand where Rei's coming from, though.

And Tomoko redeems herself by charging to Nanako's defense when she sees Aya and her friends bullying Nanako.
And they make up.

In her room, Nanako reads about Rei's namesake, the French Revolution's Saint-Juste, and ponders the similarities between them. I like how this scene bridges a connection between this series and the setting of Rose of Versailles. Different though this series and RoV are, they have some very similar themes- but I'll discuss that more as it becomes more apparent in this series.

I also appreciate that this is a show that can do a full-body pan of its female protagonist lying down without my being dubious of its intent at all.

Because of the resolution of Nanako's fight with Tomoko, this episode is the most feel-good in a while. Savor it, because up next the show starts delving more into Mariko's life.

Saturday, May 24, 2014

Retro Review: Oniisama E (Dear Brother) episode 6

This episode opens with Nanako being intentionally tripped at lunch at school while surrounded by gossiping assholes. Fukiko and her posse appear and she helps Nanako up, telling her to pull through quietly enough that nobody else can hear it.
One would think she would make more of a stand against the bullies because she knows what they're doing, but you'll remember that she has a Darwinian perspective. In her view, doing more would be unnecessary handholding and "strife makes people stronger." Obviously she isn't right, though, and the series itself doesn't seem to agree with her.

Nanako's dad catches on that something's wrong at school and asks Nanako about it, but she tries to cope on her own. Which I understand as someone who has tended to try to tackle things alone and consciously try to avoid that.
Then the scene in which Nanako finds her gym clothes were stolen and everyone sucks at lying: Aya at pretending she didn't do anything
and Mariko at pretending she gives a shit about Nanako and Tomoko's friendship when Nanako decides to ask Tomoko to lend her gym clothes.
And Tomoko about her friendship with Nanako being dead.

Nanako gets some gym clothes from Kaoru and we continue to see that Kaoru's more sick than she lets on in front of other people. This episode's title, "Lost and Alone", applies to her as much as Nanako.
And, uh, Nanako sure likes the smell of Kaoru's gym clothes.
Kaoru is so amazing, her scent sparkles.

After school, a trio of seniors/former Sorority candidates who think Nanako cheated into the Sorority show how much more honorable they are by ganging up on one freshman and slapping her around.
Then Nanako decides to leave the Sorority and learns it's like the Mafia.
Finding her gym clothes left cut up in her locker kind of seals the deal.

Nanako finds Fukiko doing the sport of choice for rich chicks whose schoolmates worship them in yuri.
Nanako tells her she wants to quit, and Fukiko gives a good argument against it for entirely selfish reasons.
And some reassurance.

And there's a too-long flashback to what happened just earlier this episode between Nanako and Tomoko and Nanako and the seniors. It's the one lazy part of an otherwise strong episode.

Then Nanako runs into Takehiko and he helps her cheer up as someone completely outside the fish bowl of high school.
Nanako still cries alone in her room because of the situation with Tomoko, though.

And the next episode is Rei-heavy, yay!

Wednesday, May 21, 2014

Manga Review: Whispered Words (a.k.a. Sasameki Koto) omnibus 1

Ikeda Takashi's Whispered Words (originally Sasameki Koto in Japanese) was a yuri staple for years. Over the course of nine volumes, fans read to see how long it would take for Sumi and Ushio to get past their barriers to admitting they love each other and get together already, damn it. (The wait was exacerbated for fans who could only read this series in English by the fact that the scanlations caught up to the entire series over a year after it finished.) One Peace Books, a mostly non-comic publisher, very quietly licensed this series- they need to work on that compared to, say, Seven Seas' heavy fan engagement and promotion of their titles- and here we have the first omnibus.

Like many a yuri manga set in high school, Whispered Words is about a girl in love with her best friend. Sumi is tall, competent, and the black belt heir of a karate dojo where she lives with her dad and three brothers. She's also pretty goofy and prone to fantasies about her best friend Ushio, who is openly gay but only likes girly girls. Sumi quit karate in the hopes of appealing more to Ushio and tells herself she never really loved it, but she lights up when she starts doing it again later in this omnibus. I quite like her. Anyway, Ushio's crushes keep going down in flames while Sumi winces and pines after her and figures her feelings are hopeless.

This omnibus contains the first three tankoubon of this series. The first tankoubon focuses on establishing character relationships in a mostly slice-of-life format. Besides Sumi and Ushio, you have: their quirky friend Kiyori, who is the one straight girl in this series; Tomoe and Miyako, who are a cute couple and act as a slightly snarky greek chorus throughout this series; Akemiya, a guy in their class who cross dresses, has a crush on Sumi, and is way more important in the copy on the back of this omnibus than in the actual story.

Volume 2 introduces Aoi, a yuri fangirl who loves a light novel series that is clearly Maria-sama ga Miteru. Because Sumi is awesome and accidentally makes herself look like a fan of not-Marimite, Aoi gets a crush on her and ropes her into co-creating a doujinshi for GLFes YuriFes. This isn't the most substantial of arcs, but it's geeky fun and has a sweet resolution. I also like that the beach chapter's beach portion ends two pages in with Tomoe's car exploding right after she, Miyako, and her friends get to the beach.

Volume 3 introduces Lotte, a short, girly-looking German transfer student who loves karate. Lotte is Ushio's type but likes Sumi a lot more because Ushio keeps trying to make her less tomboyish while Sumi helps her improve at karate. She serves as the catalyst for the biggest turning point in this omnibus, causing this series to turn from a romantic comedy with dramatic elements to a romantic drama with comedic elements. There's also a great flashback to how Sumi and Ushio became friends. The flashback portions of this series are some of its strongest, imo.

I'm glad this series is licensed and will buy volume 2, but the copy playing up Akemiya's role is annoying, the typesetting has a surprising amount of errors for a professional publication, a few minor lines are left untranslated, and the author's notes from the original release aren't included. Story-wise, my only real complaint so far is that Akemiya's sister is creepy and his chapter is kind of pointless.

Anyway, despite the kind of crappy release, Whispered Words is a good romance with a heart, and a series I enjoyed revisiting.

Thursday, May 15, 2014

Retro Review: Oniisama E (Dear Brother) episode 5

Continuing off the last episode, Tomoko is still pissed at Nanako because of Mariko, so she tells her mom to tell Nanako she isn't home when Nanako calls. Oh plot contrivances that wouldn't be feasible post-cellphones.

Nanako's mother asks Nanako about the package, they both lie, and their conversation reminds me that this show is really good at creating tension.

Cue more angst from Nanako about what Aya told her. While thinking about it, she plays Takehiko's music box again. Like Tomoko's stuffed bear in this episode's first scene, the music box symbolizes a more childishly innocent time being left behind- in Tomoko's case because she feels like she's losing her best friend, and in Nanako's case because of her new knowledge of her family in addition to shitty high school politics.

At school, poor Nanako gets the brush-off from Tomoko while Mariko, who I feel bad for in a different way, chases Nanako like an attention-starved puppy.

O hai, Rei.

Rei downs pills like candy, so Kaoru is naturally upset and they slap each other because slaps are almost a form of greeting at this school.

This is also the first scene that feels like it's intentionally throwing Rei x Kaoru shippers a bone.

Unfortunately for them, Fukiko interrupts to lord her control over Rei. Speaking of puppy-like behavior that makes me feel bad for the character in question, especially knowing the reasons for it.



The following scene- Fukiko intentionally knocking a metal spiked frog used by the flower-arranging club onto Rei's hand, causing Rei to bleed, and Rei glaring before softening and asking Fukiko to treat it- is their relationship in a nutshell. Nanako pisses off Fukiko by being the only person in the club room to voluntarily treat Rei.

Nanako is also shaken because she saw what Fukiko did and keeps remembering it during the Sorority induction ceremony.

We also get Takehiko's full perspective behind why he agreed to Nanako's request in a nice reconciliation scene between him and Nanako's mother.

I remember that I really chafed at how this subplot ultimately played out when I first watched it. In retrospect, it's probably not coincidental that I had some similar issues to the ones Takehiko mentions in this scene at the time. Now that I am more like current-Takehiko, I'm curious about how this subplot will strike me this time.

I am reminded of how much I like Rei and Kaoru's relationship by Kaoru calling to check up on Rei.

Too bad Rei thinks it's Fukiko and is like, "HA I'LL SHOW YOU BY NOT ANSWERI\NG."

And Nanako learns that even in your dreams, Fukiko's kind of a huge bitch.
Next time, Dear Brother will return to wacky school hijinks with Aya. If this show had a Twitter hashtag, it would probably be #PoorNanako.